The Sundial at The Remarkables, Queenstown, New Zealand | 26th Sept 2015.
Fakhrul. Only you and I know the yearn for the crag of our dreams.
I still remember that day sometime 2 years ago when we saw a picture of this magnificent monolith at the back cover of Rock & Ice magazine. We were blown away by it. At that time this all felt so out of reach. We could only dream.
Today after Renan, everything else in between and 4 hours of yet another traumatic hike of my life, there I was and there you were. Even while writing this in the comfort of my bed, I still pinch myself.. Can’t really quite believe it.
We really made it. I love you.
Where do you begin?
When only upon getting there that you realized the 2 hours solid hike you read about was not exactly as you had in mind? We could see it from the car park. We just had to follow our nose. Except that you’re only human, or might as well be an ant – and that is a mountain range laying in front of you.
I guess at this point for me it was just a question of how bad I wanted it.
At the moment this picture was taken, I guess it was pretty bad. So we kept going, kept walking whilst deep inside I raged with my mind for suggesting this in the first place. And also for packing way too much for the shoulders to bear.
Then I remembered the first emotion I had when I first saw it – just like great architecture, as an architect, you gotta see it. I remembered back how the flare of an idea of exploration and adventure burned in my heart. That kinda idea is always a good idea to have at the comfort of your office chair.
Until you’re not in your office chair.
“It’s just there.”
We need a new word for “just”
Oftentimes it is underestimation that gets me to the base of places that I wanted to go. And then the not wanting to hear Fakhrul say “I told you so” that actually made me arrive.
We only had this paper
“From the first cattle stop from the Remarkable Road, walk down the private road going south. Then along a deer fence and traverse to the base of the ridge. From here scale the vague path up the ridge line and onto the spur with The Sundial on.”
I probably memorized this that day like it was some kind of effing fairytale.
That damn deer fencing
I have mixed feelings about my husband’s stiffness towards bending the rules. If I were to follow my nose to The Sundial, we needed to cross those fencing but we wasted a lot of time deciding about crossing over. My logic said the fencing didn’t look like its meant to keep humans away, but someone was too worried we might get caught, or worst, get shot 😳🔫
From where we were standing, the fencing looked endless uphill and way off the supposedly the right direction. We did walked along it anyway.
Until we made the wrong turn.
Checking with the locals
Whilst contemplating about crossing over the fencing, I called a bunch of numbers posted in the Queenstown Climbing Club page hoping to be pointed out at the right direction.
Turned out that everybody I called had never been. Even a person from a rock climbing company that offers guide services hasn’t!
Even the locals don’t go. Fear started creeping in. Doubt popped like fireworks. Very little information. Just a lot of intuitions.
There’s a saying. Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.
What a hell of an experience it was.
15-16 years ago, when we were teenagers (and I’m not particularly proud of it), I used to sneak out in the middle of the night with Ewa to go out when I was left with my maid and parents weren’t at home. We would climb over our house gates just for few hours of freedom during night time. We didn’t do anything dramatic, just drove to KL town to see what night life was like, to feel every little bit like a grown person unattached to school, exams and routine. Then quietly sneaked back in. We were pretty good at it for few times, until we were caught.
We were just a couple of curious kids.
Curiosity. Its the lust of the mind. And its the cure for boredom.
Into the woods
Winter was just over. Spring was only unfolding. The land we stepped in was pretty much barren. Mostly twigs, barbed shrubs and thorn bushes to get through. It wasn’t pleasant. I covered my face the whole time and still came out with cuts
After half an hour of unclear paths and drained off from being paranoid over strange sounds, we were desperate to get out. Suddenly walking uphill along the endless fencing didn’t seem like such a bad idea, even though it might take you elsewhere.
There was a peculiar sense that we were being watched. Not a malevolent presence, just something keeping an eye on things. I wasn’t particularly scared, just the idea of not knowing felt suffocating.
John Muir promised, that in every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks. You never know how tolerable and strong you are – until being tolerant and strong is the only choice you had
Its a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself.
“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”
Nothing could prepare me from the consequence of underestimation and overconfidence. As soon as we got out of the woods and shortly after I breathed a sigh of relief, I just kept checking my watch in disbelief of how long this hike had taken. Yet it just kept getting further, taller and harder.
Unlike rock climbing, when it comes to hiking I think there are only two grades; either you can do it, or you can’t. I turned my head to my back and saw the unpaved private road where we started in distance and thought, we’ve come this far. It is JUST there (refer #2)
Well, that’s nature for you. It has a way of dealing with your ego.
We lost the sight of The Sundial. It was confusing, because it was JUST there. Fakhrul sat us down and said if we wanted to go home, might as well now, considering how long it had taken us. I really didn’t want to get stuck out there in the dark especially when we were poorly equipped for it.
Fakhrul left his bag and ran up to scout as I tried to catch whatever breath I could. I was giving up, there was no point acsending as it got steeper that I was gonna topple backward and without knowing the direction to go.
Whenever Fakhrul emerged and shook his head, I was in total disbelief. Where had it disappeared to?! I looked at Ewa and felt so guilty for talking her into this. I just couldn’t believe it, it wasn’t going to happen for us. If I had a breaking point, this was it.
“Elly, sorry weh. Kita fail. Aku nak balik..” She didn’t say anything but knowing her, she would’ve been OK with anything. But still I felt sorry for everything and tried to console myself that the hike itself was well worth it. Except that I still couldn’t believe it.
“Check that side!!” I yelled at Fakhrul and pointed to my right. My mind roamed to the kids we left in Queenstown with his mom. I promised to call her every 3 hours only to realize half way hike that she didn’t have her line on roaming. I had no means to contact her so staying on the safe side that day was vital.
