Sunday, December 30, 2018

Ruahine Summer Tour 2018

16 December 2018
Top Maropea hut
Late afternoon.

I write these words sitting upon one of the benches we hauled up here in June to replace the ones which were burnt. I think back on that sleet filled, windy and cold weekend and packing these seats up to here and glad that I am now enjoying the benefits of them and that they are all in fine condition. It gives me a real connection to not only the tinana, or physical place but the wairua, spirit as well. It makes that hard journey bringing them here worthwhile in so many ways.

It is the first day of our annual summer tramp in the Ruahine. John and I hoisting our swags for around two decades now and this year joined for the second time by Pohangina Pete, whom I met in these ranges almost as long ago. Very appropriate company indeed. Three people bonded by the adhesive love of these mountains.

We changed our plans and reversed our six day loop when we reached the turnoff on Sunrise track to the Waipawa river. Rather than head down to the river, up the valley and over the saddle to Waikamaka hut we decided instead to head to Sunrise and over Armstrong saddle to here. The debate was mainly around the long gruelling river walk and nature of the terrain going down the other side of saddle, versus quickly getting to the tops and enjoying the fine weather on the way here, a relatively rare occurrence. We all concurred in the decision and here we are. (Completing our trip 6 days later on the Waipawa river validated the voracity of the decision made.)

It is very comforting and soul nourishing to be here after a lovely day on the tops enjoying the weather and the stillness that enables us to walk slowly and not only see the view but get a lesson in botany, bird life and entomological life John and I simply do not see. Dr. Pete is in his element. So are John and I in our own ways, but it is humbling to see how much we don’t see.

Pete and John heading up towards Top Maropea.

A rest before the drop to the hut. A rare occurence to get such a day.

On Camel Back spur near Top Maropea

Top Maropea. Benches in good shape. A pleasure to sit upon after a long day.

Sunrise over the Maropea valey. Ataahua!
17 December
Top Maropea

The sun is still searching for it’s way over the peaks at the head of the Maropea valley. Te Atua Mahuru, Remutupo, Orupu, Waikamaka, Puketaramea, and Maroparea all stretch and come to life. The emerging dawn sky is a flawless blue with just a breath of chilly wind. The river awaits!

I feel excited by the prospect of being on the Maropea river on a day such as this. To just let go of my thoughts and be on the river, to be with the river. And find that in letting go will come many reflections, questions, and maybe even a few revelations along the twists and turns of her shimmering beauty. What has changed in the river? What has changed in me? And where will the whio be?

Tupare (Leatherwood) in flower. Friend and foe.

The Maropea river

Morning tea must be soon!

The old tawhairaunui log. Still there amongst much change. Great place on a good day.

The waterfall. Not too far from Maropea Forks now!

John and Pete approaching from below the fall.

Time for a swim. Beautiful pool and highly refreshing/

Maropea Forks hut

17 December
Late Afternoon
Maropea Forks hut

We did indeed walk with the river under the flawless blue sky today. When a day like this shared, when the sunlight sparkles and shines on the clear water and illuminates the stones and pebbles like jewels, when the day is fine enough to go slowly and stop by the old tawhairanui log for lunch and to boil the billy, when we can stop and observe the whio, and when the day allows a leisurely swim in the pool of waterfall we have enjoyed a special day on the river. Such experiences become engrained within my very soul. The symphony of the river’s music changing with its ebb and flow.

And the river, as I have, has changed since I last was here almost exactly two years ago. So change was my common bond with the river today. A huge boulder, the size of a small truck, I used to linger at prior to a small rapid is now gone! Another near it tipped on its side. What must that have looked and sounded like? The river is far fuller of shingle and rock, other areas that used to be grassy toi-toi covered flats now gone. Dramatic changes synchronistic to the large boulders I have shifted within my own life.

We saw one whio higher up in the river. I know two years ago a pair was on this stretch of river near the hut and forks so hoping we see them. One fat trout was spotted in a deep green pool lazily lurking.

