Like Snow On A Rail

A friend still in the dive business, still in New Caledonia, posted this on Facebook recently. I’m guessing he went up to Hienghene from Noumea to dive (even diving several times every day as a job, it’s still something you want to do on your free time), and got this shot.

He is on a dive site called Dongan Hienghu, and it is an extraordinary spot on this Earth, a concentration of intense, burning, roaring life. And I found it. It was mine.

So much of living makes me laugh, and as I packed my gear for another trip to Glacier I laughed when I looked at my pile of gear and thought of this picture of the reef. I have this big, unorganized mess of stuff, but I don’t own anything I don’t need, so I know that I just have to drag out my pile and pack it, and I’m ready to go.

How I get all that stuff into that pack always surprises me. I never carry more than 35 pounds of gear, and as time goes by I seem to have space left over in my pack that I didn’t in years past. And of course when I return there is even less. All of the “consumables” are gone: those things I carry to nourish and sustain me during the short time I carry all that matters on my back. Nothing is left but dirty and smelly gear, gear that will be cleaned and put in a new pile and be ready for me the next time I want to go. There will be no trace of this trip. Like snow on a rail.

I have written several times about how I discovered Dongan Hienghu ( . I found several extraordinary dive sites off the coast of Hienghene, but Dongan–you really need to know what you’re doing to even believe that it could be there. So to see this post on Facebook, with no mention of the history of Dongan Hienghu–no mention of who found it–was surprisingly painful. I talked about it with my wife, and because she is French she explained that someone would have found it eventually anyway. The French embrace the hopelessness of existence, but I cling–much like a butterfly that thinks it has discovered flowers–to the idea that my time here matters.

My pack is ready now, and this is going to be a big trip. My biggest yet, if we are talking aspirations and ambitions. But as my friend Rob Graham once said, “every time you’re out there doing something pretty badass, someone else comes along doing something really badass”–plenty of people can and have done what I am doing. Nonetheless, it’s a big deal for me, in great part because I know the meaning is ephemeral, something I will experience and then it will be gone forever, changing nothing of the mountains I walk through, but changing so much about me. Much like finding Dongan Hienghu, I suppose.

Dongan Hienghu is the most beautiful spot on Earth. But if I had never found it so that it could be seen, would it still be “beautiful”? Of course, it would still be there, and all that life would still roar, but what would that mean if no one ever saw it? I wonder if I have placed my emphasis on the wrong set of expectations.

Several years ago, I was playing around on Google Earth, and looked at Dongan Hienghu. You can see the reef in the middle of Hienghu Pass, but you have to know what extends out into the pass from the reef to find Dongan. I zoomed in on Google Earth, and there was my little boat, all alone, moored above all that life. If you go to Google Earth today, those images have been updated–there is no sign of my boat, or of me on that boat. But you also cannot see those hidden pinnacles now, as if they do not exist.

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