Will Meere, a young doctor takes time out for a short trip to Tokyo, Japan and then decides to journey northwards for a few days skiing. After 2 and half days of awesome powder skiing, confidence was high and on the 3rd day he pushed higher up the mountain and onto more difficult runs.
Suddenly skiing through a precipice, falling and finding himself on the wrong side of the mountain in unfamiliar territory, alone and still overconfident in the decisions he was yet to make proved to be a potentially deadly predicament to find himself in.....
This adventure would test his mental and physical stamina.... Listen to this roller coaster of an adventure!
Stephanie: So something a bit different today. We’re going to talk about decisions. We talk about CEOs being the business of making decisions, but those decisions aren’t always about what you’re doing in your business. And our guest today is William Meere. I’ve known Will since he was a baby. Will’s a young doctor who has taken some time off this year after some gruelling exams last year, including a computer glitch that’s another story. But thought it would be good to get Will here to share with us what happened with him in Japan a couple of months ago.
I had a call from his mum that started off with those terrible words, ‘He’s okay, but this is what just has happened to Will.’ And when Will first told me this story of his adventure in Japan that we’ll get to in a moment, I was kind of struck about, I guess there was a huge element of survival to it and how lucky we were that everything turned out. But on reflection, the bit that really intrigued me was the decisions that Will made along the way that ultimately led to us being able to sit here and talk together today. So, Will, welcome.
Will: Thanks very much for having me.
Stephanie: Yeah. Tell us about your trip to Japan. Just what led you there, and were you with friends? How’d that all play out?
Will: Yeah. So, as you said, I sort of finished these big exams and a big couple years of work, and so I wanted some time off. And none of my friends were having any time off, so I thought I’d just go solo. I spent a couple of fun days in Tokyo and then went up to the ski field a couple of hours north of there, and had two and a half days of just awesome sort of powder skiing. It was fantastic.
Stephanie: Have you been to Japan before?
Will: I have, actually, yeah. I lived there for a couple of months during high school. So it was kind of good to go back. I was embarrassed how bad my Japanese had gotten. Relatively quickly, but that was fine. The Japanese are so accommodating and polite.
Stephanie: Yeah. And what about your skiing?
Will: Well, I thought it was pretty good. But later events were to suggest otherwise.
Stephanie: Let’s get down to what happened. So you’d been there for two and a half days?
Will: Yeah, I’d been there for two days, and I was reflecting on this just yesterday. I was on this funny place on that confidence knowledge curve where everything had been going great and so my confidence was really high. But I didn’t have great insight into kind of where I was going and getting myself into. I’d been skiing off-piste sort of in-bounds for two days, getting knee- to waist-deep powder, the first time I’d ever skied something like that. It was awesome. And every run was just better and better. It was fantastic. I was almost getting sick of the powder, because it was so nice. I wake up in the morning on the third day, it’s snowed again, and it’s snowed another 40 centimetres. I’m going to just have to go out there and enjoy myself again.
Stephanie: Yeah, right. It’s tough.
Will: It’s a tough life. But it was tiring, but every run was amazing.
Stephanie: And so what happened then?
Will: Well, I suppose in a way I’d been getting greedy and so I went much higher up the mountain and skiing in an area that was maybe a little more difficult, and before I knew it, I was on this precipice and fell down on the wrong side of the mountain. And I’d been skiing the days prior a little bit further down the mountain and sort of felt like I knew my way in the backcountry, to get back around. Out of bounds, a little ways down the edge of a mountain and on by own.
Stephanie: And what time of day was it at this point?
Will: Well, I’d just got off the lift at midday, so I presume a couple minutes past 12.
Stephanie: But you were okay, you hadn’t hurt yourself when you fell or anything?
Will: I was fine. Absolutely fine. And I was like, ‘Well, bit of a bad situation, but jeez, there’s all this powder in front of me, and I feel like if I just go down a little bit and around, I’ll link up to where I was skiing yesterday. Happy days.’
Stephanie: Right. So you felt fine, what happened next?
Will: Well, so off I skied then, for another sort of five minutes, and pretty soon realised, ‘Maybe the terrain’s not exactly as I expected.’ More the topography, in that there was this hill that was on my left-hand side that just kept going, and I kept thinking, ‘This hill should be ending. I should be getting around it and linking onto that lower part of the mountain.’ Rather than getting smaller, it kind of kept getting larger, actually, this ridge on my left. And I suddenly realised, ‘Oh, I’m not going to be able to sort of traverse across this and get around it. I’m going to have to really go down and hope that I could get around it down the bottom.’
