Thursday, October 17, 2013

Heart Break

Upper Makaroro hut : near the headwaters of the Makaroro river. The focal point of the Ruataniwha dam. Steep rugged terrain. Not difficult to see far below this point on the river why technocrat money changers want to alter these places forever...

The bile rises in my throat. My heart hurts. To read our Department of Conservation, the managers and overseers of all our conservation land and survival of our native and freshwater species are using semantics, a loophole, the vagaries of legal speak to allow the Ruahine to not only be compromised, but altered forever. Wilderness drowned in her own blood, the very water that sustains it, so that people out here can make more money and pollute more rivers. The rotten stench and slime coated feel of the entire Ruataniwha dam scheme has in the entire course of it's unfolding and subterfuge filled and suspect resource consent process boarders on criminal. Much like the rivers that will lie below this dam, all emerging from the Ruahine.  And to the Ruahine range upon which it's prostrate living corpse will rest, it is a crime. It makes me sick

Through the years I have met and interacted with many DOC workers. Coalface peeps who are certainly not there for the monetary riches on offer, but rather a love of the whenua, the mountains and rivers and the native fauna and creatures that dwell within such places. This government has slowly reduced their numbers, turning the rest into paper shuffling bureaucrats beholden to smiling assassins of our wilderness. One DOC employee had the guts to leak documentation that the original DOC submission in regards to the dam was 36 pages long, reduced upon direction from the top to reduce it to a few meagre mumbling paragraphs of neither support nor opposition. He, or she, is now being hunted like a criminal, the upper echelons of the department and government demanding a scalp for such insurrection in revealing the truth. That person is a hero!
"Truth is always the enemy of power. And power the enemy of Truth" - Edward Abbey

 Parks Peak hut under an emerging full moon...the entire access to this place via the southern ridge will be gone, much of the start of it underwater. And it is a long somewhat grueling ridge at that, up and down the undulating forest and occasional open top stretches. The stunted tawhairauriki, fighting their own battles in the thin soiled narrow ridge seem to smile knowingly as I pass by. There is no water to be had, there is no relief to the slight but relentless climb to here. It is a ridge I have climbed now many times, each one staggering into this little lovely mountain meadow under my load thirsty and tired and vowing never again. Yet I return again and again...till perhaps now.

The dead trees in the Ruahine speak the loudest. Their very essence being absorbed back into the meagre earth they themselves struggled upon their entire lives. The death poses grip me deeply. Most often like this one, all of our tipuna, ancestors. "Leave us be! Listen! You need us more than we need you. We love you, why cannot you love us in turn."

Earlier this year I was at Parks Peak on my own. The final evening it was clear but windy and gale like winds buffeted over the ridge. I went and stood in the forest amongst the living and dead trees and felt the very bones of the Ruahine herself swaying and rocking in the wind. Then I noticed the tears running down my cheeks, an overwhelming sense of love and grief that rolled through me like the winds through my very soul.. I thought it was about me, and it was. I know now it was also grief for the very whenua, the land, that I stood shakily upon. My heart aches.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Thoughts on the Maropea.....

17 September, 2013. Early evening outside Sunrise hut in the Ruahine.

The snow has been falling now for at least as long as it takes to boil the billy for several cups of tea. It is cold! Yet the wind is gentle, a quiet frigid southerly that bodes well for us passing over the exposed and most often windy saddle in the morning. We arrived late in the afternoon, and finding the relative luxury of Sunrise hut empty, and being the only car in the lot far below, are taking our chances of enjoying our solitude here. In particular the newly installed wood stove and choppered in wood supply replacing the problematic old gas heater. I am not sure what to make of that, but as John is inside the hut getting that fire going in this moment all is well.
  It is a pleasure to be back in these mountains with John. It has been well over a year since we have hoisted swags together, our lives busy and complicated with other matters. To find these moments means a great deal to me. And we have 5 days to just be here in the Ruahine. It was good to begin our climb and quickly regain the old camaraderie of old tramps. Heavy packs, legs and backs straining a bit under the unfamiliar loads. Yet we soon settle in to our old ways and pace. John much faster than I, yet waiting at key spots to make sure all is well. Words spoken, and words unspoken. It has already been a good mountain trip..

Evening settles in over Te Atuaoparapara.....

18 Sept. - just before Sunrise.....
 I awoke to my own steaming breath, and going outside in the emerging light checked the thermometer to find it was -10 below Celsius! Had to forgo my normally very strong early morning solo coffee as the tap and water tank were frozen, and we had neglected to fill the billies before retiring for the evening. We will have to try and pry the top off the water tank, but that will keep for later. Going to wake up John to watch the soon to be revealed sunrise. It is frigid, but still and quiet, and the promise of a fine day to travel in the Ruahine lies ahead I sense. I tingle with anticipation - and thoughts of the sunrise ahead, and a cup of coffee soon after...

