"let it be a lofty mountain"

   Nov. & Dec. 2002 — text by Austin Pick


The South Island yawned before me, promising the reverie of fantastic rainswept wilderness. After arriving on the ferry from the North Island, I rambled along down the wild west coast, blinking thru human settlements and plunging instead into terraced rainforests and the odd roadhouse pub...

Many a glass of rainstorm before bus-bound bookworm emerges in the sunshine along a swollen river, following its course by winding mudslick track up & goatlegging the sheer scraped canyon ever higher, precarious swingbridges swinging thru the alpine scrub to a leaning overlook, my vision scrolls and cascades down down around around I'm standing windswept over the living hulk of the white heaven Franz Josef Glacier, a mighty dragon of oxygen & hydrogen shining and pouring its flowing heart into its life's work, an Art of River-Blazing, and its only when I see the thin trickles of people trekking along the glacier-face like a slow line of arctic ants, its only then I begin to comprehend the scale of his majesty the Tailor of Mountains, ageless sculptor endlessly melting and coalescing in a dragging rhythm of century's breathing...

And rarely a cleaner breath than in the tiny hamlet of Wanaka right on the lake same-name, dropjaw inspiring views from every window & I reckon its some of the best weather on the South Island, I drop pack and chill out for a few days, catch up with a few friends, catch up with myself — all in unwitting preparation, too, for the next crusade...

Catch the bus again, another scenic trip thru pulsing panoramic postcards and we arrive in NZ's adventure capital, a fairytale village on a glass lake framed by the sharp close snow-kissed mountain pinnacles of the Remarkables — Queenstown is makebelieve like a movie-set in realtime, exciting expensive and everyone is here, among other characters I bump into Steve & Minnesota Ben, from the US via Brisbane — we have reunion beers and catchup with some of my german girlfriends, very cheerful despite the gloomy weather, but this town is Queens-Town and I have an appointment with the Kings...

It's a very busy time of year in QT so I've had to make some plans and bookings in advance — I've planned four days to head up to Glenorchy & Paradise to tramp the famous Rees-Dart Track. Otherwise I've got nowhere else to be and nowhere else to go... The weather forecast is horrible but I've experienced it before (so I think) and I've seen how quickly it can change... So early & overcast and already with pack on back I inquire at the Dept. of Conservation office in QT, they tell me the middle section of the track is impassable, the bridge has recently been washed out — I'm laughing b/c its all beginning to sound like the ominous opening to a Hardy Boys story, but I figure I can head up and poke around, make some short excursions etc. and see what develops...

Drizzling now, I stroll out along the highway to the edge of town and arc my thumb - two minutes later I've got a ride with a local river guide, he gives me heaps of advice and even accompanies me into the DOC office in Glenorchy to point out a few secrets on the map. The suggestion for the adventurous is to tramp out on a sidetrack of the famous Routeburn Track, head up the saddle and down into the Dart River Valley to a little hut along the river which you can stay in for fah-ree, mate...  So I get a ride out to the Routeburn trailhead with some other backpackers, its raining now misty mysterious magical — Raingear on and I dip into the ancient forests, alone and unknown and unknowing...

I find the little sidetrack and cruise along at a steady clip for about two hrs., humming & generally cheerful, it feels so good to be OUT again, getting amongst it and tangling with the wildness, the elements. I'm reasonably well equipped for a little rain, and anyways "it builds character," says Calvin's dad... The track ascends steadily and based on my mental map (the only one I've got) it seems that I'll soon reach the saddle and begin a quick descent into the valley... Eventually I come to a stream swollen with rainwater, but its no worries scrambling over... soon I come to another stream, however, rather a thin raging gorge which seems impossible to cross and I'm a little bewildered, but then see a way requires a bit of a leap and so I have to throw my pack over first, I toss the pack and it flips once, flips twice tumbles teeters on the edge of the roaring stream my heart leaps almost lost it lost it? I make the leap fine but beginning to question the intelligence of these macgyver maneuvers... anyways the saddle and the valley can't be so far now, right?   (deep breath)

The track begins to ascend sharply and soon becomes nothing more than a thin stream, rainwater spinning down and I have no choice but to basically walk-climb a muck of trail-creek, pulling myself up the slope by root tangle & muddy boot burials... three hours out now, four hours? I don't know anymore trying to keep my resolve sharpened, eating treading on mechanically, boots wet everything more-or-less wet but basically warm for the moment...

The rainsoaked forest gives way at last to the crested clearing of the saddle and its not until then that I realize how far I've come how high I am how far I've GOT TO GO to get back down, the saddle reveals the snowy peaks of distant mountains rising from the oblivion of the impossible valley —must be a fantastic view, must be— the wind screaming cold and lashing me with rain as I stumble thru thick sodden highgrass mudflats across the exposed expanse of alpine wasteland, I think I'm exhausted now but none-the-less propelled by a narrowing primal imperative, bending with the ambiguous track tracking eventually back down into the trees, stunted and hanging dripping with moss, the track pitching down now in perilous switchbacks a zig-zagging spilling stream ridiculous I'm slopping and tumbling down a sheer slope digging my heals sliding wrangling branches trying to keep my ass standing... for how long?  

