Trek prep: “How did you get into trekking?”

One question that I’m often asked is “How did you get into trekking?” – often after a surreptitious double take, as, if our paths crossed 9-5 (am-pm, and more accurately “8-7”), you probably wouldn’t picture me looking like this:

Me on the path back from Mu Gompa to Chhule - Tsum Valley, Nepal
Me on the path back from Mu Gompa to Chhule – Tsum Valley, Nepal
Me on the scree, Yerupajá beyond - Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru
Me on the scree, Yerupajá beyond – Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru

So, some history.

I did a fair amount of hill walking in my younger years – starting with walks over Ewyas Harold Common and up (and down) Skirrid as a kid, then with Ventures and through the Duke of Edinburgh award as a teen. At St Andrews I joined Breakaway, which led me a bit more towards the mountain walking end of the spectrum. Not at rope / crampon / ice axe levels though.

Then London, a job, the life of a twenty / thirty / forty something in the smoke – and the opportunities to get out and about anywhere without a few hours of travel on public transport pretty much disappeared.

I work in the legal sector – long hours, desk-bound, but well paid so I can do one or two “holidays” a year.  Initially these were city breaks and cultural group tours,  with occasional DIY trips with travel-mate Hazel to take advantage of family/friends based in exotic locations. You can see the list on Where I’ve Been.

Then, in 2009, Hazel and I decided to do the Annapurna Circuit and it’s been trekking holidays for me ever since.

Looking out over Mustang, and towards a new set of mountain peaks, from the Thorong La (5,416 meters / 17,769 feet) - Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Looking out over Mustang, and towards a new set of mountain peaks, from the Thorong La (5,416 meters / 17,769 feet) – Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

There were two trips that rekindled my love of the great outdoors (not that I’m sure it ever really went away), and gave me the confidence that I wasn’t crazy to tackle a 19 day trek over the 5,416 m / 17,769 ft Thorong La, albeit one featuring porters, a guided group and tea houses.

Torres del Paine "W" trek, day 5: me on the narrow path from the Refugio to our pick up at Hotel Las Torres
Torres del Paine “W” trek, day 5

The first was 2003’s month in Chile and Argentinian Patagonia when I caught up with Hazel during her travels in South America. Our route took us from Santiago to Punta Arenas, and we spent 5 magic days in Torres del Paine National Park walking the “W”. We carried ridiculously large packs given we were staying in refugio and weren’t carrying/cooking our food, but we did 5 days of continuous walking, with rucksacks and through all sorts of weather.

Me and Hazel on the prayer flag stairway to the monastery, Taktshang
Me and Hazel on the prayer flag stairway to the monastery, Taktshang

The second was the Wild Frontiers’ Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon – Spring Festival Tour, in 2008. Very much a cultural trip, scattered throughout there were chances to stretch our legs in the high Himalaya.

We had a half day hike up to the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Paro Taktshang) at 3,120 m / 10,240 ft above sea level (mind you, the trail starts at 2,600 m / 8,525 feet), but my favourites were the walks through the countryside and communities of the Mo Chhu river, Chokhor and Radi valleys.

Those half day meanders really whetted my appetite for a holiday that was all about walking and in the eight years since Annapurna I’ve spent most of them in the mountains, the higher the better. A chance encounter with Val Pitkethly on our Three High Passes to Everest trek brought opportunities to experience Peru’s Cordilleras Huayhuash and Blanca under canvas and to get off the beaten track in Nepal – as well as to do some good through her charity, Light Education Development.  Crampons, ropes and ice axes have started to feature too….

Me at the Ishinca / Ranrapalca col - Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru
Me at the Ishinca / Ranrapalca col – Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru

…. which brings me to training, which I’ll talk about in my next post.

 

How To Measure A Cow – Margaret Forster

How To Measure A Cow - Margaret Forster
How To Measure A Cow – Margaret Forster

Sarah Scott sets about making a new life in Workington, Cumbria. But from the start the involvement of The Man and then his colleague, The Woman, in this process make it clear that major events in Sarah’s history are being hidden.