Te Atuaoparapara  at Sunrise...... We watched a stunning sunrise, quiet and still, the promise of the day ahead overcoming the sleepiness still left in our heads. The water problem was solved by climbing on top of the tank and removing the guttering pipe and tank top, dipping our billies and water bottles in the ice cold water. Strong coffee's indeed! How cool to pack up our swags and head out into the Ruahine on a day such as this...

Rime ice on the poles above Armstrong Saddle. Look at those colours!

     Morning tea at Top Maropea. The water tank was frozen here as well, but we soon had the billies full and sat in the warmth of the sun and enjoyed our cup of tea before heading down to the stream and river. It was far colder in the hut......

There is an old flood ravaged tawhairauriki log along the Maropea where, on good days like this, I have made it a habit to stop for lunch. It has become a marker for me, a sign of an earned rest and work done, and also a sign of work ahead. The log is smooth and worn, both seats and table, and the spot on the river a fine quiet straight. On not so nice days I pass by this place wistfully.....

Not a bad spot for a bit of a kip in the warm sun either! The cold river will be joined soon enough...

Evening: Maropea Forks
John stirs the wood stove, the momentary glow from the coals accentuates the candle lit hut with a golden glow. Though it was a flawless day on the river with not a cloud in the sky, and gentlest of breezes, the river was very cold and rocks slippery, so as always it is a pleasure to arrive here at the empty hut and change into dry warm clothes while the billy boils. There has been no one here since July, at least according to the hut book, a thought that also adds to the charms of the hut and the remoteness of this place. The reward for travel down the wild cold early spring river. We saw 4 whio on the way down, two pairs. One much higher up than I have observed before, hopefully meaning a new pair establishing a new territory. In any case it always moves me deeply to interact with the whio in their place, and I am still smiling. Soon I will put my pen down and pick up the tools to prepare our tea. Tonight we have fresh broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, stir fried with red onion, garlic and ginger, served over rice. To be followed by a few wee drams of Glen Morangie. Ultra light trampers we are not.....

Morning: Before sunrise - on the porch of Maropea Forks....
    John sleeps soundly in the hut. I crept out quietly with the cooker, billy, and the makings of my large early morning coffee. I am dressed warmly against the early morning chill, and there is frost all around the hut and river flat. I love these quiet moments of early morning mountain solitude...the day yet to unfold, and the whole day ahead to do as much or as little as we wish, to think, to dream, to just be part of these mountains. I am currently thinking of the very future of this hut. Over 16 years ago, when I first came here, the river was 25 metres away with a large shingle bed between the hut and the river, and another 10 metres of tawhairauriki between the hut and river. Now the river has changed course, has eaten away the entire shingle bed and 5 more metres of the tawahairauriki. I can look off the porch and see the river below me. The fallen trees like dead warriors lying in the water. Part of me wants a solution to this, the hut moved, a new hut, a cement barrier protecting the remaining land. The reality is our government has chosen to not value places like this for what they are. The other reality is the river has chosen her course and that is that. Claiming back what is her own. In here the river decides. And then my mind moves to what is happening to these very rivers when they leave the sanctuary of the Ruahine. Where man does decide where, and how she shall flow, where she becomes beholden to the needs of man rather than just being what she is on the way to the sea. The dam which will lie less than 8 kilometres from this very spot as the crow flies in particular gnaws at my guts. That we continue to "value" wilderness, our rivers, and the sea, only in terms of what they give us economically, instead of relishing the very wealth they offer our hearts and souls. So it is with a certain sense of irony I sip my coffee this morning.....

 Climbing up to the main Ruahine range and Pt. 1450. The snow covered peaks of the main range further south.

Out of the forest and up into the open tussock. Maropea Forks far below.
John nearing Pt. 1450 with Remutopo and Te Atua Mahuru behind...

In the forest above Maropea Forks and not far below the open tops of the main Ruahine range. I have climbed up here three times now in the last 5 years. Once with my friends John and Jeff, a day that should have been filled with light heart... and joy, except my damaged arthritic hip hurt so bad I was near tears. In this spot here on the way down the mountain I found my friend Jeff waiting for me, playing his harmonica. That meant more to me than words I can write. The second time was the afternoon my son Taylor became lost after not appearing at Maropea Forks far below. I could not be in tears as I had to focus. I climbed up high in the growing darkness trying to get phone reception which I did not and so spent a very lonely and sleepless night at the hut. The next day I found him. The third time was on this day, with John. We climbed unburdened by loads all the way to the tops and a place he and I had climbed down from many years before. The memories of the pain of my hip and heart still there, yet also a realization I could release that pain and these mountains would absorb that burden for me. My tears on the way down on this day were of thanks for the gifts brought through trial and tribulation. The mountains are not always about moments of joy and happiness. Sometimes that comes much later.

