The Climber's Wife

Terradets

Posted on August 9, 2014

Near Lake Terradets in Catalunya, northern Spain, there are a number of worthwhile crags and a fabulous camping spot. The Climber and I wound our way up to the area from Margalef in late spring and camped a few days in the Cellar’s train station carpark.

Here we met up with Mark-from-the-carpark, a muscle bound Englishman with the cheekiest smile ever seen outside of a toddler’s playgroup. He and the Climber had a terrible effect on each other’s humour, the conversation swiftly devolving to puns concerning defecation. Fortunately these were delivered in amusing accents, as they had for some unknown reason both developed gay German designer personas.

The car park is one of the most convenient that we have stayed in. There is a little Refugi and cafe by the train station, run by friendly people who have two even friendlier dogs, one with quite astoundingly bright blue eyes. We met the dogs individually over a few days – the first on Mark-from-the-carpark’s birthday and the second on mine. So we called them both Birthday Dog (we have very creative minds).

If you buy your morning coffee from the cafe, there is no problem in using the bathroom as you require and you can even enjoy a hot shower for €5 (I splashed out – pun intended – once while we were there). Excitingly, outside the Refugi there is a very large cherry tree which, when I visited, was absolutely dripping in enormous, shiny, ruby red cherries. They tasted as good as they looked and despite what could be considered as excessive consumption, I suffered no major ill effects.

Perhaps even more excitingly (at least over four seasons) the old train station (there is also a new one where the train currently stops) is abandoned (or perhaps in the middle of a very slow refurbishment). So the covered platforms are free and perfect for yoga, meditation or just sitting around outside, safe from the rain or sun. I enjoyed a few lovely yoga sessions there – looking out to the trees of the forest with silver rain pattering down on the leaves.

There are a few places to climb nearby. We went first to Paret de les Bagasses. The walk-in crosses the river (a gorgeous, raging torrent of milky blue glacial run-off) on a picturesque stone bridge, before leading you over some slabs (bit yucky) and up to the train line. Walking along the train line to the right before taking the climbers path to the crag is illegal and potentially very deadly. Which is why we teleported ourselves to the crag. If you were going to walk it would be sensible to move swiftly and to keep an ear out and an eye on rail vibrations for approaching trains. The easy climbs in the area were a little bit grey-slab-of-doom and I wasn’t particularly motivated to get on them. The looming black clouds also didn’t inspire me. Nevertheless I gave it a go and it was then that I heard the most remarkable sounds: sounds of peace, harmony, safety and compassion. Mark-from-the-carpark is, in fact, the Jesus of climbing instruction (this is if Jesus got really buff and trimmed his hair and beard…and wore 5.10…and didn’t have the full plethora of miracle working powers…you know what I mean). His first miracle was to talk me to the top of a route without me crying, the second miracle was to get me to do it again, this time in the rain. Yes, I was somehow talked up a horrible grey, WET, slab of doom. Told you he was the Jesus of climbing instruction.

That was something of an early birthday present for me. The actual birthday involved serenading joggers with my uke (“yes they run, they run, oh they run quite fast in their short shorts”) while picnicking on champagne and fresh cherries by the lake, which was busy mirroring the snow capped mountains. A night sleeping in the exceptional comfort of the Hotel Terradets, following a slightly inebriated jam at the railway cafe, rounded off a brilliant day.

The main attraction at Terradets is the impressive Bruges crag. It is possible to walk from the train station car park – you walk along the lake, across a bridge and then follow the lake on the opposite shore towards the power station thing. Part of the walk takes you through some stone galleries, which are spooky and quite impressive on foot. You then take the ladder up some rocks to your left (or the dog trail, which looks like a death trap) and then follow the climber’s trail up to the huge over hanging crag. The cliff line is very impressive and has a lot of routes in the 7b to 8b range. The Climber entertained himself for about two weeks in total and was in no great hurry to leave.

He was however in something of a hurry the day he pulled a rope through a fixed draw, whipping my hand in the process (after a day of diligent belaying). I gained an impressive rope shaped bruise and abrasion but nothing was broken and I heroically refrained from milking the incident more than was absolutely necessary.

