As I write this it’s been three weeks since I first tried to get to the mountains. I had packed my bag, hired the crampons and ice axe, checked my stove and bought some food. I’d even filled my hydration reservoir so I could get away early with minimal fuss.
The forecast was a bit iffy, but looked to be clearing. But then I checked the avalanche advisory for Tongariro National Park and found big blobs of orange covering the mountains, indicating ‘considerable’ risk. But what is considerable? I rang the DOC visitor centre. Turns out ‘considerable’ means you really need to know your stuff. After answering a few probing questions from the DOC ranger, she suggested I do a guided alpine crossing rather than my objective of climbing Ngauruhoe.
At first I was affronted and I soon discovered I can be a bit of a tramping snob: a guided Tongariro Alpine Crossing!? I’ve done that on my lonesome, and in winter, thank you very much!
But after talking it over with my wife, we decided I would postpone the trip. But here’s the thing. I guess I was secretly glad. I never really fancy the idea of a 4am start and long drive before a big tramp at the end of which I’d be staying in a hut, no doubt freezing cold. And the DOC ranger’s words had got me feeling more than a little apprehensive: “Have you got an avalanche transceiver? How about a PLB? Are you an experienced alpinist? I can recommend a guided trip if you want?”
All I wanted was a trip into the hills, not the third degree or an entire bag of seeds of doubt sprinkled all over my plans.
And so as the days dragged on, I found myself going from checking the avalanche advisory twice a day, to a couple of times a week, to just once a week. Had I talked myself out of it?
If I had, I didn’t realise it until a card arrived in the post, from Shaun Barnett, former editor of this magazine. He had written to congratulate me on editing 100 issues of Wilderness. The card he sent is quite simply superb and as I read it, I saw in my mind’s eye my trip to Ngauruhoe and I resolved to re-pack my bags, re-hire the alpine tools and get down to the mountain straight away. If I climb, I climb. And if I don’t, at least I’ll be outside in the mountains doing something sensational.
The card (pictured) was designed by Michele Irving (www.micheleirving.co.nz) and in case you can’t make out the text in the image, I’ve copied the words below because I suspect many trampers have found themselves in a similar state of mind and you might also find them inspirational enough to get you out the door.
– Alistair Hall
I check over my gear:
and go over the details of the trip.
but by this stage there’s a real lump of something
cold and clammy
in the pit of my stomach.
Eventually I get into the car and set off. While driving the apprehension
eases a little, but niggling fears persist.
But eventually I arrive at the starting
point of the journey put on
my boots, gaiters, don the pack, and take the
first step. Suddenly – and it happens every time
– the apprehension, the niggling fears, vanish, just like that.
I discover that what confronts me is: walking!
I’m a big boy; I know how to walk.