I heard Fakhrul called out in distance and turned. I thought I saw thumbs up, which I actually did! He rushed down for his bag and excitedly said, “It’s there. It’s amazing!”
I am not ashamed to tell you guys. I cried.
“Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps even more homesick for a familiar ground.”
It didn’t disappear, it was just hidden on the other side of one of the ridges.
I kept thinking of how many pictures I dug on this magnificent monolith. The awe could never beat seeing it standing in front of me. This was our summit, our destination, and alhamdulillah, we arrived!
I was homesicked. And then I was at home.
Tere was not much time to waste, we only had about an hour or so to feast on whatever food we carried, put on our gears and get cracking on the climb. We were rushing for the 3pm cut off time for descend.
Fakhrul went first and setup all the runners and Ewa belayed. And very quickly I volunteered to go second and Fakhrul asked whether I wanted to top rope or lead climb it. I’ll be damned if I put myself into that hell hike and not lead climb it.
Just the thought of lead climbing can make me sick to my stomach. Everytime actually. It will be hypocritical of me if I pretend like I’m immuned to the scare of falling, the heights and paranoia that gears or my knots might not be working. The fear multiplied on a foreign crag and its weather – especially it was crazy windy on that side of the ridge it felt like I was gonna be blown off. The belayer was not on a flat ground either and it was rocky everywhere at the bottom. So the first move going to second runner had to be flawless or it was gonna be an ugly fall.
I kept telling Ewa the day before that I hadn’t taken a dump since we flew from KL. And just like that, all the collective fears of lead climbing triggered that undesired sensation.
“Korang. Sorry, aku kena berak!” I was so angry at myself. People usually had to be in peace to feel the urge to shit, yet there I was, in the most intense situation and not much time either, I had to have a go at The Sundial! That was the first time I took a dump in “wilderness”, so hey, yay for me! 😑
I could go on about how long it took until I was finally finished and the texture of my shit that day but to cut short, everything about it was unideal.
One business after another, it was time to climb. There was no time to think, so I just went. The rock quality was awesome, I didn’t feel like I needed the chalk. Handholds were crimpy and pinchy but footholds were almost everywhere.
Suffice to say, I had the climb of my life.
“It’s a round trip. Summit is halfway point.”
Getting up was optional, getting down was mandatory. Shortly after I came down from the climb, I saw Fakhrul moving suspiciously like he was in pain and asked if he was OK. He didn’t reply. It was silent for awhile, just the sound of wind gushed over the uneven ledge we were standing. I looked at Ewa and we shared the same worry.
I asked again and he said, “Cramp! Kaki tak boleh straight!!” Ah sudah, I thought. We probably barely had enough time to get down before dark, crippling down was the last thing we needed.
After Ewa came down for her climb and rubbing hot oil, his legs thankfully improved and it was time for descent. I wasn’t kidding when I said how steep it was – I was on my ass and sliding most of the times. It was pretty easy to mess up and roll ourselves down.
I didn’t want to stop, I just kept going. Just wanted to get home to the kids. My toes were blistering so I changed to flip flops. Bad idea – the minute I started walking with my foot exposed and without gripped soles, I slipped and got cuts everywhere from the thorned grass. And then back in my trail shoes. It wasn’t the climb that wore me out, its the grain of sand in my shoes. At this point, exhaustion would be an understatement.
Pain is the weakness leaving the body. Or so I kept convincing myself.
“What is above knows what is below. But what is below does not know what is above. Above is the place for closure, and below is for knowledge. Knowledge that everything is going to be OK..”
We were astounded by how fast it took us descending. That was what Fakhrul promised me up there anyway. “Getting down is going to be easy..” He kept repeating to motivate me before we reached up. We were low on water so we stopped by the glacier stream we found. I looked up at the ridges as I drank from it and shook my head thinking, it was pretty high up that we were actually pretty close with the snow caps. How the hell did we managed that was beyond me.
We were down so quick there was enough time to work out another route up on The Sundial, but there you have it. No point of dwelling on the coulda woulda shoulda. It was fast because we finally found the right route without getting into the woods. But everything happened the way they are meant to. And I for one wouldn’t have it any other way as long as we’re all safe in one piece on the road home.
Sometimes I think success is not counted by how high you have climbed, but actually how many people you have brought with you. And for that I will forever be thankful for the people who were with me. The ones that I brought and this overconfident silly woman that they brought.
Whatever that is hard to endure is sweet to remember.
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are more great hills to climb”
My face is still recovering from the burn from the exposure that day. The cuts courtesy of the woods are drying up too. More than a week passed, I’m still feeling a funny pain on my soles sometimes when I walk.. Really can’t make out what it is but I’m keeping faith it’ll go away. I know its no Everest and they are no frostbites and I still have all my limbs, but that day was as far as I stretched myself to.
My sweet mother in law said we were out cari penyakit. True, we did. We didn’t have to do it and between the moment we parked our caravan to the breaking point thinking we’ve lost the crag was a mystery to why we did all this.
This is what I know: for me, its my curiosity to see outside my comfort zone. True mountain /climbing hardcores would’ve smirked at my experience but not every man dreams equally. I may avoid suffering and sorrow, but I cannot feel, change, grow or live that way. It felt that I was wholly alive and no matter what transpires from here on in, I have truly lived. Something pretty hard to feel at the comfort of my office chair.
Tomorrow I will probably be back on ground involved with other struggles more dangerous and demanding. Why? Because a mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimension.
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; and the realist adjusts the sail.” So who am I going to be? I’ll only know when I’m being put in the corner of great nature and about to give up on my own optimistic dream.
Just like in that song; with every broken bone, I swear I lived.