Authors | Craig Potton
Publisher | Potton & Burton
Publication | 2016
Cost | $49.99
Buy | good bookstores, or online (with free postage) at Potton & Burton
Four young men walk along the mountainous Southern Alps in the South Island of New Zealand one gloomy summer. Three months over some remote, often trackless country.
It’s a Grand Adventure.
The trip is punctuated with some dramatic events: two climbers who share their hut on Mount Aspiring fail to return; one expeditioner smashes his hand; crossing icy rivers and slushy avalanche prone slopes; days spent hut, or tent-bound, waiting out a succession of summer storms.
It’s dramatic country, big landscapes, often seen from some elevation, usually through mist.
Potton also sees and notes the macroscopic: the plants, flowers, insects. Weather features prominently, because they were out in it, and it was a truly miserable summer.
Unlike a solo expedition where the journey is punctuated with occasional meetings of strangers, with a group there is continuity due to the personnel. Characters develop with the events rather than just float in and out. Potton has a generosity with his three accomplices on recounting this huge adventure, but he acknowledges these are his impressions, his tale.
There is a timeless, primeval quality of a group of men battling the landscape and elements, carrying 36 kg of the necessities for survival. Despite the passage of time, the trip was 35 years ago, little has changed out there these days, with the exception of emergency locator beacons, GPS units to avoid their bafflement of navigation in fog, and maybe slightly better equipment and food.
At first it is the extraordinary images in the book that snatch attention. These are excellent images, rendering life in a group expedition; people in a huge landscape, and intimate shots of friends completely relaxed in a damp hut, around a fire, basking in occasional direct sunlight.
An exceptional series of images due to that intimacy and warmth.
Fortunately the writing matches in quality.
The writing captures why such expeditions are transformative. While it is a somewhat heroic adventure story, there is also an exploration of the idea as to why long journeys with companions in wilderness can be a crucial life experience. The creation of long life friendships forged with hardship, inadequate rations, danger and confinement. The necessity of physical and mental challenges in our lives.
“Now the toll is on us is evident. We feel strangely empty and deflated — not to mention dog tired — as we approach the small hut on the tussock flats. Although for some of us there is some kind of stoic satisfaction from this exhausting effort, others feel more burnt out in this time of strange victories and strange defeats. I can now clearly see why so few people come to these wild places on such extended trips and why, when you do, so few would think it’s fine to scrape 2 centimetres of green mould off old margarine found in the hut, and to remove a few mouse poos from the white sugar you sprinkle on top of a dry biscuit coated in that same margarine! Where we are at now is so far from normal. Yes, it is so good but, at times, so hard.”
Potton writes that he hopes his journeys in the wilderness will change him. For me, older now, I enjoy long scale trips to shear off the unnecessary parts of life, take me back to my more essential self.
Maybe it’s actually the same thing.