This blog post is the entry I submitted to the Navigator Around the World in 80 Pages 2018 travel writing competition. To my surprise and great joy, it was awarded 2nd place and published in a book.
“If we make it to the first hut by 4pm, we will keep going.” Mistake number one. We made it at 3:58pm. Never make a deal with time because nature won’t play along. It was my second attempt at trekking to Mitre Peak, the highest peak in New Zealand’s Tararua Range. On my first attempt I turned back after reaching the tree line to find dark clouds caressing the ridge and a relentless wind with a force that could resuscitate a breathless body. This time it was going to take serious warning signs to turn me back. Except this time I wasn’t alone.
As I stood at the tree line for a second time, I assessed the grey clouds hesitating behind the mountains and the wind gently rustling the shrubs. I turned to Peter and we both agreed to keep going. Mistake number two. My stubbornness blinded me from seeing the warning signs from the clouds and the time on my watch ticking towards 5:30 pm. Less than 4 hours of daylight.
The higher we climbed the thicker the clouds and fog enclosed us. “We need to walk faster!” I continued to yell to Peter through the fog. The wind came in powerful bursts that brought me to my knees for stability. We walked on and yet we were going nowhere. Only a few meters could be seen before us, darkness was falling along with a spitting rain, the wind was wailing, and the trail ceased to exist. Fear and panic started to rise as the sun settled behind the mountains. We had to make a choice. If we tried to find the hut, we might get lost. If we slept on the mountain, we would be at nature’s will.
A survival mode I never knew existed kicked in and made the decision for us. “We need to call for help and find shelter.” To our fortune, we were on a small peak with cell service and a few large boulders that could provide enough shelter from the wind and rain. We found an overhanging rock that would become our home for the night. After Search and Rescue was contacted and our location found, our anxieties eased. “Hang tight, we’ll get you in the morning,” they said. We put on every layer of clothing we had, wedged between rock and soil and zipped up our sleeping bags with trembling fingers.
The reality of our situation sunk in and an absurd sensation came over us. Laughter. Uncontrollable laughter stemming from our nerves, but laughter nonetheless. I will never forget that sleepless night or the friend who shared the cold with me. To be exposed to nature’s will reminded us of the power she possesses and to never underestimate her swiftly changing currents. Humbling it was.
(Tararua National Park, New Zealand, November 2016)