Sunday, November 30, 2008

Taramakau to Hawdon

It was 5 o'clock on a Friday. Sitting on the couch I was thinking about heading to the Wobbly for a beer. From the couch I could just see the false summit of Mt Cassidy, paste on the pastel blue sky. I was too tired from too many late nights, but geez I didn't want to be one of those outdoor instructors who lost their passion for the outdoors after all of two weeks in the job!

It was 6 o'clock on a Friday, Mum and Dad dropped me off at Aickens, the nothing town where the Otira meets the Taramakau. Its a Bermuda triangle of braided river, gorse and farm history. I only remembered enough about this place to remember it was a pain in the arse. This time though it was kind, the river crossings aligned to the track marker on the far bank. The rough shelter was still there and the forgotten forest grotto where springs emerge from the mountain crystal clear, I remember these places now.

Up the Taramakau towards Harpers Pass, where my ancestors used to cross barefoot in a hurry. Hungry for the food and resources of the Tasman Sea. There have been other interesting journeys here to. Grant Hunter covers most of them in his book. More recently my friends Joe and Tim decided it would be a good idea to haul a Duo (a very heavy plastic whitewater tandem) over here and paddle it down the Hurunui to the sea, and even more recently well-known outdoors personalities Steve Moffet and Steve Gurney did the same, be it in a more Mark Twain fashion. Both these later attempts were honouring an early crossing of the pass by as Tim says, some "hard bastards", the Park Brothers.

It would have been prudent to hurry up the valley, but it felt so great to be back in the mountains. I was finding everything beautiful; the lone hare scampering across the wide riverbed, the young gorse against the rich red lichen. The mountains appeared in turn; Pfeiffer, which Penny and I climbed years ago, and then Franklin as I crossed the heavy blue Otehake. A sprite bottle, washed up, gave me the extra vessel I had regreted not bringing. Pairs of paradise ducks headed downriver on dusk (why?). My mate Aaron is always stoked by Paradise ducks, he thinks their call sounds like “fuck me”, “fuck me”, over and over. I've never heard it myself, but still when I see a lumbering, hoary, honking duck I think of Aaron.

I reached the turn-off to Townsend Hut as darkness fell. The sign was half buried by a regenerating alluvial fan. The track was straight up the creek bed to start with, then up the windfall. Sometimes you just want to push fast forward, but then you settle into your work and start enjoying it. I quickly learnt that my brute strength was lacking, 45 minutes up the hill I was borderline hypoglycemic and the end was nowhere in sight. Glowworms kept me company for a while then the first milestone came when I started noticing dracophyllum leaves on the track (and slipping on them). These weren't the longifolium (or turpentine scrub) variety but one of those Dr Suess like specimens. The next milestone came when the track levelled off and the stars came out. It only remained to track the snow poles to the hut through long tussock.

I had been half hoping for some company and conversation, but the hut was empty. The last party had come through in June. I fed myself with cabin bread and cheese and amused myself by reading the hut books. Townsend hut is one of those huts that only a small group of people come to, if you've been around for a while in the New Zealand bush the names are familiar. There are your friends, your acquaintances and the people you know of. Then there are those tramping "celebrities": Geoff Spearpoint, John Rhodes, Shaun Barnett, Pat Barrett et al. You're doing well to beat them to a hut. At times theres nostalgia also, couples you know that have split, people that have died. Hut books give a quick fix of history.

The next morning the weather was clagging in from the north. I was heading south all day so figured things would only get better. The climb up Mt Koeti was straight forward, sidling gently across tussocky basins and curving up an easy ridge. The view from the top was minimalist. Upended cairns the only evidence of more extravagant times.

Snow slopes favoured me as I headed southish on a compass, sidling beneath dubious outcrops on the ridge. While the golden rule of tops travel is "stick to the ridge", sometimes a calculated sidle may be faster. Further along a lovely fault line saved me more climb as I headed towards Rover Saddle.

I sat down for breakfast and a moulting chamois wandered past below me. I have never seen such a cat in the hat like creature. It bounded, oddly inefficient, in circles through the snow. Staring at me quizically, completly absurd, just like this animation.