The Climber had in fact himself been the victim of an unfortunate event (albeit one that didn’t leave an impressive bruise). He had bought himself a new pair of runner and a pair of flip flops and was very distressed to wake one morning to find that one of the new runners was missing from his shoe pile under the van. A Spanish girl from a neighbouring van had woken to find that she had lost a whole pair and was hunting around the campsite muttering darkly about thieving foxes. Mark-from-the-carpark concurred that foxes had recently stolen some of his dirty climbing clothes, presumably with which to line their dens. Poor foxes. The Climber spent the morning snuffling around and managed to locate one of the Spanish girl’s shoes…overall, rather unsatisfactory. The next night we were careful to ensure that all goods were safely stowed inside before we went to sleep. Unfortunately, one of the Climber’s new flip flops must have fallen out as he was closing the door and he awoke to find himself yet again bereft of footwear. At that moment I was very glad that I was not a fox.

Here ended the tale of the Terradets fox, so far as I was concerned. However, after I had gone to Corsica, the Climber left his remaining footwear as bait and spent the night peering out the van window waiting for the fox. Somewhere in the deep of night the culprit struck and a gleeful Climber yanked back the door to see — a pair a bright blue eyes.

Lake at Terradets

Cabaces

Posted on July 9, 2014

Cabacés is a pretty little Catalan village nestled in the folds of the Monstant range. It features the delightful winding streets, timeless public water fountains, tall church tower and vine trellised warm stone buildings so common in the area. Els Solans is the nearest crag and its grey red rock dominates the village from above.

The travelling dirt bag climber and accompanying wife will find pleasant free overnight van parking either just before the footbridge up to the crag (a little lopsided for perfect slumber) or about two minutes before the village, as one approaches from La Viella Baixa. The later was our preference. There is plenty of flat parking and some shady trees a little way off the main road, making for a very enjoyable campsite. Others obviously also think so and we saw the usual evidence in the form of litter and toilet paper – if you must poop, bury the evidence and make sure you take your wee papers and other rubbish with you to dispose of thoughtfully.

Just on from the campsite is a singing little stream, bursting with frogs, wildflowers and a rush of sparking water. The road fords this stream and the ford creates a wonderful fresh water pool that is perfect for an icy swim or a laze in the sun. I was sorely in need of a hair wash and carted pots of water off away from the watercourse for a (slightly painfully) refreshing clean up. It was worth it.

To get to El Solans we parked by the footbridge mentioned earlier. This bridge spans a quite amazingly deep and narrow chasm, out of which the tips various trees protrude. Fortunately the fruit on the richly overburdened fig trees weren’t yet ripe or I would have been tempted to try my first bridge swing in order to greedily snatch at them. – wheeeeee! gobble gobble -

The walk up the hill offers some pretty views of both Cabaces and La Viella Baixa as well as some merry wildflowers and the ubiquitous Catalan-nasty-pointy-scratchy-plant (not its botanical name). The last 50-100 metres of the path is a bit steep and unpleasant underfoot but not particularly scary, even for wimps like the present author.

The guidebook promised a wealth of easy (3-5+) and more challenging (7b-8b+) routes all on “generally excellent rock”. Unfortunately almost all the easy routes have been stripped of hangers, presumably to equip other routes, as the stripped routes looked quite solid – although perhaps safety problems would be more apparent higher up. Nevertheless I tried a few of the remaining easy-ish routes and despite my paralysing fear and general hatred of the experience, I can report that the rock is indeed excellent. It is quite strange to climb on, being made of a conglomerate of little pebbles seemingly concreted together. Pockets are offered where the pebbles have fallen out and sweaty little fingers will quickly learn that frantically scrabbling around will result in the identification of a suitable hold…usually.

The Climber ticked off most of the higher grade climbs and reported “surprisingly hard fused-conglomerate” and some “unconsolidated sandstone-y conglomerate” (perhaps not the official geological terminology). The fused conglomerate provided enjoyable looking climbing (some fancy dance-y moves) while the sandstone rubbish had an unnerving tendency to fall off onto the horrified belayer.

Cabacés is nevertheless a worthwhile climbing destination if you are in the area. There was quite enough rock to keep us entertained for a few days and the scenery really is superb. We also had the place entirely to ourselves, which made a pleasant change from the hustle of places like Siurana and Margalef.

P.S If you are a big meat eater (and only then) would I recommend that you try the Catalan Salad at the bar in Cabacés It is very interesting.

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What to pack for Annapurna Base Camp

Posted on April 4, 2014

There are heaps of packing guides available online, but this is what worked for me. You could certainly do this trek with a lot less stuff (or less technical stuff) but you run the risk of being sunburnt/windburnt/freezing/wet/carrying an inordinately heavy bag etc. That is not how I roll.

