Walls of Jerusalem in snow 2017

Walls of Jerusalem in Snow. 19 August 2017

We have been to the Walls a few times in winter, in glorious snow, but never have we seen it as tantalisingly lovely as it was this time. We encountered snow well below Trappers Hut (which is normally our snowline), and were in a fairy-wonderland long before we reached that cute little rest point.

If you think that pack of his looks huge and I am a mean wife making him carry so much, please be reassured: my pack was much heavier than his, and I had the shared-type items for the two of us. I have taken huge measures to make myself stronger as he becomes weaker so we can both keep going.
My husband had indicated after last week’s successful foray into white wonder that he felt he was up to a weekend walk to the Walls, so we acted accordingly. However, Parkinson’s is a fickle disease: this week you can be fine (relatively speaking), yet next week, you’re distressingly downhill. This week was not a good week, and he struggled badly. The further we penetrated into the white wilderness, the less coordinated he became. His pace slowed to a virtual halt.

I got very embarrassed, as we were holding the others up dreadfully, so, at lunchtime, I regrettably pulled the pin and took us out, waving wanly as the others headed off to Herods Gates and where I wanted to be.

We began our path downhill, the weather making my decision easier to bear, as the clouds were amassing. My husband’s spirits picked up considerably as we descended, and we had a happy afternoon, figuring we’d managed to be in the beautiful snow for the best part of the day anyway. However, as we walked before lunch, I knew I was looking at my husband climbing in snow with a proper pack on his back for the last time. We have had many sad “last times” since his illness has taken control of him, but this is one of the worst, even though it is not unexpected. At least he can still do daywalks in the snow. For now.

Meetus Falls 2017

Meetus Falls 16 Aug 2017
It has been raining for ages. Where I park at the gorge, the water was so high that the huge skip garbage bins were floating, and my car was an island, out of which I had to leap in order to keep my feet dry. (Funny that no other people seemed to try this method of parking). Surely this was a great day to find the Lost Falls (that only flow under such conditions) and their nearby neighbour, the Meetus Falls.

Above are some beautiful cascades that are below the Meetus Falls proper, on the Cygnet river.
The Lost Falls were a lost cause (http://www.natureloverswalks.com/lost-falls/) – that is, we found them, but they lacked water. However, the Meetus Falls were flowing nicely. Tessa (dog) bagged both, as did my husband. And they both reached the river at the base of the falls. The path down had been very muddy and slippery – so much so that I led them on a quasi bushbash on the way up. It wasn’t really a bushbash, in that I followed what must be a path from yesteryear, still mostly discernible on the ground, and much easier than the route we were supposed to be on, which was mud with no catching points.

To reach these falls, drive to Campbell Town, and turn east along the Lake Leake Road. Continue on past Lake Leake (and Lake Road that leads to it), and past Kalangadoo – the petrol station cum general store further along on that road – until you come to a huge intersection with traffic islands to each side. For Lost Falls, turn right and drive “4 kms” to their turnoff proper (see the blog on Lost Falls for exact details). For Meetus Falls, turn left (north) and drive 11 kms. A turnoff will then direct you right to the falls. At one stage in the final section there is a Y-fork with no signs. I chose right (see map below) and found the falls. On the return, when heading back to the Lake Leake Road, I came upon another unsigned Y-intersection which presented me with a choice I didn’t feel like making. I chose left and found the highway, but kept wondering if I should have taken the other alternative. I was very pleased to find the traffic island and advisory hut that signalled the approaching major road. I was starving by this stage, and didn’t feel like being delayed by error.
Lunch at Zeps was as delicious as ever, and made more so by my extreme hunger.

Just for your interest, the path going down (the more northerly section of the circuit I made) is the official one. The more southerly part was, firstly, me getting a better view, and then us going straight back up rather than re-using the mudslide. The conditions were far too slippery for me to attempt a traverse over the rocks to the actual base of the falls. Another day, a different pair of boots.


