Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Footsteps...Summer Tour December 2013

19 December, 2013 Early evening....
Trying to light a fire in the newly installed wood stove here in Rangi hut. Proving to be hard work as the wood supplied is very damp and even wet due to a leaky shed. There is little hope in finding any wood at all up here above the tree line so I persist. A Ruahine fire built for those whom have taught me. I think I have cracked it finally, and have little better to focus upon right now, as the wind cranks over the hut and the rain pelts on the roof. I was going to proceed along the tops and camp further on, but finding the hut unoccupied and having walked up in a polite, but relentless rain all the way, I am happy to adjust to this alternative. Looking out upon the plains below the weather appears as if it may break. I must write that being dropped off by Tara far below earlier that I was far from eager to shoulder my heavy pack and begin climbing. Yet I did, and three hours later arrived here, wet, a bit chilled, and feeling good. It seems to get harder for me to be able put aside the pre-trip thoughts of nagging doubt, fear of the uncomfortable moments ahead, being alone for the next 5 days and what that represents. I used to only imagine blue skies, glistening rivers, and easy travel. Now it is thoughts of  bad weather, heavy loads, and  physical and mental hardship that seem to dominate my thoughts before a trip. I must be getting old....

Part of my somewhat maudlin mood is finding out yesterday afternoon, as I was preparing my gear, that a man Tony Gates had died. A Ruahine wanderer since long before I set foot in these ranges, his name appeared in virtually every hut book, and his love for the wilderness of Aotearoa and many other places very apparent in his entries. I have met many people who knew him, most notably my good friend Pohangina Pete, but our paths never did cross. He was only 53 years old, my age. This was an area in particular he roamed a fair bit. The grey day and rain seem a fitting tribute. As does the possibility of the sun that lies behind the storm.

To Tony:
Sheathed within the grey and mist
not revealing the faded footsteps
I will follow
perhaps only a mere wisp away
now not to be
and never will
Instead I shall carry that
furtive glimpse within
These mountains today it seems
weep for you

20 December, 2013...Triangle hut
The first puffy clouds begin to appear over the Whanahuia high above..I had flawless blue skies the whole day amongst the tops and tussock. I left before sunrise in order to be with those special early morning moments when on such days being born as this the alpenglow bathes all in the wonder. The bulks of Ruapehu and the volcano's to the west swathed in pink and purple hues, Maungahuia to the east shimmers in shafts of gold. A day ahead to roam slowly...

Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro under the muted pink hues of the dawn, the mist yet to be burned off by the new day's sun.

Early morning light as the day unfolds upon the open tops of the Whanahuia range

Tea time  mid morning...the tarns on the Whanahuia.
How many times have I passed this very spot with my head down battened up inside warm clothes and rain jacket buffeted by gales? Far more passing by quickly than a moment like this. One where I can unburden myself from my pack and dig within it to find my tin cup, billy and stove and brew up a hot drink while enjoying a bagel and salami. And more than that to sit shirtless in the sun and have time to scrawl these words in my little notebook! The main Ruahine range looms across the Oroua valley which drops off steeply below me and these lovely tarns, with the Ngamoko further south, and to the north the bulk of Maungamahoe and the Hikurangi beyond. Time to linger awhile in the foolishness of things...a rare enough occurrence here and one to be enjoyed. A perfect day.

Broken Ankle Spur, dropping off the open tussock tops of the Whanahuia and into the head waters of the Oroua valley and Triangle hut far below. It is a beautiful view, but one to be appreciated when stopped and feet firmly planted. The upper forest is in sight but getting there seems to take hours, sliding the feet along to find a stable step in the steep tussock terrain. Sweat pours into my eyes, and the occasional curse word is uttered as I hit a hole and stumble down, always down. At times it seems easier to descend on top of the vegetation rather than through it...hearty customers to survive in such elements. I think of the forest and the sweet cold water which awaits below. And carry on...

20 Dec. Evening Triangle hut....Sitting on the hut porch watching the last of the sun fade away over the tops above and enveloping the forest down here in the valley in heavy shafts of dying light. A few puffy clouds drift lazily overhead, the first I have seen all day. I arrived here hot, sweaty and tired, and not long after was embraced by the icy coolness of a lovely pool just above which left me cleansed, exhilerated and tingling. Not long ago a solo male whio landed in that same pool and drifted on past. I have had many such brilliant blue sky moments in the Ruahine, some even here in this very spot, yet I am still finding the finest moment always seems to be the last one. The apprehension and fear I felt while preparing, and then
yesterday in the rain are gone. Taking action has once again proven the most honourable course. I have pitched my tent down here by the river and will be serenaded by her lullaby. Time for a wee dram before dinner...