After Rover Saddle I thought point 1751 was going to take some time, its jagged ridge looks broken and chossy, but the southern side had just the right amount of snow for a quick steep sidle, and before I knew it I was on the low peak of Scarface looking down at Lake Minchin. Lake Minchin has always held some sort of cryptic appeal to me. I don't know whether it was the unusual name, or a great photo in one of the mountain books we had growing up. Either way I had never seen it before and it was great to look down on it from up high.

The ridge along Scarface is fun. Just a scramble with the odd steeper bit on relatively good rock (relative starting from a very low standard). From here you can see the Poulter sweeping away to the south-east, now a nice mountain bike ride, as DOC look at ways to bring mountain bikes into National Parks. I descended Scarface direct to Worsley Biv, a nice A-Frame shelter named in honour of one of New Zealands greatest navigators, Frank Worsley, best known for his role in Shackletons Antarctic Expeditions. The plan had been to head over Trudge Col, the established route to the Hawdon, but from reading the hut book, this sounded far too slow, and I wanted to have a look at Mt Valiant. Heading up Trudge Stream I headed left, climbing above and then into a side creek that drains a large slip shown on the topo map. The route proved clear and provided easy access to the tops.

I avoided the final broken ridge of Mt Valiant by sidling slow and climbing snow and screes up the north-western side. The view was worth it. All sorts of peaks and ridges from the Nelson Lakes to the Rakaia and the Paparoas.

An easy descent down snow slopes and scree saw me enconsed for a long sleep at the new East Hawdon Biv. Left only with an easy wander out to the Hawdon Road end for an arranged midday pick-up by Mum and Dad. Better than sitting on the couch I reckon.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Who is writing the headlines at Stuff?

Whoever is writing the headlines at Stuff needs to start thinking. Here are two follow-up articles on todays big and incredibly sad stories:

"Daring attacks reveal vulnerability"

"Airbus A320 'reliable'"

The days news that also includes the death of a local Wanaka climber, potential environmental damage in Doubtful Sound from a sunken boat and Clint Rickards admitted to the bar is terrible.

UPDATEI couldn't help myself, I had to use Stuff's feedback function for the first time. I'm quite proud of my restraint:

"I have never commented on Stuff before, but your headline "daring attacks show vulnerability" crosses my threshold. Do you know the meaning of "daring"? Daring is what your CEO was when he was a tough halfback, it should never be associated with cowardly terrorism and the slaughter of innocent people!"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

University Funding

If its one thing thats guaranteed to get me riled up its University and student funding. Labour lost the plotand a significant amount of votes on this. Let me recap. Two elections ago Labour promised to write-off student loan interest payments, this was and remains a significant investment in my generation. A policy I am hugely thankful for as because of it several of my friends are still in New Zealand. This election Labour came up with another promise, universal student allowances phased in over several years. The thing is this time they had missed the boat. Equal access to education has become a joke. While living costs have risen student loans have remained at the same level, at the level where sometimes they can't even pay the rent, let alone the expenses as well. For example a student loan can not pay the residental fees for halls in Dunedin. The percentage of people obtaining entry to limited entry courses like medicine and law is hopelessly skewed towards those in halls, because of tutor support and peer groups, and therefore the advantage already experienced by the rich kids, whose parents can subsidise their costs, is exaggerated. It is a disgrace.

Then there are articles like the one on the Herald this morning. With University administrators (I hesitate to call them leaders), putting out statements to the media like, "The committee said the OECD average was for 82 per cent of government funding to be devoted to institutions and 18 per cent to student financial support. But in New Zealand 58 per cent went to institutions and 42 per cent to students.". They go on to say they are not really interested in a "zero-sum game" battle between universities and students but obviously they are.

The Herald quoting Hugh Fletcher on education, scares the bejusus out of me. Really. Its hovering over me like a stormy sulky cloud.

The fees cap: "I just think it's a nonsense for the Government to be controlling fees."

How some degrees should cost more than others: "[Law] students should be paying a hell of a lot more than those doing a history degree."

How some law schools should cost more than others: "Let the students decide. If they want to go to the lower priced one, they can go to the lower priced one."