Now I am sitting on the porch of Maropea Forks hut with another cuppa full of sweet tea. Pete and John discuss green hooded orchids and the differences between butterflies and moths. Other conversations of my past visits seem to float amongst the fluttering of the tawhairuriki leaves.

The hut book here goes back to 2010. My first visit here was 20 years ago which certainly feels like a milestone. This is my 7th trip here since 2010. The first being with Taylor, or should write without Taylor, when he was lost on the river. The ghost of that old hut and that lonely night I spent there without my son lingers. After that I did two solo trips searching for some sort of relief or answers to that experience with Taylor. None have been forthcoming, aside from the realization that places we love can hold more than just happy memories, and perhaps should for that is true life. I feel a sense of clarity scribbling these words now, my wairua, my whanau both feel soothed.

John and I then came to the old hut for the last time in 2013 for a few nights and on the way out we met Pete at Top Maropea. Another circle completed.

In 2015 I came to the then brand new hut with my other son Charlie. So to have the memories and echoes of both my sons here swirling about with the river’s song is a moving and real experience.

John and I then visited two years ago this very day for 2 more nights which brings me to today. I’m not quite sure how many that makes in total going back over 20 years but certainly enough to indicate I find this a very special spot in the Ruahine. And realize that here now I am less concerned about how many times in the past but rather simply enjoying the moments here right now. Another smile radiates through my entire being.

18 December
After sunrise
Maropea Forks hut

Another beautiful day comes to life. The birds have begun their rounds and the air seems fuller of birdsong than I recall in many years. The piwaiwaka, the titi pounamu, the miromiro are all here today. And as if on cue a lone whio landed in the pool by the little waterfall just across the river. There is again a slight chill to the morning air, and though much more of a wind it appears we are in for another hot mountain summer day.

Today we are heading over a connecting spur and ridge between the Maropea and Waikamaka valleys to Wakelings hut. I am going to head over there soon on my own. Though I have lost a lot of weight and feel very fit my pace is far slower than that of either John or Pete. And truth be written I look forward to the solitary walk and time immersed amongst the forest.

I woke up this morning thinking of Tara, feeling very refreshed. Usually when I am in the mountains, I have very vivid dreams of her. Of not being able to find her, or seeing her across a crowded room but unable to get to her, or she can’t see me. I’m sure there is a lot of meaning tangled in there but right now it feels like mountain therapy, along with work I have done out there, is revealing the truth that lies deep within. Moving my feet, breathing the mountain air, and being part of this environment has brought a certain degree of clarity. I hunger for more.

Early morning light and the symmetry of the trees.

18 December
Mid morning
Hidden in the forest

I am somewhere on the ridge connecting the Maropea valley to the Waikamaka. I'm hoping somewhere near the point where it drops to the river. My altimeter tells me I am still at 1257 metres and the hut on the river somewhere over 900 metres. So, there is a very steep drop ahead. However right now I sit in a sunny moss-covered spot on the forest floor. The accrued sweat dries. Though warm the wind whips over and in the shelter of the forest it is actually cold so this sunny wee spot beckoned strongly. Flies buzz lazily. I munch contentedly on a salami stick and drink my water. I am in no hurry. This ridge is longer than I recall and undulates from gentle to steep. Very synchronistic to my own life this year so I simply accept my toils.

Somewhere behind me Pete and John are catching up to me, their pace much faster than mine. I can wait here or go. In the mountains it boils down to simple choices.

The Waikamaka river below. Much steep work yet to be done.

In Waikamaka hut on a summer day. What to do?

Just the thing!

Pete and Robb

John and Robb. Ten years since our last visit here.

18 December
Wakelings hut

I am preparing our tea for the evening meal. Soaking shiitake mushrooms and shucking fresh peas. Pete is inside the hut writing and John has gone to meander by the river and stretch his legs. I sit here and smile at being in the company of friends who can go for a wander, do their own thing, then come together and enjoy that equally as well. I am relishing that in particular this year when the true value of friendship and what that really means to me has evolved. Quality far exceeds quantity.