Stephanie: So it was quite different from what you were picturing, that I just go down here and then I join onto the-
Will: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it was quite different, exactly. And by this stage, I’ve probably dropped maybe 100 vertical metres. So to sort of try and then backtrack, actually quite difficult, because it really steep hill, really deep powder, sort of knee to your hip, and no sort of tracks in sight. So I thought, ‘Well, I can’t get back,’ essentially. So I thought, ‘Well, you know, this ridge,’ and I still think it must end somewhere, and I must be able to get around it. So I’ll be a bit more drastic or radical with my direction. And so I thought, ‘Well, stuff it. I’m just going to go directly down.’ Because I’ll get down to the bottom of this ridge, and then around, and I’ll be fine.
And so that, I feel, was a relatively reckless decision and at the time, and I even felt, ‘Oh, why are you doing this? You’re being a bit,’ almost selfish, in that I thought, ‘Oh bugger. I came here to have fun, and I’m not having any fun traversing. I’m just going to turn around, just go straight, and just get this really great steep run.’
And so I turned and had this, let’s just say 30 seconds at best, of just this carving beautiful powder, steeped through these trees. But then it changed so quickly. All of a sudden I realise,’Jeez, this has got really steep, very quickly.’ And I found, ‘Oh my god, I’m in actually this really steep little gully that’s actually a ravine.’
I was going too fast and I crashed. I didn’t quite know where I was, and then suddenly I just sort of looked down to the left of me and underneath my ski, I saw this hole through the snow. It was this sort of deep blue hole, and I thought, ‘Ooh, that’s a bit scary’ And there was between, 30 centimetres away from this hole, a much bigger hole. The sort of size of a manhole in the street, or maybe even a square meter. And I just peeked over and looked directly down and saw that this was a crevasse of about three metres deep. There was a running rocky river underneath it. And suddenly, I’ve just somehow crossed a river, and I’m just on some powder that’s a crust of powdery snow above a flowing river in the middle of this forest far away from anywhere. And I just felt like I couldn’t move. It was really scary. And I just had this, you know, there’s a book, Touching the Void.
Stephanie: I love that book.
Will: Yeah, it’s an awesome book. I thought one of the scariest things was when he was coming back down the mountain. He got down to the bottom, for want of a better word, and he had this huge big almost glacier in front of him. Where he’s trying to dodge all the crevasses and he’s talking about how if you get stuck down there, you’re dead. And I just suddenly felt, ‘Oh my, if I go down there, there’s no way I can climb my way out. There’s no way.’ I didn’t know what would happen if I was down there.
Stephanie: Right. Was that book going through your head? Did that kind of go through your mind? Like, Touching the Void, Joe whatever his name was. But did that, or not then, kind of on reflection?
Will: No. Definitely like, this is how explorers die, getting stuck in crevasses. That went through my head for sure. And what also went through my head, I was like, ‘But five minutes ago, everything was fine. Five minutes away, everyone’s up there.’ You know? It’s weird. It’s like I’m going through death throes or whatever, and people are there just having hot chips up this mountain house or something. It was weird, weird, weird, and suddenly so scary. I just, in that moment, thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got myself in some big trouble. Some really big trouble.’ And I couldn’t move. And I knew, obviously, I had to try and get myself out of it, but I felt suddenly I couldn’t move because I would crash the ice and go down the hole, exactly. And so it was absolute, I was paralysed. But then I knew I had to move relatively quickly, because otherwise this thing would just collapse.
Stephanie: Yes, you could slip down it. Yeah.
Will: And so I sort of tried to distribute my weight and spread myself as far as I could, and then I felt like I couldn’t make any sharp movements. I sort of just edged my way forward, and in doing so, took myself a little bit away from what I thought must have been the very deepest point of this ravine, because this kind of looked like things just sort of swept a bit to the left, like a metre or so. So I moved forward about half a metre, a metre, and suddenly I felt like, ‘Okay, you’re not going to die.’
Stephanie: Are you talking out loud? At that point? I know I’ve asked you this before, but not then-.
Will: Yeah, yeah. Not at that point.
I think everything up until that point was just reaction. There wasn’t any thought, aside from, ‘You’re going to die. Get yourself out of that.’ But then, when I was then maybe away from perhaps even what I thought was a metre away from what I thought was a crevasse, I then found myself looking up at these really steep edges of the ravine that I was in. That really steep gully that was about, let’s say five or six metres, what felt like vertically above me. And that’s when I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of this ravine and get away from this water and this crevasse. I can’t keep skiing along this gully because I’m going to fall into this crevasse again.’ And so that’s when the self-talking just sort of started.
