Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wild Wonderful Ruahine Winter

30 July, 2009
Evening at Rangiwahia

Celebrating 49 years on this earth here high up in the Ruahine and the Whanahuia ranges with John Nash. My 9th birthday enjoyed here in the wintry mountains. The years seem to pass by more quickly, the guy in the mirror feels much the same as the younger version, except more weight, less hair, aches and pains emerge more frequently. The Ruahine remains pretty much the same.

It is minus 3 Celsius outside, the ranges remain unseen covered in cloud and mist, the wind gusts over, and there is deep snow all about. Our aim is to cross over the Whanahuias and drop down to Triangle hut in the morning, then head over to the Pourangaki catchment the following day. We shall see in the morning.

Right now I am content to enjoy just being back in the mountains and to enjoy a few celebratory wee drams of fine whiskey with an equally fine friend and just be amongst this place I love.

Foot bridge on track to Rangi hut

The slip which adds a considerable climb and time to the walk to Rangi hut

A fine way to enjoy a birthday.

Up the track with bridge now below.

John climbing up Rangi track. Now that the slip is past not long at all to the open tops of the Whanahuias.

31 July Heritage Lodge
Oroua valley

John and I are now ensconced at Heritage Lodge, a 45 minute walk from the road end and just inside the Ruahine boundary and above the river. We retreated down from Rangi late in the afternoon back down to the car and drove to the road end. We sat in Rangi waiting to see if the weather might clear, which it didn't, and as the prospect of better weather tomorrow is even worse we came up with a new plan. Our attempt to cross in the morning failed.

I have crossed the Whanahuias from Rangi to Triangle over 10 times now. Many times alone and more than a few times in inclement weather, it is a route I know very well. On a fine day it is a walk to be relished, on a bad one you just put your head down and get over the tops into the forest and down to the river. Today was one of those days. It is a poled route most of the way, meaning stakes are driven into the ground every few hundred metres to mark the way across. Except for one section just beyond when the relatively distinct track peters out and the poled route picks up not far beyond. The snow was firm but deep and every few steps I would break through the surface up to my thighs, very tiring work. Worse, as we got higher the wind picked up to gales and our visibility was reduced to almost nothing. We failed to find the poled route in the mist, and roaming about on the tops trying to find a route in conditions like that simply is not a good idea. It was very beautiful actually, a very closed in world of white and tussock gold, but potentially a very deadly one as well. Even if we had found the poled route it would have been a very long and exposed three hours perhaps longer. I was very relieved when John sauntered up to me and quietly suggested today was not our day. We retreated back to Rangi, a bit subdued, a bit humbled. Late in the afternoon we decided on this new plan, as the mountain forecast looks WORSE for Saturday. And here we are.

We have just come in from the lovely porch of this very quaint, but new lodge. The old one burnt down a few years ago, and the new one rebuilt and owned by the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association. They have a large private quarters attached and this lovely 8 bunk affair open to the public. A very nice wood fire and it doesn't take much to warm this little gem. Below us the Oroua noisily rolls by, and my question to John was even if we had battled across the tops and dropped to the forest and river would the river have been cross able? It would have been a long cold night huddled in my 2 man bivouac sack with the river raging by, and the hut right in view across the river. I think we made the right decision.

Beautiful but starting to cause a bit of concern.

John in the lee of the wind where we discussed our prospects.

John heading into the featureless cloud hidden tops.

John ahead in middle of photo. Soon after the track fizzled out and the cloud closed in thicker and the wind was fierce. Today is not our day up here.

