Monday, May 18, 2009

slogging it

What an amazing day. I thought I’d try the old path up from the gardetta shieling to the top of the mountain in the hope of connecting it with the path coming over the top from the other side. Everyone I asked said it was tough going even though I have not actually met anyone yet who has been up there. All hearsay. As afternoon storms had been forecast (wrong again) with bright sunshine in the morning (wrong again) and not wishing to be either struck by lightening or baked I was up at 04.15 and on the track, courtesy of a sleepy wife, at 06.00.

The first hour and a half up to the sheiling, though magnificently beautiful, is a bit samey; climbing up a dirt track which winds up through some stunning birch and beech woodland with green grass carpet and mossy rocks and alive with birdlife. Further entertainment was ensured by daft as brush dog who kept chasing the roe deer and even one jocular boar but with no hope of catching any of them. Keeps you on your toes though because you never know from which direction she is going to flush them from.

It’s nice to wander through woods in the early morning. I like woods. I especially like beech woods because, living in chestnut woods as I do, I find myself warming to any tree that doesn’t have thorns, spines and stings. But from time to time I come across a wood or a patch of trees that I don’t like. And the path up from the sheiling I don’t like. It starts to climb steeply through some of the eeriest and most unwelcoming beech woods I have ever experienced. Totally beautiful like something out of a fairytale but full of goblins. Believe me I was really glad to get out above the tree line.

I had seen the path leading out of the tree line up to the ridge with binoculars from the site where the rock carvings are and it looked amazingly difficult confirming the warning of those I had spoken to on the matter but it just turned out to be amazingly tiring and not technical in the slightest. It was a demanding climb though, steep, wet rock, fog, no markers or paint marks or cairns but it wasn’t difficult to find the way as the track was obviously once well used and the whole lot, apart from the bits which had been washed away, had been laid and there were even steps in some parts. All in all though, apart from the steepness it was a great walk and I will be recommending it to the walking guests at the B&B.

I’d just stopped for a breather half way up to the extremely narrow ridge when a chamois appeared on the horizon. It had spied my dog and seemed to be challenging it. It was a huge shaggy no-nonsense male. I managed to get a few photos before it sauntered off as I moved.

When I got to where the chamois had been, thinking I was nearly at the top, I nearly fainted. The path continued steeply down to a stream and then seemingly almost vertically went up again next to the stream and disappeared. My resolve faltered.

But after almost three hours of constant climbing I wasn’t going to get beaten now. So I set off to try it out and as it happened, again, it wasn’t as steep as it looked. After crossing the stream with some difficulty the path got harder to find. You just abandoned hope of being on it and about to turn round and go back (being the wiser option) and suddenly a faded almost indistinguishable red and white paint mark appeared out of the mist encouraging you: ‘come on, keep going, get lost’. And on I went. Unfortunately perhaps, being me, I don’t give up. I’m like this with arguments too. I just keep going. So I kept climbing through featureless moorland and worsening cloud until I reached snow; patches first then serious stuff.

On the top of the mountain there is a huge mobile phone repeater which though a monstrosity is quite useful for navigation purposes. Being so close to the top I really wanted to take a bearing from the repeater to the track I had just come up in order to be able to ensure walkers find the path down when I send them up from the other side, so I kept going. Plodding over beautifully smooth packed snow at 6,400 feet odd in just a t-shirt (I had lot of stuff with me) was amazing. I expected ski and snowshoe tracks up there but there were none, just pure white snow. Lovely. But there was a lesson to be learnt. Never overestimate your own capabilities and especially never underestimate the capacity of the gods to throw stuff your way for a bit of fun. So after 15 or 20 minutes slogging across the snow I had just pulled out the compass and taken the bearing I wanted when I turned round to see a flying ball of white fur racing towards me for protection followed by a HUGE black ball of boar fur also coming towards me though more trundling over the snow than actually racing or chasing. Just why is it that boar are always black? I mean, if they were pink or had fur like a dormouse for example they might not be so frightening and I will willingly confess I was momentarily frightened. Boar in the woods is one thing boar up here in the middle of a snow field quite another. I mean, what was it doing up there in the first place? Why me? Most people never get to see one but I seem to attract them. But like with all wildlife, they avoid us when they can and all you have to do to get rid of an animal is show it a camera and, perfectly on cue as soon as the motor whirred, it veered off and disappeared. I revived the dog with splashes of water.