France. 2017. A repeat of the GR5 from Chamonix, heading south.

Now that my husband’s condition is worsening, I am restricted to four weeks in Europe, two of which I swallowed finishing the Wainwrights in England’s Lake District (http://www.natureloverswalks.com/lake-district-2017-1/). What delightful place should I choose for my other two weeks? Oh the agony of such a choice. France won out. I had walked the GR5 from Chamonix to Modane in 2015, and had been bitterly disappointed with my photos. I hadn’t brought the best lens, and had saved weight by not bringing a tripod. So stupid. Some weight savings are going too far. This time I was there to repeat this beautiful section of the walk, armed with better equipment. I had my lightweight, travel tripod (not nearly as sturdy as my home one, but much better than nothing); I left my stoppers behind, but had GND filters, remote shutter control and my favourite landscape lens (16-35mm).

I never mind repeating things I have done. The scenery is always different, the new weather offers alternate perspectives on a place. The exact lighting never reoccurs. My expectations and hopes for beauty were fulfilled. I must say, however, that it was not with the same feeling of freedom that I wandered.  All of a sudden, the mountains are becoming full of tour groups who fill up the huts and who don’t talk to independent walkers like me. On several occasions, I found myself the only “freedom walker” in the hut, and sat at table with people who talked and laughed amongst themselves, but didn’t want to meet or engage with an “outsider”. Fortunately, this didn’t happen in all the huts, but it is certainly a change in hut life that I do not welcome!

Some huts were so booked out with tours that I had to keep walking – on one day, ad infinitum, until I could find a hut that would accept me. When talking to the tour people, I did not meet one person who was actually carrying his or her own full pack, or who was walking the whole route. They are being offered dumbed down, attenuated versions of the route (buses for valley sections, transport vehicles to carry their luggage so they can dress up for dinner at night and not be burdened by their packs by day). These are not my kind of people, and we are not on the same pilgrimage, even when our paths do cross. Too many of them are ticking the “done that” box – Terry Eagleton’s “commodified experience”, whereby experiences are now for sale in our rapacious, grasping world where everything gains value only through its market price.

BUT, there are still some wonderful people to be met out there in the mountains. Let me tell you about two experiences, both begun on the same day, to furnish you with examples. The first was my meeting with Francois, with whom I had sat at table in the Refuge de la Valette. This had not been a pleasant refuge, despite its ideal location. It had been filled with screeching mobs of children who were using the beds as a gymnastic playground. I arrived exhausted after a big day, and needed a rest. I had to lie on a hard bench in the dining room to get some repose. I was not enjoying them. To make matters worse, after dinner, while shooting sunset, I had a bad fall that re-cracked my sternum – an old injury from four years ago. I was stunned that the fault line was still weak. Whenever I tried to use my arms, pushing or pulling, I was in agony, but had to have a top bunk to protect the children who had climbed up and were swinging from them in their spare time.

Next day, I has half an hour below the hut, and reached a flooded stream. The rocks were submerged and I hunted around for quite a while, trying to find a place where I could cross. I was feeling very vulnerable with no arms, and pain was tiring me. Along came Francois, and he helped me across. We walked along together for the next three hours, with him making sure that I had no trouble in the flooded sections. Eventually we parted. It was raining. He went down, and I turned my face to the Col d’Assois high above, my next goal.

I had now been going for three and a half hours without water. I wasn’t thirsty, but thought I should drink, and I also wanted to look at my map before I set out climbing. I saw a shepherd’s bothy ahead and hoped its awning might offer me a chance to both find a source of water and look at my map in shelter. Alas, it offered neither.

I had a tiny glug from a small stream nearby, but knew I shouldn’t. There were too many cows in the area. I was eyeing my bottle, telling myself not to be so stupid as to have another gulp when over the brow of the hill came three smiling, bouncing people: a woman, her husband and their grandchild. The woman, Chantal, offered me a cup of tea! Boiling, clean water. You bet. Not only did I get a cup of tea, but also two slices of heavenly, wicked (Hm. Do those two words go together? You  know what I mean) chocolate hazelnut cake. I was also offered lunch, but a look at the ever-worsening weather outside made me decline this generosity.

