By Rob Hawes (January 2013)
This is just one of the stories in Simon’s Trips, a book honouring the life of NZ mountaineer, Simon Bell.
After his disappearance on Pikirakatahi/Mt Earnslaw in Jan 2015, his parents, Colin and Jeni Bell, compiled the book from Simon’s accounts and photos. Lorraine Johns, Rob Hawes, the late Steve Dowall and other friends also contributed stories of tramping or climbing trips they made with Simon.
Simon’s Trips was originally a gift to his family and friends but was later made available in return for a donation to the FMC Mountain and Forest Trust. These donations paid the majority of the costs of digitizing FMC’s publication ‘Safety in the Mountains’ (available here as the ‘Manual‘) and establishing the Wilderlife website. Simon’s estate contributed the balance.
Lorraine, Simon and myself (with others) had been into Colin Todd Hut in the Mt Aspiring National Park and climbed Mt Aspiring. On that trip we had taken note of a nice looking peak on the other side of the Matukituki Valley called Mt Barff and thought ‘one day’ we must climb that. In January 2013 that day came along.
Simon and Lorraine flew to Christchurch and drove down to Wanaka for what they must have made into a long weekend. The plan was finalised that would see us on day 1, drive into the road end and walk up the Matukituki Valley, then climb up to Liverpool Hut. (It was Liverpool Biv, but now is a nice new hut that DOC have put in to replace the Biv). Day 2 we would climb Mt Barff (an early start and return to Liverpool Hut early afternoon) then walk back to the car and sleep at the road end. Day 3 we would walk up the East Matukituki Valley, climb above the bush line and camp at around 1600m/1700m below Dragonfly Peak. Day 4 an early start and climb Dragonfly Peak, then return to our camp, pack it up, walk out to the car and return to Wanaka.
It is worth me pointing out at this point that Lorraine and I were very keen for Mt Barff, Simon not quite so keen. However Simon was very keen for Dragonfly Peak as this was on the ‘100 Great Peaks’ list so between the 3 of us it would be a great weekend with two climbs.
We arrived at Liverpool Hut as per our plan with enough food for dinner that night, breakfast and lunch the next day. Dinner the next day would be back at the car so the rest of the food for the trip was left in the car. This had meant lighter packs for getting to Liverpool Hut. The weather was a little unsettled but forecast was for a nice high to push on to the park.
We prepared ourselves for an early 4am start. The alarm went off at 4am and I climbed out of my sleeping bag and put my head out the door to see what was happening with the weather. Simon and Lorraine awaited my report. I returned with news, “It’s windy and wet,” so the 3 of us remained warm in our sleeping bags and agreed, “Let’s give it an hour and check again.”
At 5am the very technical weather forecasting system aka ‘head out the door process,’ was repeated and the report was the same. “Let’s give it another hour.” At this point I think Simon’s enthusiasm was beginning to reduce but I was unaware of that at the time.
At 6am nothing had changed and I remember saying to Lorraine as Simon appeared not to even wake at 6am with the alarm and weather check, “The weather is rubbish and we are not climbing anything today.” We were a little disappointed but sometimes that is life in the mountains. We settled back down in our sleeping bags and readied ourselves for a sleep in.
Simon and I were woken up at 8.30am by Lorraine’s excited voice saying something like, “Hey it’s fine and sunny outside, let’s get going!” and indeed the weather had cleared and indeed it was a climbing day, even though we were now 4 to 5 hours behind our planned schedule.
Lorraine and I quickly pulled on gear and set about a fast breakfast. Simon however didn’t move and after a while raised his head and simply said, “I am not coming climbing” and remained steadfast and warm in his sleeping bag. “Suit yourself,” was our reply, “but we are, so what you do is up to you.” At this point I thought that was the end of matter. I would go climbing with Lorraine. Simon would stay at the hut.
What I did not realize was the Simon was beginning to suffer from the ‘fear of missing out’ which we call the ‘FOMO’. It’s a mind event where you think someone else is going to have fun and you are going to miss out! So as Lorraine and I prepared for our day, Simon while lying in his sleeping bag was having this massive mind battle with himself. “Those two guys are going to have fun and I am missing out.”
Suddenly and totally unannounced, Simon not just emerges, but almost leaps from his sleeping bag. I don’t know what Lorraine thought but I had no idea what was going on until Simon tells us, “I’m coming climbing.” “Great!” was our reply. “Smash some breakfast, get your gear and let’s get going.”
So we did have a great day, the sun shone, we climbed Mt Barff and returned to Liverpool Hut. Of course we did not return by early afternoon as we had planned. It must have been 9am, not 4am before we started, so we walked out that evening back to the car on empty stomachs. The food was all in the car. From memory we arrived at the car at around 11pm, had dinner, put tents up and went to sleep.
We continued the next day after breakfast up the East Matukituki Valley, put our high camp in and the next morning stood as planned on Dragonfly Peak. We returned to Wanaka after what was a fun and successful weekend.
I do look back fondly on Simon’s FOMO moment and I only ever saw him suffer from FOMO on the one occasion. He was (apart from Mt Barff) always quite firm and either was 100% going climbing or 100% was not.