1 August 2009
Late Afternoon
Iron Gate hut

Once again John and I each walked on our own today. I left first and almost immediately it began to rain, a big steady rain, where anything and everything is wet, and the sound of water is prevalent with every whisper of wind, or stronger gales. Dripping and splashing through the forest. Stormy days seem to have more to say to me sometimes, and walking in rain I rarely find unpleasant as it seems to keep me moving. I waited for John at Tunupo creek, as it was quite discoloured and fast and wanted to make sure he would get across. Just as I started to feel a slight chill he appeared and I showed him where I crossed, we had a little chat and then I let him go ahead and we each continued our separate wild and wet nature experiences. The Oroua beside the track was just raging, a brown torrent incapable of crossing, and I thought how our decision to bale out of the tops was the right one. I am sure we would not have crossed the river yesterday, and surely not today, and then been faced with a possible trip back over the tops in even worse conditions. So this 5 hour amble along and above the river was the right choice, and the forest was vibrant and alive.
The river outside is still raging, getting higher and more angry. The rain continues to fall. The corker stove gently crackles and warms the hut. When I arrived here wet through and chilled John handed me a cup of hot tea. I am warm now.

Heading off up the Oroua valley to Iron Gate hut.

Tunupo creek in flood.

The sound of water is everywhere on these stormy days, another creek comes to life.

The Oroua in a raging flood just outside Iron gate hut, late afternoon 1 August.

John is almost the identical spot less about 14 hours later. Pretty humbling to see.

Arriving at Iron Gate, wet as can be and ready for a cup of tea.
I have to go out of town for a few days so will publish this as part one of my annual Ruahine winter trip. A different sort of trip, but learning to adapt and accept the gifts and opportunities we are blessed with in Nature is a lesson worth learning. Stay Tuned for Part Two.


Donald said...

Hi Robb

Great post/story thanks. I read it twice as I felt I was there... slips to expend energy on, nature in the raw with creeks turning to torrents. Warm huts and with a good friend - what more could one ask for. I love it! And obviously good decisions. We can love our pet mountain areas to pieces, but it's oh so good to never turn our backs on their other side!

Also I'm very taken with your top-most photo. You've captured the timelessness with that light - it's got that old world painting look reminiscent of the masters.



Mike said...

Hi Robb.

It's great to see you've been out there enjoying it again. Thanks for the write-up, and I'm looking forward to the continuation.


Mike said...

Hi again, Robb.

One further thought that comes to mind is that although I enjoy getting out on a sunny day as much as anyone, I'm certain that I appreciate the rainy days more, for reasons similar to what you mention. Even if I'm not always enjoying it at the time, I'll get back home and be glad I did it and learned something new.

There's something very rewarding, oft in hindsight but not always, about being able to see a place like this in a state that many people don't, at times because they don't even bother to leave home. Then there are other occasions where it might look as if things will be unfulfilling for some definition of the word, but the opportunities open up unexpectedly.

Thanks for writing.

troutbirder said...

What beautiful yet challenging country. I enjoyed you post very much. And that hut sure looked cozy after all we... Im you had been through!

lph said...


Welcome back! What an awesome trip. I love the photos and especially like the two of the Oroua (during and post flood). An awesome moment to witness.

And a good decision you made. Iron Gate looked like a nice cozy space.

Thanks for you photos and from way over here in Wisconsin I can see great aura of peace encompassing you.



donw said...

One of those trips to remember for its moody ambiance. What a beautiful series of photos - especially the first one on this post.
You write so well in describing your wintry mountains!

Happy Trails,

Robin Easton said...

Dear Robb, this such an exciting post. My eyes were glued to the story. I too LOVE hiking in the rain, even if I don't like it every minute at the time I'm in it, I look back and just LOVE IT!!! Most times I love it even while I'm in it.

One of the most powerful things I got out of this is that you didn't act foolhardy. You listened to your gut and didn't do the things you KNEW might cause loss of life. It confirmed for me my choice to turn back. And I didn't even have huts to stay in. Only hammock and rain fly. And it is the monsoon season here, especially up toward alpine level. The storms up there can be violent with lightning, broken tree branches (widow makers) and wind whipped rain. I am like you very adventurous but I am also VERY sensible.

