Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NZ 5 - Motatapu Track

The trail sometimes is long and hard, but in this land of silence and
open space, where the ridgelines seem to hum with the constant sound
of the wind curving over the rocky crests, there is a peacefulness to
it all. Something warms the spirit in those hours walking in the heart
of the Central Otago. The clouds break every so often looking deep
into the Range Aspiring, where recent snows have fell highlighting the
rocky faces. Indeed a beautiful place, even if the trail seems

There is something very particular about Kiwi Trails. Unless you are
on a Great Walk, they truly do not believe in building them apart to
the boot beaten paths that extend in each direction. Orange poles
along ridgelines are the most favored places. You would be hard
pressed to find a switchback in this country. Lucky in the
Tussocklands that surround, I can create my own. But most often I
revert to attacking the mountain as it was meant to, straight up! It
is less a sense of some masculine definitive of mountain travel, and
more just the nature of understanding that this is the only clear way
up the mountains. So slowly, I put in the Potential Energy of raising
myself above the valley floor, knowing Kinetics will play out on the
otherside to the descent.

Over Christmas I found myself hunkered down in Highland Hut. There
surrounded by the rising mass of the Stack Range behind me. Rain rolls
in cloud after cloud. Coffee pot empties itself as I read through the
hut Register, and work writing my thoughts of the past year. The place
has a hunting feel that seems to resound like a low tone, bring the
sense closer to the touch. The name of the basin is apply named, as I
feel that when I look out over the burn I'll see a Scotsman walking
steadily towards the cabin. The words seem to flow from the pen,
filling the page. It is a relaxed day that flow by before I descend
out of these mountains once again.

I realizes that there is something inspiring about Trails. They offer
a place for the thoughts of a person to play out. A place to connect
with the surrounding landscape and to gain a little piece of a vital
life. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. From the valley
meander, to the high alpine route. Enough for an afternoon, or a trail
to play out over the days till your footfalls become the beat of your
soul. Like cathedrals, they are places to come to, yet it is in their
passage that they inspire. Sometimes like the Motatapu, they can
challenge a man towards a breaking point. Other times such as the
Wilkins, they just feed into the hearts delight. It is important that
they exist, in whatever form. For they are a resource of true
re-creation to people everywhere. I find myself best when along their
winding path. And yet only hope to bring a slice back to share.

The end of the track, leads through some Lupine, fields and fields.
Following the course of the Arrow River. It is here, that almost like
a grand Gardner, I feel nature play it's best show. From reds and
pinks, to the familiar purple and blue. It is no secret that no matter
where you go, there is a sense of the alpine when you see it's stands
besides the rivers banks. To say that they have been a warm comfort in
the last month to see, would be an understatement. But along the
Motatapu, they are in shear full glory. A place that will live in my
mind for a long time.

-- Ridgewalker (Jorj

Friday, December 18, 2009

NZ 4 - Karamea River Way

NZ 4  - Karamea River Way

It has been three days since leaving the Tablelands. Following down into the river systems of Kahurgari NP, deeper and deeper with each turn. The tramping has become a rythmn; mud, roots, rock and ford. Following marker after marker, on to the next waypoint and to the hut at the end of the night. The rain everpresent, sometimes a fine mist others a heavy pelting. Steam rises from this tramper, as constant motion seems the best option to keeping warm till reaching the far distant Hut. The track is but a rough boot beaten track, believing that the best way to ascend heights is direct, with little regard for switchbacks. Roots become your friend as you hual yourself over river terrace, rocky faces and mountain passes. 

The inner santucary of the Tasman Range is a rainforest on the level of the mighty Hoh, Queets and Quinault. And yet through it all there is a comfort in this place, almost like home. Ferns, lichen and mosses of uncomporable diversity abound in these valleys, leading the eye in every turn. The botanist in me screams for a good field guide to explore this Beech Tree rainforest. And yet I just travel and take it all in, flashing the camera through many images of rock, moss and fern. Trying to catch that moment of beauty best kept within that space. But some reason I still try. 

The Kea and Weka keeping me company with their songs amoung the sound of falling water in all direction. Rushing ribbon in cascades roaring over limestone cliffs and of small springs, coursing through boulders covered in deep green moss. I stop often to look into deep limestone canyons that are bridged by small steel cable bridges swaying with each step. Always it seems a robin looking down the trail following my progress down the deep gorges. They have became my companions, for other then birds there is little native creatures about. Perhaps they are all waiting out the storm, like the hords of other trampers. 

