Monday, May 5, 2014

Pondering in the Pohangina

23 April..camped on the Ngamoko tops just below the high point at Toka.
I scribble in my notebook by headlamp as the tent gets buffeted by an occasional low reaching gale. Overhead they scream past with the sound of a freight train. Reaching the tops we were headed north along them to Toka Biv but the increasing gales caused us to pull the pin on that, and by luck we stumbled upon this spot below the lip of the main ridge. It is out of the gale, replete with fresh water from the tarn and a nice cushion of tussock to pitch our tent upon. I think we made a pretty wise decision to pull back from Toka Biv.  We will assess the situation in the morning as before crawling into the tent the cloud rolled in and the rain began. Cloud hidden indeed..

Campsite below Toka high point out of the wind...mostly.

Clagged in and drizzling just before we retire inside the tent for the evening...

24 April Leon Kingvig hut on the Pohangina river...

The wind howls over and occasional great gusts reach down here into the relative narrow confines of the valley and whip everything into a momentary frenzy. Even the water ripples and lifts against the flow of the river. Then all settles into the symphony of the wind overhead and the river passing by.

During the night camped up top the wind buffeted the tent and then steady rain began to fall. We emerged into cold drizzle and near white out conditions. With the wind still ripping over the thought of heading further in did not seem too appealing. An early morning coffee would have helped, but in these conditions it would have been far less enjoyable than where I write these words on the hut porch. Had I been on my own, and certainly if I had been with Charlie, I would have packed up and headed back down to the car to return another day. With John however I felt a bit more confident. That can be the crux of getting in trouble or not. Being with John does not make me any better at route finding, or dealing with unpleasant conditions, but it does give more reassurance in numbers. When people wonder about my safety as an often solo tramper, there are times I think I may actually BE safer on my own as I am so much more aware of my limitations.
John and I packed up and headed into the mist and wind and immediately became "lost". It took us 20 minutes and finally getting out the map and heading where we thought the route would be soon found the poled route down the ridge. A few times we had to hunker down and absorb the gales till they subsided a bit and then carried on. Further down the "track" becomes a bit more distinct but it was a great relief to finally get into the tupare corridor and down into the forest and out of the wind.
I arrived at the hut, wet, cold, and tired, to be greeted by John holding a large hot and strong cup of coffee, which I had been thinking of for several hours. To sit on the hut porch and sip that nectar brought a smile rising through my tiredness. Seconds later a pair of whio flew into the pool across from the hut, singing and frolicking as if greeting us and approving of our presence and efforts to arrive here. Suddenly not tired at all we went down to the river to watch them, the soul of these mountain rivers. I took their arrival as a sign.

Whio outside Leon Kingvig hut on the Pohangina river. Photo by Pohangina Pete..

24 April evening.. In the late afternoon  John and I were sitting down by the river as the wind continued overhead in waves of relentless gales, enjoying the fact we were here, safe and warm, and congratulating ourselves on having the hut to ourselves as no sane person would be out in conditions such as this. Suddenly I saw some movement across the river and high up on the steep track from the forest. Out popped Pohangina Pete who had traveled in through the inclement conditions to join us! He knows this area pretty intimately and judged, correctly, that he could make his away across the tops. What a pleasant and very cool development indeed. I am about to prepare a dinner of Moroccan couscous, with pistachio's, cashews, toasted sesame seeds, and green beans. More than enough for the three of us and a pleasure to cook for such fine mates. The wind continues to whip overhead. Inside this hut it is warm and peaceful. I am once again reminded of Emerson...

“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Interesting that evening when Pete appeared the whio returned to greet him as well. They appeared again in the morning as well for an extended visit.

The Pohangina river just above the hut...

