Tag Archives: hiking

Dutch Power!

Dani and I were trucking along today and about the 6 kilometre mark after leaving our hostel in Salceda a couple of Dutch guys slowed down and insisted in taking a turn in pushing Dad. For a couple of kilometres they stuck with us, chatting away and helping us on all but the steepest of downhills.

Then, it was better for us to hook up our patented “D-brake” system, with Dani behind and connected to the wheelchair with the laundry line and me hanging on to the handles of the chair. As soon as we hit level ground again, though, the fellow from the Netherlands (I can’t believe that throughout the entire time we spent together nobody mentioned names!!!) took over again and kept pushing.

We made excellent time and found out about a documentary film called “I’ll Push You” https://youtu.be/W7gKD3q0-V0 about two friends, one in a wheelchair, who do the CAmino together. Turns out one of the Dutch brothers is a Camino-phile. This trip along the French Way is his fourth, his seventh Camino in total. In 2013 he happened to see the guys on their wheelchair trip, stopped and took a photo. Then, recently, he saw their documentary film and (I think) watched it with his brother. And, when the brothers saw us, they immediately wanted to stop and help.

It was pretty cool to hear their stories and share a bit of the journey with them. One of the things we have really missed in our journey so far was the camaraderie so many pilgrims speak of. Our Camino family has been limited to the three of us as moved so much slower than everyone else. Now, though, people don’t pass us nearly so quickly and when they do, it doesn’t throw them off schedule too much to walk with us for a short while and have a chat.

After a couple of kilometres it was time for us to stop for lunch, which was lovely in the warmth of a late autumn afternoon.

The Dutch brothersa continued on their way and then Dani, Dad and I finished up the day here in O Pedrouzo. As soon as I get somewhere where I can stream video, I’ll have to watch “I’ll Push You.” From the trailer, though, it makes our little jaunt look pretty cruisy!

The Kindness of Strangers

Albergue Camino Das Ocas

The common cold. A few days of feeling crummy, a runny nose, being irritated with the inconvenience of a cough. But really, it’s not that big a deal. Until you are past 80 and a cold is no longer a small thing to shrug off. A few days ago Dad started sniffling. Then the cough started. And now, several days in, this bug is hitting him hard. The past couple of days have been really tough going, so we had several conversations about what to do next. Send Dad ahead in a cab? Take an extra rest day and try to make time up later? Some combination of cab and walking where Dad went as far as he could and then we called a cab? That sounds reasonable, except a lot of the route is not on a road and given our limited Spanish, it could be tricky to describe which cow field near which hill we had chosen as a potential pickup point in the event Dad needed to be rescued en route.

Yesterday we visited a local hospital – nothing to do with the cold, but rather to get Dad a blood test. He takes blood thinners (post heart valve, he needs to keep things flowing smoothly) and he was due. While we were waiting to be seen, I noticed a couple of wheelchairs standing around in the waiting room and that made me think that perhaps we might be able to find one somewhere we could use to complete the journey.

We decided to see how last night was going to go and then make a decision this morning. At three in the morning I woke up to Dad’s coughing. Awful – persistent and grim-sounding. It didn’t sound like any walking was going to be on the cards. That’s when I really began to fret about where we were possibly going to find a wheelchair. It’s the weekend and Azura is not exactly a metropolis, though it is definitely bigger than many of the teeny one-farm villages we’ve stayed in. I wondered about the hospital and if, with my limited Spanish and Google translate I might be able to convince the to lend us a wheelchair. Then again, given how hard it had been to explain that we needed a common blood test, that seemed unlikely.

We had seen a couple of physiotherapy offices and I thought perhaps they might be able to help. Dani, too, tossed and turned all night and by morning, she was also formulating plans. Over breakfast we hatched a plot… Or first stop was to visit the helpful tourist info centre. The lovely woman on duty there did, indeed, offer suggestions – but because it was Saturday, they involved taking a bus to Santiago about 42 kms away. And, we were told, it was going to be tricky to find anyone open before Monday.