The biases his ideas seek to perpetuate and increase are all to obvious. The ironic thing is I'm not really too far "left" on University funding. I like the reasoning behind strategically directed and focussed Universities. I supported the intent, if not the method, of the reduction of Arts at Canterbury University in the last couple of years (we have better humanities schools elsewhere) and I like the idea, if not the practice, of making academics more accountable for their research outputs. I'm way out on the "right", in my opinion that the biggest problem with Universities today (and arguably the public service) is "tenure" and the sense of privilege of University staff. The problems of deadwood, academic paralysis and inter-departmental rivalries may be overcome by changing how academics are employed. The current funding system is achieving this to some degree, but experiencing teething troubles with bureaucracy, it will be interesting to see how this evolves.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Morning Run

I'm in town for the weekend, brought the recycling down from the lodge in the big blue van. The drive from Arthurs Pass to Christchurch is long but easy on the eye. I've had so many adventures on the mountains on either side of this road. Tramps,TWALKS, orienteering,fencing, mountain biking and only just recently I rode for the first time along it, with Aaron on another sunny Saturday. I'm eying up a couple more trips. I've never been up onto the Torlesse Range, so easily accesible from Porters Pass, and Mt Valiant keeps on poking its tongue out at me from the Hawdon catchment.

After a potluck and catch-up with a few people last night, Matt and Lara thought they needed to run the pudding off me this morning. The first time I had broken into a run in two months and I had to do it with two of Canterburys top mountain runners! We ran from Opawa up the famous Rapaki Track, witness to thousands of sweaty struggles each week, the hub of Christchurch's endurance scene. I have suffered up here many times before (and occasionally glided). The view is always great from the top, straight down valley to Pegasus Bay and the Kaikouras, or down to the Harbour and Quail Island on the other side.

On the saddle we stopped to stretch and hang-out. Road cyclists purred past on the lovely summit hill ride, while the Rapaki Crag was strangely quiet, no one out practising their trad climbing today on natures gym. We moved on towards Lyttleton on the mountain bike tracks then the steep sheep tracks that sidle above the Maori village at Rapaki. We cut beneath the Tors then headed down the overgrown Major Hornbrook track into Lyttleton. This area is part of the rogaine map that Chris Forne and I have developed over the last four years that now encompasses most of the Port Hills. We know it as well as anyone; the ruins in the tree's over there, the onga onga infested gully down that way, the bunker hiding under that long grass. I have organised well over 10 rogaines on the Port Hills now and it has been a great pleasure to get to know them and introduce others to their intricacies.

From the bottom of Major Hornbrook we sidled around to the Bridle Path road and descended steeply into Lyttleton. The destination was the local market which happens every Saturday and has stalls with mainly organic and gourmet foods. We bumped into a young friend of ours Tim Farrant, a top young rogainer who we helped get over to Europe this year, where with team mate Georgia Whitla he won the World Champs in the mixed junior grade. Tim was selling tomatoes but had also brought along a rogaine map from a race in Canada he took part in on the way over to Europe.

We caught the bus back through the tunnel in time for lunch and the paper in the sun...better than sitting on the couch!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Its not easy being Green

As is my habit at the moment I came home from work today and put on my youtube playlist, the first song that broke through my "sitting on the couch having a beer mental shield" was Kermit's old classic, "Its not easy been Green" . As I will explain this amused me for many reasons, but also frustrated the hell out of me and made me realise how disappointed I am with the Green Party. Through stubborn idealism they have over the last 10 years that I have been voting missed an amazing opportunity to make a huge difference to New Zealand and progress the principles of their charter. As much as I respect most of their MP's as individuals for their activism and opposition as a team they seem unable to project competence to govern and make positive pragmatic change.

I am a bottom line green centrist who supports free trade (the worlds best chance for peace and sustainability) and genetically engineered food (the worlds second best chance for peace and sustainability) This year when I went to tick green I couldn't, I knew it would be a wasted vote. The Green Party could have been positioned between Labour and National and picked up 20% of the vote, instead it was way out left Where the Wild Things Are. The Green Agenda has no need for a left or right, and neither does one concerned with social justice, communism has proved that. They require education, pragmatic politics and action. They need to be mainstream and where is mainstream...the centre.

Why when many key green themes like energy efficency, polluter pays and recycling have drifted to the centre is the green party still way out left?