Equipment:
- Backpack with rain cover
- Camel back and a one litre and a 400ml Nalgene water bottle. The smaller water bottle wasn’t really necessary but I did find it handy in juggling water purification. Having a Nalgene (or other heat proof bottle) means that you have have a hot water bottle at night and pre-prepared first purified litre of water each morning.
- Gently worn in walking shoes or boots
- Sleeping bag (I borrowed The Climber’s and it was very warm but insanely heavy – if I didn’t have a porter I would have just taken my 2.5 season and worn more clothes to bed)
- Walking poles (yes, you look like an oversized praying mantis but this trek is ideal for poles – no undergrowth to get in the way and endless stairs for which the knee joints will appreciate a bit of assistance)
- Space blanket (for emergencies)
- Pocket knife
- Head torch
- Climbing tape (for preventing blisters, fixing things and making finger puppets)
- She pee (quite useful in very cold conditions, do practice at home while wearing long johns and trousers).
- Trail mix and chocolate (be prepared to share what you bring, private snacking in a group is very rude)
- Sunglasses (I had cheap but polarised ones. They were completely inadequate and the snow gave me a blinding headache in about three seconds flat. I then managed to loose them before the three days of hot sunny walking back in the hills. Buy fancy snow/water sport ones and don’t loose them).
- Three dry bags – one for your extra warm layers, one for clothes and one for smelly things (like damp socks). Plastic bags also work but I have turned into a gear junkie.
- Camera

Toiletries:
- Two rolls toilet paper (good to have extra for digestive emergencies and it’s lightweight and the size prevents you packing extra stuff you don’t need).
- Hand sanitiser
- Shampoo and conditioner decanted into little travel containers (I used these as body wash and clothes wash as well).
- Face wash decanted into tiny travel container (in my view shampoo inadequately removes sunscreen from the face).
- Sunscreen (if you are coming from Australia buy at home, they only sell the useless European stuff in Nepal, as far as I can tell).
- SPF lipbalm (I only had the useless European stuff and so smothered my lips in sunscreen during the day and only used the lipbalm at night.
- Travel sized toothpaste and toothbrush
- Deodorant (I actually wouldn’t bother bringing any on my next walk. I am not a smelly person and it’s fairly heavy. Stinky types should consider the olfactory comfort of others before making their decision).
- Tiny tub Clinique SPF moisturiser and travel mascara (obviously totally unnecessary, but worthwhile luxuries for those who can no longer afford to get their eyelashes tinted regularly and who have an aversion to having a leather face).
- Arnica oil decanted into a little travel container (completely awesome for a daily leg massage).
- Spare contact lenses and liquid and pair spectacles (for those with mole-like eyesight)
- Bag for all of these things

Drugs:
- Poo stoppers and anti-bacterials (I had a combination The Travel Doctor gave me)
- Anti-nausea drugs (didn’t have any but REALLY wished that I did)
- Water purification tablets (cheap to buy in Nepal). You can buy boiled water pretty much everywhere, which should be safe to drink, but I prefer to be doubly sure and also use purification tablets. The tablets themselves (like iodine) are ineffective in nuking cryptosporidium, which can however be fixed by keeping water at a rolling boil for a minute. Buying bottled water is environmental vandalism and not actually possible at high altitude.
- Diamox. I didn’t bring any, but it is an option. I suffered mild altitude sickness – headache and nausea – at 4000 metres but acclimatised within six hours. I also saw a very buff and fit guy vomit all over himself and pass out at 2855 metres. Contrary to the immovable belief of my challenging fellow trekker, his fruit salad had little to do with his blacking out and you most definitely can be adversely effected at any altitude over 2000 metres. Dehydration, alcohol and exertion make it worse.