Stephanie: Yes. Out loud?
Will: Initially, yeah. Pretty soon after, actually. Because it was just to stop myself freaking out and just keep myself going, really. Even though the whole ordeal was only going for five minutes, already I was in the throes of it, you know? It felt like life or death, and there was so much adrenaline going on there. It was just like, ‘Come on, mate. All right.’ And the first thing I thought was those trees, which were three quarters of the way up this sort of ravine, so let’s say they were three metres. I was like, ‘That’s your safety point. If you can get on to the high side of those trees. ‘You’ll be okay. You’ll be out of here. And then you can breathe, you can rest, and you can probably then take a straight line from that route, then try and hike any further up.’
So then I sort of started this effort to get out of this ravine, which was so much harder than I had expected. Because of all this snow, that being sort of 80, what, a metre of snow over the last few days. And what felt like a gradient of like 60% or something on this really steep ravine. And I couldn’t take my skis off, because any time, because I’d sink straight through. But I couldn’t sidestep up because it was too steep. So I just sort of figured, ‘Oh, well, I have to sort of somehow build myself a ladder.’ Which is sort of what I did. I made sure all my equipment was stuck on to me, because I thought, ‘I’m going to need every sort of assistance that I can during this process, whatever this process is going to be.’ So I zipped up the poles really tight on my arms, I made sure my gloves were really stuck on to me, all my jacket was up, and then I tried, sidestepping didn’t work. Then I started to sort of chip away at the snow, but that didn’t work either, because it wasn’t really solid. It was sort of like trying to make a ladder out of a really steep sand dune. It just sort of kept falling away.
So I took one ski off and balanced on one leg and then, essentially, dug things away and made myself a little ladder. And so I would make a little step 30 centimetres high on my ski, put one foot on that and then take my foot out of the other ski, and then haul myself up on that singular ski with one leg, and then have to turn around and sort of bend down and pull out my other ski, out of the snow. Which had just had all my weight on it, so it was buried then, under snow. And then I was trying not, also, to topple down back into the ravine. And then had to do that. And I did that for an hour to go three metres.
Yeah. It was crazy. And through that whole time, it was like, ‘Good boy, Will. Good boy, Will. Yeah, keep going. Keep going. You got this. You got this. It’s fine. It’s only been a couple of minutes, mate, you’re fine. Keep going. Keep going.’ It was really remarkable how much energy that used from me. I feel like I’m a, you know, I’m a young, fit person. I was astounded about how quickly I tired, and-
Stephanie: And that got you to the trees?
Will: That got me to the trees. And I got to the trees and I thought, ‘Okay. Okay. Now, get your skis on and ski a little bit further away and then you can get to a point of safety.’ So I got the skis on, edged my way, then, along this really steep ravine. Cleared a bit of snow, because I was worried about a little avalanche, and then got myself to this other collection of trees. And there I sat, and I thought, ‘Okay. You are out of there. Nothing can be as worse as what could’ve been just then. Whatever happens now, it’s fine. Nothing can be as bad as what could’ve been just then.’ So, use that, almost.
And that was when the tiredness really hit me. I was like, ‘Oh my God. I am drenched in sweat. I’m puffing. I’m shaking.’ And then I was like, ‘But you’ve still got no idea where you are.’
Stephanie: And you’ve got no water and no food, I’m assuming.
Will: Yeah. That was my first problem, before any of this. I was skiing by myself, no food, no water, no radio, no one knew where I was, no snowshoes, no snow shovel, no emergency location device, no backcountry experience. So, you know, real good. That’s what I mean about that knowledge confidence curve. I just thought,’ oh, you know, nothing’s gone wrong. Everything’s fine. What could be wrong?’ Let’s push it a bit further. Let’s go high. Let’s go harder. And that came crashing down really quick.
Stephanie: Okay, so you’re about an hour and a half in.
Will: Yeah. So I got up there, actually I checked my phone and 1:27, it was. Yeah, so about an hour and a half. And no reception, no maps. I downloaded that, some AppMaps.me, but of course you needed to be online or whatever, so nothing was working. I feel like I’m going to need this phone later, and it had 70% battery. So I just turned off the phone and then I just sat there and I thought, ‘Okay. It’s fine. Nothing could be as bad as that. It’s about 1:30. You’ve got four hours, three and a half hours until it gets dark. Plenty of time. Everything’s going to be fine, mate. Look at you. You’re fine, you’re young, you’re fit. You kind of think you know where the way you’re going and it’s going to be fine.’