I arrived here after finding that gruelling steep drop very shortly after my rest in the sunshine, and John and Pete arrived not long after. It was a very lazy afternoon, with a brief nap, a refreshing swim in a lovely pool near the hut, cups of tea or soup, conversation and making plans for our day tomorrow. We will be staying here so have the day to do whatever we wish. That is a very liberating feeling.

Right now, I have set down my peas and merely sit here writing and listening to the wind breeze through other tawhairaunui leaves in another mountain valley, as the river mutters by close below the slight rise the hut is built upon. Perhaps the music is the same as the Maropea, yet there are differences that bring a freshness and newness to what was familiar. Or maybe it is my own perception. What I do know is that right here, right now, my Te Whare Tapa Wha is okay. I’m okay.

Climbing through the forest to the Mokai Patea tops.
19 December
Early morning
Wakelings hut

I awoke this morning and had to lie there sleepily and work out what day it was and how long we have been in the mountains. I considered this a very good development. For it indicates I have moved into true Ruahine Time. That being the essential moment is the present one, and the only important measurement is lightness and dark. Which also means I have let go of outside distractions around stress or worry. That might be the greatest gift of being here. Thoughts I do have of home and my whanau are of love. I have no room right now for anything else. The river beckons.

According to the hut book no one has visited here since October, and only 7 other parties have been here this year. Four of those were flown in by helicopter. It's location and distance provide a natural barrier. So, it is a place that adds to these feelings of timelessness and solitude. I set my pen down and listen to the winds rustling through the tawhairanui leaves, the river muttering past in harmonic symphony. I take a drink of my rich dark coffee and smile at thoughts of the day ahead.

Waikamaka valley and Ruahine tops

A happy man. A ways to go yet.

At Rongotea. Warmer gear required.

John with main Ruahine range behind. Pretty cool.

19 December
Wakelings hut

Pete left after breakfast and headed downriver towards Otukota to try and spot whio, which makes sense as we head up river in the morning. After another cup of strong coffee John and I decided to climb up to the open tops high above and the Mokai Patea ranges. The highest point in the Mokai, which are part of the Ruahine, is Rongotea at 1568 metres. That was our goal. It was quite warm and muggy by the river but by the time we had climbed through the forest into the tupare and tussock the wind had picked up and it was cold. We donned some warmer gear and continued onto the tops. The views of the Ruahine were spectacular, with nearly the whole range exposed in the distant blues and closer peaks and ridges of the tussock with its golden hues and greens’ leading to slips and spurs down the valleys far below. It was truly worth the sweaty climb and effort on a supposed “rest day”. We lingered at Rongotea until the chill of the wind had us heading back down. Even now here at the river I can close my eyes and see that view. I can sense the change in the river’s song as we climb away from it, steeply, and though with great exertion always surprised at how quickly the river drops away and the music of the water fades to hushed whisper. Or the excitement of seeing the big trees gives way to the stunted tawhairaunui and finally the tupare and tussock. The hard work of the climb brings the rewards of our efforts. John Muir was absolutely spot on…

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
  John Muir

Early morning on the Waikamaka

Misty morning with Te Atuaoparapara at head of the valley.

20 December
Waikamaka hut

The day begins to fade into our final evening of this summer roam in the Ruahine. I can’t help but wish we had a few more days here to linger in the mountains, yet one mixed with how much I look forward to seeing Tara and my whanau. After 6 days I notice myself feeling fitter and coming to settled terms with my ever-lightening pack, though also notice the blisters and other bumps and bruises gathered along the way. There is nothing for it but to just enjoy this last evening, these last moments of camaraderie with fine friends, and appreciate the long walk out tomorrow and our lives out there.