For over 7 days I only saw but one soul, A DOC worker minding his patrol cabin. Looking at me curiously, through the torrential rains falling from the edge of his porch. Had he never seen the likes of a true NW'ner? If we waited for the rain to stop falling, we would never reach those upper gorges in full splender. But then again, this is how I enjoy my backcountry splender. Solitude, allowing the chorus of nature to play without the competition of human dialog, just the sound of falling foot-falls across the muddy trail.  

One evening I cut out early, to take in a rare sunset. It played across the limestone walls above the river floor. At the confluence of the Lesile and Karamea River, 40 miles from the nearest trailhead, I sit along gravel banks. Watching the flow of two rivers joining as they seem to glide across their gravel banks. Innocent they glide, as a distant roar of the grand gorge travels in the air from just around the bend. A feeling of being in-deep come to the tips of my senses. I warm myself over a crackling fire, watching the light fade from the canyons floor, painting the high country tops with hints of the suns distant blaze. A hush, flowing over the country, with two blue ducks travelling above me down the rivers edge...

Could anyone ever desire a more beautiul place to roam in natures down pour? I can imagine not... But tommorrow I will push on down the rivers course, towards the Tasman Sea...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NZ 3 - Kahuragi NP - Loch Peel

NZ 3 - Kahuragi NP - Loch Peel

I make my way slowly up Cobb Ridge a few 100 meters at a time. Barren but for knee high bunch grass, I follow the carnes along the ridge, which appear and dissappear with each cloud bank. At times gale force winds damn near bring me to my knees, as I make the ridgeline. Rain seems to blow so alhard, that it stings the face and bounces of my rain jacket. There is a love/hate to conditions in the mountains.

At the moment, I'm in a bit of missary about it. Mother nature is what she is, bitter sweet rains and then moments of pure joy with a passing sun break. With tr breaks I seem to try and find my sun, checking for the next carne and allowing the surrounding Mountians to bee seen through cloud breaks, gainin my brearing before the clouds bank in again. It now occurs to me, that I should have brought rain pants. But with all things sometimes you have to learn the nature of a place through trial and error.

I crest over to a gap in the ridgeline. Like a frieght train the wind roars throught twin limestone rock faces. down below is the trail post, and the route down to Loch Peel. I say that, because the Tablelands of the Upper Takaka Valley look like what I would imagine the Highlands of Scotland would be like. Barren rock piles of mountains, with long green and cold hills leading down to narrow lakes nesseled within the oaks and knarled birch, sculped by centuries of winds out of the tops of the island. It is no wonder the few Kiwis that I have meet along the way, have had ancestors from the Highlands.

I take the jucntion and look down into the Valley of the Peel. The winds are a little more sheltered here, as Peel Mtn sits like a thorn at the head of the valley, cutting the clouds like a knife. Blue sky bounces in and out of existance. Lost in lookin up, I fail to notice the grand valley before me. Droping 500m the barren snow grass gripping the sides along the rocky cliffs. As the sun passed through the valley and over the Loch's bench, an arching bow of color spang forth across the valley floor. The sides were cradled with the white lace of waterfalls descending into the lost river below.

I stood there gathering the sight, which slowly fades as the break in the clouds passed by. The force of winds reminded me I was yet to Balloon Hut, and Loch Peel still lay before me. Yet the light on the landscape was playing it's magic like old Celtic lore upon me. Again the rainbow appeared before me, leadig my eyes across the valley, yet tromping forward to Loch Peel. Over the scree of rock descending from the Tableland heights, I bounded along. Coming bench at which the waters edge stood. There the winds moving across the snow grass seem to pulse like wild rapids, giving the whole scene a sense of movement.

This place was alive with spirit and nature. Indeed a place to pay homage to mother natures beauty, even if her furry sometimes can bring a man to his knees. Content with the specticle after a log lingering look, I took back to a trampers long line across the open ridges and on to Balloon Hut, to find the warmth of a wood stove and a hot kettle of tea.

As Basho once said along the mountains of Japan, "Homeless I wander, in the company of Nature..."

Indeed she is a great teacher...