Off I set into the grey yonder, the clouds swirling, the col no longer visible, the rain now lashing down. The higher I went, the fiercer the wind became, so that near the top, I was being blown off the path. My memory of this col is that it has a long section up the top, which would act as a huge wind funnel in these conditions. I also remember that the other side had some sections where I would need to use my (now useless) arms. If I slipped and hurt myself in these conditions, no one would be there to rescue me. I’d die of hypothermia. The higher I climbed, the more aware I became of how silly it was to be up there alone when already injured. Eventually, I backed out. On the way down, I called in at the bothy to tell my friends I was safe, and retreating, and went on my way.

 The first place I had hoped to stay at didn’t seem to have accommodation on offer. The second said he was full. By the time I got to the third, I was fed up. I had now walked so far I was back in the realm of cars and a road. I decided to hitch to a village and stay at a hotel, away from screaming children and snorers, to have a thick towel and a warm shower, and space to myself. Truite aux amandes did not go astray either! Neither did a real breakfast the next day – muesli, fruit, cappuccino (even if it was French style. Call me biased, but no one on earth other than the Italians can go near to equalling Melbourne coffee, and every traveller I met who has tasted the latter agreed).

Now begins phase two of this amazing new friendship. I was walking down the street of Pralognan next morning, and I heard my name called. It was my friends. They wanted me to have lunch with them, but I was not interested in food (What??? Is this Louise writing? I should have smelled a rat). But I wanted to spend time with them, so sat with them while they ate. At the end, Chantal gave me her contact number. That afternoon, I popped myself in bed and had a sleep. (BIG rat now). That night I didn’t want dinner, and the next day I booked into the hotel for another day, and didn’t eat again. On the third day, I saw a doctor, who said I had a high fever and a throat infection, and gave me antibiotics. Perhaps it was the empty stomach? They made me feel quite sick.

At 4.20 a.m next day, I awoke, feeling more than woozy. I decided I needed a probio tablet (acts like yoghurt). I had it, but then felt really dizzy. The next thing I knew it was 5.30, and my bed felt strangely cold and hard. I was lying on the unforgiving tiles of the bathroom floor. The soreness of my skull told me I’d crash-landed face first on said floor. It just didn’t seem like a good time for calling people, and my wifi-only phone wasn’t working anyway (they kept changing the code during the night), so I just went back to bed. When real morning came, I texted Chantal to tell her what had happened. “I am in my car and on my way to collect you. There in one and a half hours”, came the immediate reply. She was going to drive three hours to collect a stranger and take her home!

The psychological effect of her coming was wonderful. I managed to eat some breakfast, and by the time she’d given me lunch, I was heaps better. I presume I’d passed out due to lack of blood sugar (a talent I have), and that’s still the way I see it. By the next day, I was swimming with the children, walking in the mountains with Chantal and Guy, and on my way to recovery. I only opted for a brain scan because it was now time to fly home, and I feared that if there was swelling on the brain as a result of my crash-landing, it could swell further during the flight, and that this could be bad in the confined space of a skull. (My face was swollen and black on the outside). I looked awful.

Chantal took me to the hospital. Not surprisingly, they found a pinprick of haemorrhaging inside as well as out, so wanted to keep me in hospital for a week. They succeeded in an unwilling overnighter. Next morning, I phoned Chantal using a doctor’s phone and asked her to rescue me again, which she did, of course. The doctor was not pleased, forecasting all manner of dire consequences if my condition worsened, but why would my head start bleeding again if I didn’t go crashing it against more tiles? I felt the danger was minimal, and insisted on my right to take risks with my own body, so ran off with Chantal, and spent the next two days having lovely long (but gentle) walks in the mountains with her and Guy, and having fun meals with the family before flying back home. Chantal is my guardian angel, and we have each found a friend for life.