I also worry about their future in the next few years, with an interesting government and a strong and organised opposition the space for green headlines may be few and far between. Their two new MP's are unlikely to make waves as good a people as they may be. Catherine Delahunty is Jeanette Fitzsimons mini-me while Kevin Hague has the unfortunate position of coming from the role of CEO of one of the least respected organisations in the country, the West Coast District Health Board. On "Frogblog" the thought is that, "I think one or all of the minor parties to this five headed monster will rue the day they signed on the line. It is the big risk of signing up - getting swallowed by the big fish…". My thought is that at least those parties signing on the line are using the leverage that their supporters gave them to attempt to get as much positive change as possible.

But back to the lyrics,

It's not that easy bein' green; Having to spend each day the color of the leaves. When I think it could be nicer being red, (ironic)or yellow (like Rodney's Jacket)or gold- or something much more colorful like that. (the government)

It's not easy bein' green. It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things. (Or will) And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water- or stars in the sky. (or Stars in Their Eyes)

But green's the color of Spring. And green can be cool and friendly-like. And green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree.

When green is all there is to be It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why? Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful! And I think it's what I want to be. (its the truth of the last two verses that exposes the tragedy)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Loving Outdoor Education

I just finished my first camp as the transitionary manager of Arthurs Pass Outdoor Education Centre. It was awesome to get to know the kids, parent and teacher of Cheviot Area School's Year 6 class, what an awesome bunch.

After landing on Saturday from China I started work on Monday, it has been a good challenge running the outdoor activities; tramping, river crossing, orienteering, etc, cleaning up and organising the centre and trying to zone into the "education" part of the role, teaching kids about the Arthurs Pass area and generally about nature. Luckily one of the ex-managers Hamish Reid came out with us for half a day and got the kids looking at sundews on the peatbog with magnifying lenses and listening to his stories about the Mt Cook Lily which are in full bloom. a highlight today was the sensory trail, where kids are blindfolded and challenged to follow a rope around a track with only their other senses to guide them. I hadn't seen this done before and have to say for an outdoor educators perspective it was a hugely effective challenge and the kids got a real sense of achievement out of it.

All in all a real privilege to be able to come here, stay with my parents, and undertake this work. I hope to contribute as much as I can to the centre as a way of honouring the memory of my friend, and the former manager of the centre, Noel who tragically passed away at Labour Weekend in a mountaineering accident on Mt Philistine.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

At Home and Contemplating the Enemy.

Ok some music to set the mood. For me to write and whoever is reading this to read (even if it is just me in 20 years time!) I am back in a country with fast enough internet connections to let me listen to and watch my youtube playlist. Youtube is a great source for music; live performances, different versions, occasionally some thoughtful comments. Two of my absolute favourites are a great version of "Something for the Ladies" by FotC and the amazing Janis Joplin in "Piece of my Heart". Most relevant for what I am going to write about though is this masterpiece by Bob Dylan, trying listening to it while reading this for extra effect.

I finally arrived home early this morning (Penny remains in Darwin where she is currently visiting Lichfield National Park "the place you can swim without been eaten by a croc"). Mum was at the airport to meet me, a familiar face finally after five flights! We stayed with my grandparents and then drove up to Arthurs Pass today after scoping around Christchurch for some of my things. Mum and Dad moved to Arthurs Pass while we have been away returning full circle to where they met over 30 years ago. It was a gorgeous day in the car, clear blue sky and patches of quickly melting snow high on the ridges. Outside the wind was rollicking, gresh and freen from well watered slopes and pastures. Mum and Dad have joined the community predator trapping programme. Dad and I walked their part of the line this afternoon, testing traps, putting new eggs in and securing the boxes. No stoats but I guess thats a good thing! Great to come home to such a paradise, a good place to contemplate the enemy.

I tried to understand the credit crisis, the challenges facing the new New Zealand government and what on earth Obama is going to do. I tired of it and stumbled over a gem. I linked through from the pretentious but worthwhile to this piece discussing a speech by Leonard Bernstein 20 years ago. To qualify things I know next to nothing about Bernstein. I associate his name with music, but I wouldn't know what sort or when. I learned from this article that he was Jewish, a pacifist and obviously quite a character. The rough synopsis is this; an aging Bernstein arrives late, bedraggled and tired from travel, but with an idea to share. An idea that has been stalking him, and growing on him during his travels. Bernstein has been encountering fear, “the enemy”. The enemy that collects our prejudice. The enemy that compels us to define and divide people. As President Bush might say "you are either with us or against us". Bernstein discovers fear as he travels through Europe with the Israel Philharmonic. Europe is tense after terror attacks in Paris. Fear rides with their security guards and Bernstein percieves the nature of this shadow. A metaphorical enemy without which they could not exist. It is the same enemy, Bernstein observes that “Jesus aimed at all his life, and Buddha too, and Freud; and Gandhi and Martin Luther King: trying to make this invisible creature unnecessary. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Turn that other cheek. "

This insight stunned me. I have been searching for a coherent understanding of four books read recently and think maybe this works. Maybe these books can be understood as a whole in the context of the pervasiveness and self-fulling nature of fear. I clumsily try and make this point below.