As the story slowly reveals the reasons behind this secrecy and subterfuge, I realised nothing about either Sarah Scott or Tara Fraser is as it first appears.

And at the end, the person I felt most sympathy for was Mrs Armstrong; the only character who was honest about her own emotions and motivations, and the nature of friendship.

Walton weekend

Just home after our first visit of the year where we’ve not needed the night storage heaters on! Three lovely sunny-yet-misty days on the Sunshine Coast. Spring is on its way.

New mug

Ticked off some Residents Association admin on Fri and Sat, and we also masticked above the bedroom window in the hope that that will deter the rain…..

More enjoyably, I installed the Tooting Wilko pillowcases-as-cushion covers on the window seat. The finishing touch, it looks smashing. And Friday’s walk along the Prom to Frinton yielded a promising batch of books and a Cornishware style mug. Very satisfying.

Saturday’s stroll revealed lots of purple violets along the path along the cliff tops near Seacliffe Trailer Park, Walton’s hideaway home of the super posh caravans (“Trailer Park” really creates the wrong impression).

Saturday night saw our first meal at the superb Pearl of Samui since November. Too long!

Sunday was spent more leisurely, reading at home. It has been good reading too – Simon Armitage’s, Walking Away, PD James’ Death Comes To Pemberley and Donna Leon’s By Its Cover. We also finished off the two old packets of washing powder.

"Extra Power" Daz and "Square Deal" Surf - Which would you rather be?

With summer on the horizon, the old Tourist Info office is being converted into an ice cream kiosk and opens on 1st April. I still think it was crazy to relocate the tourist info all the way up to the Naze. Fine for drivers, but in the summer so many people come here by train – and may have no idea where “The Naze” is nor any inclination to go there. The station ticket office is closing too.

And relax!

By Its Cover – Donna Leon

By Its Cover - Donna Leon
By Its Cover – Donna Leon

Spring arrives in Venice and Commissario Brunetti is called in to investigate the vandalism and theft of illustrations from rare books, and entire books themselves from the Biblioteca Merula.

The library’s collection reflects its heritage and home – Venice – where Aldus Manutius‘ set up a printing press which during the late 15th and early 16th century published ancient Greek and Latin books, many in an innovative pocket size, which percolated across Renaissance Europe and beyond courtesy of the Republic of Venice‘s great trading empire.

With able assistance from Ispettore Vianello, Signorina Elettra, Commissario Griffoni, Boatman Foa, Officer Pucetti, the Venetian police track down  “a thief and a blackmailer,  a liar and a fraud”.

I enjoyed By Its Cover far more than Falling In Love. More of Brunetti’s musings, more time – but not too much! – with his immediate family, the aristocratic Falier inlaws, and friends.

Some lovely quotes too –

About books:

“Old books has always filled Brunetti with nostalgia for centuries in which he had not lives. They were printed on paper made from old cloth, shredded, pounded, watered down and pounded again and hand-made into large sheets to be printed, then folded and folded again, and bound and stitched by hand: all that effort to record and remember who we are and what we thought, Brunetti mused. He remembered loving the feel and heft of them, but chiefly he remembered that dry, soft scent, the past’s attempt to make itself real to him.” page 11

About the joys of Spring:

“As had happened to him since boyhood, Brunetti felt a  surge of directionless goodwill towards everything and everyone around him, as at the end of a period of emotional hibernation.” page 84

Publisher page: By Its Cover – Donna Leon

Death Comes To Pemberley – P. D. James

Death Comes To Pemberley - P. D. JamesP. D. James takes the cast and characters of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice a few years forward into the 19th century, and sets a murder mystery at the Darcy family seat, where Mr Darcy (“Fitzwilliam”) and the former Elizabeth Bennet live in marital bliss with their two sons and numerous estate servants.

A fab combination of crime and history. And P. D. James was 90 when she wrote it…

Having enjoyed Death Comes to Pemberley and Jo Baker’s Longbourn, I really ought to read P& P now…

Publisher page: Death Comes To Pemberley – P. D. James