Evening Maropea Forks: We farewell our third evening here in the Ruahine.  A fine day trip up to the main range with one light pack containing a bit of extra gear, water and lunch for the day. Nice to travel light at times like this, when our home awaits below. It is still a gruelling climb up the steep spur to here, or any Ruahine spur for that matter. So finding a lasting connection to certain  places and staying for a few days, getting to know and understand the lie of the land around us rather than just traveling from point A to B has great appeal for me. Particularly with my 53 year old legs and new hip. And very rewarding as well to travel up there light of load with John, when we can walk and climb together, speaking or not speaking doesn't much matter. Rather it is the mate ship, the confident feeling of having shared so many Ruahine experiences together and the resulting trust that gives us. It is very special indeed, and though we have been tramping around these hills for many years it is always fresh and new when we return  here. John reads the letters of George Lowe, a Kiwi icon whom cut his teeth here in the Ruahine, maybe even this very place, while I scribble these words. The Corker crackles and hisses a bit with a bit of wet wood. Olives, salami, pita bread and cheese await. The rain begins to patter on the tin roof...

The Maropea river and a familiar old tawhairauriki. We saw 5 whio on the way back upriver - the same two pair and a solitary male even higher up the river.

Top Maropea hut: Evening...I was climbing up to the spur from the creek below Top Maropea. I turned one of the near vertical corners to a slight flat spot on the steep face and there stood Pohangina Pete! A good friend, and a Ruahine mentor in many ways. He had come in the night before to Top Maropea and was climbing to the creek and down river to meet John and I. What a cool development! Pete joined Tara and I for dinner a while back and I had mentioned the upcoming trip with John. His university teaching commitments kept him from joining us for the whole trip, but how splendid to see him here for our final evening. And I am quite sure Pete would have enjoyed the quiet mountain solitude on offer at Top Maropea. We had a fine afternoon sitting in the "backyard" of Top Maropea, gazing out to the head of the valley John and I had come from that day, and the distant peaks of the main range above it. John has worked hard to get a tidy fire going here in the tiny hut, dinner awaits, and not far off the pleasure of a final night in my down cocoon. I smell of wood smoke, sweat, and a wee bit of Jameson 12 Year Old. My thoughts are clear and strong. When John and I entered the Ruahine I stopped and said a little karakia. I asked the Ruahine for the strength to set my worldly burdens down here at her entrance. I'm ready to pick up them back up now. Just a bit lighter than they were 5 days ago

John and I the next day on Armstrong saddle. Kia Ora and Aroha to my family, to John, to Pete, and mostly to these beautiful ranges, the Ruahine, which keep calling me back.....................................

Monday, January 14, 2013


31 Dec. 2012, Parks Peak, evening:  Just returned from a fine evening wander to the overlook above the Makaroro valley to watch the sun set on this day, on this year. Though the peaks were cloud obscured the shafts of light beaming down onto the valley out of the gun metal grey clouds as if using the last gasps of adrenaline and life left to them made it a much worth while endeavour.

Back here at the hut I settle into the evening as the hut is buffeted by gales and gusts of wind, and toast New Years Eve with my hut companions, Jill, Mandy, and Jim, whom arrived from far over the main Ruahine range and up and over the Makaroro valley just after dusk. That is a long day and they are quite happy to be out of the wind. It proves quite interesting as they are all well traveled with interesting stories and adventures, and turns out we know some of the same people. A few quiet toasts, they with fine red wine, myself, a few wee drams of Glenmorangie. None of us have any visions of staying up till midnight to meet the new year. A very different sort of celebration for me.

The Hawkes Bay plains and the Wakarara range and forest below.

Looking up from Sentry Box spur to the main ridge. Quite a bit of steep graft lies behind and ahead.

I too spent a day in the mist, sun, and howling winds swirling about the Ruahine. For the first time I arrived not by the long grueling ridge from the south, but rather from the shorter, steeper route from the north via Sentry Box spur. It is an equally grueling climb of 3 hours to where the spur meets the ridge, but then only another hour back down the ridge to here, and not the 4-5 more hours from the south. I do love that ridge via the south, but it is a very long day.  I met only two people on the climb coming down. As I came around a corner I could hear voices above me, and when they came into view the guy said, "It's the Ruahine Rambler!".  Not quite sure what he meant by that I stood below he and his partner, then introduced myself and he said, "I know, you're Robb Kloss who writes the blog, I read it." I had to smile in spite of my dripping sweat and heavy pack. Moving up a bit to talk to he and his partner I found they were emerging from a 10 day Ruahine adventure and had been all over the place. They did it pretty hard and I have to admire their toughness and stamina. Meeting Like Minded peeps in the hills I find a much more enjoyable experience now days, and Brinley and his partner, and the peeps I met later this evening are all validation of that. I suppose we are all in the hills for our own reasons but to find common threads and interests, and to open ourselves to learning from each other is both good for ourselves, and in ways, good for these mountains.