Clothes:
It is seriously rude to bare your shoulders and legs in Nepal (this goes for men and women). It is also unnecessary – long lightweight trousers and a t.shirt or shirt will provide you with sun protection and are reasonably cool on hot days. In terms of technical performance, generally speaking, cotton is rotten. It is heavy and when wet it is bloody cold. Wool, silk and that magic quick dry stuff is what you want.
- Four pairs woollen socks (this is excessive but guess who had warm dry feet everyday?)
- Two pairs ice breaker long johns and one top (I meant to bring two tops). One set is probably enough but it is quite reassuring to have a clean dry set for sleeping and emergencies.
- Three pairs lacy underwear (they dry quickly) and one pair boring black briefs to wear with a t.shirt for the soak in the hot springs. You really should wear long tights but there are limits to my cultural sensitivity: at least I wasn’t in a thong bikini like the Germans. Gentlemen may prefer fewer pairs of underwear, with greater coverage.
- Two singlet tops with built-in bras (I wore the ice breaker top over these everyday). Gentlemen and sweaty ladies may prefer t.shirts or quick dry shirts.
- Long sleeved, lightweight sun shirt – preferably silk as that can also provide warmth in a layering system on other days, as necessary. I didn’t have one and wished I did on the last few hot days, I would quite like to get one made with excessively long arms that can also provide sun protection for the hands.
- Sun Hat. I forgot to bring a sunhat. I am a moron. A cap style hat or visor in combination with a wide light scarf for the head and neck is what I would recommend: rock that Lawrence of Arabia look.
- Pair of quick dry trousers (you could bring a spare pair but I don’t think it’s really necessary)
- Wool jumper
- Down jacket
- Wooly hat
- Warm gloves
- Waterproof mittens (or just one pair of waterproof gloves – I prefer the combo as I don’t appear to have any circulation to my fingers)
- Rain jacket
- Buff style (the loop thing) wool scarf – awesome for sunshade, warmth etc etc
- Silk robe (preferably calf length but anything over the knee is ok) and decent/thickish cotton hand towel. This combination is HIGHLY recommended. Much easier than trying to get changed in the fairly icky and wet bathrooms or carrying a towel that is big enough to provide even a modicum of modesty.
- Flip flops for the bathroom and evenings
- Warm Japanese style socks (with the separate big toe so you can wear them comfortably with flip flops). I didn’t have these – I had down hut booties which were completely awesome but also completely unnecessary. Japanese socks are much smaller and you don’t have to keep swapping to flip flops to visit the toilet.
- Loose trousers or skirt for the evenings. I brought a pair of cotton harem style pants for $1.70 in Kathmandu and wore them over the top of clean long johns. These are particularly unflattering and break my-non cotton rule…but come on…$1.70!

Annapurna Base Camp Trek

Posted on April 4, 2014

I had a couple of weeks to spare in Nepal before my yoga class started and so decided to go on a trek. The yoga course is in Pokhara, making trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area the easiest option. I decided to go with an organised group for a few reasons. Foremost of these is that I am a lazy sod and found the idea of someone else carrying my sleeping bag and spare clothes extremely appealing. This is especially so as our GR20 trip is coming up and I thought it would be a good idea to get in a bit of leg strengthening hill climbing without an injury inducing heavy pack. I was also pretty keen to hang out with some Nepalese women and some friendly other trekkers. I was also a bit concerned about my route finding ability and had general woman-walking-alone type concerns.

In retrospect, the chance to spend some time and have fun with the guides and assistants was the main advantage of this approach. They were absolutely lovely and I learnt a lot about socio-cultural-gender related stuff from them as well as a smattering of Nepalese. I also quite liked having someone hold my hair back for me while I vomited my guts up for days on end. At the other end of the spectrum, the only other trekker in my group had what is politely termed a ‘challenging personality’ and had I been alone, I would have adjusted my itinerary accordingly.

In relation to my other reasons for having a guide and porters: the route finding was incredibly simple (although bad conditions in the snow could conceivably make this more challenging), I would have no particular safety concerns about walking by myself in these areas and the terrain wasn’t difficult enough to justify not carrying my own pack. In terms of general safety you’re very rarely actually alone, there is always someone just ahead or behind you, but of course normal precautions apply. General mountain safety awareness is required (i.e. don’t linger when crossing avalanches!) and on the snow days it would be sensible to tag along with some other people. Unless you don’t like asking for weather and other local advice as you go or you have a guide who is competent in mountain rescue (almost none of the trekking guides are and they don’t carry ropes or anything likely to be particularly helpful in fishing you out of an ice crevasse) there is no real safety advantage. Having said that, it was absolutely delightful to have someone holding out a helping hand whenever it could conceivably be needed. I carried the porter’s packs for an hour or so each day (which included their stuff as well as mine) for the purposes of getting a bit more of a workout on the walk. I could definitely have managed my own pack for the full trek. On the other hand, it was really quite delightful to not have to: even after a six hour day of steep walking I felt fine. A quick DIY massage each night prevented much in the way of lingering stiffness and I had no actual soreness at all. Of course, for the masochists out there (I am looking at you Roboslov), this kind of comfort is a disadvantage. You kind can carry some extra bricks in your pack if it makes you happy.

It was also good to know that I was providing relatively easy and well remunerated work in a country where people (women especially) usually get paid very little for often difficult or, indeed, dangerous work.

