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The Autobiography of a Maori

Failure to Scale Ruahine

Failure to Scale Ruahine

I led the next expedition myself during the Easter holidays, and its object was more ambitious than vegetable caterpillar-hunting, for it was no less than the scaling of one of Ruahine's snowy peaks. We allowed ourselves just a week and, if favoured with fine weather, might just manage to achieve our objective. We carried everything, provisions, equipment, etc., on our backs. Our first camp was near the cave at Groome's page 79and we inspected this and saw, for the first time, stalactites and stalagmites which we found to be in a perfect state of preservation—I mean, they had not been damaged by vandals.

We started early next morning and crossed the Ruataniwha Plain which, after the luxuriant growth of the English grass we had been accustomed to seeing at Te Aute, looked like a desert. After crossing the plain we passed near the small village of Hampden, but not a soul did we see. Not far from Hampden is Tikokino where we spent our second night out and here the mighty Ruahine appeared to be much nearer. The next morning we would make the final dash, even though the top of the range seemed so far away.

We really did bestir ourselves early the next morning. None of us knew the country so we were, in a sense, resorting to blind flying. Undaunted, we entered the forest and for hours we worked our way up the steep spur. We had made good progress by lunchtime, for which meal we had only bread and butter. After lunch, we had only travelled a few chains when we came upon a deep gully which lay between us and the snow-capped ridge. We were debating whether to descend into the gully or to follow the ridge for some considerable distance further, when the sky suddenly darkened and rain began to fall. We sheltered under some large trees but as there seemed little prospect of the rain ceasing and as our supply of food was running low, I gave the order to retrace our steps. We had no compass and in the darkness of the forest we lost all sense of direction. By a stroke of luck we struck a survey line which we followed until it brought us to a grassy opening where, to our delight, we saw a hut. It was, by this time, almost dark. A lonely shepherd gave us a hearty welcome. He had just baked a large loaf in a camp-oven and he offered it to us for our tea. We were famished and finished the whole loaf. The page 80shepherd told us that we were wise in turning back for, had we descended into the gully we would not have been able to go much farther without more time and a good supply of provisions, and, besides, we would probably have become bushed. Dan Ellison was the only member of the party about my own age, the rest being junior boys. I often wonder why people persist in attempting to scale the Himalayas; I think it is very foolish; and yet Ruahine might easily have been my own and my companions' Himalaya.

During the mid-winter holidays I led a walking expedition over a large portion of Hawke's Bay and, though it was not attended by any unusual incidents it was more utilitarian than the abortive attempt to scale the heights of Ruahine. This expedition launched the Young Maori Party.