The track eventually levels a little, switchbacking in long thin scars across the mountain face, the raingorged runoff stream now raging its own natural fissure straight down a ferocious torrent craving gravity... and and the switchbacks this very trail I'm careening with come to crossing this roaring waterfalling river, its roaring muddied I have to cross I have no choice I can't see the bottom can't see anything except the gridlocks of whole trees caught in the torrent just up the mountain, can't see anything but the other side I have no choice the waterfall is taller than I am I unclip my hipstrap find my balance and step in finding footage jesus UP to my WAIST and focking COLD I wallow thru as quickly as I can fighting fighting the current stepping wading forward blindly torrent swelling against me - there is nothing, there is nothing — there is no existential speculation no metaphysical conception no wordplay no past no future ONLY NOW no thought only one thought shattering my consciousness no distinction no separation no flash only one thought: cold death cold death — I have never experienced a moment so singularly REAL so vivid so clear so piercing cutting like vajra's diamond and stepping from the stream life life jesus I just saw my life before my eyes it was one single imperative Moment my heart is going to explode must keep going... (deep breath)... the track keeps switchbacking down the mountain and all things told crosses the roaring runoff epiphany SEVEN times each time unexpected and different and I see my life a single Moment again and again unbelievable until the fourth or fifth time when it becomes hilariously funny me and focking mountain shaking laughing at my frail mortality half-drowned on a nameless mountain forgive us how much we take for granted... what fools what fools...

Did I mention it was getting dark this whole time? The trail eventually leveled in the wide berth of swampy forest bordering the river where is this hut did I miss it pass it? — once I hallucinated it... but finally seven hours from the start, utterly soaked to the bone shaking with revelation singing blues songs to the failing twilight, and I've been Out, I've been in some bad weather before but NEVER anything like this, seven hours and I find the miserable little hut sunk into the mud at the river's edge, and there is there is unbelievable, smoke rising cheerily from the chimney; I burst in dripping shaking grinning foolishly & hungry as the devil, two hearty blokes are seated before a huge blazing heavenly fire the most beautiful thing I have seen in mighty New Zealand up to that moment... "Jesus mate, how'd yah find it out there? What'd yah think of the track?" — "Well fellas there didn't seem to be much of a track, so I just walked in the creek," says I, dazed. Dried off changed clothes ate ate and settled in before the fire with these two weathered adventure guides on holiday (of course this is what adventure guides do on holiday). They were sure surprised to find me out there, crazy young buck... And I was speechless thankful really, is this luck or...? They even made me some hot chocolate.

Next day still dripping from night's rain but maybe its clearing up... nope starts to rain again as we're setting off, it's a long lonely winding lost track back to the access road, these two hike on much faster than I, they are much better equipped with full-cinched rainsuits, I have only a few layers, long-johns shorts t-shirt windbreaker poncho beanie rainhat —they really mustof thought me half-crazy— so I wind thru maze of pole forest on old thin tangled logging tracks, thankfully I studied their map before we set off and can occasionally follow their footfalls in the mud so eventually I emerge amazed, hitch a ride with some english trampers who've just finished the Routeburn, hitch a ride all the way back to Queenstown where I hole up in a cozy hostel for a few days recovering and enjoying the new novelty of being alive, my whole body sore and trampled for days...

An'on, days winding again down to quiet Te Anau, marking the completion of a moon-phase since my arrival in full-moon Auckland... Te Anau where I enter the majesty of Fjordland and take a cruise into Milford Sound, arguably one of the most amazing places on earth they all say, a dreamy deep fjord holding the memory of the beginning, the land before time, a thousand waterfalls spilling down between the enfolded lips of this unique birthplace murmuring innumerable secrets and effortlessly escaping the tentacles of my long-winded sentences...

Perhaps I am half-crazy, but from Te Anau I struck out again to tramp the Kepler Track; two days before the alpine section of the track had been closed under several feet of snow, but I had perfect weather for the entire four days, blessed with absolutely stunning views from the long ridge-run that takes an entire day to traverse... The track is so popular that you have to book the backcountry huts in advance, so I tramped with about twenty others with whom I congregated every night. Although we were all differently paced & spaced there was an inevitable feeling of crowdedness, even in all that wilderness. Ironic how that happens when we ALL rush out to have our wilderness solitude experience — for that I suppose you have take the backtracks... *winks* Anyways truly unique environments, cruisy and gorgeous...

Many more lovely little adventures and explorations... Bottom-End, the Catlins, Moeraki Boulders, Castle Hill, Kaikoura etc... I traveled inland from Christchurch and had a quiet Christmas in Arthur's Pass, nestled down in the mountains and they say its summer but it snowed white christmas dusting and accenting the mountains, perfect for a day's tramp and quiet reflection... reflection rolling inevitable pebble kicked into the catacombs... this molehill I've made into mountain —myself— drowning a little, calmly, in the wider scope offered by vistas of the wild expanse of experience insight universe time sentinel cloak of continual daydream lanterning from this hillock drapes dropping uncovered... shine on then...


(...to be continued...)

for Now, Blessings blessings all,

Yours with love, A



Mehemea koe ka tûoho,
meinga ki te maunga teitei.

"If you should bow to greatness,
let it be a lofty mountain."
—Maori Proverb

Australia/New Zealand: Ch.2 | Ch.3 | Ch.4 | Ch.5 | Ch.6 | Ch.7 | Ch.8 | Ch.9

Wild west Coast, South Island (from net)

Trickling tail of the Franz Josef Glacier (from net)

Lake Wanaka

The Kepler Track

Milford Sound (from net)

Queenstown (from net)

Moeraki Boulders, East Coast

Australia/New Zealand: Ch.2 | Ch.3 | Ch.4 | Ch.5 | Ch.6 | Ch.7 | Ch.8 | Ch.9

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