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Prelude: On The Edge of the Abyss

Frozen in the grip of paralysing fear, I am stuck, alone, a hundred metres up a near vertical mountain wall.

Frozen in the grip of paralysing fear, I am stuck, alone, a hundred metres up a near vertical mountain wall.

Contemplating the Waterfall Face of Rabbit Pass in Mt Aspiring National Park before the ascent. “This route crosses Rabbit Pass to connect with the East branch of the Matukituki River. It is suitable for experienced alpine trampers. Only attempt in good conditions – even then extreme care is required” – Department of Conservation website.

To my left and right are roaring waterfalls that feed a tumbling river. At any moment, my tenuous grip will loosen and when it does, I will slide and cartwheel to my death onto the boulders below.

The sheets of water cascading downward make my senses swim. Vertigo urges me to let go but, my heart thumps and my fingers tighten onto dear life in a losing fight against the tug of gravity.

I cling to the steep face with a heady mix of desperation and elation. One wrong move could be my last. With micro-movements, I crane my neck backward until it presses against the top of my heavy pack.

Daring to swivel only my eyeballs, I plot my next move, searching the bands of sheer rock and slippery grass for the route upward.

I press my perspiring face back against the rock. My sweaty finger tips cramp in their death grip on fragile crevices. The uncontrollable tremors in my legs threaten to dislodge my feet from narrow ledges. I am losing my grip. I cannot go back but I am not sure I can go forward either.

This is the defining moment of an impulsive decision to change my life.

Not so long ago another tramper fell here. It took two weeks for a search party to find his broken body. He had survived long enough to wrap a sleeping bag around him before he fell into a terminal sleep, lost, forsaken and filled with pain.

What drives us mere mortals to the edge of the abyss?

By Richard Margesson

Director of Free The Tree- a biosecurity and biodiversity restoration service on Waiheke Island in New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf.

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