When I arrived home my husband said he was proud of me that I came down when I was so sick with altitude sickness. It a miracle that I made it down, but I'm one determined bugger. He told me that that it often takes MORE courage to recognize when it is no longer a safe path to walk than to keep going, and that it's better to try again later. I learned and experience so many things I wouldn't have had everything gone the way I thought it should.

I am proud of you for being sensible. I know from experience that crossing rivers like that can be exceedingly dangerous. Doubly so in winter if you get completely wet and have to walk some distance in wet, cold wind before reaching shelter.

I honor you my Wild Brother for telling this honestly as it reaffirmed for me to always trust my gut and to throw heroics out the window when my body is telling me to be careful. We walk a similar path in so many ways.

The photos here are priceless and tell their own powerful story. I could smell the mist and rain and hear the raging river....and it was raging and very erratically.

I am deeply grateful that you are back safe and filled with with that which you love so much.

You are a true hero in my life. Do you know that?!! Well, you are. And I am so proud to call my good good friend.


ghreeblestaff said...

I'm tuned in and basking in the glow of part one!
Glad you're back from such a splendid outing.
Good to have you back, for us, at least!
Ever yours,

Anonymous said...

Happy belated Birthday Robb. As always, I love reading of your treks in wild spaces.

Your opening photograph is stunning! Absolutely stunning. I had to look at the higher resolution version a couple of times to make sure I wasn't looking at a painting. It would hold its own against any scenic shot in the world.

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

Robb, what a post!!! Man against nature, with nature, respecting nature. Great photos and imagery and how fantastic you share your solitude times with us.

I hope you are considering writing a book. This journey of the soul makes for great reading.

Happy Belated Birthday!!!

Hugs, JJ

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Donald,
Cheers and good to read from you! I think I learned that from Aat's book and period of transition to solo tramping that as you so eloquently put it in a related prior comment that it is okay "to recognize this is not the day". Had I been alone I might possibly not even have left Rangi hut as my senses were tingling, but felt some sort of obligation to John to at least try, which is where the trouble can start eh! As I wrote I was quite happy when John suggested we pull the pin, and it reaffirmed the years of experience we have accrued together. I was very relieved.
That photo is pretty stunning, and amazingly before this trip I gave John my old camera to take photos from a different perspective than mine for some reason. We often walk seperate and I was stunned to find afterwards we had both taken the exact same photo. Just one of those spots in the New Zealand forest on a rainy day. The mosses and lichens just seem to glow and the light was just stunning. Thanks my friend!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Mike,
I understand perfectly and my sentiments exactly. It was a great walk, and so cool to come around a little bend and see that little red roof knowing a hot cup of tea awaited and warm clothes, fire, and time to just sit back and enjoy the glow of Doing It. Interesting to read that SAR hauled another guy out of the Rani area a few days later, and also read an article about the detoriating state of the slip there. It really does make what used to be extremely fast and easy access to the tops on the western side of the Ruahine a wee bit more problematic, particularly for large groups, or VERY heavy packs.
Appreciate the heads up and links on the Mohaka. I had seen the article but didn't have time to give its proper due. Really makes one want to cry, or get mad.
Kia ora Mike, happy tramping mate!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Troutbirder,
It's a little bit different terrain than I was used to in Wisconsin or Minnesota - not that there are not stunning areas there as well, just different. I must write I would not mind at all drifting along some beautiful dark stained lake in the Boundary Waters in a canoe loaded for a few weeks travel. Might be just the thing for this cranky hip! Glad you came along for the ride in any case.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Larry,
Cheers brother. I have spent a fair bit of time over the last 15 years on the Oroua, even in flood. But never like that. When John and I were standing outside the hut above the river we had to shout to each other to be heard. The noise was incredible, and the power of it amazing. To see it the next morning dropping like that was almost mystical. And even though it looks, and is, dramatically less flow it is still quite high and prevented us from heading further up river that day. Iron Gate hut is a gem of a spot, and when the the conditions are right a wonderful stretch of river to throw out a few lines mate. I dare say the trout would have been ravenous after that flood. Love to take you, and your rod, there one day my friend!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora donw,
As a big fat high pressure system now sits over the entire stretch of both islands and the stars shine brightly above, I don't think I would change a thing. We, I, need to be remined from time to time of the moody perspective. Moreso, to survive and come back to tell the tale. Cheers, and welcome, enjoy your place and adventures very much.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Wild Sister,
Our interactions with the wild were extremely synchronistic. The most valuable lesson we can learn in Nature, to me, is to expect nothing, and accept everything. Robin, your journey was more valuable to you, to all of us, than you know, even if it was not the place, duration, or experience, you expected. The Lessons are fermenting in your soul and will be ready in due course. Isn't it sort of incredible we both went through the same sort of experience? You were there with me, I don't have to explain that, you get it. Rave on Wild Sister, gaze upon those mountains and deserts and give them a huge soul hug from me, as I give one to you and yours.
Aroha always,