Voltaires Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West: John Ralston Saul I didn't get all the way through this book it turns to dross in the middle as well described by Pat Duffy Hutcheon. (I wonder if this is Puff Daddys serious pseudonym, sort of like Alistair McLean used to publish as Ian MacAlistair.) However it starts interestingly enough. After the dark ages where monarchs and monks ruled we had this enlightened period where we broke the shackles of these despots and created all kinds of beautiful things like democracy and scientific thought. We did this by not believing anything except what we saw with our own two eyes, or what people could explain to us using logic and concrete proof (a reasonable manner). This was good, except for the fact that the whole process was open to abuse by people that manipulate language and therefore reason for their own ends. As explained by Wikipedia the process led to,

"deformations of thought such as ideology promoted as truth; the rational but anti-democratic structures of corporatism,...; and the use of language and expertise to mask a practical understanding of the harm this causes, and what else our society might do."

I love that expression "deformations of thought", it makes me think of the dinner table in Braindead. But anyway the main example he uses is our societies justification of arms expenditure, which NATO currently manages to spend 1,049,875,309,000 USD on per year. I'm not going to argue with this, the arms race is a stain on our civilisation. We are sold militaristic ideologys, such as the need to use brute force when dealing with muslims, like we have no other option. The resulting human tragedys are described as "collateral damage" rather than massacre. Linking back to Bernstein it is interesting to contemplate the influence of "fear" both in the policy formation (where it rivals greed) and just how they can convince so many of us to let them commit these atrocities in our name.

"The Great War of Civilisation”: Robert Fisk. If there was ever a 'tour de force' this is it. Fisk describes his agonising career moving spatially and temporally through the battlefields of the Middle East; Algeria to Iran and unfortunately most places in between. Unfortunately because he only goes to places where the most horrible things happen. The themes in each theatre (the advent of reality TV hasn't done this phrase any favours) are depressingly familiar; the manipulation of fear to send armys to war and the polarisation and beastilisation of other groups (its ok to kill people if they are different and not human like). "Western" armys will bomb wedding parties in Afgahnistan, fire missiles into domestic airliners in Iran or at Ambulances in Lebanon, if a threat is percieved.

”Shake Hands with the Devil: Lt Colonel Romeo Dallaire”

Another Canadian I don't normally make a habit of reading books by Canadians) Dallaire was the leader of the UN Military force during the Rwandan Genocide. This is a book to make you sick to your stomach and ashamed of your civilisation. Today we see on the news violence in the Eastern Congo city of Goma. The final nail in the coffin at the end of the book is a description of how easily this could have been avoided, and how yet again Dallaire and Rwanda were shafted by the international community. Dallaire describes his belief in God,

I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there is a God."

I'm trying to sniff this devil. Is that just the B.O of a sweaty African politican? Can a man, or group of men, be so important as to cause the massacre of nearly one million? Or is there something in all of us that is prone to participating or allowing our group to commit violence against another?

"Heart of Darfur: Lisa French Baker"

This, the fourth and last book I'll mention, is a personal account of the Darfur genocide by a New Zealand nurse, Lisa French Baker. Its far more restricted in scope than the others, Baker expressly recognises that she is only a nurse with no wider understanding of the political conflict. But this viewpoint gives its own insights. What I will mostly remember are the images of men with guns smiling while the sick and injured children and women flee. I will also remember the internal rivalrys and conflict amongst the aid team. In such a damaged country must we bring our own pettiness? This book shows how on the ground the great political conflicts are represented by evil and violence perpetrated by neighbours upon each other.

