The fear has gripped me, but, here I go; Mt. Elbrus. Ascent. To. Madness.

I went to bed at eight. I lay back closed my eyes and listened as the others played Uno.

I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep. My night passed in that same nervous tension that grips prior to a rugby game or taking the stage at a poetry slam. In a few hours I would get out of bed and head out to climb Elbrus solo. No support. No one to talk to. No backup.

The culmination of six months of hard graft. Carving my body down to a utilitarian state. Training every day. In the still, darkness of the hut I reflect on this.

At around ten Natasha leaned over from her bunk. Between us was a small window which she opened and peered out of.

“James” she whispered.
“Yes” I replied.
“I can see stars. It is a good night for you to climb.” Through the inky darkness I could just make out her smile at me before she shuts the window and rolls back over.

My alarm finally sounded at quarter past midnight. I slept in my climbing clothes (minus my outer layer) so as to be able to get ready faster. The rest of the hut was in peaceful slumber as I fumbled with my sleeping bag. Getting it rolled up just right.

I sat on the end of the bunk bed and pulled on my thick plastic boots in the pooled light of the full moon. First the inner insulation layer, then the heavy, cumbersome outer layer. I then gathered the rest of my kit in a bear hug and headed out.

I packed my bag outside worried that the noise would wake the others. My breath clouded in the cold still air. I took a piss and stared up towards the summit.

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During the witching hour the mountain is silent.

Nadia (the cook) called for me from the steps of the mess hut. She had prepared a small meal of leftover rice and tea.I ate in silence as she filled up my Camelbak. My arms began to shake from the knowledge that when I finished my rice I would put on my crampons and set off into the darkness. Alone.

I could feel my confidence draining as I pushed the rice around the plate. I wondered if Nadia could see my arms shaking. She handed me my Camelbak.

“Please be safe James.”

I nodded, thanked her for the food and left the warmth of the mess hut. I sat on a small bench outside and clamped my crampons on. Giving my feet blades to cut my way up this mountain.

And then.

I was off.

With every step the snow made this sickening, crunching sound. Not unlike pulling the drawer out of a freezer that is in want of a defrosting. I loathed that sound. It stabbed at my subconscious.

Crunch, crunch, crunch. I began to not notice it.

The night was clear, just as Natasha said. The full moon cloaked the mountain a dull silvery glow. Once I settled into my stride I turned off my headlamp and hiked in this soft light.

I reached the memorial where we did our first acclimatization hike in around half an hour. Pastukhova rocks another forty minutes after that. I was floating up this mountain. It was crumbling beneath my feet. I was powerful. I was unstoppable.

Little did I know at the time though, but I was going way, way too fast.

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Me, Myself and I.

At the rocks I took a few minutes rest. My back was cold and clammy with sweat. I took a Powershot (think Jello on steroids)and some water.  The problem with Camelbaks in cold conditions is their tendency to freeze up. I had read before I came out that the best method to prevent this was the “blowback” method. Where, after each drink, you blow the water back into the pack leaving the tube empty.

I set off again. Hitting the long exposed stretch before the saddle. As soon as I broke free from the cover of the rocks the wind hit. A constant 30km wind that whipped and tossed the virgin snow about me. I sunk my head deeper into my hood trying to prevent the stinging snow and pressed on.

The wind picked up and was utterly unrelenting. The first I began to struggle was when I lost the feeling in my fingers. I remember thinking “Oh shit. I wish I had brought better gloves.” I found a small rock and crouched behind it trying to get out of the wind. I took another drink. I hit my hands against my chest in an attempt to feel something. Nothing.  I took my gloves off and stuffed my fingers under my clothes trying to warm them between my armpits. I wriggled them about a little and the feeling came back ever so slightly. I put my gloves back on and took another drink.

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Forgive the quality of the photos my hands were shaking.

The bite valve of my hydration tube, along with the tube itself had frozen solid. It was a stupid, stupid mistake. I took my phone out and looked at the time. Two thirty. An hour and a half into the climb and I now had no water. I felt stupid. I felt angry. But what good is anger on a mountain. I closed my eyes.

“I maintain at all times a calm, confident, cheerful state of mind.” Lemon Jelly.