And I almost tried to see myself from a bird’s eye view, and I was like, ’Just on the other side of that ridge,’ as I mentioned before, ‘everyone’s skiing. Everyone’s having a great day. Some people are probably having a Gluhwein. Some people are working out if they’re going to go and have a spa.’ It was just like, ‘Normal days go on. You wouldn’t have even blinked an eye in an hour and a half at home. Nothing would’ve thought that was an issue. So why is it an issue now? You’ve got plenty of time. Carry on’. Which is then sort of what I tried to do. Yeah.
Stephanie: So what happened next?
Will: So for about 15 minutes, which was actually kind of scary, I just went aimlessly along this ridge in the forest. I was on the other side, now, of the river. I’d accidentally crossed it. But I thought, ‘Rivers always take you out to flat land or to the coastline’ And I thought, ‘Japan’s a really populated country, and I know heaps of people just live on flat land. So either it’s going to spit me out into town, if I follow the river, or it’s going to spit me out on the coastline, in which case, well, at least you’re not in the mountains. So that’s going to be the right thing to do.’
So I was like, ‘Okay. The way out of here is to follow this river. Because that goes down as well. So you’re always going to go down.’ And I sort of try to keep it down on my left-hand side and snake my way through the trees. And then suddenly, the ridge that I was following ended, and there was a little side tributary sort of stream that I realised I’d have to cross. And that just scared the living daylights out of me because of what had happened just-
All I could think of was, ‘If I get stuck down another one of these things, I don’t think I’m going to be able to get up.’
Stephanie: Have the energy to get back
Will: ‘I don’t think I can.’ Yeah, exactly. So I thought, ’Well, I’ll just backtrack a bit and hopefully the ravine will be less deep. ‘Which I did, and then I sort of learnt from mistakes. I knew, ‘Well, I have to go fast enough to get across the river, which just happened by chance last time. I’ll just do that again.’ I went fast, and then I knew I just had to keep my speed, and I sort of crossed it and then got to the other side of the river and found a place of safety relatively quick. And then the whole time I was like, ‘You can’t let this beat you. You can’t let this beat you. You can’t be as slow as last time. You can’t use as much energy as last time.’
And so that was when I was really coaching myself. ‘Come on, Will. Good boy. Good boy. Keep going. Keep going.’ Actually, this happened the previous ravine as well, but also this one. So long as you’re not going backwards, that’s fine. Even if it’s a centimetre, even if it’s five centimetres. As long as you’re not going down, then it’s not wasted energy. So just keep going. Keep going. And that’s what I did, and that little ravine only took me like, 15 minutes or whatever. So that was much easier. And so that gave me a bit of confidence. I was like, ‘Yeah. Great. Great.’
I kept going for like, another few minutes. It felt like a long time but it probably wasn’t. And then suddenly there was kind of like this little break in the trees, and I just sort of followed it and followed along, and the trees sort of remained broken along this edge of the ridge. And I saw that and I was like, ‘Could this, could this be a track? Don’t believe it yet.’ And then I kept going. There was this real cutting in the side of the hill and I suddenly thought, ‘Yes. You can believe it. This could be a track. This must be track.’
Stephanie: Someone’s made this.
Will: Yeah. Someone made this. In summer maybe they could use this or maybe it’s a forester’s track that they use in summer. And I was like, ‘Yes. There must be a way out of here. Yes. Yes, great.’ And so then I was following that. But I followed that for like 45 minutes. During that time, my brain started sort of getting a bit worried and playing some tricks on me. The plan was going as planned, the river was still on my left, I was still going downhill, but the cutting made it such that I stayed on relatively the same height, and so I had to use a lot of energy going through this 50 centimetre deep powder or so, in my downhill-skiing skis. Traipsing through the snow at almost horizontal while it’s still dumping snow. And I was sweating, and then I started to see these, like, tracks of what looked like dogs, and I was like wolves in Japan?’
I don’t know. I was like, ‘I’m pretty sure there’s not, but oh God, I hope I’m right.’ And then I saw these, I just started noticing all these things. I noticed that when snow falls off trees, it leaves what looks like big bear footprints in the bloody snow. And so I thought it was just chunks of snow falling off the trees, but at the same time, I was like, ‘Maybe there’s bears.’ And I’d heard this guy talking about bears in the café the night before. He was a Japanese dude, so his English wasn’t that good. Rather than saying herbivore, he’s like, ‘Yeah, the bears are vegetarian.’ And the whole time while I was out there, I was like, ‘I hope he’s right. I hope they’re vegetarian, these bears.’