I tipped about 15% of the cost of the trek and even split three ways that alone is about the same as a rural primary school teacher gets paid in a month or a cleaner gets paid in about 50 days. Note that tipping in Nepal is more of less the same as in Australia – as in, you don’t need to and it’s not really expected. But it is a nice thing to do you when you get exceptional service.

On our first day we squashed into a jeep for the drive to Nayapul. I celebrated our departure with a pre-drive vomit followed by a celebratory arrival vomit. An auspicious beginning. I was profoundly grateful to only be carrying my day pack and that it was only a short (four hour walk) to our guest house. However, had I been well, this would have been an overly short day of walking as were a number of other days on our trek. Our schedule allowed for a day or so of ‘harder’ walking followed by short easy days. I personally prefer longer/harder days followed by total rest days but of course, everyone is different.

We traipsed through very pretty terraced farmland complete with lazy buffalo and nonchalant cows. I celebrated our arrival in the village of Hille in my traditional manner and then watched a thrilling hail storm from the comfort of my bed. My guide was very kind and sympathetic and delightfully mothering. Dinner was a non-event.

The following morning I had some plain pancakes and then promptly regurgitated them. This was followed by the allegedly fool proof folk remedy of a cup of Coca Cola with salt, administered by my ever watchful guide. I felt a surprisingly improvement thereafter.

The way to Ghorepani was paved with an unbelievable number of stone stairs. These were quite beautifully and carefully crafted and there were stone resting benches every so often in turns in the path. Incredibly, these stone paths and stairs more or less continued all the way to the snow line – six days ahead. Apparently each village is responsible for their section and intermittently everyone gets out to make necessary repairs. After a few hours of walking I had a lunch consisting of three small boiled potatoes. This was possibly the best meal I have ever had.

In terms of ongoing nutrition, despite finickity eating, obsessive soap hand washing and liberal applications of hand sanitiser, I estimate that about one in four meals on the first week of the trek stayed inside my body long enough to provide any kind of sustenance. Nevertheless, by drinking a minimum of three litres of water per day (plus ginger tea, gastrolight and the occasional dose of coke and salt) I quite easily managed to keep going. I might have been in a bit of a pickle if it had gone on much longer than a week though. Most guest houses had more of less the same menu: pancakes, porridge or eggs for breakfast and then noodles, soups, sad pastas and dhal bhat for dinner. Dhal bhat is of course the Nepalese national dish, combining a dhal soup and bhat (rice) with a bit of vegetable curry and some spicy pickle. I have eaten quite a lot of it now, in towns, guest hoses, home stays etc and can say that while almost inevitably tasty, it is never truly delicious. It’s just kind of too bland and texturally boring: even when it is ‘spicy’ it’s just chilli-hot, not many-spices-that-combine-to-make-your-mouth-melt-in-ecstasy hot. On the other hand, if you are ever going to order a plate of boiled vegetables, this is the place. No matter what the vegetable combination, it is always cooked to perfection and the vegetables themselves are pow! boom! type fresh and flavoursome.

The afternoon’s walking was in the blooming rhododendron forests. I had read about these and in my mind’s eye they were going to be scenes of particularly large rhododendron bushes, crowding onto the path. No. They were actual trees, not bushes, and they were HUGE. As in, really very big for trees, let alone the bushes I was expecting. The flowers were concentrated on the top of the canopy, with a few dripping down on railing branches. Fortunately, due to the steepness of the terrain, you could really enjoy the dazzling pink and red flowers in the canopy. I loved it.

The Ghorepani guest house was quite comfortable and had a wood heater in the dinning room. I had an enjoyable chat with some Dutch girls and with one of the assistants who was delighted to find that her guide husband was at the same guest house with his tour group.

All of the guest houses were basic but comfortable. Until the snow line many of them had dazzling displays of garden flowers. In little gardens or squashed into every probable (and improbable) container you were greeted by bright pink and red geraniums, amber marigolds, red lilies, roses of every imaginable colour, occasional flamboyant orchids and hydrangeas just coming into leaf. The bedrooms were fairly austere: the norm was a small cell-like room with two beds with firm foam mattresses and a pillow each. Blankets were supplied as necessary. All were reasonably clean and all lacked sufficient hanging hooks. Some alleviated the prison vibe with walls painted Miss Piggie pink or a rainbow of other happy hues. These were, predictably enough, my favourites. Most guest houses had a toilet room with a squat toilet (occasionally a western style one) and a shower room with some kind of warmish bathing option. All were supporting various interesting life forms (ranging from ordinary grouting mould to mushrooms, lizards and a very bright green lichen) and flip flops were essential. Probably best not to look to closely if you are squeamish about these sorts of things: although I know a certain Tasmanian who would have been fascinated by it all.

