Having spent my life in so many dangerous and at times unforgiving terrains, I have learnt that to come out the other side alive you have to find the spirit to keep going, whatever the cost.
As individuals we cannot conquer a mountain or a storm, but we can learn to harness nature’s elements, and our own limitations, to see almost any ordeal through. Appropriate preparation and experience are essential for any expedition, but they are no guarantee of safety. Even the wariest of adventurers can fall foul to difficult conditions, faulty equipment or lapses in concentration. Only by keeping calm and finding confidence in their own abilities will they stand a chance of passing through the constant threats thrown up by nature. There are stories of those who ventured out with an awareness and appreciation of the danger ahead, but who faltered, rallied and survived: Joe Simpson’s horrific fall on Siula Grande in 1985; Aron Ralston, trapped by rocks and forced to amputate his arm; Ernest Shackleton’s epic South Georgia expedition and his determination to return his stranded men alive. Alongside these, are the stories of great difficulty and suffering, but endured by those who survived without that experience and equipment. These are the horror stories that defy the statistics.
Tales of plane crashes, kidnappings and prison escapes, the stories of ‘everyday’ people unprepared for the hardest conditions: good samaritan Ricky Megee, who survived an astonishing seventy-one days by consuming lizards, leeches and frogs after being left for dead; Cambodian journalist Dith Pran’s four years of starvation and torture under the Khmer Rouge, and his desperate escape when the regime was overthrown; the three young Australian girls who walked for 1,600 km through the desert to find salvation.
There are so many compelling character traits to admire in survivors, a driving sense of purpose and refusal to bow to overwhelming odds, but almost always there is a price to pay for high adventure – in unending sweat, fear, discomfort and pain.
But no one ever said it would be easy.