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Adam,
I thought about you there brother, and the Coyote. Maybe one day eh...

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Clare,
Cheers for the birthday wish and kind feedback. I was rather pleased to see it emerge of the screen. And as I wrote above not once, but twice. I guess places like that just draw us in. The Ruahine forests are full of such places really, but the rainy stormy day really seems to draw the understated and quiet colours from her. I was just in the right place at the right time - like the Polar bears and you-, as was John, and not too tired to take off the heavy pack and get out the camera on a wet wet day. Thank Clare!

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

KIa Ora Robb

Belated Happy birthday. I enjoyef your posting and could feel the icy grip of winter as you travelled.

The photos are superb.

Thanks mate.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
Cheers for the well wishes. Thought about you up there mate. Hope your trip is going well.

kylie said...

hi robb,
i cant imagine doing what you talk about here. once cold i am the most cranky miserable individual on the planet :)
i think i can understand the way it might make you feel though. there is a sort of elation that goes along with that kind of humbling, yes?

have a great week

sarah said...

greetings Robb,

i'm back to read of your latest journeyings. fantastic shots, most especially the first (as has already been highlighted). i love how your tramps are always contemplative, introspective at the same time you're intensely aware of your wild surroundings - so welcoming in one moment, turning it's back on you the next.

we're keeping a close eye on the weather at present, there are certainly some strange things going on.



Ruahines said...

Kia ora Kylie,
I think Mike in his comment above described it very well, but you are so right. Within the elation of being in Nature on a wild day also comes the humbling of realizing how neutral it is to our presence. The choices we have within it can keep us alive or kill us.
There is someting so special about arriving at an empty hut, cold and tired, and getting into warm dry gear, starting a fire, and having a hot cup of tea. Very few moments have such meaning to me. Cheers Kylie.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Sarah,
Thanks for that and so glad you get that. Man, these past 4-5 days would have perfect for you! This big fat high would mean some great days up there. But in retrospect I guess I wouldn't change anything in regards to my own experience. John and I really enjoyed ourselves and learned a few things as well. Keep in touch!

sarah said...

I know, i think we should have gone last weekend, right?? Never mind, no regrets.

i loved what one of the hut wardens said on the milford track: "be EXUBERANT about the rain, you wouldn't want to experience the milford without it". you know what? she was right, it was like an entirely different world when the weather was flooding down every which way. life was somehow magnified, sharpened and we were all humbled by the magnitude of nature.

i expect this is much the same with the ruahines.

so close now, i can't wait!!


Gustav said...

Happy Birthday Again Brother.

I love the pics of the snow and the huts.

You are a wealthy man.

Lynda Lehmann said...

Robb, we're in a frenzy of activity to finish this house we're building. Tomorrow is another all-day-at-Home Depot-day, so I'll have to come back to read your post. I'm looking forward to it. :)

In the meantime, can you think about giving me a banner for your blog, to put in my sidebar?