We were up and off early. Last evening it began to drizzle and during the night it rained in earnest for a long while. In the morning it had stopped but it remained overcast and smelling of rain at any moment. By the time it did start raining we were several hours up river. As there was little wind in the valley the rain didn’t bother us aside from making it a wee bit harder to decide which rocks to step upon for footing. The river was fairly low and few gorges I recall nearly swimming through years ago were perhaps hip deep at best. It is a beautiful river with a lot of deep clear pools but easily walked around in most cases. It is a fairly long walk which took me about 6 hours all up. We saw one lone whio again and spent a bit of time watching as Pete took a lot of photos and worked his way as close as he could. Eventually the whio tired of us and floated off with typical whio unerring grace and dignity.

And so here we are at Wakeling for our final afternoon. John reads, as I sit in the now emerged sun and write, as Pete is off pursuing other interesting things. In the background we can here thunder and see bruised clouds rolling in. It won’t worry us much either way.

I felt a twinge of anxiety start to well up inside me as I was walking up the river. It was raining fairly hard at the time and with adjusting to the footing on wet rocks the dull ache in my hip began to come to my present mind. I have battled anxiety this year, and have for my whole life without knowing it until recently. When I first came to the Ruahine I can recall getting worried about what might happen, particularly when lying in my sleeping bag at night, what if rivers flooded, or too much wind and cloud on the tops, what gear I had and so on. Eventually I think it was the mountains themselves that began to bring clarity to something I didn’t even know was occurring. That was by simply being in a place I loved, the Ruahine. It brought an inner peace and contentment – even if a thin layer – and soothed my jangled nerves and running thoughts. Only this year when developing recognition and strategies in dealing with it did I see that in the past. So today I simply focused on my breathing, on looking at the strengths I possess rather than my faults and weakness. I thought of the company of the friends I was with on the river and how they adapted themselves to my pace and my presence. And then I felt peaceful and calm totally cognizant of the moment and place and of the tears in my eyes, as they are now. These are the rare moments when mind, body, spirit, and those we love become supportive equally of each other. Te Whare Tapa Wha. Today on the river was one. Kia kaha!

One of many falls on the Waikamaka

Green pool and tawhairanui leaves shining. 

John and Pete walking up river


Pete photographing the whio. 

21 December 2018
Waikamaka hut

The dawn is a pallid dull grey and mist swirls about the ridges and higher peaks. Though it isn’t raining it feels as if the skies will burst forth with showers with the slightest provocation. Our task is fairly straight forward. Climb up the side creek below the hut, find the route leading out of it and climb up to Waipawa saddle, then climb down the other side to the Waipawa river and up it to re-join eventually with Sunrise track and complete our 6 day loop.

My mood feels somewhat the same as the weather, a sense of melancholia envelopes me. It is not depression or even great sadness, but rather a lingering loneliness that will not be satiated until I again appear at the entrance to the Ruahine bearing a load on my back.

It has been a full six days of open tops, forested spurs and ridges, battling down and up side creeks and wandering along 3 different mountain rivers. We have had a full adult portion of the Ruahine. We have said Kia Ora to the whio, miro miro, piwaikwaka, titi pounamu, kereru, kareara, the trout, deer, and a myriad of insects, butterflies and moths I never had considered before.

Kia ora to Pete and John for their knowledge, experience, company and friendship.

Kia ora, most of all to the Ruahine…I’m not done here yet!

Unuhia, unuhia
 Unuhia ki te uru tapu nui
 Kia wātea, kia māmā, te ngākau, te tinana, te wairua i te ara takatā
Koia rā e Rongo, whakairia ake ki runga
 Kia tina! TINA! Hui e! TĀIKI E!

Draw on, draw on,
 Draw on the supreme sacredness
 To clear, to free the heart, the body and the spirit of mankind
 Rongo, suspended high above us (i.e. in ‘heaven’)
Draw together! Affirm!

Kia ora!

30 December 2018

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


             "When you find out that there was never anything in the dark side to be afraid of...Nothing is left but to love." - Alan Watts

25 November 2018
Rangiwahia hut

   Sitting here at Rangiwahia hut on my own. There is a chilly southerly blowing over in great gusts, shaking the hut which momentarily overwhelms the rain. Then it settles and the constant drumming of the downpour on the tin roof resumes. The soft hiss of my camp stove joins in, creating a sort of comforting lullabye, as it heats the billy full of water for another cup of sweet tea.