Apologies for the rough writing and reasoning, fortunately this isn't an essay, only a scruffy blog. I have at least commented on four books and made one point: perhaps fear comes before evil. Its worth a thought, although maybe not a couple of late nights computer time.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hua Shan

It feels like reminiscing rather than reporting now that I'm halfway home, but here is the story of our last adventure in China.

It was a sleepy and "misty" ride across the dull plains to the east of Xian. It was hard to believe there was a mountain out there and when we got out of the bus we still didn't really know where we were going. But as we headed up through the steamed buns of town the grey ridges emerged through out of the fugg.

Our main source of information in coming here was the infamous Huashan deadly hiking route article. Its a perfect example of the vagaries of the internet age. An American dance studio owner publishes a newsletter to his clients including a second hand report of a crazy Chinese mountain hike and it becomes the leading world resource (for english speakers)! Despite been complete bullshit. I have to confess, maybe we have been travelling too long because we were slightly taken in.

Through the entrance gate and Taoist temple at the foot of the mountain (100yuan) and we were quickly out of the fugg and into a beautiful valley with soaring granite faces high above catching the sunlight. It was quite something.

The path climbs steadily up the valley with plenty of sprite stops available if you are taking it easy. At one point a giant boulder nearly plugs the valley, it must have been there for a while as it has steps carved in it that lead up to a mysterious door. Inventive! After maybe an hour the track curves left and heads straight up the "Thousand Foot Cliff" via a chained stairway. Not vertical, but you wouldn't be stopping if you fell.

The track then winds its way upwards along a forested ledge, where autumn reigned, with great views out over the valley and south towards the towering triangular face of west peak.

From here North Peak and the cable car station is easily obtained (look forward to company) and things get easier. Most parts of the track have a label, "Black Dragon Ridge", "Heavenly Stairs", "Flying Fish Ridge" etc. It is ridiculously sublime. The motivations and stimulus of the Taoist Masters Kou Qianzhi and Chen Tuan who sought revelation here are easily understood (even if there revelations might not be). The three southern peaks are really sibling summits on a high plateau bisected by a dribbling wooded creek. The whole place resonates to song chanting out of state of the art audio systems hidden behind the wooden shutters of several monasterys.

The cliffs are big, amongst the biggest I have ever experienced, and the rock is solid. The Qinling Mountains extends in all directions except north. Vast granite aretes arcing into broken hillsides.

The steps are carved deep into the granite and are safe for all who are careful. Its a peoples mountain, a democracy of the mountains. Young and old, skinny and fat, those with high heels and those without holler their frustration to the winds. It makes me think, are we too elitest with our mountains in New Zealand? How many New Zealanders have felt the pleasure of being up so high above the clouds? We scorn the Swiss, Chinese and others for their cable cars and via ferrata, but do their citizens appreciate the mountains more?. I enjoy been up there with them, the delight is genuine and its a lovely day.

We stroll around the circuit, first the west summit, then the south (the highest). I am impressed at the commitment of the Red Bull seller at the top. And also the photographer with his little wooden cabinet including printer right there beside you as you raise your arms on the summit like Kate Winslet (sorry Celine Dion and "My Heart Will Go On" has just come over the loudspeaker in the airport bringing back all sorts of memories including crying in the movie, karaoke on Pulau Pulau Tello and the giant gouge torn by one of my best mates in my Titanic poster;-)...he didn't think it was manly enough or something).

Disappoint strikes somewhat as we realise the dangerous bits we were looking forward to are tourist attractions requiring an extra fee, notably the "plank walk" and the "playing chess pagoda", which we were eyeing up for our lunch spot. We settled for the strangely quiet East peak with its magnificent NE face dropping below us.

Just down from there is a little chained steep section, which you can play around on and fall off if you want. It seems to have been left there so someone can hurt themselves occasionally and therefore maintain the reputation of the mountain. We had to have a go.

After that we had had enough, we were ready to go home. Even the spectacular cable car hardly got us amping. We were elsewhere. But what a mountain!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Waitaks: NZ's Greatest Park for the People?