Along the backcountry mile,
Ridgewalker (Jorj)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NZ 2 - Tale of the Totara Twins (Edited)

NZ 2 - Legend of the Totara Twins (Edited)

While sitting over tea on a rainy Tuesday evening in Roebuck hut, the fire place crackling away of dried beech limbs, an old tramper told me a tale that I thought my Yamabushi bretherin would enjoy. It was a tale told to him by his father while at Aspiring Hut deep in the Southern Alps.

Coming in from a stormy day about Mt Cook, a lone tramper looking to get warm came to a hut put up by the Mountain Guides that had closed up for the season. He found that the door was unlocked, as was the custom in the Huts of New Zealand. Opening the door he found that the fire had already been going and the warmth had brought him relief. Figuring that the other soul had popped out to find the Lue, even as the winds blasted down the ridgelines to a frightful roar. He believed that they would be around shortly. 

Taking off his soaken clothing and hanging it on to the line, right down to his scivys, figureing a bloke would make no mind, he hovered around the woodstove warming his frigid bones. 

As the night got on, and still no sign of the hut's taker, he began a stew of mtn golosch and tea, making sure to leave enough for his mate should he be getting on. The wind was frightful, battering the old cabin with tossing blows. Each time the wind seem to knock at the door, the weary traveller, kept looking out to see if a man staggered toward the cabin. With ice about the rocks and a full squall tearing from the sky, he did not dare to venture out. But a peek to find the good hearted friend who had lit the fire.

Hours went by, and soon the traveller fell into a lucid state of sleep, catching only moments of wakeful gaze toward the hut door. He half expected it to breech open, with then grizzed figure of a mountain man frozen clean through the bone. Somewhere he dirfted off to the sound of the warm crackle of the belly pot wood stove.

Like a song of a woman, half in a daze he awoke to the haunting sound. Looking around he throught it would be half mad to believe, such as the storm bellowed outside... Again, this time accompinied by another in harmony coming like sweet song just outside the door... It had been a long time since he had heard those sounds, as most of the mining camps were all men those days. And since he had left England had he heard such fair sounds, but two... Must be the wind about the cables singing those emchanting high notes.

In the stillness between gusts, their song came again. So beautiful, he could hardly believe that he was still awake. But the sights and smell of the hut reminded him that indeed he was. So he figured he would take but a peep outside, just to check his curiousity... It would not hurt... Since he arrived at the cabin to a fire... Maybe it was true... Maybe the souls were calling out for help.

Reaching for the door, the nobb felt cold, and hinges squelled against the weight of each blast. How could two women ever be outside in this toss... He almost felt ashamed to look, never giving in before to such lapse in reason. But curiousity, like a fickled kid inside pulled him to open that hut door...

Raising his head to looks out, he saw a sight he would nearly had believe. But two beautiful women, of strong beauty, standing toward the tracks edge with brown flowing hair and a knee length red dress, leather mountain boots to hilt. Their hair weaving with each blow, and their eyes looking deeply out towards his.

He felt beside himself, Stunned at the sight. Had no other dream then but what he saw before him been as lovely. Yet it made no sense to him. He hauler'd out to them to come into the hut with the warm fire and get out of the cold. Yet they seem to just walk slowly backwards down the trail. Gazing out towards him singing thier haunting song.

Frustrated, he motioned again, telling them of the hot tea and warm fire. But still they only stood just before the end of the track, waving him forward. Each howl of the wind seemed to get stronger, and he knew he could not hold the door much longer, but did not wish to see them go.

Somehow he stepped out the door to reach for them to pull one in. Streching his harm while bracing against each gust, he leaned a little further. Soon only his leg holdin the door open.

As he looked up to see where they were, one of the twins in her flowing knew high red dress was before him, her brown hair whirling about his head as he was  but face to face. Her hands reaching out to him and her lips and words luring him in a language of orgins unknown. With a daze of sight only know by men long left without the pleasue of a womans touch, he reached out to grab her about the waist, hoping to bring her in... 

With such close grap his leg left the brace of the door, the man caught in the spell took a step out into the cold. From inside the cabin, the door slammed shut, leaving the scene of the warm crackiling fire and steaming tea kettle upon the silence. Time flowed from that moment, before the muffled gust of the wind on the cabin walls began to flow again...