Stephanie: Hello, Mr. Bear. You’re a vegetarian, aren’t you? So there’s a lot of stuff going on in your head.
Will: Yeah. There’s so much. This initial, like, track, I was like, ‘Oh, maybe that’s a person’s tracks.’ And then it sort of became much narrower and I realised, ’Oh, it does look like a little sort of single-file dog track.’ And then suddenly that disappeared, and then there’s all these holes and these bare things, and I’m like, ‘Oh God, what’s going on?’ And then the time’s dragging on and this ridge is not going to be able to get around and suddenly I’m getting pretty worried.
Yeah. It sort of felt like just at the end of my tether almost, out of nowhere, from this big ridge that’s on my right-hand side, these tracks just emerge. Like, proper snowboard and skier tracks. It looked like two people had come. And suddenly, I was like, ‘Maybe there’s another resort. Maybe people were doing some weird backcountry thing.’ And I just start laughing, and I rested back down on my skis and I thought, ‘Oh, you didn’t think this was how the day was going to pan out, did you, Will?’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’m saved! Oh, God, you got worried for nothing, didn’t you, big guy?’ But, you know, all is well.
So I started following these tracks who were following my little cutting, and I thought, ‘Yeah, I was on the right track. Tracks on a path. You’re home and hosed. But I had to follow those for about 45 minutes, too. And it was just taking a lot of energy, and I expected to be out of there sooner.
Stephanie: Yeah. So you’re on the flat still, that’s the energy.
Will: Well, yeah. Exactly. I suppose I had to use less energy because they had cut this path, so I didn’t have to push through snow, but I was still having to essentially traverse on this flat. It was going along the edge of a mountain rather than down. My jacket was completely undone. I was so scared of going snow-blind that I kept my goggles on. Because I didn’t know, ‘Could I be out here for a while? If I go snow-blind then I’m gone for sure.’ Kept the goggles on, but steaming the goggles up, so I would’ve looked like a ridiculous sight, sort of head lopsided, trying to see through the tracks that my beads of sweat had made on the inside of my goggles while my jacket’s open. I’m just looking like this haggard sort of unprepared westerner in a Japanese forest. But anyway, that was going.
And so everything was going to plan, albeit taking a little bit longer. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, these bloody tracks take a hard left away from where I was wanting to go and down the hill back towards the ravine that I was so scared of. And in my head, that just didn’t make sense. Because I was saying, ‘We’ve got to follow this river and this track to get out of here. Why would they do that?’ And I’m so scared about losing height. Suddenly they’ve gone down. I went, ‘I cannot afford to lose that height. I’m going to lose all my energy. That’s madness. I can’t do that.’
So I thought, ‘Back yourself, Will. So far the plan was going okay. In the past, there’s been times when you could’ve backed yourself and you didn’t, and maybe things would’ve turned out better if you’d just backed yourself.’ And I was like, ‘This is kind of a big situation where things might not go so well if you don’t back yourself, so back yourself.’
Stephanie: Well, you’ve only got yourself to back in that situation, too.
Will: Yeah, I suppose so. Yeah, that’s right. You didn’t have any other options, except maybe I did. Which was follow their tracks. Anyway, I was like, ‘Just do it. Follow your plan.’ So they go left down to this ravine. I’m like, ‘No. I’m going right. So I’m going to go right and keep scooting along this cutting.’ And I go around this corner. This ridge was in front of me. I go around this corner and then it was one of the most dejected moments of my life. All I could see into the horizon, ridge, ridge, ridge, ridge, ridge down this long deep valley. To the horizon, there’s ridges and there’s dark clouds of snow, and it was all just Japanese forest. And I thought, ‘I’m not going to get out. My plan’s not going to work. What’s going to happen?’ That was a real moment where I thought, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m really, really alone. I’m really actually lost. I actually am lost.
Up until that point, I’d been coaching myself through it, and I was like, ‘You’ve got a plan, and if you’ve got a plan, mate, you haven’t gotten lost.’ I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could be that bird’s eye view again and think, ‘People are up there and this is where I’m going to go. I’m going to end up at a town out there.’ And then suddenly, whoom, that was gone.
Stephanie: You’re in the middle of nowhere.
Will: I was in the middle of nowhere. It was scary. And really sad, and I felt really alone. Yeah. That was like a point at which I had a decision to make, and it was do you keep backing yourself or do you go back to those tracks and trust someone else, even though what they’re doing seems to be counter intuitive to you? You know, not your plan. Not what you think is a good idea.