Early the next morning we set out to climb Poon Hill, aiming to arrive in time to see the sunrise. The view as the sun gradually lit up the mountains was absolutely magnificent. The Climber would have hated sharing it with the zillion brightly jacketed other tourists but I quite enjoyed the party atmosphere as well as the tea station at the top. I’ll confess though that I would have happily swapped both the tourists and the tea for a snuggle in my Climber’s awkwardly huge puffer jacket.

On the way down the hill I saw a number of hugely tall blooming magnolias as well as some more flower drenched rhododendrons. These both continued intermittently all the way to Tadapani and provided a delicious thrill every time I saw one. The walk took us along a ridge for some time that provided quite inspiring views of the snow capped himals. On the ridge I had a chat with a rather overweight American who was seriously struggling up the comparatively easy incline. At a guess I’d say he was carrying about 30-40 extra kilos. He was sweating like an oinker and huffing and puffing with every step. Even given height and build differences, I figure the extra effort would be the same as me carrying a 25 kilo pack but without the fun of taking the damn thing off at the end of the day. He said that his Himalayan exercise regime: (insert broad American drawl) “Sure beats the stairmaster at the gym”. He had an insanely happy grin on his face. I thought he was pretty awesome.

I was sick again in the evening but this was made up for with the most incredible breakfast view you can imagine (and a quite tasty pancake). The ice cream mountains put a bouncy skip in my step from the moment I got out of bed. On the way to Chomrong through the mossy forest we saw a tiny little grey bird with an enormous crest, yellow fantails, a pompous looking black and white woodpecker, a very attractive electric blue bird and a gorgeous red and green warbler.

Somewhat incredibly we also passed a number of yaks – including some calves!

They are very rarely kept at such low altitude and were a delightful surprise. We walked along the rushing river for some time, until it slowed and spread. Here, stone cairns had been built all across the water as memorials. Resuming our walk, the air became progressively heavier with water until at last the rain and tiny hail began. It was quite refreshing, in its way.

Over dinner I chatted again with our team as well as the Dutch girls (their contingent having shrunk due to injury and illness to just two), a delightful older couple from the USA and a rather opinionated Brazilian whose lobe stretching earrings were a target of uncontrolled curiosity among the Nepalese. At this altitude (2170 metres) it was quite chilly at night and the unheated guest houses are quite cool (only a few degrees warmer than outside). The North Americans and Northern Europeans seemed to suffer the most and complained of aching cold. It turns out that a childhood and university years in Canberra (home of cool weather, crappy building standards and completely useless/non existent heating systems) gives one comparative super-powers of indoor cold weather endurance. Pro tip: there is nothing wrong with wearing two sets of thermals, downie, beanie and gloves to the dinner table.

The next day we walked through gorgeous bamboo forests on the way to the aptly named village of Bamboo, where we rested for lunch. We crossed a few very scenic swinging bridges (fortunately, many of them very new and reasonably confidence inspiring) and from one I saw the electric blue bird again (the females are black). From a hill I also spotted the smaller (and brighter blue) sapphire flycatcher hopping around in some trees. We spent the night in Dovan where the Dutch girls were warned by an elderly compatriot of fresh avalanches before the Base Camp. Great.

By day six we had more or less become one group (with the Dutch girls and their guide) which made for quite fun walking. We were all quickly named by Miss Monkey (one of the assistants) and Donkey, Butterfly, Chicken and Mieow (guess who that was!?) enjoyed lots of singing, laughing and shouting on our short walk to Durali. We passed through dripping green forests and crossed in front of some beautiful and faintly Scottish waterfalls just before the village. That night we had a completely unsafe gas heater under our dining table (basically just a massive open cooking flame) and played Uno, ‘less than five’ at cards and the ever-popular spoon game.

The next morning we began the ascent to Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC). There were some gorgeous mountain views as we started and the river we crossed was breathtakingly beautiful. The snow was thick on the ground and the dark bamboo against the white of the snow was particularly striking. It was quite icy underfoot to begin with and I appreciated not having to carry a heavy pack and the availability of a helping hand and a giggle whenever I wanted it. We quickly crossed a few avalanche fields and stopped for a long lunch and incredible views in the sunshine at MBC. While we were there we heard the awful crack and boom of an avalanche somewhere in the distance. A hundred winged prayers must have gone skywards with that sound.