It lasted for a few minutes... Till there came a rapping in the hut door. The turning of the cold nob and sqweel of the hinges against the force of the wind, seen a haggered man slip through with a sudden sight.

Looking up, this time, a weary traveller wondering what good souls had left a lit fire for him this long tiring night... He had been many hours from the base camp Seeing a pack and tea, he figured the other would be along soon, so rising to his feet began to make himself at home in this mountain pass hut deep within the Southern Alps Range...

As the rain and wind howled outside our hut, and the fire crackled as a few more branches where added to stoke the coals, I looked out the small window into a sea of clouds. A faint high note could be heard into the night... And once, just once did I believe that I saw a flash of a woman in a red dress just beyond the tracks edge. But that is just the wishful thoughts of a man deep in his mountains lured on by the spell of lucid dreams... 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

NZ 1 - Queen Charolette Sound

We make our way around the point, still swaying with the ocean swell of Cook Straits. The rocks of Arapawa Island stand out, taking wave after wave of azure blue water with each swell. A white froth cascades down the blocks of rock, resembling some giants thrown, perhaps the guard at the gates of the South Island. The hills are barren with green pastures, and amoung the ridgelines can bee seen the white dots that are New Zealand Sheep grazing upon this desolate point. The ship works it's way through the strong current of Tory Channel, the southern passage to Queen Charolette Sound.

In my days earlier this year, the very name Queen Charolett bright chills and watchful eyes. Tales of the passage across her reach had been know to take down boats with single waves, if not toss a mariner from his decks. To this day those tales of the inside passage left me completely unprepard for the tropical waters that stood before me here. With bays and inlets abounding, each holding anchorages of sailboats and luxuary boats. The shoreline switched between clearings of sheppaed land and native bush. Following the line of bouyes in we made land fall at the small port of Picton, a hub of inter-island travel.

Walking along through the town, I gained the distinct feel of being on Holiday. Kiwi Palms lined the white sand beach, whit the in the park locals set up for a Reggie Concert later that afternoon. I walked the High Street, picking up last minute items, and passing a group of women dressed as pirates. To stay longer would mean to miss a hop to the beginning of the trail just across the water that I had been offered by a man Ieet on the ferry. It was not the start of the Queen Charolette Track, but with a free ride, I was not going to argue. I had plenty of more miles yet to hike, and not being a purist, I had decided to allow the journey to show it's way before me.

I meet the man and his wife down at the harbor and we were soon flying across then Sound in his motor boat. The lack of waves in these sheltered channels made for a smooth ride. It was not long before we turned and head to Bay of Many Coves, where the couple had planned to spent he afternoon before proceeding to Furneaux Lodge further out towards the sea. Itching to get on he trail, I decided not to beacktrack and instead to begin walking SoBo (Southbound).
Saying goodbye, I gazed back at the orange sand beach and made my way down the trail.

The one thing that first caught my amazement was the chorus of birdsong about me. There were so many different sounds that it was almost an overload. But as the kilometers clicked by, I began to be able to place each sound with a bird that gazes down at me passing throught their Bush. It occured to me that in most of my time in the woods, I have payed little attention to the sound of birds, due mainly to the ever present Raven that seems to keep all other callers at bay. But here the whole community seemed to be trying to out do eachothers song. It was a welcome suprise.

Working my way from ridgetop to beach and back to ridge again, the presence of Large Tree Ferns drew my eyes. It was as if giant sword ferns had been set atop poles, with their dead fronds linning the trunks like a palm. These are ancient trees that have survived here on this island as a hotspot. Having always throught of the PNW ad the land of ferns, to be suprizingly shown up by these giants, at a certain fasinatikn and tug of the homestrings. Like the Canadian Maple Leaf this country has taken the Silver Fern as it's iconic symbol. It makes me wonder what my own nations symbol might be?

On one evening, I meet a local montassory teacher, who schooled me on the plants and animals of the Sound. With more of New Zealand before me, I can only guess what is yet to come that will open my eyes. As for now, watching the sunset reflect against the hillside, while the Aussie Party it up along the beach, I still feel passage between two different world. Yet the popular nature of this track will not be common through out the whole of the trek. In the end, New Zealand is the playground of the worlds travellers, and I am beginning to see why.

From the land down under,
Ridgewalker (Jorj)