I’m trying to think through sort of my decision making, but really it was, ‘Well, they probably know where they’re going. Those tracks must be fresh because it’s dumping snow and I can see them, so they must be from within the last 24 hours. They must either be able to get out or must be reachable. They’re not so far away.’
But also it was like that’s a known, and I’m going down an unknown. And I go down the unknown and it doesn’t work out, that’s not really forgivable. I mean ‘not really forgivable’ in that maybe I would’ve been dead if I’d just gone down that way. Whereas I kind of felt like the path that was already set, there was some logic in that. There was maybe some safety in that.
Stephanie: Yeah. You mean following the tracks?
Will: Following the tracks that they had made. Even though that was not what I wanted to do, I felt like I couldn’t justify backing myself enough to just go my way.
Stephanie: Because you just didn’t really have enough information, did you?
Will: Well, that was it. That was it. And I didn’t know where it was going, and actually, in fact, it looked like it was going nowhere.
Stephanie: Yeah. Well, when you look at all the ridges and everything.
Will: It looked like into the horizon, all that was ahead of me was like ten times what I’d just done.
So, I thought, ‘Bugger it. I’ll turn around. I’ll go back up and follow those tracks.’ So I had to sidestep back up my five metres of snow, which didn’t sound like much, but it felt like a hell of a lot. Go down and start following these tracks. And the go down the ravine and clearly they knew where they were going, because there was this little crossing area, so that was good. But then suddenly they’re starting to work their way uphill. And so I’m following them, following them, but it’s going uphill. Had to change my technique a little bit. I sort of sidestep and then get my skis into the side of the snow, move another one side of the snow to try and sort of almost get myself up. Because if I just tried to walk up, I just kept falling back down.
Stephanie: So, Will, I want to bring up something that you’ve told me before. A little levity in the moment here. You were getting pretty hungry by now.
Will: Oh, yeah. Hungry and thirsty. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Stephanie: So, you told me a great story about something that was crossing your mind.
Will: Yeah. It was funny. I was on to these guys’ tracks, following them, and God, it was taking me a hell of a long time. Getting so sweaty. By this stage, I was shovelling snow into my mouth. I was so thirsty, because I was drenched through all my parka and everything in sweat. And I was also getting incredibly hungry. So, so hungry. Oh, you know, thinking about food, all those things. And I was like, ‘Well, these tracks. No, you’ve done the right thing. These tracks will either lead you out or lead you to a dead body.’ Because that’s how extreme I thought my situation was. And then I’m like, ‘If it’s a dead body, I wonder how long it is until it’s socially acceptable that I can start eating them.’
Stephanie: How many hours in are you?
Will: I was three and a half hours. I feel, upon reflection, three and a half hours is not quite enough. But going through my mind, I’m like, ‘Where would be the best place to bite?’ Where could you do it?
Stephanie: This is where your anatomy classes come in.
Will: Where could you get, you know, I don’t really have any sort of utensils. Where could I get a good mouth-hold? I thought that the traps were quite good. Maybe the biceps.
Stephanie: I love your story, and I love your three and half hours. That’s really-
Will: And then, yeah, literally in the same sort of moment, the same breath, I was like, ‘Mate, you’ve been gone three and a half hours.’
Stephanie: You’ll last a bit longer. You’re probably going to be okay. So, Will, I mean, it’s a long story. And it’s incredible, and your imagery is fantastic. How come you and I are sitting here right now? I mean, I know, it’s terrible to speed you up when you’re going through this…but what happened-
Will: So, two things. Following these guys and I was towards the end of my trekking, I had a brainwave. I was like, ‘Hey, Google Maps uses satellite.’ And I’m in the open now, so I could sort of bring up where I thought I was. And I was on some cutting and some path. And then I saw where I thought I was and I trekked on for another hour. And that was the hardest of all the hours, was doing this trek, because it was much more steep.
Stephanie: But you were following a map.
Will: But I was following a map. I’d had my phone on and off. But I was following a map. And I was completing what I thought was a large S-bend and about a quarter of what was ahead of me, and then after that hour, I sort of reopened my phone, looked at my map, and I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ That big S-bend that was on Google Maps that I thought I was traversing? No, I’ve just done a little, like, blip on that big S-bend.
And my will was just gone. These tracks that I’d been following actually just sort of made a 90 degree turn, just went straight up this hill. Little did I know, these people obviously have backcountry gear and strapped on some snowshoes and climbed up. And I couldn’t, for all efforts, even though I thought, ‘I have to save my life. I have to walk up this hill.’ I actually couldn’t.