ENGLAND Lake District 2017 Wainwrights Essay 1

England. Lake District. On completion of the Wainwrights (English Fells). Essay 1. June 2017.

I am striding purposefully towards Sergeant’s Crag. When I reach the summit, I’ll only have three fells left before I have completed all the Wainwrights, and one of these three lies just fifteen minutes beyond the one I’m about to reach. I’ve left the easiest peaks until last. Right now, however, I’m having trouble seeing the ground properly – not because of thick mist (quite often the case up here) but this time because my wretched eyes have teared up. I realise I’m feeling quite emotional about this completion business. I have been on a beautiful journey getting to know these mountains, and I don’t want it to end. To reach the end is like seeing a magnificent flower you have watched and tended since it was a stunning bud reach its fulness, knowing that from here on, a growth in beauty will be impossible. It is fulfilment, but it is also sad, filled with its own poignancy.

In the previous saddle, reached just before this story begins, I crossed paths with some walkers in quite a big “tourist” group of maybe a dozen or more. They were huffing and puffing as they laboured up towards the saddle I was merrily descending into, reliant on their leaders to guide them on their way. That saddle would be the high point of their day. Now, there is nothing wrong with this, and there is, in fact, a great deal of merit. Their confreres are possibly on a couch watching television at home. Nonetheless, hearing the puffing, and seeing their reaction to the fact that I had dropped to them out of a trackless wasteland (you’d think I’d popped in from the moon) and that I was eying up a route where I might make my way under some very steep cliffs to another saddle beyond – tricky, but I thought it was worth a try – I realised another aspect of this journey I have been on whilst completing these Wainwrights: namely, that my voyage is integrally tied to my love of freedom to go on whatever route I want, determining entirely my own direction and speed, and that that freedom which is my delight is entirely dependent on my ability to navigate confidently, and on my strength (relative to my diminutive size) and general agility in the mountains. Were I less confident, my journey would not have been the solitary one it has been.

As I headed towards Sergeant’s Crag on this “epiphany route”, a few more important observations brushed my consciousness:
(i) the extent to which this whole journey was not about “achieving” something, but rather about a relationship between me and these mountains. Moreover, every single one of them thus far had been done either solo or in the company of my husband with whom I am one (and who, being slower than I am, has followed me up when he’s been with me – maybe half the summits – giving me plenty of time to enjoy each top alone as I wait). This solo space at the heights has given me a special relationship to each mountain: it has been about a triad, viz., the mountain, Louise and infinite space; an experience of the sublime that is different for each mountain. I value each encounter.

(ii) the German phrase das Gehen ist das Ziel could be said to be a motto and description of my attitude to my journey. It is not about arriving, or completing; it is about the process and joy of getting there. I will soon have ticked all the boxes on a list, but I will not have completed my business with these mountains. My completion, such as it will be, will be like passing university entrance exams. I will have achieved the first phase in learning about these mountains, but by no means will that learning be complete. My knowledge of most is based on a single encounter. What sort of knowledge is that?

Every mountain you see in every photo of the Lakes District, I have climbed. You have no idea how satisfying that feels.
(iii) because the whole journey has been about a relationship and not about achieving something, but has been a celebration of my freedom and independence in the mountains, about delicious solitude and doing it myself, unaided, the very last thing I wanted to do, I realised suddenly, was to do my final mountain differently: that is, in the company of others. I wanted whatever emotion I experienced – and observation of my behaviour on this mountain suggested it would be teary rather than celebratory – to be mine alone and not shared with (very nice) strangers. It would be a spiritual time, and I wanted it to be quiet. Now, this was a problem, as, not knowing in advance how I would feel, I had responded positively to the suggestion by the fabulous David Purchase that I do the final climb with a group of special people he was gathering for the occasion. What an honour!! This seemed like such a lovely idea – it was. Only now did I see that my feelings had moved. I didn’t want chatter in my holy moment. I didn’t want other moods or expectations. I didn’t want to have to wait if these other people were slower, or, worse, be led up my own last mountain. I didn’t want my final fell to be any different from all the others.

