Panic pushes my mind into a spin and I start running. Uphill. With a 20 kg pack on. After 3 hours of continuous off-track climbing. At an altitude of 1400m.
STOP! Idiot, stop. I force myself to stand still and assess. I listen to my heart which is banging like a machine gun. Jesus, if I keep this up I’ll have a coronary in a minute. I wait until my heart stops trying to break my rib cage open and try to assess what the hell is going on. Above is a gnarly cliff hiding the horizon with no obvious route, 800m below is the Mt Cook valley which looks like it wants to eat me and I'm on an exposed ridge. The end is nowhere in sight and I have 60 minutes before it gets dark. I need mental control NOW. Panic had stemmed from shock, shock had stemmed from fear, fear had come from a bad situation. And as my good friend AK would say, you should never push a bad situation.
I'd arrived at the trail head earlier that day. There had been just enough time to research the route, throw my excess kit into a bush and hit the trek. I'd got rough directions to Sefton bivvy hut, but as it was all off-track the going had been tough hands and knees stuff. I'd missed a good line on the way up and paid the price with a difficult traverse. To make matters worse, after finishing the traverse and coming out onto the main ridge I saw what I had previously thought was the hut. But now I could see it wasn't the hut. It was a big boulder that looked like a hut, but it definitely was not a hut. Hence the moment.
And now time is running out. Apart from having nowhere to bivvy down on the harsh slope it feels so exposed that the smallest cloud could pick me up and blow me into the chasm.
I was impressed at my STOP. It was the right thing to do. I had controlled my mind, reigned in my grip on reality. Now I can rationalise. I figure if this fairly worn line is going uphill it MUST go to the hut. Or at least to a point where I can see it. I'll just keep plodding on, keep the BPM down, chill Winston.
Forty-five minutes later I crest another ridge and there, in all its sunset splendour, lies Sefton Bivvy hut. Its location is so totally spectacular, and my relief is so great, that I scream and punch the air. "YOU F**KING BEAUTY!!!!" just about sums it up. Epic over, I grin all the way up the last section, and make the last radio call with enough time to cook lentils.