21 December - camped on the Oroua river..."a day of river wandering, the waters sparkling and shining like jewels in the sun, water coloured only by her stones. The whio seem to guide me along their unerring way, and the emerald deep pools call to me on such a day of blue skies and sunshine. Many already occupied by the lazy flickering of the rainbow trout. I rejoice in the knowledge of being in such a place with all day to do nothing but be here."

Afternoon...along the Oroua river.  I have walked up the river, climbing up over the gorge not far from the hut. The day is clear, the skies are blue, and the sun is warm. The wind has picked up a fair bit, which might be a concern were I up high, but down here on the river is not. Tomorrow I travel down river, and  while rain might be a concern, gales are not. I am reminded of John Muir.." Beside the grand history of the glaciers and their own, the mountain streams sing the history of every avalanche or earthquake and of snow, all easily recognized by the human ear, and every word evoked by the falling leaf and drinking deer, beside a thousand other facts so small and spoken by the stream in so low a voice the human ear cannot hear them. Thus every event is written and spoken. The wing scars the sky, making a path inevitably as the deer in snow, and the winds all know it and tell it though we hear it not."... So the wind feels welcome and refreshing. I saw a pair of whio, frolicking about in the rapids, and while attempting to get closer for a photo opportunity dropped my camera in the river. It happened. It is just that. Any photo I would have observed I could obtain far superior images of from Pete. My little point and shoot camera no match for really good gear. Perhaps it is more the moment and the challenge than the result. Still, the near 300 bucks I paid for it nothing to sneeze at losing. Out there in the world,  this would have me really angry and upset. And what if it had been Tara, or Charlie whom had dropped the camera? Anger and rage that serves no purpose. I accept totally it was just me. I dropped the camera in the river. A mistake, an accident, but not really a tragedy. This is too rare a day to ruin with my anger. The Ruahine always offer me these subtle, and not so subtle, Lessons. I must keep working at Listening to them

Sitting down by the river and contemplating these thoughts of my day. The recognition of my own reaction to a circumstance here in the mountains as opposed to out there. I am reminded a bit of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on Nature. Perhaps I find a more transcendental connection here, yet I know it is not that simple, that the reaction is still emanating from within me, even if I feel more part of a whole something when I am in the mountains. I think of others  whom may have contemplated other such thoughts here, Tony Gate's name is here, so is Pete's. That seems to add to my remoteness here, not detract from it....

"Yet it is certain that the power to produce this delight, does not reside in Nature, but in Man, or in a harmony of both. It is necessary to use these pleasures with great temperance. For, nature, is not always tricked in holiday attire, but the same scene which yesterday breathed perfume and glittered as for the frolic of nymphs, is overspread with melancholy today. Nature always wears the colour of the spirit. To a man labouring under calamity, the heat of his own fire hath sadness in it. Then, there is kind of a contempt of the landscape felt by him who has just lost by death a dear friend.The sky is less grand as it shuts down over less worth in the population." - Ralph Waldo Emerson - Nature 

22 Dec. Iron Gate hut.... as if reading my thoughts on Emerson last evening the clouds rolled in on the wind and it began raining and hammered down upon the tin roof all night and into the morning. The river held well but in the continued rain I thought it best to head down river while the getting was good. A pair of whio greeted me and escorted me down river while I found my water legs. Walking in the river with a heavy pack and slippery boulders is an acquired skill. There is a side stream an hour or so down river in which a track of sorts climbs up into it where it joins a spur and down the other side to avoid a nasty section of gorge in the river.  It is tough, vertical slippery climb up it before it veers away, and then another equally steep descent into a creek on the other side before rejoining  the Oroua. When I settled in with a cup of tea I grabbed the hut book and the first entry in the book is this...."5/1/2011 - Hi fellahs, wetter than the Tararua's here! Hut ticket WA4386...Wet, warm weather, river in flood. Back down valley to Heritage, misty wx..9:00am Blue skies! so exit via tops and Tunupo peak. Tony Gates."

It has been a pleasure to walk in the footsteps of such a good keen man. My own mortality and time left amongst these beautiful ranges has been heavy on my mind. I'm not getting any younger, my knee is sore and  I seem to find a new bump or bruise with every quiet cup of tea. Still, I am here! And I am still smiling. What else can I do?

In the river with the early morning light
driven by the relentless patter upon the tin roof
and restless sleep knowing my path was
along her quiddity
when the sun sparkles and glimmers upon her
it is convivial 
when yet to endow her charms
the near alpenglow leaves all enigmatic
I seek to be in tune to the river
yet slip and slide, furtive steps
then hear the literal trumpets call
the whio!
have come to show me the way...
Kia ora!