Back at the coffee shop where we had left Dad nursing a cafe con leche, we had a go at Google. We found a website called Accessible Spain Travel accessiblespaintravel.com with a phone number. I called and explained our situation and the very helpful guy at the other end said that he would see what he could find out for us.

Not long after, he texted that everything was closed that might be useful in Arzúa but that he had managed to reach Jose Manuel in Santiago who could meet us at his shop as long as we could get there before 11 am. Though the shop was shut, he was willing to come and meet us and fix us up with a wheelchair. Alas, there was no way to get to Santiago by bus in time, so we sprinted back to the Info Center to find out where we might be able to get a taxi.

Once we figured out where the cabs were, we grabbed Dad and all leaped into the taxi with Pepin, our driver, who not only took us to Santiago, but then waited patiently in the street with Dad while Dani and I waited for Jose Manuel to arrive, let us in in and give us a wheelchair. That process was crazy – no forms to fill out, Jose didn’t even ask for my name – would only take 30 Euros for ten days rental, and wished us well.

Meanwhile, the taxi driver then drove us all the way back to Arzua but then took less than half of what should have been the metered fare.

We were ravenous by the time we got back, so we had lunch and then set off. We experimented with all sorts of travelling variations – Dad pushing the wheelchair for a bit (which was ok on flat terrain and as long as the distances were short), Dani pushing, me pushing. Hills were an adventure. The going in places was steep and not exactly smooth. It took both of us pushing (Dani pushing the wheelchair and me pushing Dani) to get up some of the rough spots. Likewise, going down, it took two of us to slow things down – one of us leaning back against the handles and one pulling back on one of the walking poles we had attached to the back of the wheelchair.

By the time we finished our not-quite 5 kms, we were all bagged! A whole new set of muscles hurts! However, we made it!!! And it looks like we will get all the way to Santiago in one piece, as long as we keep going, don’t rush, and no further afflictions decide to sneak up on us.

One of the delights of the day was the contact we had with locals all along the way. A farmer (83) who walked with us for a bit after turning his cows out to pasture, a number of pilgrims who stopped to cheer us on (and take photos), the hostel-keeper who provided a great ground-floor, fully wheelchair accessible room for us, and a full-time pilgrim travelling with his donkey (worthy of a blog post all his own…)

Despite the physical challenges today (and, earlier, the stress of not knowing how on earth we were going to magically produce a wheelchair), today turned out to be a good day, in large part because of all the small kindnesses shown to us along the way.

That Way!

I am famous in my family for my ability to get lost. Spectacularly lost. Like, in Canmore (a cute town with half a dozen streets, town where I now live, town in which, yes, I still get lost). Before we set off on this trip there were quite a few jokes about how if anyone could get lost on the Camino it would be me.

Ha! I LOVE how incredibly well marked the route has been. Ever since we spotted our first arrow outside the albergue in Sarria we have never faltered. Occasionally there are a couple of options (a slightly more rural path versus following the road for a bit) but mostly every place where one could possibly get confused has a bright yellow arrow or a stylized shell or an official marker or all three…

Where the path crosses a road, motorists are warned to slow down.

Though we are tracking our progress closely using both google maps and the Nike+ Run app (Dani is using the latter to let her know exactly when she reaches each kilometre mark, at which point she snaps a photo – no people and within 10 steps of the km mark) there is really no need for technology when it comes to figuring out where to go.

Of course, the string of pilgrims stretching as far as the eye can see is another indicator we are heading in the right direction!

Now all I need is for the rest of the world to catch on to the idea of superb way-finding assistance… and maybe I need to figure out where in life I want to be going so the yellow arrows will start to appear whenever I need to see one!

Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step

The Chinese proverb sums up how we feel today after finally, finally setting off on our Camino adventure.

After several days of brilliant sun and hot temperatures, we were all relieved when it was cool and a bit foggy as we left the Albergue in Sarria. We were also pretty excited to spot our first yellow arrow and stylized shell indicating we were heading off in the correct direction. I have no idea how many arrows and other way markers we passed today – a lot – but each one is a small message of hope that we were a step closer to our destination.

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The cooler temperatures helped mitigate the horror we all felt as we stood at the bottom of the daunting set of stairs that lead up and out of Sarria.