But in the 20 seconds this had been taking place the fog had come down a little denser than before and I got to know first hand how bloody hard it is to keep you balance on a slope in a whiteout. You’d think that navigation would be the first problem but it isn’t; that comes second, you’ve got to keep upright first. It’s the oddest feeling of not being in control of your own body anymore. You know what you are doing but your brain isn’t having it. OK it was nothing serious, nothing like Amundsen or anything, but even so a slip on this sort of slope could bring interesting consequences and probably grass and heather burns too as you shot off the snow onto where there was no snow.

But never daunted I followed the compass down and off the snow. By this time the fog had really come down and it was getting really difficult to navigate. Fortunately I had marked the snow patches which dotted the expanse of pathless waste as I wended my way among them on the way up and managed with some difficulty to follow those until I got to the big one with an arrow saying ‘path’ whence I cut down across the heather attempting to retrace my steps. Isn’t it always the way that paths are easier to follow up hill in sunshine than they are down hill in the fog?! Why is that? I got lost. Up a bit, down a bit, back a bit, back a bit more, up a bit, sit down and wait for a gap in the fog.

When the gap did appear there were two girls way down on my intended luncheon outcrop below. I blew a kiss at the sky. ‘Coo-eee’ I wanted to cry, ‘can’t find the path, Hello-o. Res-cue!’. But as soon as they saw me they were off. Can’t blame them really. Wild, youthful fur-dressed guy, with long shaggy blond hair with spears and a shield? Enough to scare anyone.

But of course the path eventually materialised and I went down to where the girls had been for lunch almost getting run over by the same chamois as before as my small flat-topped wimpy dog vainly tried to catch a large horned ruminant with hooves and serious body mass.

While I was having lunch I noticed the strangest thing. There was a little wall banking up a grassy slope which was totally out of context and which, after investigation, was found to lead up a cleft in the rock, complete with steps, and then onto precisely nowhere. Well, it led to a stream really where the path stopped and it really was just like a gateway to another area. Very strange. It was sort of like another greener world, lighter, airier, devoid of fog and strangely peaceful. Tom’s midnight garden sort of sensation.

I had more or less decided that I would never do this slog again unless it was coming from over the top but I think this area deserves some attention and maybe a tent or two in the coming months. With all the swirling fog everywhere else the tranquillity and greenness of this area it was all very Conan Doylish. Oddly on Google Earth the area is covered in snow where no other snow exists. Ooh errr!

I wanted to explore but I thought I had challenged fate enough for one day and getting into difficulty OFF the track was just inviting trouble. So I called the wife on the phone and as she had a gig later in the afternoon either it was wait till four for a lift back from Steph or shoot down the mountain now in time for the wife to pick me up and express awe and admiration at my manly exploits. No contest really. So I never got to explore the lost world further.

I was quite amazed at myself physically and now I’m down I’m surprised at how tired I’m not. I’ve not got the best pair of lungs on me and I have a seriously inflamed tendon in my heel, a dicky knee and a dicky hip. Cannon shrapnel during the last cavalry charge don’t you know, or perhaps it’s just old age. I didn’t think I would get to the top let alone do a climb of 4000 feet in four hours and with a third of that on a uselessly winding road which has destroyed the more direct muletrack. It’s a personal achievement I am very happy about.


herneoakshield said...

What a wonderful account. I think you are definitely right to feel proud of your achievement it doesn't sound like a walk for the faint hearted but certainly one worth doing if you can. Lovely pictures too :)

Woozle said...

Thanks Herne. It ws certainly worth it. I spent too long in my life not being able to do this sort of stuff. now i can, i do and shamelessly enjoy every moment (well apart from the boar bits).

Nigel said...

Very descriptive. There's nothing better than getting out into the real world and experiencing life. I must get round to doing it more.