    My plan was to have some lunch and a cuppa here then travel along the Whananhuia tops to the tarns below Maungahuia and camp. However the windy southerly, the clagged in tops, and the rain are, once again, making staying here a very attractive option. And with the stormy weather meant to settle in for a few days I may have to re-think my whole 4 day trip. Still, aside from day walks, I haven't been in the hills since early June and hauling the benches up to Top Maropea. So it is just good to be here in the Ruahine, and even walking up in the rain was not unpleasant. Even less unpleasant to find the hut empty.

And as my stove does its work and the rain pelts down I sit here and scribble these words, stopping often to reflect, ponder, and gather my thoughts. And there are so very many thoughts to gather.

The stream 10 minutes or so below the hut and just inside the open tussock and tupare zone. On a good day

The same stream after 20 hours of constant rain.

The pool, normally quiet, peaceful, and a place to ponder

Such as on a day like this. 

After coming back from visiting my family in the States this past July, I found myself highly discombobulated. I know that saying goodbye to my mother impacted me like never before, and the anniversaries of the deaths of my brother and father loomed large, as did my normal anxieties and realizations in having two very different places in which I put my feet. The only common factor in both being me. As even in myself, my one presence, I felt like two very different people. I was feeling lost and out of touch, and quite simply not coping very well. There were other issues as well that had been lying there for years. My growing dependence on alcohol, ignoring my relationships, and past behaviours and traumas I have never acknowledged much less address in any meaningful sense. I may have pretended to at times, even thought I was being honest and truthful in trying to grasp my own self, only to slide back into old patterns as soon as the waters seemed calm

A few months after our return the watershed moment came with Tara. She'd had enough. She was done. I saw it her eyes and felt it in her voice. My growing untrustworthiness in being a partner, my continued and growing unavailability, my drinking and growing numbness.

And I realized I had absolutely no defense or valid response to any of it. None. So the dam burst, well and truly and there was no turning back. I began crying and didn't stop for weeks. And it felt unashamed, and I began to welcome the moments of tears. Tears that were welling up from the ages. Tears from the past and more tears from the present.

I quit drinking. I went to talk to someone and found more strength and support in seeking help with anxiety and depression than fearing what that might appear to look like to others, or to myself. I turned my attention to our long neglected whare, house, and all the things that needed to be done. I cleared the overgrown gardens, cleaned out and cleaned the gutters, moved the ultra-heavy clothesline to a better place, water blasted the entire house, driveway, footpaths, fences, barbeque area (water blasting is highly therapeutic), cleaned out the garage, cleaned all the windows and framework, pruned out and removed trees and bushes to the tune of 3 huge trailer loads. What I didn't do wasn't worth doing.

By the time I looked back a few weeks later a small degree of calmness and clarity arrived. The therapy was helping me to understand the deep seeded causes, and the relief of not feeling isolated was enormous. The biggest discovery was that this was my own self-care, to save me not my marriage, and though related they are very separate. The "therapy" with the whare? The hard work on our house merely a manifestation of what I had allowed our house, my life, our lives, to become. A messy, untidy unsafe and unloved environment.

Kaikawaka in the misty and rain filled forest

Even in the mist a path is revealed

"As I watch you
take that 
first drawing sip
my chest
in anticipation
of too much talk
with too little substance
the face I love
becoming slack
those mostly kind
brown eyes
I am...
to a blurry shape
on this couch to be ranted at
yelled over
or sentimentalized
either way
I don't exist
for you
the tinkling 
of ice."

written by Tara Kloss

In a period such as this reassessment of everything comes into play. Relationships, friendships, social media, eating, and for me drinking. There is no ego left. There is no place left to hide either. I had slipped slowly and comfortably into a separate existence for the most part. Sitting in my comfy chair numbing myself against pain, and the reality of what it was doing to me and to the people I love most. I'm currently in a place where alcohol has no place for me. I know full well the allure of the ice tray, the sound of the cubes tinkling in the glass, the glug of the pour of my whiskey and searching for the that perfect zone of exhilaration and absence of pain with measured pulls at my glass. That perfect numbness. It doesn't last long, like the whiskey, and there is always more ice, and more whiskey. See the problem?