And so, the most important thing I realised was that I was going to, intentionally, ruin my own party. I was going to do my final mountain today, two days earlier than expected. I would do it tonight, at sunset. I would have preferred dawn on the morrow, but already a forecast of several days’ heavy rain had been made (an excellent excuse for doing it early); today would be better. Then, if David would like, I could do a celebratory reenactment of the final climb with the others, or, if the rain performs as expected, we can skip the idea completely. I will be his servant, and most willingly.

That delicate red dot is Stephen Moore, who represented the UK in the World 100km championships several times, who holds the record for the most completed rounds of Wainwrights, and who came to my completion party. The two of us climbed High Spy together in a fabulous afternoon’s outing after my completion rather than reenacting my final climb. This was a more interesting option for both of us.
Believe it or not, I offer the final statistics:
214 summits. 211 summits experienced solo. 213 summits without rain on top – and I repeated that single erring summit, so can also say 214 without rain on the  summit (we won’t discuss the way up or down). I did have “grey-out” on a significant portion of tops; it’s hard to tell from the photos, but my guess would be at least half, if not more. I experienced very strong winds on several, but only one summit had me crawling to it (Hindscarth) and only one (Knott Rigg) had wind so strong that I had to snake my way on my belly for the final few metres for fear that I would otherwise find myself in the next county.

What do you do when THIS presents itself out the window during your celebration party? Do you leave your guests and be hideously rude and rush out with your camera, or stay demurely smiling, crying inside at the beauty you are not photographing? What I did (the rude option) is rather manifestly clear.

ENGLAND Lake District 2017 Wainwrights Essay 2

England Lake District
2017 Essay 2.
I have completed “climbing” all the Wainwrights: namely, fells, or what I mostly call mountains. What is  a Wainwright? The definition is operational: it is a fell or mountain that the late Alfred Wainwright immortalised in his wonderful series of ink drawings of what he considered to be the best Lakeland fells. There are 214 of them, published in seven delightful little books.

The Lake District is also, of course, about water as well as beautiful mounds.
I talk of “climbing” the Wainwrights. When I say this, do not picture me with a helmet, rope and carabiners, being belayed up or down a cliff. There were cliffs, indeed, and I chose that route for fun on several occasions, but never with fancy equipment. I use “climb” in the same sense that I say I climbed the stairs, or climbed a ladder to prune my trees. When Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music sang that we should climb every mountain, I don’t think she had ropes and helmets in mind (although, of course, I agree that we should).

Dawn from the Langdale Pikes (Harrison Stickle here). I was so excited to be in the Lakes (and in Europe) I got up at 4.10 on my first morning and climbed 6 mountains before breakfast.
And why do I refer to fells as mountains? Just because I’m Australian, and that is the name we automatically give to a terrestrial lump of a certain size. These English humps are no more or less mountains than Mt Amos, Mt Dove or many other shapes called mountain in my homeland. They are not as high as Mt Kosciusko, but the height difference between nearby base and top is actually, in many cases, more. The shape is also far more impressive. You would have real trouble trying to die on Kosciusko, but unfortunately, it has been proven to be more than possible to fall to your death on the fells. The cliffs have monster drops if you choose that approach. Things are as difficult or as easy as we choose to make them. I hope my choice of language doesn’t confuse. I am writing about England, but I write as an Australian. My relationship to the fells is necessarily tinctured by my own background. As Kant would tell you if you read his first Kritik, knowledge is gained in relationship to existing knowledge; stimuli received within the context of what our brain already contains.

