Well here we are with blog number 2. Been a while since the first one and Nikki has been pestering (gently reminding) me to write it. I’ll get better at this one day, and maybe one day she can write too!
I don’t know if any of you follow my personal instagram @girevikheath but if you do you’ll have seen me post a picture of Neil Young’s ‘Decade’ album. I’ve been a Neil Young fan since I first heard that album on cassette many years ago. Dad had it. I think I was about 12 years old and I don’t remember much of it, except that ‘Heart of Gold’ was something special. In fact I probably didn’t even listen to him all that much until about 10 years ago. Anyway, now I listen to Neil a lot. I’ve got ‘Harvest’ on LP and although ‘Out on the Weekend’ is probably my favourite track ‘Heart of Gold’ still looms as something we can all keep searching for.
So I sat down tonight to write this blog and have been undecided what to write about. Health? Exercise? Food? That book I read years ago? All cool stuff. But then old Neil was playing in the background and ‘Heart of Gold’ comes on and I decided to tell you a little story.
A couple of weeks ago, Anzac weekend, we hosted a kettlebell sport competition, the NZGSA Top of the South Open. I have run this comp since 2014 but this was the first time at our new home gym and it was a great experience. We were lucky enough to host Jennifer Hintenberger, a Canadian athlete who holds several world records, who came to compete and run a coaching workshop after the comp. That was just the start of the fun!
The day after the competition we went for a long hike in the Nelson Lakes National Park. That is without doubt my favourite area in New Zealand! Phenomenal scenery. I’ve been going to Lake Rotoiti in one way or another since I was about 4 years old and I love that place. So whenever I get the chance I like to share it with others, family days in the snow, childless weekends with friends, or epic backcountry one dayers. This was one of those.
Jennifer, myself, and a workmate of mine (let’s call her Claire, because that’s her name), we climbed for a couple of hours to the top of the St Arnaud Range. From there it’s several hours of climbing up and down, rock hopping and busting out the cooker to make hot drinks by the tarns until you reach the Rainbow Skifield. I had completed this walk previously and it destroyed me but I’m fairly confident in that terrain, however for the other two it was a new experience and it took some mental fortitude to get that far. But the real test was yet to come.
From the skifield we ran down the scree that backs off the west bowl and heads down to the lakehead. That is epic shit.
“This is the biggest mountain I’ve ever been on and I just ran off the side of it!” – Claire
About halfway down this mountain there is a large slip area where the scree just disappears and a 4-5m drop greets you. We had discussed this at the top and the agreed tactic was, at all costs, keep left. Things were going well but unfortunately at some point Jen got too far right and unable to stop went straight off the edge in a cloud of dust! Claire and I witnessed this from a hundred metres up the hill and to be honest I thought things were going to be bad. I ran down the scree (staying far enough left) until I could see her. She had travelled approx. 150m further down the scree after the fall and somehow managed to arrest the slide on a couple of rocks. Miraculously she was sitting up and managed to yell to me. After establishing that nothing appeared to be broken I set about trying to get to her which meant heading downhill until I could cross into the gully and climbing back up the scree to her position. Claire meanwhile didn’t want to get close to the edge and was making her way down to where I crossed over.
After reaching Jen I managed to calm her down and then we began the descent down. With no reception or locater beacon (we have one now!) our only option was to try and walk out. It started as a shuffle on our bums down the scree, graduated to a hand in hand walk, and finally she was able to walk on her own once we got off the loose rocks and into the bushline. Claire had not been able to get up the slope to us and having no visual on Jen’s condition had begun to walk out for help.
It took us 3.5 hours to get off that mountain to the lakehead hut. 3.5 hours of immensely painful hobbling/walking. And there was still another 3.5 hours from the hut to the carpark. A planned 9hr hike turned into 15hrs. We talked. We talked about life. We talked about death. We talked about family, love and kettlebells. And that’s where it shone through, the heart of gold and will of steel.
I mentioned in the first blog that you too should lift kettlebells. Here’s why. It builds mental strength like nothing else. Or perhaps it complements and strengthens it. And it builds family and relationships that last forever.
Jen’s not religious but she prayed out loud during that fall. It was scary and she feared for her life. But her main thought was of the future. She wasn’t done with life just yet. There’s still people to help, people to love. Struggling down that mountain together I got to know someone I’ll never forget and hopefully will see again soon, Niagara 2018! Heart of gold.
Claire managed to get a little lost on the way out and was still in the bush when it got dark. With a small torch in her mouth she managed to climb down through the trees and find the track, walk out to the carpark and call search and rescue, all while thinking her new friend (they only met that morning) was potentially seriously hurt or worse. Once I had Jen with me I knew we were ok, my main concern was for Claire. But I needn’t have been so worried. That woman is made of serious stuff. Will of steel.
So that’s my story. It was an adventure for sure. Not one I’d wish on anybody, but one I’m glad we had. It taught me a lot about life and perhaps confirmed a lot more also. Jen was ok after some xrays confirmed no breaks but has a road to recovery with a shoulder injury. Following her progress so far though she isn’t about to let a little fall off a cliff slow her down.
And Claire is coming to learn kettlebells. I have a feeling she’s born for it.