By the end of lunch I had a pulsing headache from the bright snow, and or the altitude. Nevertheless, after some discussion, we decided to head upwards to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). Note: this was fairly stupid. As the saying goes “never take a headache higher”. If I had been by myself I would have stayed the night at MBC, just to be on the safe side, and added a day to my trip. By the time we had walked up in the snow to ABC I felt wretched. I’ve never walked more than a few feet in snow before and it took a while to get used to it – my flailing around used up a lot more energy than necessary and my headache now also included some fairly acute nausea. On the upside, we walked into the cloud, which was a seriously eerie, strange and amazing experience. The snow muffles any surrounding sound and all you can see are your feet and white all around and above and through you. It would be terrifying without an obvious path.

The welcome sign to ABC rather unexpectedly popped up at us out of the cloud and we gratefully made our way to the guest house. Neither my headache or nausea were improved by the evil smelling open gas heaters in the dining room but luckily, by the time it was getting dark, I felt quite a bit better and felt reasonably happy about my decision to not turn around and walk back down. By morning I felt fine but the headache returned after spending the morning out in the snow watching the incredible sunrise. El cheapo sunglasses clearly need replacing with something a bit more protective.

But wow, it was beautiful. The folds of the mountains mean that ABC feels like it is laying in a little hollow completely surrounded by the soaring mountains. You really understand what they mean about mountains being the cathedrals of nature. Completely awe inspiring.

View from Annapurna Base Camp

View from Annapurna Base Camp

Before breakfast I had time for two hours or so of enraptured gazing and happy snapping as the light crept over the mountain tops and the soft blues and pinks and greys of grainy dawn were blazed by illuminating fingers of dazzling white. I also spent a serene and uplifting half hour meditating on my own perfectly placed and sun warmed stone in a sea of snow.

It was magical.

Having finally acclimatised, I would have preferred to have spent another night at ABC for the opportunity just to indulge in a bit more mountain gazing, snow yoga and meditation.

Nevertheless, the walk back down to MBC was really enjoyable. It was a perfectly blue morning and while the mountains gloried in the sun we threw snowballs and made snow angels and skied in our shoes and laughed and giggled and generally had a fabulous time. We paused for a cup of tea at MBC before continuing towards Deurali.

On crossing the avalanche field we had some problems with the challenging personality in our group who refused to follow the well trodden path and instead tried to cross on a path of her own design. Don’t do this. Only our frantic waving prevented her tumbling over an ice cliff and it seriously slowed down our crossing. The necessity for speed was amply illustrated when I looked upwards to see snow and rock starting to fall towards us. I would like to have helpfully shouted ‘Avalanche!’ at this point but the less articulate ‘Faaaaarkallllaaanche!!!!!!’ came out in a strangled scream. Fortunately, combined with my horrified expression and pointing finger, this was more than enough to motivate our group into a swift trot and, pausing once there was no more snow above me (falling or otherwise) I saw that the avalanche was thankfully only very small and that we should all be quite safe. The now frenzied challenging one raced past me shouting ‘be smart! don’t stop for them!’. Nothing uplifts the soul quite like the beauty of human charity.

Between Durali and Dovan there was a significant new avalanche fall – perhaps the one we had heard the afternoon previously. The many porters and trekkers who make the passing each day had already made a good pathway and we scooted across as quickly as was safely possible. I shiver to imagine being the first person to edge across.

We paused to enjoy a snug lunch as the rain fell outside and the resumed walk in the light hail was again quite enjoyable in its own way (I fully appreciated my rain jacket and change of socks though!). The bamboo forest was even prettier than it seemed on the way up and we delighted in the fecund dripping green, the slanting sunlight, bird calls and occasional butterflies. We walked right under a family of gambolling monkeys (Grey Rangurs perhaps?) which, for monkeys, were quite cute.

Actually, cuteness is one of several reasons (the others being less crowding and more flowers) to visit Nepal in March rather than the true high season (October). March is the Himalayan spring and we must have encountered hundreds of incredibly cute baby animals: tiny chicks, puppies, goat kids, buffalo, cattle and yak calves, foals but, sadly, no kittens.

The next day’s walk to Jhinudanda was very hot and I cleverly remembered to apply sunscreen on my face, neck and hands. Pity I neglected my wrists, which were pink for several days afterwards. We passed many porters who were carrying quite insane loads – weighing as much as or even more than the porters themselves. Apparently most of these were in aid of camping trips for tourists. One older man I met at a rest stop had a huge dent in his head from years of carrying these ridiculous loads. If you couldn’t happily carry it on the flat I don’t think you should be asking someone to carry it uphill, especially when you are paying next to nothing.