I left the slight respite of my rocks. The incline was gentle but the cold was horrific. Soon I couldn’t feel my fingers again. They were alien to me. My nose ran constantly and my eyes stung. I paused and looked up into the clear night sky.

I took strength from the constellations. Gently tracing their way across the heavens. Cassiopeia, Ursa Major and Pleiades. They were still moving. They were unaffected by the wind or the cold. They felt no pain. They just stoically carried on. I resolved to be like them. To shut out everything and just carry on. Ignore the cold. Ignore the wind. Ignore the pain. Cut my mind from my body. No thought. Just movement.

I climbed in this strange fugue state for hours.  Watching as the constellations passed into the mountains and the sun broke free from the embrace of the horizon.

I remember the snowcat passing me at around five. I recognized Natashas bright yellow puffer jacket. It looked warm. As the snowcat sped up the slope I resolved to catch up with them. I sped up. Throwing myself up this mountain.

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Approaching the East Summit.

I hit the area where the slope steepens and you have to skirt around the East Summit. I stopped in an area of depressed snow. Not completely out of the wind but if I crouched low enough I could at least get some shelter from it. The cold washed over me. I had to warm up. I took my pack off and took out all my spare clothes.

I then took my coat off loosing my windproof outer layer while I struggled to get some more inner layers on. I put on my hoodie (which fares far better on a sunday night on Venice Beach then it does at 5000m in the screaming cold) and a thin puffer jacket that Janet had lent me. I then wrestled my coat back on. I stayed crouched for a little while longer. Mentally building myself up. I then pressed on.

The path wrapped up around the East summit. Andrey had told me that this would be the toughest part of the climb. Over 5000m altitude sickness becomes a real problem. I went slow.

My breathing became shallow and labored as I struggled with the lack of oxygen. A dull headache broke out, pulsating through my head.

I went slower.

Each step had to be taken. Each step had to be paid for. My body was screaming at me.

I stopped and leaned over my sticks. Closing my eyes I imagined this as a boxing match. Elbrus had me pinned against the ropes toying with me. Peppering my torso with sharp jabs, working the body.

I opened my eyes and walked a few more steps then stopped and leant over my sticks. I became aware of everything. Time slowed down as I struggled to defend my head from the punches raining down on me. Time slowed. I felt her left hand brush against my nose. A light ranging blow. I saw the weight shift onto her back foot and I knew I was fucked. Saw it twist round propelling the weight through her body compressing it into her right fist.

She hit me with car crash physics. Whipping my head back. Lifting me off my feet throwing me through the air. Weightless until crashing in a heap on the hard canvas.

In my mind I could hear the referee. Counting.

I lay there looking up at Elbrus through bloodshot eyes. She danced around me daring me to get back up.

At the count of ten. I knew I was done.

The mountain had finished me.

I opened my eyes. Pulled my phone out of my pocket and texted Natasha. “Feeling sick. going to turn back. Just below the saddle.”

And just like that I turned my back on six months of training.

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Fucked.

Tune in next time for the thrilling conclusion.

Elbrus Tours

The company that I am climbing Mt Elbrus with is Elbrus Tours. They are a small travel company based out of Moscow that specializes in trips to  Mt. Elbrus but also offer trips to other mountains within Russia. You should check them out!

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Tomorrow we will sweat and toil. The Rest day.

The rest day was spent messing around with ice axes and crampons and going through different climbing techniques.

We then sort of did our own thing. I went and sat alone. The day was cloudless and I stared up at Elbrus.

After a while of this quiet reflection Natasha came and sat next to me then said

“Elbrus looks like baps.”
“Baps?”
“Yes Baps.”
“I guess.”
“See you later.”

And she was gone again.

That afternoon we talked about the possibility of taking the snowcat up. I told the others that this really wasn’t the reason that I came to Elbrus.

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Baps

Andrey took me to one side and told me that if I felt confident I could do the climb alone until the point where they would take the snowcat then meet up with the rest of the group and summit with them.

The climb was not technical. It was marked all the way up. I felt confident. I can do this.

Satisfied with this plan I ate a large dinner and packed all my kit ready for leaving. Janet and Joy gave me a bag full of snacks to take with me.

I then dressed in my climbing clothes and went to bed. In four hours I would wake and set off.

