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Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University, Wellington Vol. 24, No. 6. 1961.

The Start

The Start

And so it was raining. You know, it looked okay when I left home but 10 minutes from shelter hut, Dewey (a minor deity in the pantheon presided over by Hewey) turned iton. Not too bad, but enough to cheese one off. So shelter hut saw me just a weeney bit disconsolate. I looked up towards the Marchant and thought I could see through the swirl dirty patches of snow. "Hell," I thought, "this low!" Up the puffer and a pause at the Turnoff. I pondered. This was my first time up the Marchant and I shivered. It was cold. I slopped along—brushing through wet undergrowth—and despite the weather, began to enjoy the solitude. A stop to listen to the silence, and a sort of microcosmic sound of mist enveloped me. Away there, down there, I think, is the sound of water. Just a trickle, but it enlarges the scene, with its towers of earth, and rock, stalking through the mists around me. I felt warm and happy—a strange happiness. Onward relaxed and confident, despite a chilling lapse in my sense of direction. Is that the water shed down there and down there? I must, I have changed my direction. I know it! I have. But onward, up through ancient forests. No sunny spots of greenery, these. At once home and not home.

Another pause, and I wriggle in my shoulder straps, and think, think back to times before. What had these hills seen. This tree, just here, from sapling to megolith. A thought strikes me. Lithos (Gk) stone. What the hell? Again onward, climbing steadily. The sounds, now. of a great river valley, brushing my ears, more sense than sound. I have, of course, denied myself time, and I am lolling in an hour which is not an hour— an exquisite vase shaped by Poust, Eliot, Constable and a myriad others.

Dobson's and shelter. I slosh thru' the swamp and burst unbelievably on to the hut. Inside, and the wind creaks around, with me rumaging around. Out with the primus (Boy Scouts model) and some cocoa is soon on the boil—bread, butter and jam, and Bugger! The handle of the mug was warm—very warm and I look ruefully at my finger. An angry red spot glares back, and I absently lick it as I mop up spilt cocoa with an old "Post." Self-preservation had not permitted me to drop the entire contents of the mug, and I sip the remains, staring out the window, down into the valley. Somewhere, down there, is the Tauwharenikau Hut. Rain rattles petulantly against the glass, inches from my nose, and I turn back to the cold of the hut. Up there, and I am now outside, is the Marchant, black and uncompromising. Yes, there's snow all right. Into the traces again and now the trial starts. Boots into snow crust, crisp and. as yet. clean, the myriad insects entombed in crystal are not there.

That was only a patch though, and now I'm climbing. I am moving very easily and very fast, time no longer mattered, and I knew I was fit. A fallen tree, and a detour, a scrabble up a near vertical mud slide. I pause to clean my hands and legs with fern fro ids dripping ice crystals. And then suddenly. I'm in the snow. The slope eases off and I follow the slight depression which indicates the track, over ancient logs, and thru' a stalacmite forest. Vapours wreath the slopes and from the forest lands, thousands of miles beneath me, comes a slush of water and leaves.

A steep bit on hands and knees and my feet suddenly feel cold. I move a little faster. What's that? A snovvflake, and another. It's snowing, but not for long. I look at the sky which beats to within a few microns of self, and wonder whether I'll have to dive off into the valley.

On, on, on. I lose the track, and heat painfully up hill again. Ah, here we are. By now, ice is buried in every fold of my parka and I pause for some dates and sugar. On, on, on. Through stunted beech and pines with time halted and I am alone with myself and the macabre beauty of frozen hills, crouching around me, but below me and I survey them momentarily and plunge on.

A thought. Will I miss the turn-off? Slowly this thought swells until I have to thrust it violently away. But it's there. It's still there. Maybe you should go down here, say, or here? What about over there? You could go down there you know. You could. I won't, won't ... The metallic echo vanishes quickly, so quickly and I'm alone again. I shout again, hear my voice, anybody's voice. A metallic ring - diminishing rapidly and gone.

I draw a deep breath and go on. Ah, what's this? H.V.T.C. In track markers, crucified to a tree. Maybe the track is around here? Down there? Nope, not down here. Back to the tree. Maybe the track is going down now anyway. I stop and a cold panic clutches me. I'm on a ridge and I look over and down into the watershed. And then back into the Tauwharenikau. Down there, I must go down there, out of this fiendish cold, to warmth, food, rest. And so I mindlessly stumble down.

Down into a creek, I instinctively descend, into the bed and now the trial starts in earnest. Windfalls, absolutely impassable, choke the bed. And I clamber up the bank, and down again, picking my way over boulders, then up on to a ridge to be precipitated brutally back into the stream. Going is easy for a while but soon the bed reverts to its impassive but savage resistance and I am engrossed in a struggle for ... life. Down, plunging down—a waterfall, a detour, and—a fall. I regain my feet, panting slightly, no broken bones, just shaken up and now I know I'm fighting. The surrounding ridges loom about me and lurch easily Into the depths of the valley. By now I have descended beneath the snow-line but I'm wet, a chilling sort of wetness that seems to have a disturbing permanence. My parka, is just a limp rag on my shoulders and my pack is torn, and somehow a comforting friend. Another slip, and this time not so lucky. Another inch perhaps meant serious injury. As it was, a torn muscle resulted. I limp on, now in an unbelievable haze, punctuated sharply by agonising cramp in my calf. I madly pound and massage my legs and career onward. Each turn of the stream, each waterfall, promises something, but no, another stretch. Another windfall, and I (treading paths unknown to man) am enveloped in a miasmal gloom and am dazed by the enormity of my environment.

A billion, billion things there are in the universe and I am at once proud and humble to be face to face. with such a sweeping outline of their being. I exist and am, they exist and are, and about me their manifestation tend to the unheard symphony of farce which is crushing me at this moment. I reel and stagger on, until a flat appears and I leave the bed and plunge through the forest.

A startled stag. We confront one another with eyes dazed— mine with exhaustion, and his with wonder. Time stops and we two, for an instant, become comrades. Then he is off. And I, I too am off. But to what? Suddenly, a garage. I start to clamber down but reason prevails, and I return to the easier going on top. Then a turn, and on my dulled senses, a fact beats, beats—I am saved.

The Tauwharenikau!

* * *

"What is good enough for Mr____'s father is not good enough for Mr_________!"