Shielded Site

2022-06-24 17:14:28 By : Ms. Jean Lou

Wānaka adventurer and professional guide Mark Sedon has survived a fatal helicopter crash, being trapped under an avalanche, and a brain aneurysm. His new book asks What Could Possibly Go Wrong? DEBBIE JAMIESON reports.

“Imagine lying in a two metre-deep grave and having a dump truck tip a few cubic metres of heavy dirt over you,” Mark Sedon requests of his reader.

In his case the dirt was snow, and the grave was a deep crevasse on the remote Tasman Glacier.

It was 1995 and Sedon, an accomplished skier with advanced avalanche skills, was choking on snow and trapped, unable to move any limb except the finger he was frantically using to attempt to clear his mouth.

“I knew it wouldn’t be long before I passed out due to the lack of air... it is like drowning. Drifting into a deep sleep, never to regain consciousness.

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“I said to myself ‘goodbye and sorry’ to mum, dad and [my brother] Jon, hoping somehow they’d hear me. I thought about my girlfriend, Jo.”

He was angry at himself for getting into the situation but focused on survival, and when he discovered slight movement in his foot, and some light, he was miraculously able to dig himself out.

“How are your undies?” mountaineering partner Kane asked, having abseiled down the walls of the crevasse with the avalanche transceiver bleeping​ loudly.

Overwhelmed with emotion, a broken and bruised Sedon collapsed on the ground and cried his heart out.

It would be impossible to dig yourself out of such a burial 99% of the time, Sedon says.

But he had fallen through the side wall of the crevasse and landed on a small snow bridge, preventing him from plummeting 30m into darkness, and being bounced off icy walls and buried alive.

It is one of the stories he tells in his book, What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Part memoir, part a rollicking read for armchair adventurers, it captures some of the most extreme exploits of a renowned New Zealand guide.

Christchurch-born, with a sometimes misspent youth in Auckland, Sedon has made a life of adventure. He has guided in the Himalayas, skied in war zones, paraglided from Mt Kilimanjaro and travelled to Antarctica 15 times.

He proposed to wife Jo balanced on one knee and holding a wild daisy as the pair perched on Mt Sabre with views over Fiordland and into Milford Sound, across Mitre Peak and onto the glaciers and summit of Mt Tutoko.

The adventurous couple have lived in Wānaka’s adventure enclave of Lake Hāwea for over 20 years, a place where Sedon’s lifestyle of about three months guiding overseas each year is considered quite normal, even tame.

“I’ve only climbed Everest once. Often people at dinner have done it four or five times,” he says.

Regardless, the time he spends away from home is challenging, as are the lengthy recoveries Jo has supported him through, such as in 2014 when he was working as a heliski guide near Wānaka and the helicopter crashed.

It spread debris across Mt Alta, injured almost everyone onboard and killed Auckland man Jerome Box.

Sedon was severely injured, with four broken ribs, a broken back, stitches, chipped teeth and a skull laceration. He was black and blue and his chin was superglued together.

“Six of us were incredibly lucky, but our thoughts were with Jerome’s family and friends. Really, all of us should have died. I think we hit the ground at speeds of 75-100kph.

“What saved me? Luck, luck and more luck,” he says.

It was luck that also saved him in 1995 on the Tasman Glacier.

“I was knowledgeable enough but not smart enough then,” he says.

“I’m much more cautious now when I’m skiing, paragliding or kitesurfing. I often won’t go when someone else is. I think I realise how quickly it can go from your best day to the worst. I want to keep enjoying those things.”

A brain aneurysm while surfing in Southland in 2013 and an unrelated case of chronic septicaemia sometime later reinforced his belief in the role of luck in life.

“Experiencing a medical issue makes you feel very mortal,” he writes.

Other close calls include working as ski patrol on Mt Ruapehu the day it erupted in 1995, a broken mast during a storm in the Southern Ocean and being at the mercy of corrupt officials while starving in a shipping container in Papua Province, Indonesia.

He has lost close friends in accidents, notably climbers Dave Hiddleston and Will McQueen, after whom he named the annual Hiddleston/McQueen Award for the best New Zealand-made film at the NZ Mountain Film and Book Festival he and Jo have been running for 20 years in Wānaka.

But it has not stopped him doing what he loves. Does that make him brave, or crazy?

“If crazy means a love of adventure and trying something where the outcome is unknown, then yes,” he says.

But passing another car on a blind corner, fishing off rocks without a life jacket and taking harmful drugs carry much higher degrees of risk, he says.

His own risks are calculated. He has studied, learned from his mistakes and those of others and built up his skills.

Now in his 50s he has no intention of stopping, with much of his work focused on the Antarctic.

In 2017, he joined two European adventurers on a 1700-kilometre kite skiing and climbing expedition across Antarctica to Mt Spectre, in what was dubbed “the most audacious and potentially groundbreaking polar expedition in a generation”.

Again, it was “luck” that he ended up on the $350,000 trip when expedition leader Leo Houlding, who was in Wānaka to speak at the film festival, learned the third participant had withdrawn.

“[Leo] hung up and turned to me and said, ‘How am I ever going to find someone who can kite, ski and climb, has Antarctic experience, can film and take photos and has medical and electronic experience?’. I replied instantly with, ‘I can!’

“I had two weeks to train after I finished my winter heli-ski work.”

These days when he is not potting in the vegetable garden (Jo and Mark have become vegan to help soften their impacts on the planet), riding his bike or otherwise adventuring around Wānaka, he continues to take ski guiding trips to India and Antarctica.

“It’s just so amazing. You’re skiing these runs and there’s icebergs and seals sitting on the icebergs, and whales swimming around. You’ve got to watch out for penguins on the beach as you ski up to the water.

“I just love that. I love taking people there. I’m buzzing as much as they are.”

He offsets carbon on all his flights, charging that back to his clients, and encourages them to do the same.

“I don’t know how many people carbon-offset travel. To me, it just seems a natural thing to do for now until we can come up with some better solutions.”

He has no long-term plans, except for new sailing adventures in the boat he and Jo bought recently –their ultimate goal is to be heading towards warmer climates than Antarctica.

“I’m afraid of dying,” he says. “But I’m even more afraid of not living.”​​

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? By Mark Sedon, $39.95, is available at selected book stores and