Elbrus Tours

The company that I am climbing Mt Elbrus with is Elbrus Tours. They are a small travel company based out of Moscow that specializes in trips to  Mt. Elbrus but also offer trips to other mountains within Russia. You should check them out!

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The honest intimacy of the Whiteout; Dealing with a fickle mountain.

There was a Filipino team staying at the huts. They were unable to make the summit today. They left in the middle of the night but got turned around a few hours into the climb due to a white out and fiercely high winds.

The mountain is fickle in that regard. One minute you will be floating along. The next struggling for air as you drown in waves of cold.

The sleep here is dark, dreamless. You wake suddenly. Body shocked back into existence by a screaming alarm clock.

Last night the hut was warmer then I expected it to be. When I got into my sleeping bag I was layered up with fleeces and leggings and gloves. Throughout the night I began to peel out of them until I was just in a pair of boxers. For their lack of creature comforts these huts are brilliant.

Breakfast, like every meal prior, was huge. Bowls of porridge, tea laced with sugar and biscuits. Lots of biscuits.

Our climb for the day was to be to a place called Pastuhova rocks. At approximately 4600m elevation.

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Some other Climbers

The whiteout that turned the Filipino team was still there. We climbed in this blinding white bubble. As we got higher it expanded. As it expanded the wind picked up.

It got cold.

Really cold.

We paused and the minuscule warmth afforded by walking dissipated. No-one talked as we wrestled with our crampons. Weighting our feet down as we carried on climbing until we around 5000m.

We stopped, ate a lunch that comprised mainly of chocolate (climbers have the same dietary requirements as a hyperactive six year old) before climbing down.

The wind picked up to around fifty kilometers. It cut through our clothes and whipped the heat from our skin. The descent was miserable. We were flagging when we got back to base camp.

Collapsing on the bunks we rested until dinner. Over dinner Andrey expressed concern about completing the traverse of the mountain. The weather was getting worse and the North face where we were planning our descent was exposed.

I got that. It would have been foolish to have tried in poor weather conditions. What I didn’t like was what he suggested next. He was worried about the physical condition of the group. Worried that as a group we would not be able to summit unaided. His solution was that we take a Snowcat (tractor) to 5000m and then climb the last 600m.

I felt the life drain out of me.

I came here to climb a mountain. I did not come here to drive up the majority of the mountain and then climb the last part. I didn’t train for months and come all the way to Russia to drive up a mountain.

It was as if the summit was the sole focus. But thats not what mountaineering is about. It’s meditative. It’s intimate.

We were told that we could sleep on the idea and tell him in the morning. My mind was made up.

I am going to climb this mountain honestly.

And if I fail? So be it.

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I came to climb.

Elbrus Tours

The company that I am climbing Mt Elbrus with is Elbrus Tours. They are a small travel company based out of Moscow that specializes in trips to  Mt. Elbrus but also offer trips to other mountains within Russia. You should check them out!

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Some don’t ever come down from around here; Staying high, Uno and 3G. Elbrus Base Camp.

We arrived at base camp this morning after a very cold chairlift.  Base camp is a series of small huts each one about 20ft by 8ft. They are spartan inside. Each one has 8 beds, two small windows, a mirror and a small shelf. On the walls are assorted screws and nails serving as hooks to hang gear off, climbers ingenuity.  When the generator is running we also have two bare bulbs that struggle to light the hut and a tiny space heater.

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The huts.

They are simple, honest structures. And we will live in them for the next four days. Staying high constantly. Living on the mountain. Constantly straining against the altitude.

The one thing I find kind of strange about the huts is the fact that I still get three bars of signal and 3G! Thats better then some places in London (I’m looking at you Tower Bridge!). The portapotty here also wins the award for best placed portapotty. This award is somewhat negated by the fact that it is possibly the worst one I have ever been in. I have a cunning plan though. I simply won’t go. Just hold it all in and try not to think about it.

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At once the most precarious and beautiful portapotty on the planet.

Once our kit had scattered about the hut we dressed in our wet weather kit and went for another acclimatization hike to 4100m ending up at a memorial for people who had died on the mountain. It was a sobering thought. Some people don’t ever come down from around here.

We rested at the memorial for quarter of an hour then went back down. Lunch was huge. At these heights your body burns more calories. Everything takes more effort.

