When it comes to adventures there are plenty of things that can go wrong. From injury and illness, to bad weather scuppering your plans. After a year of ‘failed’ adventures, Explorer Brooke Nolan decided to find out how others dealt with the frustrations.
Why do all of my Adventures Seem to Fail?
Failing adventures has kinda become my ‘thing’. Not on purpose, it just sort of happens. Over Christmas this year I failed to reach the summit of the highest peak in North Africa, Mt Toubkal in Morocco. I hadn’t fuelled my body enough and was too weak to make the summit.
And in April last year, I failed the biggest adventure of my life to date; a 250km hike along the remote wilderness of the Drakensberg Grand Traverse. An incredible trail that crosses the border of South Africa into the landlocked country of Lesotho. My knee became injured and I made the heartbreaking decision to leave the hike early.
Hell, even today I’m writing this after failing to get to the top of a mountain in Switzerland because I underestimated the snow depth and had to turn back due to safety concerns.
I’m on a trip to Europe at the moment, but even in Australia failure seemed to follow me. I tried to solo wild camp at Kosciusko but was joined by a family who, despite having the other 6,899m² of Kosciuszko National Park to choose from, settled just four meters from my tent.
Oh, and during an adventure race in Lake Macquarie, I had a panic attack so bad that my teammate had to run ahead and collect a couple of checkpoints alone, while I fought to get my breath back.
Seeing the Bright Side of Failure
I used to get really frustrated when I failed. I’d see it as a direct indication of my own abilities. For someone who suffers from serious self-doubt and a lack of confidence in her abilities, I guess it’s really no surprise. But the funny thing? The more I fail, the more I realise that actually, failing can be pretty great.
In fact, some of my favourite moments have come from failing. One of the most memorable trips in Australia was when myself and a group of friends planned to hike a section of the Colo River. But the water level was waaaayyyy higher than we thought. So instead, we waterproofed our backpacks with garbage bags and floated/swam, fully kitted out to a sandbank, where we ate, drank, and laughed the night away.
It seems I’m not the only one to see the bright side of ‘failure’ either. For Cara van Wyk, the plan had been simple; hike to Mt Townsend in Kosciuszko National Park to camp and then summit Australia’s highest peak for sunrise.
‘Unfortunately a storm set in after a few hours of hiking,’ says Cara. ‘We’d prepared for the snow and rain conditions that were forecasted, but were definitely not prepared for the 113km/h winds and hail that set in instead.’
Fortunately for Cara and the group, one of the emergency huts in the Snowies was close by. They stocked up on water from a nearby stream and settled into the hut for a long night listening to the howling storm outside.
‘I think we very quickly accepted that the trip wouldn’t be what we’d planned, but that we’d make the best of it anyway,’ she says.
‘I don’t see it as a failure; plans change. And the sunrise that morning through the heavy mist, frost and storm clouds was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.’
– Cara van Wyk
Safety Before Ego
It’s clear that ‘failing’ an adventure can lead to other sights and experiences that you might otherwise never have had. But it’s also clear that, when it comes to pulling the plug on an adventure, safety is the overarching driver.
In South Africa, my ultimate decision to leave wasn’t just led by my fear of causing more damage to my knee, but my fear of slowing the group down and making it unsafe for them. Although my heart’s still struggling to come to terms with what happened, my head knows I made the right decision.
I had a pretty epic ‘escape’ too; hiking two days (albeit in pain) through untouched national park. Oh, and I got to rest up in a luxury safari lodge while I waited for the others to finish. How’s that for a silver lining?
Tim Ashelford (the editor of this fine publication) has also made tough calls due to safety concerns. He’d planned to run the Overland Track in winter (yep, you read that right). But Tassie’s brutal weather wasn’t having any of it, blasting Tim and his mate Dom with heavy snows.
‘We ended up holing up in a hut not far from the summit track to Cradle Mountain after conditions predictably deteriorated,’ Tim says. ‘Looking back, despite knowing that we were capable with the weather, it would’ve made more sense to have had a back-up plan than to act macho and push forward with the original one.’
But, when it came to crunch time, there was only one answer.
‘It seemed pretty clear that we were making the right decision to not continue forward,’ says Tim.
‘When the weather’s out of your control and safety is in question, I don’t think ticking the box should come into the equation. Failures teach you more than successes anyway.’
– Tim Ashelford
For the Good of the Group
Making the right decision can be harder if you’re with a group, especially if you don’t know each other that well. The trick is to always make sure that decisions are made based on the good of the group, not an individual’s ego or pride.
In October 2019, Myrthe Braam joined the Central Otago Section of the New Zealand Alpine Club for a winter trip up in the Remarkables. The plan was to start at Wye Creek and climb up to the ridge before making their way down to Lake Hope, their intended campsite.
‘The climb up was brutal, with 1,600 metres of elevation to gain,’ she explains. ‘Halfway up we reached the snow, which turned out to be very soft, wet and about hip-deep, so obviously that slowed us down heaps.’
After seven hours of hard slog, the group got to the top. But when they looked down into the saddle they realised there was no safe way to descend. A few people considered rigging a rope for abseiling down, but after a group discussion, it became clear that the majority did not feel comfortable. They all erred on the side of caution and backtracked to an alternative campsite.
‘We still had a great day out in a really epic alpine environment and were able to camp in the snow, without taking unnecessary risks,’ says Myrthe.
‘I don’t see it as a failure, as to me, heading out and having an adventure is the main goal, not the actual destination.’
– Myrthe Braam
‘I’m actually pretty proud that we had a good group discussion, assessed the situation and made a decision which was based on safety, instead of purely focusing on reaching our intended destination.’
Making the Most of Failure
Listening to other people’s stories has definitely made me feel better about some of my failed adventures. And the key takeaways are simple – safety always comes first. And even if the adventure doesn’t end up how you planned, that doesn’t make it a failure.
The real goal is getting out there and exploring. And who knows, a change of plans might mean you experience something you never would have otherwise.