Leon Kingvig hut. Pohangina valley.
25 April...mid morning...I have a sense of unease that has come over me. A feeling related to a few things. John and I yesterday discussing the possibility of climbing to and crossing Sawtooth ridge here in the Ruahine this coming summer. We tried many years ago and ended up spending two days hut bound at Howlett's hut as the weather did not permit a crossing and we finally pulled the pin. It is the one major route we have not done in these ranges. With that came my own personal realization of the changes needed within myself to do that, to both mentally and physically have my ducks in a row. And from there I have come head on with the reality of how much I really do love being in these places, or are the words scribbled from my pen mere bullshit? Am I willing to pay the price to make the changes I need to keep traveling here? As I wrote yesterday, had I been on my own in that wind, mist and cloud in the morning I would have doubted myself in unfamiliar terrain, and probably would have turned back. Perhaps that would have been the smartest decision anyway. Yet as I gaze across the river to the start of the track back up and across the Ngamoko the thought of climbing up there into a gale does not fill me with the same sense of challenge I might have felt 10 years ago. It fills me instead with this unease.

I also understand as I grow older the difference between saying we love someone, or some place, and the reality required in actually doing that. Nothing with any of that is static and secure. It is often confronting, painful, and difficult. Sometimes it seems easier to just walk away. So I know the hard work that lies ahead.

The light of the early morning tawhairaunui forest.

26 April...below the Ngamoko tops of the Ruahine
We had spent yesterday close to the hut, going down to the river to greet the visiting whio a few times, and between the gales of wind blasting down from above to fill the billy from the river for another cup of tea or soup. Then early in the evening the rain began in earnest, and between the wind blasting on the tops, and the possibility of not even getting across the river looming with the incessant pounding on the tin roof, we began making nervous contingency plans. A few more moments of doubt...
I woke up before dawn to silence. No rain, and the constant roar of wind gone. Only the muttering song of the river could be heard. Stepping out on the porch I saw stars flickering up in the sky!
I left long before John and Pete who remain at the hut tidying up and no doubt enjoying a few brews before getting underway. Not only because I am far slower but also that I love being on my own in the dripping quiet but not silent forest in the early morning light on such a day as this...sitting here in the depths of the Ngamoko surrounded by blue sky and the myriads of green and shimmering gold I find myself feeling reassured and hopeful. That is love as well.

“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” - John Muir

John climbing up to the Ngamoko with Pete cruising up behind.

John just below Toka, with the ridge down to Leon Kinvig behind. Photo by Pohangina Pete...

Surly and bruised grey clouds roil and roll above
pushed on by blistering gales
fluorescent on the edges of the setting sun
glinting of yellow and reds
that lead to the dark heart of the matter
the measure of my own time
in a timeless place
what must I do for one more day?



Beth said...

Those elusive whio seem to have a thing for you and Pete, Robb! It's been good reading your words and looking at these beautiful pictures as I drink my own morning coffee up here, so far away. Lately I've been trying to find words for how I feel about Iceland, and how that landscape broke something open inside me, something that has to do with dealing with my own aging and my love for the earth. The mountains embody everything, if we're open to it: they somehow mirror all the emotions that roil inside us and we can learn from that, or not. Now I'm going to think about throwing some paint around...thanks for your note!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Beth,
My pleasure..."The mountains embody everything, if we're open to it: they somehow mirror all the emotions that roil inside us and we can learn from that, or not"...I really love that. I think as well that the simplicity on offer there intensifies that even more. The whio for instance, to many might just be an interesting sort of duck found in the mountains, but for me they represent so much more and the joy I feel when seeing them can bring me to tears. Iceland, the is just lovely to find a place we can open our hearts to, and in turn they open up to us. Happy painting e hoa!

troutbirder said...

Nice to see your still doing your mountain thing, Robb. At seventy four now I've fond new avenues and contentment in adjusting my lifestyle to an aging body and balance. It can be done....:)

Ruahines said...