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Near the Memorial.

We napped and I found out that my bunk was located right under a leak. I switched to the other end of the hut and took a nap.

One thing you don’t realize about being at a base camp is just how much down time there is. Your sole purpose for being there is to simply be there. I guess for someone more spiritual it would be a good place to meditate or do yoga or something. I however began to bounce off the walls.

Luckily we had Uno so our afternoon dissolved into hugely competitive games of Uno that would continue throughout our stay there.

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Oh thats right ladies…..Compression tights!

In the evening we were also joined by Natasha the second guide who would be helping Andrey.

Dinner was huge and afterwards the aggressive Uno continued until the generator shut off for the night.

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This was my view for hours on the mountain

Elbrus Tours

The company that I am climbing Mt Elbrus with is Elbrus Tours. They are a small travel company based out of Moscow that specializes in trips to  Mt. Elbrus but also offer trips to other mountains within Russia. You should check them out!

Elbrus Tours

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Tragically Hip; The second acclimatization climb

Elbrus has yet to reveal herself to us in her entirety. She wears a thin veil of clouds only occasionally giving us seductive glimpses of the west summit.

Today was the second acclimatization climb. We walked to the edge of Terskol, through the pine forest and over the river until we came upon a small tourist market. It was here we embarked on the chairlifts.

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The Chairlift.

The chairlifts looked beat. Held together with hope and paint! It was my first time on a chairlift. It moved surprisingly fast as it kicked your legs out from under you. Getting off was worse though. The chairs don’t stop at the top just go round the machinery and head down again. to get off you sort of had to do a strange running motion with your feet and then hop off. It was, to say the least, quite awkward!

For the most part the climb was fairly easy just a gentle scree incline. The only worry was the possibility of a twisted ankle on the loose stoned path.

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The steepening

The path then seemed to end abruptly as the mountain steepened. The path was replaced by huge rocks balanced against each other. Held static by some strange quirk of physics. Sort of like a gigantic game of Jenga!

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Physics?

We folded out hiking sticks into our packs and began to ascend. On each side sheer 50ft drops. Trying not to look down was tough like charging a dog with guarding a steak. I gave in and instantly regretted it. Falling would have involved bouncing down the first 50ft then smashing into a heap on the slope where you would probably roll and bounce your way down. My vertigo was not ok with this!

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Jenga

Luckily though no-one fell. Instead we stopped to eat lunch and breathe. The mountains rise around you here. They are the grandest things I have ever seen. Giving at once this perplexing feeling of wanting to climb them all. To look stoically down on the planet. I want to become them.

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The mountains and I

The clouds clear briefly and I see the twin summits of Elbrus. They drastically contrast the shark toothed aggressive inclines of the other mountains. She is soft, beautiful even soon we will dance. Locked in the intimate embrace of the climb.

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The first sight of the two summits.

We descended from our lunch perch. All the way back to the market where I brought what will henceforth be referred to as the greatest thing I own. A chunky knit jumper with reindeer print. It satisfies both my desire to stay warm whilst still wanting to look as tragically hip as possible!

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Tragically Hip

Elbrus Tours

The company that I am climbing Mt Elbrus with is Elbrus Tours. They are a small travel company based out of Moscow that specializes in trips to  Mt. Elbrus but also offer trips to other mountains within Russia. You should check them out!

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We rise to the top, what you want? Mt. Terskol

When you are going to climb a very high mountain training is everything. Its not enough to just turn up on the day and expect to be able to waltz up it.

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“Me and my crew we stay true old skool or new”

My training began in February. Exclusively cardio every day for four months. There is however no amount of training that you can do that can prepare you for the bitch that is altitude sickness. The main reason people fail the summit.

It comes on suddenly, sweeping over you dulling your senses, each breath you take draws in less oxygen. This leads to the headaches which snowballs into nausea mutating to dizziness ending in complete exhaustion and an overwhelming sense of dread.

To combat altitude sickness the best thing you can do is climb extremely slowly. That and carry out acclimatization climbs. These are hikes up smaller mountains. Every one slightly higher then the last. You climb, stay high for an hour or so. Get used to the limited oxygen before descending to sleep.