I have got used to the back of Labour now. I'm not going to miss Helen Clarks humour or Michael Cullens humility. I'm looking forward to change and the increased and more widely based political debate this may bring. National has some good ideas, but at least one is a lemon. National proposes to investigate making the Waitaks a National Park. The grumpy Brian Rudman rails against it here

I remember my first visit to the Waitaks, the boys called it the adventure run, now part of the well-known Wild Turkey running race. An hour or so up the Paraha gorge, big pools, rock scrambles, beautiful native bush. I have returned there many times often introducing new people to the area. I have also explored several of the other valleys, with others and alone. Crazy waterfalls and gorges, sometimes open, sometimes choked with boulders. You can run hard for a day in these places and see no one, while just over the hill lies New Zealands big, beautiful city.

The park has been amazingly well preserved. From Muriwai and its Gannets in the North to the rugged windswept landscapes of Huia in the south. Its a great example of an area with a very strong environmentally conscious community, perhaps if anything too close minded to change. The work Rudman mentions to remove predators from a part of the park is a more recent development I look forward to benefitting from in the future. Small government only changes things when they need changing, why is National contemplating fiddling with this success story?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My travelling companion has split!

The friend always by my left shoulder, the one that understands the prices the shopkeepers murmur, the one that makes sure we have a purpose, the one with a beautiful smile, the one thats always up for adventure (as long as we have plenty of water), the one with the cheeky eyes, the one that likes tramping in the rain, the one that puts up with travel even though she would prefer to be working...helping people, the one that helps me and is my constant amazing companion, she split.

Heres a photo of her splitting.

It all happened so quickly, one day we were riding a tandem on the Xian city wall, singing Foux de fa fa .

The next day we were on top of an amazing holy mountain and now we are on different sides of the Hong Kong border, chatting on the internet! Its times like these I need a guitar to bash out a few chords. Miss you babe!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The One That Got Away: Yading!

Where we to have our time in China again the no1 thing I think we would both like to do is trek Yading. The three sacred mountains of Yading, Jospeh Rocks Shangri-La are located north of Lugu Lake and south of the high hinterland of Sichuan, we saw their snowy tops in the distance from near the top of Haba Snow Mountain.

A trek was on the cards when we rolled into Lige, the ugly tourist hub of Lugu Lake, but we didn't really know where to go, or how far it was. Some locals said 8 days. Neither did we have any food, pepper spray (those Tibetan Mastiffs aren't encouraging, or really the mojo. On our way out of the area, at the much nicer main town beside the lake we found this in an informative guesthouse. Hope it might help someone in their plans!

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Sitting up late in our hostel in Xian trying to get a job application finished. Less than a week now till I will be back in New Zealand (Penny is visiting friends in Darwin for a few days, so is back a bit later). We arrived in Xian on a less than inspiring train ride from Xining along the Yellow River. 2000 years of civilisation sure puts some pressure on the environment, exhausted and ruined soils sift out of ancient terraced hillsides. Motorways and railways cut through hillside and flow down catchments.

Xian is a nice city, the inner part at least, plenty of interesting street food (allowing a lovely progressive dinner tonight as we walked across town), a bustling Islamic market, bright neon lights and interesting older style architecture including a vast square town wall.

Today we visited "the eighth wonder of the world". The Terracotta Army. Catch bus 206 from near the railway station to get there. The Terracotta warriors themselves were only rediscovered in 1974. They stand in giant filled pits some distance from the mausoleum of one of China's Ch'in dynasty Emperors. (Ch'in being the word that China is derived from). The lines of soldiers stand in narrow tiled corriders between thick walls of packed earth. The walls over the centuries have carried the weight of giant timber beams lined with matts then covered with soil. The beams can still be seen where they have sagged and slowly turned to stone.

I couldn't help thinking about the circumstances that may have lost such a treasure from the historical record for so long a time. Were the terracotta warriors covered over when the great Emperor die, or did work continue under some passionate collector until the House of Ch'in fell soon after. As the great unwashed rose to tear down the Empire, how were the terracotta warriors protected or hidden, or why weren't they looted and broken further? What human tragedys were played out in the defense of this, the greatest army of earth? Tomorrow (or today really) we plan to visit Hua Shan, the most deadly 'mountain hiking' route in the world. We will see. Its quite apt really, we have visited one of the holy mountains of Tibetan Buddhism (Kawa Karpo), one of the sacred mountain of Chinese Buddhism (Emei Shan) and now we will visit one of the five mountains of Taoism. One last natural scenic adventure for us in China. (update: we delayed Hua Shan a day to focus on job applications and other organisational tasks, we can't wait for a bit of exercise and scenery!)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Brent is World Champion!!