North of Parks Peak ridge looking towards the main Ruahine range.

The Makaroro valley.

1  Jan. 2013: Early Morning: A new year has dawned. Yet I have sat here high on this ridge on many such mornings. Sipping a large coffee and weighing my options. The wind howls over and with it a bit of rain. My hut mates have since packed up and headed out towards Sentry Box. I could move down to Upper Makaroro and the valley, though the overcast clouds, wind, and rain make that thought slightly unpalatable. I could have a hut day here at a favourite Ruahine spot, go out and gather wood and render it, ect...What I think I will do is put the billy on for another cuppa. I have all day to do whatever I choose or choose not to do. Options....

My fellow trampers about to head into the stormy Ruahine morning.

Early evening on the Upper Makaroro:  I packed up and left Parks Pack around noon. The conditions continued to deteriorate, and rather than ride out the gale and rain up there better to be in the relative shelter of the valley by the river. And this has proven to be correct. I have a lovely campsite set up by my old tawhairauriki "chair", and old flood washed log worn down down smooth and a perfect place to nestle my bulk into. The forest was ataahua (beautiful), with ethereal shadows and shafts of sunlight filtering down through the big trees, swaying and moaning in the wind, and then sighing with tired indignation as they settle back and wait for the next gale to rip over the valley. The sound of the wind lessens from the freight train howling up top, down to the eerie rustling lower down, and finally to a mere occasional gust above the sound of the river down here. It seems this section of Ruahine forest is most often stormy when I pass through, and I find I prefer it that way.

I was last on this fine chair two years ago with Pete and John on a similar summer journey. I can still hear a faint trace of Pete's quiet chuckle and John's more ribald laughter. The echoes are still here.

The forest track seems very much like
the mountain river
winding and weaving their ways
the tawhairauriki leaves guide me
sparkling like jewels on the forest floor
guiding me
along the way
not unlike the crystal clear water
coloured only by her stones
the graceful curves and gentle bends
then bunching into places
of hard toil and work
swirling white water to cross
a steep descent or climb
above or below
not so different from each other
only that the mountain path
always ends by the mountain river
on it's way to the sea beyond

I love my little tent. The freedom, solitude and safety it offers me. I am happy to be ensconced inside it as I scribble these words. I have carried it around in these mountains for some 15 years. A load I am willing to bear. I used to look upon my tent as a necessary burden, against bad weather, messed up plans, full huts, I view it in a very different way. The best gifts are ones we come to know and savour..

The old flood ravaged tawhairauriki log. A lovely spot. A perfect seat for one, or as many as three.  A pair of whio landed in the pool below me for a visit after dusk, and later on when I was in my tent they returned and sang me to sleep. A perfect lullaby indeed.

New tupare leaves emerging from the adult plant. This narrow band of year when such tough and hardy life can relax and produce new life. Only for a brief moment..

2 Jan. 2013: Now sitting on the porch of Parks Peak hut, alone and quiet. The wind has now picked up again, after granting me a perfect late afternoon here. I even lie in the sun amongst the spongy mosses and plants, getting warmed in this amazing mountain meadow at 1320 metres. I have dragged in much dead wood, though without the saw I kindly left at Top Maropea cannot do much more. Except go for a walk.

It is the dead trees which speak to me most and the loudest. I feel them. They are now returning to Papatuanuku rather than taking from Her. They tell of their struggles for life, without rancour, without regret, scoffing slightly at the youngsters gathered around them. Only scathing of those who do not know or simply expressing the desire to be left alone. They Beseech the Sky. This ridge is where I feel and understand the Matataketake of the Ruahine. 15 years of experience in my tiny life has brought that to me. And the trees live on...........

A long sunset enjoyment of a place where I have enjoyed many. The tupare is in bud, the tawhairauriki glowing, the mosses hanging from her branches leaving me wordless. A stunted place where life clings precariously to each moment, where you can lean against one of the residents whose roots planted in the thin mountain soil let the trees speak and sing for themselves. The whole hillside seems to rattle and sway in the wind. If you stand still enough. I stood and Listened.

Ti hei Mauri Ora! Content moment wishes for the New Year.