As the heli flew towards the coast it was clear we weren’t going to have the bluebird day of our last recce. Dark clouds hung low in the sky ahead of us, and as we drew closer my heart beat faster.
It’s amazing how other people’s perceptions can colour your own. On the traverse recce, my co-passengers were really positive about the traverse and the route – ‘it’ll go, ‘you’ll get through there’, ‘no problem’. I was buoyed by the enthusiasm and knowing that people more experienced than I was agreed that my planned route would work!
This trip was different, my co-passengers, were reserved and doubting as we flew over the intended route to our destination. While I knew our route would go, the beliefs of those around me combined with the wind and rain battering the heli were creating a perfect storm of uncertainty that would test me right from the start of the trip.
We arrived at the coast and the waves were beating at our intended landing place on the rocks, the cloud was low, the wind was high and a decision had to be made in mere seconds due to the deteriorating weather as to whether we would land in our intended spot or fly to the first clearing above the bush line.
‘Look at the bluffs’, ‘I don’t think you’ll get up there’, ‘Your intended landing spot doesn’t look good’, ‘you need to make a decision NOW’…I could feel the emotion rising, fear causing a ripple of ice-cold from my head to my toes. Add to my decision the knowledge that a massive storm was due in 3 days so there was limited time to get along this ridgeline.
As the heli did its second circle back, looking through the rain-spattered window I made the decision for safety now, and in the days to come, to land above the bush line. In the clouds, buffeted by wind, over a patch of tussock, the heli hovered. After yanking Ben back into the heli as he was about to jump out after the first hover attempt had to be aborted because of wind, we somehow both managed to exit the heli. Crouching in the damp, cool shrubs as the heli disappeared, the all-encompassing beating of the rotors faded into the mist, leaving only silence, as I pulled on all my layers and orientated to this landscape that would be home for the next couple of weeks.