One of our best mates BrentEdwards (along with the rest of Team Orion Adventure; Anna, Stu and Wayne) became a World Champion yesterday on a Brazilian beach, winning the Adventure Racing World Champs. Penny says 'awesome' Brenty.

Read more here

A couple more photo quizzes!

Heres a couple more photo challenges, what if anything is going on here. One is an historic photo from our Indonesian traipses the other more recent.Although they are kind of related!

And I can confirm (or at least hope) that the answers for the questions a couple of weeks ago are buckwheat and lattices!

UPDATE: and yes the lesson is never go to the toilet on an indonesian fishing vessel if you are over 80kg and 5 foot 5, and if you own yaks collect their poo to burn in the winter by slapping it on your wall.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yushu and Xining

(We are now safely in Xining, the million strong capital city of Qinghai province. Tomorrow we have train tickets booked for Xian. We arrived this morning and have had a pleasant day mooching around town and another very good Hostelling International set-up. This one has goldfish and a guitar with six strings.)

We are sitting now in an internet gaming room inthe southern Qinghai town of Yushu, the prospect of a 20 hour sleeper bus ride to the provincial capital of Xining looming. We have had a quiet couple of days in Yushu. Pennys not really sure why we came here, and I don't really know either. It seemed a good idea at the time, and in retrospect may prove to be an interesting experience.

But anyway, straight out of the bus from Serqu and we were quickly found by a random english speaking dude who helped us find the bus station, then a hotel, but then proved hard to dislodge. Nice guy but we were tired and ready for a period of Chineselessness. The hotel he found us was sort of nice at first glance, but its grottiness grew on you like bamboo sprouting on a fertile slope. Nothing like opening the toilet in your room to find the last occupants festering shit.

The next morning we went strolling to find a new place to stay, and to have a little walk. The first highlight was the very impressive statue of King Gessar of Lind. King Gessar is a Tibetan and Central Asian folk hero and he lived somewhere around these parts. He is a sort of Jesus like figure sent by the Gods to address some evils then reascended back to heaven. Although given that he was around about 700AD there is very little evidence of him actually existing as a person. His epic story, the longest in the world at about 60 million words, has being passed down orally to this day, which is quite an impressive feat, although you have to wonder at the Chinese whisper effect! For more on King Gessar, wikipedia isinformative.

I had a thought that maybe King Gezar was an example of Tibetan entymology creeping into english with the word "geezer", but upon investigation, this word, dating back to the 19th century, is apparently from "guise" and further back "wise", although its quite possible I reckon that the Gezar allusion contributed to its adoption...

We then caught the no2 bus (which does a handy L shape from the bus station down to the centre of town that out east past the hostel I will shortly recommend then to the mani wall) out to the famous mani wall, home to a pile of 2 billion stones with prayers engraved in them. Theres a whole lot of hopes, dreams and wishes in this vast collection of rubble. We joined the locals and pilgrims for the now familiar circumambulation.

Catching the bus back into town we spied a Hostelling International sign. Very lucky. The place is cheap (60 yuan) and clean and friendly. (its in a three story pink building on the main road out of town below the monastery). It also boasts a worn copy of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy which Penny eagerly devoured. We went to grab our bags and witnessed the "Dead Yak Bus".

That afternoon we wandered up past the monastery and its styly toilets,

past the transmission towers and prayer flags, to the Yak pastures high up on the hills with a near aerial view of the city. With a full day a nice loop could be had, up this ridge and circling back to town via another. I forgot Pennys family history of cattle death and got her on edge by telling her this yak was looking at us funny.

It was a pleasant spot up there, and oh yeah there were vultures circling and soaring. They are massive graceful birds when you are two far away to see the small head and beady eyes. Dare I say their flight reminded me somewhat of the Royal Albatross on Campbell Island!

The next day we had a sleeper bus bound for Xining booked for 1pm. We finally got out of town at 4pm but still somehow seemed to arrive on time. The bus was a somewhat surreal experience, lying down chatting with each other across the corrider as our window froze over and our bus crept along frozen roads. Around 11 we awoke as the bus stopped and had a big feed of fried vegetable and chilli chicken peanuts at a roadside restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The whole experience was somewhat surreal but the stars were amazing.