At the start of the trail leading up and over the Cascade Saddle to the Dart River valley, I stopped in my tracks to read the conspicuous warning sign.
Many trampers and climbers over the years have fallen to their deaths on this trail. Over-confidence, lack of knowledge, inadequate equipment, bad weather and slippery snow-grass have all been contributing factors to the accident rate.
In Mt Aspiring Hut the evening before, the DOC hut warden and I had settled into a leisurely conversation about the joys and the perils of this trail. “The problem,” she’d said, “Is the 'run out' if you start sliding. There is simply no protection on sections of the trail.”
It's a compelling metaphor for business and for life. To go higher and reach further, there are times when you have to leave safety behind and move into the unknown. While I climbed through a beech forest, dappled with early morning light, I reflected. One part of my mind concentrated on footfalls while the other roamed free.
It’s a choice: to stay with the known, the comfortable, safe and familiar or to extend yourself and step into the new. I believe we humans are born to walk, to venture into untrodden territory, to open new possibilities and to prove that the only limits are the ones you place on yourself. This irresistible compulsion to explore and grow must be wired into our DNA. What better place to experience it, than in a setting like this with Mt Aspiring a beckoning symbol of our individual ambitions and dreams? How better to extend your capacity to take risks in daily life than to test it here in nature’s therapy room?
“Steady on, Major,” I smiled, stepping beyond the tree line. The orange marker poles marched up the slope above me to the distant ridge, crisp and stark against the dazzling clarity of a southern sky. “Here comes the fun part.”
The higher I climbed, the more the gulf to my right yawned, exposing teeth of rock, just a metre or so from the trail. Where a tongue of rock jutted out to hang over the blue-shadowed valley 1000 metres below, I stopped, knowing what I had to do.
“You want to bring people into a place like this for personal growth? Then let’s see what it’s like!”
I wanted a photograph to show people what it’s like to stand on the edge of the unknown. I just prayed the photograph would not be the last record of this tramper's terminal slip into oblivion. As soon as I heard the self-timer's electronic voice counting down, I crept forward, hunched like a soldier under fire, knees trembling, instinctively trying to make myself smaller and resisting the urge to cling to the ground. My senses whirled. No security here!
“Bugger!” I said after gingerly returning and examining the photograph. “Not good enough! Do it again, Major!”
The second time was easier. Nonetheless, it took an effort of will to stand upright, extend my arms and open fully to Mt Aspiring. As if on cue, a hawk wheeled and shrieked. I answered with a long, “Woo! Hoo!”
Later, up on the saddle and during the long descent into the Dart Valley, past the dripping snout of the glacier and along the river toward the hut tucked into the protective shoulder of a mountain, the elation of that moment remained.
In the late afternoon, I met a tramper running up the trail, wearing shorts, singlet and a daypack.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?” I asked with a smile.
“Up to the saddle,” he panted. “Is it far?”
“You won’t make it up there before nightfall let alone get back to the hut,” I said.
He considered and sensibly decided to lower his sights something more achievable and less risky.
There are times when the hard reality of the trail constrains our sense of unlimited potential.