So there was a problem with our Raft Guy. Paul had brought along a sat phone (aka “satellite phone” for those unfamiliar with expedition parlance) and our raft guy wasn’t picking up. This was a big deal, like a major deal, because if we were going to go over the pass the raft guy needed to be there to meet us. It wasn’t like it would simply be inconvenient if he wasn’t there, a nicety that we could do without. As rudimentary as the trail was going up to Brodrick Hut, and it was rudimentary, all of our research showed that it was a freeway when compared to the non-trail on the other side of Brodrick Pass. Google, paper maps, and lore said that the trail stopped on the other side of the mountain, that there was no trail on the Landsborough River. This meant that if our guide didn’t show up, we would have to come back over the pass and out the way we came in.
“No one was interested in doing that. NO ONE.”
We really tried to get at our raft guy, we really truly did. He never picked up. We would only find out a week or so later that he had actually scheduled our trip for the following month and at the time of our expedition was enjoying a nice vacation to the States with his wife to familiarize himself with normalized orientation driving, white picket fences, and all-day parties. I hope he found them.
As we were in a pretty tight bind, Paul (#maybeacyborg) called his wife (read: tap into his server system) to find a list of Helicopter services out of Wanka. It turns out that helicopter service on the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island is a really easy thing, like ordering pizza easy. The call went like this:
- Paul, “Hey I need a helicopter pick up.”
- Lady, “Where are you?”
- Paul, “Middle of nowhere.”
- Lady, “Uh huh. Does a 3 PM pick up work for you? You can catch a little sun in the meantime.”
- Paul, “Suuuuure, yeah that works fine.”
- Lady, “Sweet as.”
So at 3 PM sharp a whirly bird swooped down out of the sky. We had spent the majority of the day tanning our bodies and our gear while a certain amount of excitement built for our upcoming extraction. What a difference a day makes you know; one day you are up to your tits in glacial runoff carrying a bike over your head as you hike up a sliding, shifting, rushing river while buckets of water dump down on you, and the next you’re milling around in the alpine sun waiting for one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s futurist visions to come and swoop you back to civilization. So maybe you shoot a lookbook or go skinny dipping, maybe you just hang out in the forest, who knows, the point is you have the time, the leeway, and the luxury, which luxury isn’t something that you planned for, which makes it even more luxurious.
We take off and the helicopter climbs quickly, gaining altitude to escape the vertical gendarmes of the Southern Alps. From the cabin we can see the top of Brodrick Pass [See the big photo at the top of this page? That’s Brodrick Pass, up on the right. This is as close as we would get.] arching away from us into the next valley. On this trip we will not see over the other side. Given a little more time there is no doubt that we would have made it over the pass, but that isn’t really saying anything is it?
“A challenge is working within a given set of constraints, that’s what makes a problem interesting, however contrived, and this expedition like so many events in our modern world had a time limit, a hard out, and absolutely no give.”
Pulled way back, in retrospect and annotated for brevity, the story of our ride would read: we came, we tried, we did not succeed. But that’s the problem with generalizations, with synopsis; all the nuance, the insight, the subtlety of the experience is lost. If you shift your focus, read the subtext, you might recognize that ultimately the point is making moments into memories, and if that is the point, we more than met our goals.