I slid into my sleeping bag and set my alarm for 4.30am.
After spending the last two days climbing Mt Ruapehu, my friend James, then 20, and I were looking forward to reaching the summit the following day.
Although we’d planned on camping out for the night, we’d decided to squeeze into a tiny dome shelter instead.
With plywood walls and floors, and no electricity, it was far from luxury, but it was nice to be sheltered from the icy wind.
‘We’ll be walking along the ridge as the sun rises,’ I said.
Growing up, I’d always been an active child.
But it wasn’t until I was introduced to bushwalking at school, aged 16, that I felt I’d found my true passion.
Learning how to cross creeks, make fires and solve real-life problems, I was in my element.
After graduating, I became a primary school teacher.
That’s where I met James, who loved the outdoors as much as I did.
One day I suggested we go mountaineering.
Deciding on Mt Ruapehu – the largest active volcano in New Zealand – we’d planned to visit its three major peaks.
Though James had never climbed a mountain before, I’d loved showing him the ropes.
Before long, he was fast asleep. But then I heard a deafening rumble outside.
It sounded like a jet plane taking off. Then the shelter door swung open with an almighty force.
Crawling across the floor in my sleeping bag to peek outside, I was met with a horrifying scene.
The volcano had erupted without warning and a deadly slurry of mud, water and debris was hurtling in our direction.
Before I had time to react, I was rammed against the wall by the sludge, while other hot pieces crashed through the hut, burning my face and ear.
I tried to wriggle myself free, but a giant rock had shattered my right leg and the lahar of water, rocks and mud had formed around my limb like cement.
With water continuing to gush inside, the hut was filling quickly.
In a matter of seconds, my entire body and head was submerged and I was drowning.
Incredibly, the water receded just as quickly.
Gasping for air, I was terrified about the volcano going off again.
‘Help me!’ I called out to James, explaining there had been an eruption.
Desperately trying to free me with his bare hands, James then used an ice axe and shovel. But it was no use. I was stuck.
‘Find help,’ I begged.
Wearing just his thermal underwear, James managed to dig out his soaked boots, a jacket and head lamp before heading out the door.
Still, it was a long way down to the base and I knew it would be hours before help arrived.
There was no way my body would last that long in minus eight degrees.
‘Please tell my family and friends that I love them,’ I said.
‘You can tell them yourself,’ he replied.
To try and keep warm, I crossed my arms over my upper body.
But I was soaking wet and shaking violently.
I’m going to die tonight, I thought. I’ll never be able to get married or have kids.
Scared and alone, I couldn’t fight the cold any longer and eventually drifted off to sleep.
When I woke, it was the following day.
I was in hospital, with my dad, Barry, by my side.
‘You’ve been in a bad accident…’ he started.
Then he broke the news that doctors had no choice but to amputate my damaged leg. I couldn’t believe my limb was really gone.
But I was just grateful to have survived.
Dad also explained how after leaving to find help
the night before, James had come across a group of people on the mountainside who came to my rescue.
After taking me off the mountain in a snowcat, I was airlifted to Waikato Hospital.
He put his life on the line for me, I thought.
The impact of the debris had also broken my kneecap and caused my kidneys to shut down. I needed dialysis, as well as 13 operations to repair my legs.
My recovery wouldn’t be easy, but I knew I had to push myself and get back to what I loved doing most – teaching and exploring.
Five months later, I was fitted with a prosthetic, and by the end of the following year I was bushwalking.
Although trips took longer than before, it gave me the chance to stop and admire the beauty around me.
The same year, I returned to teaching where I met Rebecca, then 20.
Bonding over our passion for the great outdoors, we soon fell in love.
Incredibly, 10 years on from the accident, I decided to climb Mt Ruapehu again.
Revisiting the very place I thought I’d die, I couldn’t believe how far I’d come.
When news broke of the White Island eruption in December, memories of my accident came flooding back.
My heart ached for the victims, their family and friends.
It’s a miracle I survived, I realised.
Now, 12 years on from that night, I couldn’t be happier.
Rebecca and I married and have a daughter, Harriet, with another on the way.
I’m still great mates with James and we continue to go on adventures together.
Leaving my teaching job in 2012, I’m now a motivational speaker, travelling the world to inspire others to step outside their comfort zones.
‘Every day is a good day,’ I say, encouraging them to live their best lives. After all, you only get one!
To learn more, visit williampike.co.nz
On December 9, 2019, New Zealand’s most active volcano known as White Island erupted.
It claimed the lives of 21 people and injured dozens more.
While many questioned why tourists were not warned, Prof. Richard Arkoulis, a vulcanologist at the Australian National University, said that while scientists reported a rise in the volcano’s activity, they could not have predicted the eruption.