It was almost completely white in front of us. The winds were blowing the snow sideways and as I took out my one hand – the one that I hadn’t a glove on because I lost it a few hours prior – I turned back and realised if I were to go back on my own and my footsteps were covered by snow, I would be totally lost.
We were so close to the summit when the storm closed in on us – the same storm were we trying to outwalk the past few hours. The snow blew at us sideways at an angle, daring us to continue.
We were in New Zealand near a town called Taupo and this is our story.
The Tongariro crossing was one of very first mountains and one of the most memorable ones etched in my memory. Situated about 2-3 hours drive from Taupo, we told our innkeeper about our intention to tackle the mountain the next day.
“Boy, will you be knackled when you come back.”
He did leave us with a tip though. He told us to bring extra socks. The snow melt will cause our socks to be wet. It will be more comfortable with dry socks. We packed them.
But we only realized how woefully unprepared we were on the bus.
In fact, I had intended to hike in denim jeans, a sling bag and my black army boots. Sam, our guide , directed me to change into something more appropriate for my pants, gave me an actual hiking bag with accompanying crampons (for the snow he said) and even provided trekking shoes. Dutifully we changed on the bus, taking turns to change at the back.
The hike started out easily enough.There were boardwalks with looming mountains on all sides. There were smiles, many pictures and jokes. Soon though the wooden boardwalks turned to black jagged stone and we start climbing ever upward.
“We have to climb faster,” Sam said, pointing to the sky.
He explained that we were needed to be right in the middle of a circle of dark clouds. Essentially, we were trying to outrun a storm by being in the eye of it.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Before long, the storm hit us like only mother nature knew how. The winds howled and the snow started. For almost all of us, it was our first experience of snow and rather than the gentle snowflake drift we see on TV, it was violent and raging. And we were cold and tired and our noses were watery.
As Sam asked us to climb to a higher ledge to seek shelter there, he helped my friends as they battled both the snowstorm and their fatigue.
“Do you think you can take care of yourself up there?” he asked everyone.
Everyone kept mum.
This was the moment I think gears started turning in his head. Sam was tall, had a head of dreadlocks and looked like he could carry two of us with no problem. But there were four of us and at the point of time, he wasn’t sure the other two of us who could go on could take care of ourselves.
He started to walk towards us and asked us to huddle around him.
” There is a just a triangle at the top,” he followed with his thumb and forefinger making a triangle shape, at this point, shouting so that he could be heard over the wind.
“That is where we are supposed to get to.”
He wriggled the peak of the triangle. Blank faces all around.
“But at this point of time, I don’t think we will be able to do that.”
The winds howled and churned and the snow did their terrible dance.
” We have to turn back.”
There are points in our life I think when we look back, realize shape how we thought about things and I think this is one of them. There , on that mountain, we had the courage and presence of mind to turn back. No questions asked. The courage of turning back instead of going on, in my view, was the greater triumph.
It was the greater triumph because when we turned around, the team knew we were greater than the sum of it’s parts. we didn’t blame each other for the failed attempt and left the mountain feeling like we truly tried our best.
And that’s so true of life isn’t it?
Sometimes you will give up.
But don’t blame yourself – there’s not much point in that.
What is important is that you try your best and constantly challenge yourself. Each and everyday.
To become a better person. To discover yourself. To find your calling.
And some day, one day, you will get to the peak. And you will cross it.