A homage to dads
Mastering Mountains founder and MitoQ ambassador Nick Allen fell in love with mountain climbing at a young age. An inspiration to anyone attempting to do what they love in the face of adversity, Nick has overcome significant obstacles on his journey. What many people might not know about Nick is that his love of climbing stems from the childhood adventures he went on with his dad. In this heartful story, Nick pays tribute to his dad – and dads everywhere.
By Nick Allen, Neurological health advocate and founder of Mastering Mountains
Jun 15, 2021|
Jun 15, 2021
Awe tangled with terror to become a knot in my stomach. Never in my seven short years had I encountered a ladder that had been bolted onto a vertical rock face, and I struggled to conceive of anything more incredible.
I looked back at Dad, to check he was still close. I studied the ladder’s lowest rung and then my muddy sneakers, allowing my eyes to slide down the steep path that fell treacherously below us. I gripped the ladder and asked myself: did I really have to do this? It was my birthday, after all.
I began to back away, but Dad was there and his arms upheld me. “You can do it. I’m behind you,” he said gently and pointed to the ladder’s rails. “Hold here and you’ll be fine.”
I placed my hands on the rails and returned to a forward gaze. I stepped. And again. Perhaps it wasn’t so bad after all.
My attention returned to the ladder and the rock, and my mind transported me to a mountain far away, where I, with my little pack, was braving the wild to reach its mighty summit. A few minutes later, we were standing on the narrow ledge beneath the summit of the Pinnacles, in Coromandel Forrest Park. It could just as well have been Mt Everest.
The ledge was small, the edge felt close and my face must have betrayed my fear. “Don’t worry, Nick,” Dad said as he put down his big pack and drew me close. “Hold on close to the rock and you won’t fall. You’re safe here - and look at this amazing view.” He pointed out, toward the sprawling green and craggy peaks around us.
The view was immense, and I took it in for the first time. We had climbed as high as the clouds. My mind burst with the impossibility of it all and a sense of awe and adventure flooded in. And that was the moment I felt my hunger for more: a fascination with climbing mountains.
(As a brief aside, I must note that over the years, this fascination has brought no end of worry and consternation to my mother. Thanks, Dad.)
Twenty-three years and a few months later, we were making the final push: a rocky scramble along a narrow, craggy ridge toward the summit of Mt Hopeless in Nelson Lakes National Park.
I paused to wait for Dad and took a moment to soak it all in. It was a perfect day with a gentle but crisp breeze. We could see for miles - and I was loving it. But I wondered: why did the original surveyors take such a diminutive view of such a great climb, enough to call it Hopeless?
Dad appeared from behind a boulder, clutching it as he made cautious steps. “Nice one Pa! That boulder is solid,” I chirped. Dad made a delicate movement toward the boulder directly above him. “Oh, but don’t grab that one,” I quickly warned, “it’s loose!”
Dad, like the aforementioned surveyors, was not enjoying the climb as much as me. And there were a number of possible reasons for this: the sheer drops on either side; the treacherously loose rock underfoot; the number of death blocks (climber’s vernacular for easily dislodged, life-threatening boulders) that we’d had to navigate. Or maybe it was the wasps’ nest he had walked into at 5 a.m. as we bush-bashed our way through dense scrub and up a scarp in search of the unmarked route we had lost. I got away with only a scratch. Dad received multiple wasp stings, but when offered the option of turning around said, “No, this will be fun. Let’s keep going.”
I reached a small, flat area near the peak of Mt Hopeless. “Will you look at this view,” I said, as I stood to survey the scene. Thrice the height of the Pinnacles, the view was stunning. With a secure footing and precipitous drops on both sides of our perch (the size of a coffee table), I enjoyed a renewed sense of that now-familiar dyad of awe and adventure. It was the perfect place for lunch.
Dad came up behind me, disinclined to let go of the mountain. He sat down quickly and, for a time, remained motionless for fear of falling. It had been a tough day for Dad, and I admired his patient determination to join me on adventures, even those he would not have chosen.
“I am ready for some lunch, how about you?” I said cheerfully as I dug into my pack and pulled out our food. “Um,” Dad said, pausing. “Is this really the best spot for us to eat lunch?”
“With this view, it’s definitely the best spot!” I replied, chuckling. “What if you sit in the dip between those two rocks?” I said pointing. "That might feel a bit more secure.”
Dad shuffled into the dip, and I sat down to light the billy. It didn’t take long for Dad to relax and we shared what is, for me, one of the most memorable lunches we’ve eaten together.
From this trip and others, I’ve learned that Dad’s more of a tramper. He loves the morning birdsong, best enjoyed together with a cup of tea while the mist still hangs in the trees and valley. He loves the bush and lazy naps in the afternoon sun; deep conversations around a fire in isolated huts; sharing food as we enjoy expansive views from gentler mountains and tussock-covered saddles.
As a child and young adult, I connected with his love of the natural environment. However, in my hunger for heights, the valleys became incidental to the peaks. Now the age of my dad when we climbed the Pinnacles together, I find myself seeking more to emulate his humble strength and gentleness - to choose the lowliness of the valley over the glory of the peak.
These days our trips are slower, but richer for it. Still a father, Dad protests my attempts to lighten his pack by carrying more of the gear. Still a son, I ignore his admonitions, claiming youth and MitoQ as the trump cards that qualify me to carry the heaviest pack.
Here’s to dads.