My skis kept going backwards. I kept taking off my skis. I tried to walk. I just slipped down to my waist. I couldn’t. And then it struck me, the international SOS number, during that hour. I thought, ‘Oh, I remember that, on my mobile phone. 119. Oh, I should try that.’ But up until that point actually, maybe a bit of ego, and maybe the hip pocket been thinking about, ‘Jesus, it’s going to get saved here.’ And also, ‘No, you can do this.’
I had never let myself think that things were going to go wrong, because then I would have felt like when I did when I ran around that corner and saw nothing but forest. I’d always just thought, ‘No, it’s going to be fine, it’s going to be fine, it’s going to be fine. You’re out of here. You’re out of here. All good, mate. Everything’s fine.’ And then I suddenly had that moment again, similar to when I went around that corner, again of, ‘Night’s coming now. It’s getting cold. You can’t go forward anymore because it’s getting too steep. You know the way back’s not the way.’ And that’s when reality really hit. And I thought, ‘If I’m staying out here, I’m going to get frostbite in all sorts of areas.’ And that really scared me. So I thought, ‘Okay. There’s something, money and ego may be transit or fixable, but frostbite and permanent injury really isn’t. Okay, I’ve got to make the call. I’ve got to call.’
And so that was an ordeal in itself. And then I spent 45 minutes across whole range of emergency services in Japan, trying to work out where I was. Anyway, it ended up with, ‘Look into the sky. Look into the sky. Rescue team. Rescue team. Stay where you are.’ Which in my head was like, ‘Yes. They’re sending a helicopter.’ And so there I stood for an hour because I was so afraid of moving and from them losing where I’d given my coordinates, which is simply holding your finger on Google Maps, in case you’re lost.
Stephanie: A handy tip next time I’m lost in the backcountry.
Will: Drop a pin. Drop a pin. And so there I stood for an hour. I got incredibly cold because by this time it was night and it actually had really cleared up, so there was sort of warming cloud cover. I was freezing cold.
And they didn’t come. I kept hearing these planes up really high, and I thought, ‘That must be them. No, they didn’t come.’ I was like, ‘No, it takes ages to rig up a helicopter. It’s fine.’ And then it really set in about an hour in. ‘They’re not coming. You’re stuck out here, mate.’ And I had my hands in a fist and I tried to put my hands back in my gloves and my gloves were solid blocks of ice. I knocked them together and they were like making this really clinking sound. I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s it, you’re out on your own.’ So I thought, ‘All right, well, I’ll just start digging an ice cave, I suppose.’ Not that I ever knew what that was, but I started digging that. And then suddenly that sort of woke me up. I go, ‘Just call them back.’ Which is what I did.
Stephanie: You don’t actually have to dig in and stay the night.
Will: I don’t have to dig in and stay the night. Just call them back. Which I did, went through the whole rigmarole again including very polite Japanese people who, when you’re a polite translator, you’re having to excuse yourself for any speaking English. And I was just like, ‘Get on with it. I’m bloody cold, I’m starving, I’m scared, I’m out here by myself.’
And then someone said they were coming. And it was speaking to this ski patrol officer who spoke a bit of English. The most beautiful moment was that he knew where I was. He was like, ‘Okay. Did you go steep and then did it start going flat and then there was a little track?’ And I was like, ‘Yes. Yes. That’s where I am. You know where I am. Thank you.’ And he said, ‘Okay. I’ll see what I can do. Call me back in half an hour.’ And that gave me this renewed spirit.
And then I was like, ‘Well, maybe I can stay out the night. I’m fine.’ Went back to my ice cave, dug that for another 30 minutes, called him back in 30 minutes, and he said, ‘Okay, Will, we’re not there yet. It’s going to take a while but I promise you someone’s coming.’ And then that was just this beautiful feeling of personal connection.
Yeah. And I suppose it was hope or whatever. I was like, ‘I can do this.’ I really remembered what I was. A young, fit person who didn’t have any injuries. I was like, ‘Yes. Okay. Back to your cave.’ And so I was digging this cave. I was getting quite proud of it. And I thought, ‘Well, I don’t need to be rescued.’ No, I definitely did need to be rescued. And then as I was almost trying to seal myself in, because then all the engineering of the cave went through my mind, but then this light flashed. And then, ‘Oh, shoot,’ and I suddenly realised how much I wanted to see these people. And I broke out of my cave and I was yelling and waving my phone, and I just looked up, and it felt like the mountains were vertically above me. I just saw a trail of lights. And there was three guys skiing through the night down these really steep hills towards me. And then they set up a little bit of a whack, and one came to me and he just said, ‘William?’ I was like, ‘Yes.’