Dad has been training for months, but always on more or less level terrain and never with his daypack.

Thank goodness Dani planned today to be a shortish day. The total distance travelled was only about 4km, but it was tough going in places.

The old part of Sarria felt like the perfect place to start our journey, steeped in history and full of albergues and small

restaurants and bars it was also full of pilgrims.

We stopped often so Dad could catch his breath but by the time we started up the final hill leading to the village of Barbadelo Dad was pretty bagged. Dani and I redistributed everything he was carrying between the two of us and insisted on a refuelling break along the way.

At one point as Dad was puffing on his inhaler and looking pained, I thought we had perhaps made a terrible mistake. Much of today’s path was through the woods (yay – shade!!) but that did mean it would have been pretty well impossible to have hailed an ambulance should we have needed one. Various passing pilgrims stopped to ask if all was well or if we needed assistance. Dad waved them off, but I wondered several times if perhaps we needed to reassess and perhaps procure a donkey for Dad to ride for the rest of our journey.

Eventually, the grade lessened and our wooded path opened out into an area of fields and small farms and the going was much easier. By the time we reached Barbadelo, Dad was full of smiles and shocked both Dani and me when he declared the day to have been a lot of fun!

We are not going to set any speed records, that’s for sure, but if we just concentrate on one step at a time, eventually we will make it to our final destination.

Packing Light as Light Can Be

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At 18, I had dreamy visions of traipsing around the world, my guitar slung over my back. Except… I didn’t own a neck strap and my massive, overstuffed orange backpack took up all the available space on my back.  (Photo by Justin Clark on Unsplash)

I have never been a good packer. I wish I could put my hands on the photo of me in my late teens wearing bib overalls and sagging under the weight of my bright orange (very uncomfortable, rigid frame) backpack. Draped over the top was a very thick, voluminous wool poncho (it wouldn’t fit inside the bulging pack). Because I couldn’t squeeze everything I wanted to take inside, I also had a large shoulder bag as well as my camera slung around my neck. And a purse. Oh yes, and a leather passport holder, tucked inside my shirt. I looked ridiculous for various reasons, but if you knew what I had inside the pack you’d really be laughing…

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Several books (assorted recreational reading as well as guidebooks and train timetables and hostel guides and such-like), a collection of notebooks and pens, a dozen spare rolls of film (because heaven knows you couldn’t buy film in Europe), a stash of tuna fish, a tin opener, spare shoes, multiple pairs of jeans and sweaters and tops and shorts and sandals and… and… and…and… Yes, I do believe I also started that trip to Europe with a guitar. Not stuffed into the pack, of course, but bashing against my leg in its unyielding hard case. The guitar was one of the first things I ditched at a hostel somewhere along the way, collected later as I retraced my steps from hostel to hostel, collecting possessions I realized I did not have any use for.

What a difference a few decades make. I don’t have the least bit of interest in pack-muling my way anywhere these days. I just weighed my pack for the Camino and it came in at a whopping 12.5 lbs – including the pack and a super lightweight sleeping bag. Not only have I pared down what I need to carry on the Camino to a bare minimum, I have way more computing and camera power tucked into an outside pocket than I could even have imagined on my last backpacking trip. Train timetables? Thank-you, Internet. Hostel guide? Internet. Books – recreational and reference plus a bonus stack of magazines? Digital library. Communications center? No more waiting to find a Post Office in some remote village each week so I could send home a TELEGRAM (!!) all of three words long – AM ALIVE. NIKKI. Occasionally I would splurge and make a three-minute phone call back home to let everyone know more or less where I was and where I was likely to be during the following week. Facebook posts? An up-to-the-minute Instagram feed? Hah! Postcards lovingly scribbled and then mailed (usually from the same post offices where those telegrams came from) took ages to get back to Canada and by the time they did their contents were very old news.

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And the new pack itself? We found a used Osprey pack online and it compresses down to carry-on size while still having tons of room for the modest amount of stuff I am taking. And it’s so comfortable compared to the Orange Beast I schlepped around way back when. Granted, I was a lot younger, but still…

That orange pack nearly killed me when, after renting a sturdy shopping-style bicycle in the Lake District I decided (somewhat ambitiously) to ride across England to visit some relatives near Newcastle. In a single day. With all that crap strapped to my back and stuffed into panniers and tied to the back of the bicycle.

