Saturday, April 18, 2009

yet another shieling

So I still don’t know how they do it. I weighed every item of clothing and equipment I have and I still can’t get my rucksack down to below 12 kg. Either people have a lot of money to spend on ultralight equipment or else there’s a lot of unprepared people walking around out there.
We set off to reach the bump, casteluzzo for a boy’s night out, going the easy way; two hours along rather than two and a half hours up but after an hour’s walking we came to the fist steep gully only to be faced with a fifteen meter expanse of six foot deep ice and snow with the fast flowing stream running under it. This was the same gully we saw the avalanche shoot down a couple of weeks ago and it was full of rocks and loose stones. For half an hour under a persistent rain we probed and prodded the snow and shimmied up and down the rocks at the side of the gully to find an alternative way across and eventually decided to abandon the trip. It didn’t seem worth the risk without a rope especially as the snow was too steep to be stable and could have been hollow underneath right across. So remembering the film touching the void and feeling terribly wimpish we started off back to the car, By this time of course the rain had turned to hail, or snail or pellet snow as I call it, a sort of annoying half-way state between hail and snow which hit you like a hail stone and melted quickly like snow but even so we decided rather than go home, to try the north side of the mountain if there wasn’t too much snow and find a spot there to camp. Actually it turned out to be a better idea as just the spot came to mind. Just the same height as our original destination (1,300m/4,279ft), just as dramatic but only an hour and a half walk. Why suffer if you can avoid it I say.

The last time I had done this walk it was late summer and I had to hunt around for 20 minutes to find the path in amongst the rhododendron and raspberry bushes but after the winter’s snow everything was flattened and the path was easy to find. There was still quite a lot of snow about but nothing particularly thick. We reached the place without much of a struggle; an east-facing shieling on the edge of a sheer drop with fantastic views of the valley below and the mountains edging the flatlands. As with most of these shielings it was falling to pieces. One date stone showed 1761 which might explain it. Although it had stopped raining on the way the weather was closing in fast and we tried to find a reasonably flat piece of ground to pitch the tents. There wasn’t much to choose from so we pitched in front of the houses underneath a cherry tree. Massimo sloping sideways and me sloping lengthways. Actually this was probably the most comfortable night to date as the grass was spongy and the seasonal rock migrations were obviously over.
Having got rid of our 12 kg rucksacks we went for an easy stroll on round the mountain to the next gully which was also blocked by snow. A whole new world for me to explore this summer opened up before us, but talk about bleak. Now I can’t wait till the snow melts.

Back at camp we broke a few rotten branches off the cherry trees and split some logs we found in one of the houses and soon got a fire going. Coincidentally we both brought noodles to eat. I imported a curry pot-noodle from England which was a-mazing and Max brought co-op chicken noodles so we mixed the whole lot up together and ate with relish. There’s nothing like cruddy food outdoors. We’d brought a camping gas stove just in case the fire risk was too great (ha! Some hope) and by the time the food was ready it was of course sleeting and the temperature had plummeted, our breath coming out in plumes and feet wet and cold. For a while the only sound to be heard over the wind and sleet were grunts of appreciation and slurps.

We had also brought up flour and water so we made a damper (well I think that’s what you call it) and toasted some salami on a stick over the fire wrapping the juicy slices in the crispy-soft bread and feeling our stomachs tightening happily.

As we, or rather as I, stood huddled round the fire we could see the slopes on the other side of the valley were beginning to turn grey with snow and it didn’t look promising for us either. But nothing much seemed to be coming our way, just the icy wind coming down off the mountain behind us and the loud rumble of an avalanche somewhere on the mountain above.

It was quite interesting to see the different weather conditions around us. There was a westerly wind and hail where we were, snow on the other side of the valley being driven southwards, thunderstorms and lightening (very very frightening mamma mia mamma mia….) on the flatlands going east and clear skies further out on the plains. We though about taking shelter but none of the buildings were safe to shelter in because of the rotten beams so after a gaze or two out over the stormy landscape we were in bed by 8. 30 and naturally, I had forgotten my book.

As I lay listening to the wind battering the tent, and remembering the hundreds of trees we had seen blown down along the way, I regretted pitching so close to a tree. When the thunder and lightening started I regretted it even more but as the hail turned to snow there was no way I was getting out to find somewhere else. If I got squished or frazzled tonight it would be destiny.

The moon didn’t rise until early morning but even so it was quite light out, probably because of the whiteness of the snow. At a certain point there was a roe deer or a chamois just behind the tents barking like mad. I’ve never heard a chamois bark before and don’t really know if they do bark but it didn’t sound like a roe deer. Just before or just after some animal was snuffling round the tent, it started to snow like mad; huge great flapjack-sized flakes making pattering-sliding noises on the tent. I closed the fly which I loathe doing and slept like a log until the bloody alarm clock on my phone went off at 06.30. Bugrit!

Expert outdoorsman that I am I had forgotten to tuck the groundsheet in under the tent fly and the rain had run down it under my body and when I got out to go for a widdle the whole of the bottom of the tent was wet and the end of my sleeping bag where the water had collected was sopping. I’ll never make that mistake again. Mind you on a positive note it was still warm as toast in the bag and there was no snow on the ground.

Breakfast was another mistake. I love drinking chocolate, especially mint flavour but mint chocolate for breakfast is not the best thing I have ever tasted. Great in the evening, superb even in the evening, but at brekker - ‘could be improved on’,

Then as the clouds rolled in again and it started to drizzle we packed up quickly and set off for home. As always seems to happen the further we got towards civilisation the better the weather and the walk along the track to the house after max had dropped me off was in bright, warm sunshine. Such is life.

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