Stephanie: If you weren’t, you’d say you were.
Will: Yes. No, no, he’s in the ice cave just along.
Stephanie: The other guy down there. Yeah, yeah.
Will: And then I got up and he softened up a little bit. The Japanese are so polite. And then I just gave him a hug and then he gave me a hug and I was just like, ‘I’m saved.’ It was the most beautiful feeling. And then he brought me to the other guys and they were all polite and I just didn’t even care. I just gave them a hug. And it was just an amazing feeling of being looked after and being-
Safe. And then I could just offload all responsibility. I didn’t have to think about what I was going to do. I just gave all my trust, I gave everything to them. I just went on to this autopilot. Like I instantly felt warm or something, you know? They would just tell me what to do. It was like, ‘Take off your helmet.’ And I just took off my helmet. And then they just like put a light around me, clipped my helmet back on, fed me, told me when to ski, when to stop, when to ski, when to stop. We had to ski another hour and a half, and during that time we sort of all bonded.
Stephanie: And tell us the kicker, Will, about what was right way to get down.
Will: Yeah. So first we quickly skied down that last hour that I’d spent following those people’s tracks, which was the hardest hour, when I was thinking about eating the people. Like, my fellow humans. And then we went the way that I had chosen not to go.
Stephanie: So you backed yourself.
Will: So I should’ve backed myself.
Stephanie: So, Will. What a story. I mean, and what a capable, resilient person you are. And entertaining. I tell you what, you could hear a pin drop in this studio right now, with everyone listening to your story.
Here’s my question. So there’s a wonderful speaker we have, Sven Hansen, who talks about Navy SEALs. And he says they say, ‘Don’t rise to the occasion, sink to the level of your training.’ I’ve told you this.
So what is it about you or your upbringing or your education that helped you make the decisions you made that got you out of there okay?
Will: Very tough question. I think one of the really important things was what I sort of touched on before about that perspective. And I sort of mean that almost in the literal sense, in that I took that perspective almost of that bird’s eye view. I tried to keep reminding myself that this situation wasn’t so bad. That I wasn’t too far away from people, what I was trying to get at. I wasn’t so far away from civilization. It wasn’t such a bad situation. It wasn’t unsalvageable. This was correctable and I could do that. And that was a really important thing. That let me not get overwhelmed, was that sense of, ‘You’re not that far away. This isn’t such a big deal.’ And then that let me believe that, ‘Oh, yeah, Will, you can do this. Of course.’
I think being able to tell yourself you can do it when it feels like you can, that’s not very hard. But if you then try and tell yourself, ‘You can do it. You can do it. You can do it.’ When you’ve made it such that you can’t, well, then that’s impossible. I think at that point at which I made the call to what I thought was going to be the helicopter at the end, that was because almost I couldn’t kid myself any more or I’d stopped believing that I could or I’d stopped actively taking that perspective. I’d stopped abstracting myself from myself. I just got all wrapped up in the situation.
Stephanie: Okay. It really did become overwhelming then. How are you feeling about it now?
Will: I’m feeling good about it, actually. For most of it, it wasn’t so bad. For most of it, it was mainly a physical challenge. I was just really really tired, to the point where not just my muscles were tired, but I was really tired like I wanted to sleep.
Stephanie: And you knew that wasn’t good.
Will: Kept seeing these points, I was like, ‘If I could just sit down there and have a very nice sleep.’ And then the other part of me was like, ‘And then you might not be able to wake up.’ But for the most part it was just sweating, it was just being puffed, and that was fine. But the real tough points were that point where, ‘Oh, my God, my plan’s never going to come to fruition.’ So for the most part it was fine. It made me learn a lot of things and yeah, I suppose maybe a sense of perspective. Yeah.
Stephanie: I love that about perspective. I love how self-aware you are. I mean, that’s been very clear along the way. And the way you’ve even been able to reflect on it and think about the decisions you made. I think it’s a fantastic story. And it’s not just because I know you, and it’s hard for people who’ll listen to this and don’t get to see your gestures, because you paint a great picture of what’s been going on.
Will: Oh, yeah. I want to just convey the steepness of those hills. Depth of that snow.
Stephanie: We believe you. I’m freezing, hearing the story. And I’m so glad you didn’t resort to cannibalism because then there’d be a whole sort of consequences to that. Will, I think your story is wonderful and I think that there’s so much for us all to learn from that. And I love it when we walk about making decisions about yourself as a person and growing and being the best person you are. I think you’ve taught us so much today. So, Will, thank you so much.