• Stephanie Hammond

Guides ensure success

Mt Ruapehu Crater Lake - from National Parks website
Mt Ruapehu Crater Lake - from National Parks website

I’ve written about overcoming my physical fears before. Today, my thoughts turn to the one most important person who has been front and centre in these processes.

This person doesn’t have a name and isn’t one single person. This person is a guide.

At the centre of my every single achievement and step forward has been someone who has himself or herself become an expert in areas I want to add to my basket of abilities.

I notice that I was first drawn to an adventure that would both test and arm me with skills. Then I set about to find someone to teach me or share this experience with me. Sometimes I’d start off on an adventure and then find I was petrified during a part of it. And in these situations, when I pushed through the fears and succeeded, there had always been a guide at the centre of that experience.

I first became aware of the importance of a guide that summer my youngest daughter and I decided to join a guided walk up to the crater lake on Mt Ruapehu. At the time I didn’t see this description on the National Parks website:

The crater climb is only suitable for fit, experienced, and well equipped people who can make effective judgments about alpine and volcanic hazards. If you are unsure, travel with a guided party. The unformed route up Ruapehu to the crater is not marked, and is in high altitude terrain - the crater lake lookout point is at 2672 m. The terrain is rugged volcanic rock in summer, and snow and ice in winter. You must be confident finding your own safe route up and down the mountain.

If I'd seen that description, I would have been wary I’m sure. But we joined a guided party and were informed that an ‘average level of fitness’ was required. One of our party complained the whole way at how hard it was and that it required a 'high level' of fitness. My daughter and I managed well even though the terrain was not easy to navigate.

High up the mountain there was a lot of snow and soon mist settled in. It was high and I wasn’t yet comfortable with heights (I was still scared stiff!) and we walked across and up the mountain to reach the crater viewpoint. It was at this point that I realised I could trust our guide. He’d done this trip many times before. He knew the way. His footsteps were visible in the snow and as long as I put my steps into his footprints I’d get safely to the top.

We reached the top and there was more complaining as the mist obscured the view of the crater lake. We turned to return and I thought we would retrace our steps. But we hadn’t gone very far when the guide told us we were going to slide down the mountain on the snow and walk out through the valley below.

Again, as fear set in, it was an opportunity to trust the guide. The mist again obscured our destination. I could see the side of the mountain but not the valley floor below. Even my courageous daughter was a bit nervous.

I let a few people go before me. Once I was sure I heard their whoops of joy as they reached the bottom, I took my turn. It felt like I was being swallowed up in the mist. But it was just the same as driving in the fog. I was aware of the mist and could see a little way ahead as I slid down the mountain. And of course the valley came into view and I joined the others, also safe and exhilarated. My daughter also made it!

I’ve been so grateful for the many opportunities I've taken to take those baby steps to overcome my fears of heights. The experiences I’ve allowed myself as a result have formed cherished memories that lift me up and give me confidence as time goes by. All thanks to the many guides along the way.

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