Category Archives: climbing

On turning 35 in Snowdonia National Park, Wales

I’m 35 now. To celebrate the arrival of this strangely angular number, I travelled to Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. I took my lover and my four amazing friends with me. Everything else we needed was already there.

Apparently, this location is the wettest place in the United Kingdom. Which did not throw us off our track to walk up the path to Moel Siabod. Up to a point, I mean. We had to turn around before the summit scramble because the winds were getting too stubborn. And we were getting too wet. But the mountain lake was unforgettable in its grim wavyness. And we imagined dragons looking over us. It is easy to see the legends coming to life in here.

By next day, a group of us joined our mountaineering instructor Huw Gilbert from Expeditionguide, and we drove to Ogwen Valley to do a grade 1 scramble up the Seniors Gully on Cwm Idal. Afterwards, we found a fairy glen, more amazing mountain scenery, a man-made canyon, and I ventured on a grade III scramble (the Tryfan Bach approach on Little Tryfan) in the nearby mountainhood.

It all ended in a little church in a little village. No one got married. But nearly everyone got really soaked again. This time in a hot tub. There’s nothing like a hot tub with autumn rains and mountain views, by the way. I forgot about my angular new number, and just soaked in all the rain, the mountain paths, the cliff walls, the rainbows and the wine, and the absolute bestest people to head into the unknown with. (Not all of them pictured. <3)

 

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Why you don’t always need the sun to be happy

March 2017: A Different Time in Scotland

I travelled back to Scotland in the middle of March. The aim was to gather more technical winter mountaineering skills with the help of Rob Johnson Expedition Guide. Luckily, when I contacted him near the end of 2016, the group had just one space left. I was set to go!

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What I absolutely had not planned on, was developing either a monster migraine or an uncanny sinus infection a couple of weeks before the start of the winter skills & mountaineering course. In my case, getting the train up to Fort William from London could have easily been taken for a road trip to Damascus, only with a difference that instead of a ruggedly holy calling I was starting to have doubts whether I could climb at all.

About that pain

There will be no cliffhanger in the middle of this story. Sorry! πŸ™‚ All went well, albeit laboriously. The prescription drugs I was taking at the time lowered my walking heartbeat to 50 bpm. Even a single set of stairs became an accomplishment of sorts, not to mention a mountain. True story! The ascent of Stob Ban ended up the hardest walking experience of my life. I actually had to rest my head on my axe after every ten meters.

But when there’s a will (and the love for the mountains, and a truly patient mountain guide and one other patient climber), there’s always a way. I did end up:

  • climbing/scrambling the quartzite North Buttress of Stob Ban in the Grey Corries (a borderline route between grade II and III, if my memory is not jig dancing);
  • climbing my first Grade I winter gully in the Cairngorms (Jacob’s Ladder). A very gracious gully for learning, I have to say.
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The last meters of Jacob’s Ladder. (Photo either by Rob or Rachel.)

I also spent one of my climbing days in bed with vertigo, holding on to my mattress and ignoring the fiercely orange flashes the smoke alarm in my room was producing. I mean, you go out with many things, but you don’t go climbing with a vertigo.

So, this time it was a a slightly mixed bunch of feelings. And definitely the only time in my life I have felt less than flawlessly happy in the mountains. But still, I aaaaalmost got there, of course.

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After the last climbing day, feeling properly vague in the head but so devastatingly happy I spent these days in Scotland.

This year, man!

The beginning of 2017 has not been particularly lucky. Having been almost professionally lucky (and healthy) so far, it has been tremendously hard for me to accept the physicalΒ daily pain. I’m definitely better equipped to deal with years of high level mental strain (positive and the other shade) than even a week of physical discomfort. Not kidding.

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Fort William at the end of winter 2017.

When I can’t move, all my versions of the future lose their grounding and their zest. It’s as if someone has changed my light switch for a capriciously functioning dimmer. There are bursts of normality, but mostly I inhabit a space filled with thick, gooey air. In here, I need to refocus my eyes and my itinerary with every step I take.

I have no idea how people with chronical pain deal with it. Where do you find your projections of peace? Can everything be trainable?

Why you don’t always need the sun to be happy?

So, where on Earth is the only place to find peace when you are officially burnt out, over worked, over stressed and physically crumbling? In the Scottish Highlands, of course.

In here, you do not need the sun to be happy:

  • The light and warmth often hide some of the smells eminating from the soil. Although warmth gives free reigh to blossoms and such, it also takes the soil away from underneath your feet. You kind of stop noticing it. But sometimes you need to feel the ground the most.
  • The sun is always about the present. The mirky weather fixes your thoughts on possibilities instead.
  • The grey weather gives you time to think. The sun is an action call. (In other words, the wolf-coloured weather makes for a great travel planner.)
  • You notice more shades in colours in the hands of a dubious climate.
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View from the top of Jacob’s Ladder, Cairngorms.
  • As long as a snowstorm or a gale is not visiting the same place as you, you can still go forwards with your most loved activities.
  • The dramatic (and the grand) scenes mostly welcome the traveller in the non-sunny landscapes.
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On top of Jacob’s Ladder. Last day of climbing, Cairngorms. (Photo by Rachel.)
  • The mirkiness makes you feel as being part of a story. You feel yourself and your itinerary in a specifically intense manner when hitting the road in proper dreary weather.
  • The sunlessness makes you notice more allurement around you. It does.
  • A tough weather brings strangers together.
  • The gloom makes you move. The sun habitually traps you into the moment. (By no means a wicked trap, though!)
  • The overcast weather works wonders for the imagination.
  • A weather with an epic temper makes you feel like being on a journey the legends are made of.
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The Mamores Ridge.

And what else forms the core of a human heart than all of the above?!