I haven't had alcohol in that comfy chair, or any other chair for that matter for nearly two months now.

So, while I know all to well what the whole process with the booze feels like, before, during, and after, what I am finding unfamiliar, and new, is sitting with discomfort, pain, and having to feel the reality of it all. It lets me know I am alive, it makes me realize what I must own, and what I need to acknowledge and then either let go or learn to live with.

And here I am, alone in the Ruahine on a stormy afternoon. It seems, and feels, appropriate. Yet I feel invigorated and alive. I had a fairly heavy pack on, with my tent, as intend to stay out 4 days. I noticed immediately another effect of no booze and better eating. That being carrying over 20 less kilo’s of body weight. And though tomorrow will be a far tougher test, it was apparent how much better I felt both going uphill and more so down. I just walked lighter and easier, better balanced and fitter feeling. I arrived here in a little over 2 hours which is far faster than the past years of slow plodding. And while I wouldn’t describe myself as moving fast I certainly felt less clumsy and more in tune. I am lighter both mentally and physically.

I have written in the past of the concept of Te Whare Tapa Wha, a Maori focused view of our health. The whare, known as Te Whare Tapa Whā, has four walls and each wall represents a different dimension of health. Right now, in this moment, my own Te Whare Tapa Wha, feels in the best condition it has been, well, perhaps ever!

The Four Walls:

1.    Wairua (Spirit) …My own developing spirituality has always been nature focused. I am realizing now, here, how much easier it is alone, and yet how crucial it is to bring that with me elsewhere and around those I love. There is little point to Wairua unless it shines within. I have not. In particular with receiving the aroha, love, of those I profess to love with genuine grace and presence. For me, it is to realize my own vulnerability is not a weakness, but rather strength. And to have wairua be a sense of lightness.
2.    Tinana (Physical well being) …I am lighter. Certainly physically. I have been physically fitter, but never fitter in conjunction with the opposite 3 walls of my whare. Which means my foundations are firmer, better rooted. Or at least the newly poured cement is setting.

3.    Hinengaro (Mental well being)…I can scribble words here on these pages, but none will do justice to the reality of my mental well being. I have really only begun to pay attention to the importance of my own self-care. I have only just acknowledged and owned the hurt I have caused. Or hurt I have had caused to me, to the past and present pain, trauma and what that has left in it’s wake. I have only recently allowed myself to the feel the shame and tears of weaknesses that have led me to such places, and also the strengths I never knew I had in merely coping. To reach out for help, to be vulnerable without fear of weakness, and constantly seek to be a better man. To seek integrity.

4.    Whanau (Family) …Tara, Taylor, Charlie, Monique, Noah, family here, and my family back in Wisconsin. I have not been very good at making this the most important wall of all, though if the other 3 are out of whack it all is out of form. A very circular and connected system. What I appreciate most is the noticing of even small changes and new behaviours by them merely observing.

Tara watches and wonders. As she should, she also has her own self-care to ponder and figure out, her own demons to wrestle with, her own healing to undertake. And for her to not be absorbed by my own battles. She needs to that on her own, as do I, then focus on our relationship. As she described it as the raw nerve that still jangles between us. 

26 November 6:00am

The rain is still coming down. It has beat on the roof measured and steady all night. The barometer remains low and flat indicating little change ahead. The winds have mostly died off in the stillness of the grey misty morning.

So, do I go or retreat to fight another day? Though I know the route very well it is more the thought of a touch 5 plus hour grind and arriving to find the Oroua in a raging torrent, the hut in in sight across the way. That thought has me glancing towards the plains and car far below. And to what awaits there.