From Jhinudana those with animal names walked down to the hot springs. On the way we passed some absolutely luscious white orchids, dripping from trees and rocks. It was delightful to relax enjoy the view of the river and it’s huge smooth boulders and white tumbling water from the comfort of the warm baths. The mouthful of rum and coke was also surprisingly enjoyable. After a good long soak we walked back up, spotting more orchids, a jungle fowl and a few quail.

Dinner was tasty and involved being mesmerised by Indian T.V soaps. I could so easily become addicted.

Day ten of our walk dawned bright and sunny and I draped all available scraps of fabric across my pink wrists and over my head. We left the Dutch girls at a fork in the road, as they turned down towards their lift to Pokhara. We ambled on, stopping at all the shady places, rising up through terraced farms. At one point we came across a perfect ferny gully – cool and shady and green. We were also lucky enough to spot a couple of Ospreys circling quite low. I wouldn’t want to be the mouse they were hunting.

Our guesthouse in Ghandruk was comparatively fancy (I got a towel!) and after lunch there we visited the local museum and I hugely enjoyed dressing up in traditional Garung costume (lots of draped red fabrics and huge jewellery) and having a dance. $1.15 well spent. We also walked to see the old end of the village. The houses are absolutely gorgeous – wattle and daub style with beautifully carved wooden windows and roof trusses and slate tile roofs. There is a steep hill behind the village as as you climb it there is a spectacular view of the village and, on a clear day, of the mountains. It is also an ideal place to play mimic games with the ant sized girls in the village: try not to tumble down the stairs while attempting a triangle pose.

The next day’s walk to Landruk was steep down to the river crossing and then equally steep back up the other side. Fortunately we were in delightful green shade for almost all of this and it made for a very pleasant morning. The afternoon was not nearly as enjoyable as a road has recently been put through most of the way to Tolka. Obviously, this development is very helpful for local residents (jeeps and tractors can now access the whole area) but walking for hours on a dusty unshaded road in the midday sun just isn’t that much fun, no matter how hard you concentrate on enjoying the scenery.

Eventually we stepped off the road into the cool delicious Eden of the forest and the well remembered stone paths took us to Tolka and an afternoon on the lawn with tea and card games.

As it was our last night I treated myself to two pots of Masala tea and we shared the end of my chocolate supply. Living it large!

On our final morning there was a steep but slow walk down through the farmland to Phedi and a short drive to Pokhara. I spent an afternoon luxuriating in the comforts of civilisation (taking my clothes to the laundromat and ordering a birthday cake for Butterfly – told you I live large) before a very tasty final dinner with the group.

Overall, I hugely enjoyed the experience and can’t recommend hiking in the area highly enough. The scenery is absolutely magnificent and the trails easy to find and well maintained. There are comfortable guest houses along the whole route and the cheap, tasty and nutritious restaurant food means that, unless you are on a very tight budget, you don’t have to carry anything except your water, sleeping bag, clothes and personal items. Being in a group meant that I had a very comfortable and easy introduction to the region and I really did value the time spent with my lovely guide and assistants. However, if I knew earlier what I know now about the low level of physical and cultural difficulty of the trek, I would have preferred to spend a few days having Nepali lessons with a female tutor in lazy Pokhara and then to have done the trek by myself, hooking up with other independent groups for the snow days. Although I am very lazy, I’m not quite lazy enough to enjoy not carrying a pack and having arrangements made for me more than I enjoy the feeling of satisfaction and the freedom you get from walking independently.

Climbing Chulilla

Posted on March 17, 2014

Chulilla is about 45 minutes inland from Valencia and boasts a gorgeous canyon, picturesque white washed village, hill top castle ruins and (of course, or why would we go?) awesome sport climbing. We drove down from Mother’s Garden to meet up with a robotics obsessed Slovenian (Roboslov?).

Nobody seems to mind the gaggle of VW’s parked up from the village for days on end, which allows for a very cheap stay (toilets and wifi can be found in the cafe in the village). The canyon is very beautiful, tall pink red walls dipping down into the creator river – clear and clean and cold. We were there just as the rosemary and wild irises were coming into flower.

Climbing-wise there is heaps of hard (6b – 8c+) climbing. There is one little crag at the far end of the canyon for the lower level climber. It is a perfect spot, just on the river. I would have enjoyed it if it had been a little less garden-y and if I had been in the mood. I’d like to go again and just do some walking. Anyway, some happy snaps are below for your perusal…

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