Kia ora TB,
I think what this trip pointed out most to me is that while I can still travel in these places and I still have the strong desire to do so, it is more the sacrifices I must make out here to continue to do that which are most daunting. How I keep myself fit, my eating, my drinking, taking care of my mental and physical being really. Things I should be doing anyway I realize, but putting a pack upon the back and climbing up and down mountains tends to magnify the weak spots, aches, pains and doubts. Don't want that window closing just quite yet. Cheers e hoa!

KB said...

I love that John Muir quote - and I try to embrace it. I feel the same as you, with a growing fearfulness that my body will fail me at some crucial juncture. Yet, I still go out there, and try to embrace the uncertainty of the wilderness. It seems that you do the same but with perhaps more consciousness than I do.

Ruahines said...

Kia Ora KB,
This trip a combination of very bad weather and not being as fit as I would have liked, both mentally and physically, really banged me around. As you wrote much of that is being able to embrace the uncertainty of wild places. As much as we envision windless blue sky days, and starry nights, it probably ain't gonna happen that way.
The only thing I can control is my own self, and even that can be a struggle at times...
Glad you are still out there doing it e hoa. Carry on and Kia Kaha...

Marja said...

Great to read about another adventure, although it sounds a bit scary to get lost in the wilderness. I love your wisdom that loving someone or someplace is confronting etc. To do so I think makes the ties stronger and we grow.
I absolutely love your beautiful poem. I think the mountains are a great place to ponder

saying we love someone, or some place, and the reality required in actually doing that

Tim Koppenhaver said...

A little late to the party, but great post Robb. I especially liked this line: " When people wonder about my safety as an often solo tramper, there are times I think I may actually BE safer on my own as I am so much more aware of my limitations." As an often solo hiker myself, I often have to convince loved ones not to worry. I'll be stealing your quote quote soon to help out my case!
Take care.

Joe McCarthy said...

Interesting insights on several levels.

I recently finished my 5th reading of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Every time I read the book, I am at a different stage of life, and different elements resonate with me each time. The portion that seems relevant in this context is Pirsig's observation that his former self, Phaedrus, who was partly obliterated through court-mandated electroconvulsive shock therapy, wasn't spooked by anything, and yet [the reformed] Pirsig is more inclined to play it safe. This comes up while he and his son Chris are climbing a mountain, and he decides to forego reaching the summit due to concerns about stormy weather (inside himself and in the external environment).

I, too, am wrestling with the tension between playing it safe and being more adventurous ... and, like Pirsig, my son is helping to reflect back to me all my inconsistencies.

Thanks for sharing your experiences and your feelings about them here. It is helpful to read about you wrestling with similar demons, and I look forward to learning more about how you resolve the tension within yourself over time.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Marja,
Good to read from you...thank you for enjoying my poetry or attempts at it. I like it. :)
May be seeing you down in Christchurch as my son Taylor is now living down there. He seems to be getting his proverbial "shit together".
Hope all is well. Good to see your place active again.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Tim,
Nice to read from you as well. Please feel free to use whatever you need from here if it helps get you out amongst it. It was a great tramp spent with great friends. Simple pleasures. Take care e hoa.

Ruahines said...

Haere mai Joe e hoa,
Always cool to see you stop in this place of both outreach and refuge.
Just before I met Tara, well over 20 years ago now, and moved to New Zealand I was in a state of flux. Another relationship had ended and I knew I needed to "change". I returned to school to get my teaching certification, and one of the classes I had was dealing with the methodology of teaching. I used Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as my source, the differentiation between ways both men approached their machines as my comparison. One needing to know everything about the inter connectedness between how and why the bike operated, the other seeing it more or less as a means to get someplace. Yet both arrive at the same place. It has been that same 20 plus years since I read the book and time for me to go get a copy and read it again to see how it feels now.
If the mountains have taught me anything it is to challenge myself, but to also pay very close attention to that inner voice. And have ample and good gear.. :)
Cheers is good to still consider you a friend after all these years. Kia Kaha! Noho ora mai Ra e hoa!