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This is pretty similar to the bike that nearly met its end in England’s last patch of wilderness….    Photo by Khachik Simonian on Unsplash

Things went very sideways when I took a shortcut (you can hardly blame me, I was trying to avoid the massive mountains in the middle of England) and wound up slipping off a slick, moss-covered smallish cliff thing, doing a summersault, and crashing down into the forest below still clutching my handlebars. Said handlebars were somewhere up and behind me where the bike landed and wedged itself against the base of the cliff. Unfortunately, the sturdy frame of the backpack (still on my back) jammed itself into the frame of the bike rendering me helplessly pinned to the ground, unable to get up. Lying there, staring up at some picturesque English trees, I had visions of people, years later, stumbling across my skeleton entangled in the rusty bike frame. I imagined them flipping through the mouldy pages of the Collected Works of Franz Kafka pulled from the tattered and faded remnants of that pack and wondering if the tuna fish was still edible.

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The Lake District is a gorgeous place – until you have to pedal up and over those mountains to leave… Photo by James Qualtrough on Unsplash

Obviously, I managed to extricate myself eventually and other than the fact the bike chain popped off, neither I nor the bike suffered any serious damage. Unfortunately, the bike chain was cunningly protected by a steel shield and though I had all manner of things with me, a screwdriver was not one of them. That meant I had to carry the bike over hill and dale to get to a tiny farm way down in the valley below in order to get some assistance from the resident farmer… but not before being charged by a very angry ram protecting his harem. That was a very long field to cross, I can tell you – being battered and bashed by a furious sheep every step of the way.

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Photo by George Hiles on Unsplash

Fortunately, the bike served me well as I held it up between me and the curly-horned monster like a shield and managed to stagger backwards all the way to the gate — and safety — on the far side…

But, I digress. I have no intention on this trip of straining myself unduly. I am still a few weeks away from my departure date so I will repack and reconsider several times more, but before I set off I’ll post the exact contents of what’s in the new pack – just because I can!

Buen Camino! (because, I think, once a person has packed the bag the trip has already begun!)

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Why Fly?

Spotted this seagull at Sombrio Beach today, determined to get to the other side in his own, special way… A seagull walks over a bridge...

Joy – The Final Chapter

Joy - Part 3

Joy – Part 3

When it rains, it pours – as they say! I’ve been working feverishly on multiple book projects and have also finally tackled learning various Adobe Creative Suite programs including Premiere (video editing) and After Effects (more video editing). To go with those, I’m also learning to use Audition (audio editing) and Story (script writing and scheduling) and you can see why my head is spinning! I’ve also been busy behind the scenes organizing a new website for a big storytelling festival here on Vancouver Island (happening summer of 2016)… so I’m learning how to build a Wix website that includes a shop for tickets and links to all the mandatory social media tools – which means setting up new twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google+ accounts…

dinner with friends

Add to all that work-y stuff several visitors are staying with us at the moment (from Switzerland and Australia) so my calendar has been full, full full for the past couple of weeks. There is also a chance I’ll be heading off with the Ocean Legacy crew on August 3 for ten days or so of remote beach cleanup on the Brooks Peninsula, a very cool wilderness trip I’m super excited about but for which I have been scurrying about gathering necessary items in my spare (!) time – stuff like a decent lightweight backpacking tent and bear spray and some parachute cord.  You can see why this final Joy post has been pushed aside a bit…

I had grand plans for integrating some spiffy video (you know, because of my newfound skills with Premiere), but the learning curve is steep, so that isn’t going to happen in a hurry – for the moment, stills and prose will have to suffice!

So, Joy – I think I left things hanging as we approached the top of the slab some ten or so pitches and about four hours after hiking in from the parking area and then wobbling over the talus approach (see the earlier posts – Joy Part One and Joy Part Two). Which is about where I’ll pick up the story.

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Anne and I were all smiles as we reached the top of the slab.