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“Well, it’s alright! It’s alright! “

The first of these acclimatization hikes was a three thousand nine hundred meter mountain called Mt.Terskol (located, unsurprisingly, just outside Terskol)

Our hike began at nine after a large breakfast. We ambled through Terskol. Past the stray looking dogs and the cows lazing in the middle of the road.

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“Rush the stage”

The road turned into a muddy track and we began to gain elevation. The rich pine forest fell into shrubby bushes which, as we climbed higher still, gave way to grassy plains eventually becoming ominous looking volcanic scree as we neared the summit

Halfway up, or thereabouts, we took a detour. Walking around the mountain instead of up it until we came upon a waterfall.

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“When it’s time to handle business, then you know what to do “

Andrey told us it was called the “Girls hair” waterfall on account of the way the water fell like hair in thin strands. It was far to inviting to resist. I stripped to my boxers and walked up the stream towards it.

The water hammered over me. It stung with cold. My whole body was numbed. The white noise of it was deafening. I stayed for a few minutes relishing in the purity of the waterfall. Feeling it wash over me as I looked on the mountainous valley spread out before me.

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“Commit my life to rebirth”

I dried off and we climbed on. With every meter gained in elevation the conversation flowed easier.

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“We rise to the top, what you want?”

We summited. Then the weather turned, the air became damp and you the mountain had turned in on itself. From the vast vistas of the climb up to being able to barely see ten meters in front of you.

We began the descent and the cloud lifted. The sky began to spit hail at us. I covered as best I could but, even so, the ice still bit into my hands.

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“I’ll take your best shot.”

We got back down as the hail began to respite. I pulled my hood off and looked up.

Elbrus was still shrouded in clouds. Somewhere, somewhere up there was the summit. Kissing the sky.

(for those of you that have been paying attention/have OCD there are hidden clues to a song in here. First person to guess correctly wins!)

Elbrus Tours

The company that I am climbing Mt Elbrus with is Elbrus Tours. They are a small travel company based out of Moscow that specializes in trips to  Mt. Elbrus but also offer trips to other mountains within Russia. You should check them out!

Elbrus Tours

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Terskol; Gateway to the Caucasus

I woke to the five am sun splintering through the curtains. Casting lines of light across  the room. I didn’t sleep much last night. Thoughts of the next two weeks throwing themselves round my mind.

I dressed in yesterdays clothes, Oleg and I ate a breakfast of porridge and he drove me to the train station. On the drive he plays me his motivational mix CD which he listens to before he goes to the mountains.

“It ain’t about how hard you’re hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” Rocky

It works, sitting at the train station waiting for the airport train I feel ready for this. Ready for the mountains. Ready for Elbrus.

The minibus to Terskol

The minibus to Terskol

The train journey was non de-script, as was the subsequent flight. The only thing that I found slightly strange was the custom of clapping the pilot as soon as the wheels hit the tarmac. Not when the plane is safely stopped but when the plane is still going god knows how fast bouncing off the runway. The clapping is unnerving.

Like were you not expecting to land?

Is this the pilots first time?

The airport we landed at, Mineral Vody, was a small airport. Getting out of the plane into an unexpected heat I began to sweat. The baggage claim took a long time. And then I was outside shaking hands with Andrey.

Andrey was the lead guide and a man who exuded fitness. He was stood in mirrored sunglasses holding a sign with my name on it. We walked to a small cafe and I sat and had a drink with one of the other clients, Thomas, who had arrived a few hours before. He was from Germany.

Not soon after Vladimir, a Russian from Moscow joined us. And not long after that Janet and Joy. Two sisters from the US.

Cow on the road to Terskol

Cow on the road to Terskol

We tetrised our kit into the back of the van and drove. The landscape grew around us as the van swerved around the cows, horses and military checkpoints that littered the road, until we were suddenly amongst the Caucasus mountains. The road traced through these mountains along a valley cut by a raging river.

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The road then entered a dark pine forest and then we were there.

The pine forest before Terskol

The pine forest before Terskol

Terskol.

A tiny town flanked on all sides by mountains biting into the clouds. It consists of a few hotels, restaurants, local shops and a military training facility. Our hotel was simple. We unpacked, got washed quickly and ate together. Dinner was chicken soup with dumplings, good honest Russian food.

