Ben: “Go into the mountains.”
Api: “ What, where the snow and ice is?”
Ben: “Yes, so that all we can see is white.”
Api: “Why you want to do that Peni?”
Ben: “Good question Api, I’ll tell you when I get back.”
Captain Api’s questions were understandable coming from a Fijian islander whose spent his life on tropical waters and beaches.
But I’ve always wanted to ‘go into the mountains,’ I’ve just never been quite sure why. I mean look at it – the mountains are cold, freezing places with little or no living things, with rapidly changing weather, unseen cliffs, cravasses and always the going up and the coming down, hardly ever a cruising, calm flat. So why leave a sunny island home for this loneliness and pain? Good question.
Back from four days of mountaineering in the two thumb range, above the spectacular lake Tekepo in the centre of the south island of New Zealand, I remember why.
The air – it tastes different, lighter, cleaner. Pushes you on.
The clouds – Up above and in amongst them you gain a better sense of their behaviour and how the weather that we all discuss so much everyday, actually works.
The peaks – sweeping ridges and vast valleys never look so alluring.
The snow – it changes as you get to know its different layers and formations. The way the white blanket deceives its crystal complexities is strangely fascinating as well as beautiful.
The sleep – sunken into your bag you forget the world and its worries. Its you, your warmth and the mountain silence.
The food – the blandest food can taste amazing, its the closest you come to feeling like you’re literally re-fueling your body.
The company – the people whose footsteps you literally and metaphorically tread in. The trust on the belay, the clinical communication and the shared experience. The stories of mountaineers past achievements shrink and inspire you simultaneously.
The body – takes a pounding. Realising that your gear is an extension of you – crampon spikes for toes, ice axes for fingers, avalanche transmitter for heartbeats. It is about as physical as it gets for me and I relish the challenge of burning muscles, straining lungs, and aching limbs.
The mind – the exploration, vacancy, numbness, inspiration, perspective, explosion. The mental journey in the mountains is wild.
The afterwards – the best shower and beer you can re-call. The satisfaction, the new-found focus, the sense of achievement. The warmth and sleep.
That’s why I go to the mountains. I remember now.
Giles and I did a four day introduction to moutaineering with Alpine Recreation, a brilliant company based in Tekapo, and we would thoroughly recommend them if your serious about ‘going into the mountains.’
There were just three of us plus our instructor and we stayed in a beautiful little hut above the snow line. As well as a decent peak ascent we practised self-arrests, anchoring, avalanche and cravass rescue, snow shelters and basic climbing. We bonded with our ice axes, snow shoes and crampons and ate a whole lot of museli bars.