I remember the weekend very clearly, even though it was nearly 30 years ago – the weekend that changed my life. It was a walk in the mountains. Mildly interesting I hear you say, but we’ve all done that.
We have, but how did your first walk in the mountains impact you? First mountain bike ride, sea kayaking trip, first time you jumped on a plane to another country? It could even be the first time you swam in the ocean. We all have a first adventure memory. The challenge is defining what that actually is…
For me, it was the moment I realised a few things all at the same time: I was a 13 year old kid, active and optimistic but relatively unaware that the mountain range I had looked at whilst growing up, the Tararuas, was a hikers’ playground. My stepfather had been an adventurous soul from an early age, growing up on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island where rainforest rises straight up to high alpine peaks, and he had been thinking about the right time to take me on a multi-day hike for quite some time. Shortly after my 13th birthday he knew I’d be ready, so we made a plan only a couple of days beforehand, got ourselves prepared and set off early on a Saturday morning.
After a short drive into the hills close to my home town we were immersed in native beech forest, and set off to hike to the top of the highest peak in the Tararua ranges – Mitre Peak (all 5154 feet of it). By the end of 5 hours hiking we had arrived at Mitre Flats hut, set in native bush alongside the Waingawa River. It was sensory overload for a young lad – native bird song, the sound of the river, pristine green forest, a slight sub alpine chill in the air and sun light cracking through the tree tops and into the window of the hut where we’d spend the night. Dinner had never tasted so good – sausages and noodles – mmm mmm mmmm. (Why does food taste 1000% better when you’re in a remote place?? Maybe we’ll never know, but I’m glad it does.)
The following morning was summit day. After an early start we ascended the bush line and made our way up through the alpine grass land and then hit the ridge line towards the summit. And then bad weather came in. where we had earlier been able to see all the way out to the North Island’s Kapiti Coast, all that we saw was the cloud bank rapidly rolling towards us. We decided to push on, and then the wind & rain hit as we got further up the ridge. We knew we had to turn back, but it didn’t matter to me – right there, in that moment, as we trudged on through the wind and rain I had discovered something that would open many doors in my life.
I was slightly out of my comfort zone, in a wilderness area, feeling a remoteness (being far from home), I was unsure as to what lay ahead, and I had never felt so excited in my life. All these new realisations added up to a new found sense of freedom, and that life would never be the same. I had broken the mould and taken a chance. And that’s all it takes sometimes – just open the door and walk through it.
What was the first door you walked through?
– Phil, Active Adventures Director