The main drag in Terskol

The main drag in Terskol

After dinner we went for a walk to explore the town. I am told that when the sky is clear you can see Elbrus looming over everything. The sky was not clear that night. And so she lay shrouded in mystery.

The beginning of Terskol.

The beginning of Terskol.

Elbrus Tours

The company that I am climbing Mt Elbrus with is Elbrus Tours. They are a small travel company based out of Moscow that specializes in trips to  Mt. Elbrus but also offer trips to other mountains within Russia. You should check them out!

Elbrus Tours

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Zombies, Bears and Jackson 5; A trip to Sequoia national park

Some days are strange. They start off strange. Have a strange middle and then a strange night.

This is the story of one of those days.

It started off somewhat normally we arrived at Sequoia National Park late at night after a three hour drive out of LA. We had planned to spend the weekend camping in the park.

Trying a Twinkie for the first time.

We being Stephanie, Will, Clara, Jamie, Sonal, Myself and two dogs.

Stephanie, Jamie and I arrived at Sequoia first and set up our campsite. We found it hard to find a registered campsite so in the end just pitched the tent in a picnic area (in our defense it was getting very late and to go to the next campsite would have taken a long time!). We got a fire going and cooked up leftovers from the pot luck the night before.

We then locked everything in a bearproof bin (for this was deep within bear country remember this!) and went to sleep in the tent.

I slept hard, tired from the cramped drive and I think just glad to be out of the city for a little while.

Waking up the next morning I found myself alone in the tent. This puzzled me because I was in the middle of the tent so they both would have had to climb over me to get to the door. My puzzlement briefly turned to panic with thoughts of a Zombie apocalypse, this pop culture theory was quickly negated though when I saw some other (happy) campers.

Waking up in Sequoia

I climbed out the tent to see breakfast stuff still left on the table but no clues as to where they had gone.

With no note to go on (always leave a note kids!) I decided to have breakfast (bagels and gummi dinosaurs (one of the great things about being an adult is the ability to eat whatever the fuck you want and no-one can say shit about it!)) and head to the info site.

They were drinking coffee in the info site (which had a full fledged cafe talk about glamping much!) and had met up with Will, Sonal and Clara who had arrived at around three in the morning and slept in their car.

We headed back to our campsite/picnic area and helped the others set up their tent. It was a beast of a thing. Looking like it could be reasonably substituted as a sail on some gigantic sailing ship. It was filthy though so we waded into the river and tried to clean it as best we could before pitching it.

Thats not a tent. This is a tent!

Tent pitched we set off to see “General Sherman” the biggest tree in the world. I’m not sure if my sense of wonder has been dumbed down by film and television but it was not as big as I thought it would be. I was sort of expecting some sort of Avataresque gigantic tree. Instead it was just sort of chunky. The tree version of, perhaps, a walrus. We decided that there was more hiking to be had in other areas of the park so set off in a car to find a more beautiful spot.

We ended up driving for a long enough time that eventually there was a collective “Fuck it we’ll just hike here” getting out of the car it became painfully apparent that we had stumbled upon a christian camp. As lame as this was it did make for some interesting photo opportunities!

God is….James?

God is….Stephanie?

By this stage Stephanie and I decided it was high time to break out the “5 hour energies” we had been saving. She had regular I for some bizarre reason decided that I wanted to try the Decaf version. Like decaf coffee. Decaf energy drink is pathetic. Truly awful stuff that did not really keep me awake at all.

Decaf. Never again.

We tried to get deep and talk about God for a little bit but that soon gave way to trying to figure out where we could hire a kayak from (FYI we couldn’t)

The drive back to the campsite was uneventfully long and, thanks in part to the decaf energy drink, I slept for most of it. Setting up the campfire we prepared an amazing feast. Normally when I camp I bring just a little extra food in case I get extra hungry. When you have a car though you can pack so much random stuff. As a result we had all of the leftovers from Stephanie’s potluck.

Our Feast!

It got dark and we got full. Lazing by the campfire we came up with the idea that a night hike to a waterfall would be fun. Will, Stephanie and I set off into the inky darkness. The pace was fast and our headlamps cut through the night. About 20 minutes in we saw what looked to be a stream of piss in the middle of the trail. It was still damp. Bears are common in this area of California, with that in mind we determined it must have been bear piss.