And how do I feel about completion? Please forgive the circularity and intentional banality, but I feel very complete. Every peak on the list has been climbed. There is something beautifully neat and tidy about that (funny, as I am not, with regard, say, to my house, obsessively neat and tidy, but when it has to do with lists, I am). At university, I always read every book on a reading list; here in the mountains, I find there is something satisfying about having a tick beside the name of every mountain. Yes, I know there are nasty words for this “disease”, but it is actually quite a handy one to have. It wins you scholarships and prizes. More important to me than the ticks is the fact that every mountain is in some way “known”; every one, albeit briefly, befriended.

I have fond memories of almost all 214 mountains. As I see each, I remember happy incidents that occurred whilst climbing. I recall my interaction with its shape and surface. My satisfaction has nothing to do with any putative “achievement’, but with something a little harder to pin down. To help me explain, let me recall for you a moment on this trip as I drove into Paterdale on day three to climb the two remaining fells there (neither of which was visible from the car).

As I drove, my peripheral vision had the mesmerising treat of the louring silhouettes of all the surrounding mountains. They seemed so rich in shape, so alluring in their half-caught forms as I still, partially at least, concentrated on the road; so impressive and mysterious. I was in love with each one of them. I couldn’t actually name any of them whilst driving, not without contextualising them in relation to each other, but they all called to me of a world of wonder. It was with a sense of awe and humility that I realised I had climbed every single one. I became teary as I drove and realised this was going to be quite an emotional journey. If I refer to the feeling of knowing I had climbed each one as “satisfaction”, you will see that the chosen word has nothing to do with “achievement”, but something far deeper.

 En route to Tarn Crag for another dawn sunrise
My physical abilities, sure, enable what I was feeling, but they were no end in themselves. I simply love to go upwards, and have a keen sense of, and attachment to, place. In the Lakes, I love both ridges and summits, I love the sheep that inhabit the high places, the wind in my face and time to think. I love the independence of self-propelled navigation. I love the complexity of the bumpy, glaciated terrain that makes it so interesting and casts so many wonderful shadows, the numerous shades of green on a single mountain, and the fabulous moody clouds that so often accompany my efforts.

Stickle Tarn, pre-dawn.
I also love the way you can be out on a truly foul day, minding your own business in a pea-soup fog, and out of the gloom a shape might appear that turns out to be a human form. I don’t regard this as an intrusion on my solitude (especially as I have been lucky enough to have these encounters in saddles rather than on summits). I love connecting with other people who are obviously as mad as I am. Other times, the shapes are just sheep; I greet them too.

Sourmilk Gill. Grey Knotts behind. Taken while climbing Base Brown.
At lunch or in the evenings, in the pubs over soup or steak pie, conversations begin easily with strangers whose kindred spirit to mine is signalled by their boots, or the pile of maps beside them on the table, or a fine specimen of a camera. I enjoy the camaraderie. We compare routes or destinations, or discuss the merits of ViewRanger.

Pavey Ark from Stickle Tarn.
I have now completed all the Wainwrights, but am all too aware that my relationship to these wonderful mountains is only “party deep”. We have met once, over cocktails. I don’t know them with the kind of intimacy that comes with a longer, less superficial relationship. As a result, I have already started on round 2 of the Wainwrights. Old friends are good friends. I am enjoying deepening my acquaintance. Some fells I climbed first with my husband when we were little university students. I have forgotten many details. It is great to be reminded of my first encounter.

Some of the first of my round two list were Maiden Moor, High Spy and Dale Head. I repeatedly ran up these for training in the early 1990s, fabulous inclines to make me fit for the approaching World Championships, my focus at that time. Now I walked up carrying my full-frame DSLR and tripod. For the first time, I photographed them. For the first time, I took in their detailed structure. In the nineties, of course I noticed the fabulous views over the edge that they offered, but this time I had more time to appreciate it. No World Championships were pressurising my horizons this time.

I can’t wait to repeat old friends like Fairfield, Robinson, Great and Green Gable, Haystacks – all fells that I did a long, long time ago, and many of which I didn’t even photograph, as photos were exorbitantly expensive back then in film days, and on a student budget. I am excited. Completion is a new beginning, not an end.