Nobody has ever completed the marathon journey known as
the Cook to Cook in one outing. Sarah Wilson is about to have
her second crack at it and, as APNZ's Daniel Richardson found
out, she's lucky to be around to have another chance.
When Sarah Wilson was buried under a metre of snow on Mount
Cook in November 2011, her only chance of survival relied on
friend Cat Shand digging her out with her bare hands.
An avalanche struck when the pair settled in for the night as
they made their descent down the mountain and it was due only
to sheer good luck that Shand was even able to perform the
When the snow rumbled down the mountain at break-neck speed,
Shand happened to be standing up rather than lying down in
her sleeping bag, as Wilson was, which meant Shand didn't
With time against her, Shand was able to dig Wilson out of
what was potentially an icy grave and the pair even dug their
gear out and spent the night on the mountain - complete with
frostbitten fingers - before trekking out in the morning.
They had visions of completing their journey up the South
Island on a road bike but were unable to grip the handlebars
and a doctor told them that Wilson's first attempt at the
Cook to Cook expedition needed to be aborted.
"We didn't really know how bad it was," she recalled. "We got
down to the base of the mountain and, because we walked out -
no pressing this emergency button thing - we just didn't know
how bad our hands were.
"We knew they were cold but we just didn't know and I
remember saying to Cat, 'one day off and we'll be on our
bikes and we'll be away'. I'll never forget the phone call
with the specialist that night. He was like, 'girls, I think
you might need to take a month off'."
It was an experience that would have put most people off
adventuring, but not Wilson.
During the next two-and-a-half weeks the Kapiti Coast
50-year-old will dive into her second attempt at the
The task involves climbing Mt Cook, cycling 700km up the
South Island then crossing the Cook Strait in a tandem kayak
and it's a feat that has never been completed before in one
The journey is scheduled start either today or tomorrow but
that is flexible and they're working backwards from a tide
window in the Marlborough Sounds between January 19-24, which
dictates when they will be able to complete the kayak.
Wilson's last attempt nearly proved fatal but fear is
something she has no problem confronting.
"I've thought a lot about fear, particularly in the past year
and I think, more and more, fear is something that people
push away," she says.
"We medicate, we don't want it, we want to overcome it but
actually there's a lot to learn if you literally breathe in
to it. So I actually use breathing, I consciously breathe in.
It's funny, because when I was trapped in the avalanche, I
couldn't breathe. There wasn't enough oxygen so the big
moment when Cat pulled the snow away from my face and I took
a breath in, it was a pretty special moment. I've used that
to inspire myself."
It's why she will give the Cook to Cook another go.
"I guess it's one of those missions you kind of get in your
head that doesn't let go of you," she says. "Forgive me, but
I think it's a really cool idea and it was this idea that you
can have a world-class adventure in you're own backyard
anywhere around New Zealand. I travel to do adventures but I
love having them here."
Wilson's journey is one of seven Hillary Expedition Grants
administered by Sport New Zealand announced in November and
this time around she will take on the challenge with a
collection of people.
Bridget Janse will tackle the climb with Wilson and Bronwyn
Ward will join the pair for the cycle, although a support
group will also ride with them in a trip that will take six
days to complete.
"Instead of road biking the whole thing, we are going to come
up via Hanmer and mountain-bike up the Rainbow Valley so we
are going to mix it up a bit with some different scenery,"
From there, Wilson will link with her 24-year-old nephew Luke
Wilson for the kayak leg that will take another two days.
The family act for the kayaking trip is something that didn't
seem likely a few years ago.
"He's a real treasure, is Luke," Wilson says of her nephew.
"He likes risk. He's a young man and he had risk in all the
wrong areas in his life... The second time he was in front of
a judge the judge said, 'you have leadership skills, they're
just in the wrong area'. So he discovered the outdoors and
he's now become an outdoor instructor and he's just way-keen.
"He inspires me, actually, just because he's out there and
doing stuff and he's just turned his life around. It's
impressive. I'm his adventure aunt so it's a bit of a power
You get the feeling few people have a more enthusiastic
outlook on life than Wilson, which she channels into her work
as an adventure coach.
"It's kind of life coaching with an adventure twist," she
says. "So we create goals and milestones and all these good
things and then we use adventure like a motivator for people
to really get stuff beyond just talking about it. So I do
that with teams and individuals."
Wilson will have a few inspirational stories of her own to
tell if she can conquer the Cook to Cook journey in the