Going for a night hike

Stephanie (being the most level headed of our night hike trio) reminded us of the importance of not crying wolf.

About 3 seconds later I stopped dead in my tracks.

“What?” Stephanie asked

“Bear, fucking bear” I replied as my headlamp hit the dark shadowy figure, reflecting the small close set eyes.

Stephanie and Will turned around and I walked backwards keeping my eyes on it to be sure it did not give chase.

Once it was out of sight we picked up the pace and headed back to camp.

This time it was Stephanie who saw the bear. Off to the right just in the treeline. Fuck. We headed off the trail to the left and hid behind a big tree while we assessed the situation. There was a river to the left of us. A bear to the right and probably still a bear some ways behind us.

“We could cross the river”

“No, we have no idea how deep it is besides the bear can chase us across.”

“Ok, lets link arms and sing”

“Good plan what songs do we all know”

“How about the “ABC song” Stephanie suggested meaning of course the rhyme that is used to teach toddlers the Abc’s. I thought that when she said “The ABC song” she was referring to the 1970 Jackson 5 classic. Thus arms linked we started to sing Jackson 5 and as our hopelessly tuneless melodies floated off into the forest the bear decided that we were probably all mental and let us be.

There are a few lessons to learn here Dearest Reader.

Number One. Leave a fucking note when you leave in the morning.

Number Two. Jackson 5 can effectively defuse pretty much any tense situation.

I slept well that night.

oia sequia

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An Awesome Wave; The Eisbach River Surfers.

Lets play some word association. I’ll go first because lets face it if you were to go first Dearest Reader we would have no way of knowing whether you were done or not and lets face it we are both incredibly busy people!

Ok, focus word association.

Munich, Beer, Leiderhosen, Octoberfest, beer, sausage, pretzel, beer, beer hall, drinking, beer, beer, beer.

You come to Munich for Oktoberfest, you come to experience some of the best beer in Europe, you come, essentially to get drunk.

What you don’t come for is surfing. Why would you? The closest beach to Munich is a cool six hour drive (if you hoof it) and even then I am sure that the waves you would find would not make it a worthwhile place to visit. I mean you don’t go on a surf holiday to Germany.

So to see guys walking around the Munich city centre decked out in wetsuits and carrying surfboards was kind of strange.

Turns out there is a surf spot in Munich in the form of the Eisbach River Wave. This river flows through the English gardens and has a man made wave which, if you are good enough (and you need to be good enough the water is only around 40cm deep), you can surf.

 

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Paradise Engineering

One of the great things about Italy is that it is legal to sleep on the beach (or at least that is what my cousin has told me). The only problem with this is that beaches in Italy get cold at night. When the sun sets the wind blows in from the sea or rolls down off the mountains and pretty soon you are left shivering huddled together wondering why you thought this was a good idea.

Except this time it was different.

Base Camp

It was meticulously planned.

We set off early in the morning (well early by our standards, the reality was it was around 10am) a ragtag bunch weighed with rucksacks of blankets and warm clothes. The train took around an hour and 40 minutes with a further 15 minute taxi before we arrived.

The plan was we were just going to find a sand dune to sleep in dump our stuff there and chill out swimming and sunbathing. When we found that the beach was a natural deposit for a veritable shit-ton of driftwood we had a better idea.

We would build a hut.

 

Bond

Nick and I spent hours dragging gargantuan logs over the beach. The oppressive midday sun beating down on us. Our skin, tanned, bruised, occasionally bloodied and slick with sweat as we worked. Pausing occasionally to cool off in the sweet blue waters of the Mediterranean.

By late afternoon our pile of logs had begun to resemble a crude structure. and we set about collecting smaller pieces of driftwood. Interlocking them to build the wall.

By early evening our crude structure had begun to resemble a hut and we set about draping the outside walls with sheets to further strengthen it against the wind.

And as the sun slipped back into the sea we sat back, lit a fire and rested and drank and talked.

Our hut was warm that night. The heat from the fire radiated through the door (oh yes we even had a door) and the four of us slept. That very deep pure sleep that comes after a day of hard graft. Dreamless, dark soft sleep.

And in the morning we woke to the waves kissing the shore. The gulls lazily circling.

I felt cleansed.

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