Be back soon...


Barbara Martin said...

I've snuck away for a break...and found your adventures mesmerized, wanting more. The wilderness where you hiked is a primal sort not often seen in the Rockies. At least I haven't. There is a connection where you were to a deeper, older place.

Your choices not to continue on were wise, the consequences self-evident.

I'm looking forward to the next phase of this awesome hike you took.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Sarah,
That is great advice - for anywhere in New Zealand really. Personally I love the contrast between the mountains on a really lovely day, and a not so lovely day. Parks Peak ridge on a stormy day for instance is a fantastic place to be, relatively protected and a micro world that just reveals itself. Enjoy!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Gustav,
Cheers brother. You and I were at Iron Gate together, my first trip there back in 1997 or 98. We had a beautiful day along the tops.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Lynda,
Always here to read at your leisure, and glad you stop by in your busy day.
I am not quite sure what a banner is but would be delighted to provide whatever you need.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Barbara,
I think one of the things that attracted me so strongly to the Ruahine was how different it was from the places I had hiked or canoed in the states. Different from the complete majestic beauty and size of the Rockies,the glacial forests of Wisconsin and the tannin stained innumerable lakes and streams of the Boundary Waters, or even our own south island here in New Zealand. And it has grown into that connection you refer to. I thank you for getting that.
I hope you enjoy your break and that it is very productive for you and please stay in touch my friend.

betty-NZ said...

I do love to read of your travels in the snow because I, for one, have seen enough snow for a lifetime. The only snow I care to see is on photos and postcards!
Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

Lynda Lehmann said...

I think you made the right decision, Robb. Thanks for a great account of your trek. The photos make your landscape look like a virtual fairyland, except at higher altitudes when the conditions are near white-out.

Looks like you made the best of it in both company and solitude, and had a wonderful trek!

Thanks for sharing this with us. I am refreshed.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora bettyl,
Eventhough I am a Wisconsin boy, and have seen loads of snow and cold weather, I still find something special in a snow storm. I used to love as a kid getting up in the night and seeing a snowstorm, how it softened the street llights, the possibility of a day off school. Though it is good to also think of that wood fire and cup of tea in the hut! Thanks for tuning in.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Lynda,
Glad you are refreshed! Any time in Nature, even a virtual visit sometimes can leave me smiling.

Unknown said...

Hey Robb,

The mystique of the Ruahines keeps growing on me through your writing. It is interesting, I am almost tempted to stay away from there and leave it untouched in my mind as one of the last mysterious parts of our country that I haven't visited.

take care aye


Marja said...

Again a happy birthday You are a year ahead of me I soon reach the 48 Sounds so strange as I not feel it either. I just came to visit you to enjoy the trip in the cold and snow from the warm comfort of my office. Great pictures The top one is like a fairytale We are blessed to live in such a beautiful country although many other things here need some improvements. My time filled up quickly when I left Blogging but I do miss it. I stil can visit you though and I am glad I did Take care and Aroha marja

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Jamie,
Glad you enjoy the writing and photos mate, but nah! Reckon you should come and join me for a few days sometime.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Marja,
My heartiest early Happy Birthday wishes to you as well. Please do continue visit when the urge strikes as I always love to read from you. We do live in such a beautiful place, but certainly one that needs to be looked after. I find it a bit scary reading quotes from billionaire south island tycoons who see dairy farming as our economic saviour and wish they had more money to invest in it. At what cost?
Cheers Marja, hope your break goes well and we see you back soon my friend.

Maithri said...

You're amazing brother,

Whenever I read you I feel like I'm transported into another world...

Keep sharing the mountain air with us,

It reminds us to live a little more deeply each day,

Peace and love to you and the family,

Happy Birthday my friend!


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Maithri,
Thank you for the birthday wishes and I am happy to read your visits here bring a smile to your face. To make you smile makes me smile, and we have created a ripple! Tara passes on her love. Kia kaha brother.