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When I think about climbing up mountains I think about climbing up, as if getting to the top is going to be the big effort.

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We made it! Now we go home, right? Well... kind of.

We made it! Now we go home, right? Well… kind of.

In the case of Joy, dancing up the slab was actually pretty joyful. The problem is coming back down. Because there are no permanent rappel anchors you’d have to abandon your temporary gear up there if you used ropes to aid your descent. Even though it isn’t super steep or anything, a slip would mean you could bump and slither your way down the slope for quite some distance before friction stopped your descent.

I shudder to think where you might wind up if you tripped or toppled over and started rolling.

Anyway, without ropes to stop you from cartwheeling into oblivion in case of a fall, the only option is to exit through the back door. Except the back door on that part of Mount Indefatigable doesn’t lead to a handy escalator or a paved road or even much of a goat track. The top edge of the slab sort of crumbles away into this narrow ledge and lump, which is where Anne and I waited while Fabio took the other ends of the ropes and picked his way along the most ridiculous of non paths I have ever encountered. The rock was terrible – crumbly and fragile. At some point he put a foot down, shifted his weight and the lump of rock he had been about to stand on gave way and ricocheted off into … I have no idea where it went. Over the edge and down, down, down. I couldn’t see where it wound up, but judging by the ever diminishing sounds of its endless descent over the back side of the mountain, it must have fallen fifty miles or so. If one of us went over…

I had plenty of time to think about the perils of missteps and loose rock as I was to be the last one to traverse the tricky you-call-that-a-ledge? ledge. That meant I had to sit and wait on the exposed lump at the end of the mountain until Fabio had found a decent place to anchor the ropes for me and Anne and then for Anne to pick her way along the edge and around the corner to safety. The good news was I got to enjoy the spectacular view over the slab and into the valley for the longest of all of us.

The bad news was that the wind had picked up and I could feel the mountainside vibrating below me.

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The rock to the right was pretty good – you know, slab. The rock to the left was not so good – you know, gravel pile.

I thought mountains were big, solid things until I sat on one that was quivering. Not long ago a chunk of El Capitan peeled off Half Dome, a thousand foot tall slab of granite that keeps an eye on visitors to Yosemite. The chunk wasn’t something insignificant like something the size of a fridge or a couch or even a bus. The monster piece of granite that ‘flaked’ off is estimated to be about 100 X 200 feet!! (If you want more details, there is no shortage of articles about the incident online. Here’s a link to one from ABC News.) It was probably quivering before it let go!

So anyway, I was sitting up there thinking about glaciers calving and mountains cleaving and rock slides like the Frank slide that carry enough debris along with them as the mountain exhales and sheds a few billion tons of excess weight and wondering how long I would stay conscious in the event that the mountain did fall apart under the weight of my backside.

Was I going to be the straw that broke the back of Mount Indefatigable?

Fabio picking his way around the corner on the back side of Joy...

Fabio picking his way around the corner on the back side of Joy…

I decided that I would probably black out in sheer terror if my perch dropped out from beneath me and that at most I would have maybe a minute to feel exuberantly, gloriously alive before the falling rocks buried me.

I could only hope that something big clunked me on the head early in the going so it would be over as quickly as possible.

With thoughts like these wheeling slowly through my mind, I watched Fabio first place temporary gear in tenuous, crumbly rock and then think better of his plan. He climb up to a point above us and out of sight but where, he shouted back down to us, he found a much better place to set up an anchor. Secured from above by a rope, Anne made her way along the precipice and around the corner, Fabio flipping the rope over the sharp rocks from his vantage point above.

Brave Anne - I don't think she broke a sweat during our descent...

Brave Anne – I don’t think she broke a sweat during our descent…

Once Anne was safe, it was up to me to disassemble the anchor we had used to ascend the final pitch and then follow along. Having a task was great – I took apart the slings, snapped carabiners to my gear loops and pretended like I was getting comfortable up there ‘just doing my job.’ And then I set off.

What is amazing to me is how sure-footed a person can be when a gaping space yaws beneath one’s backside, when there are no holds to speak of (I grabbed a rock at some point and it came away in my hand. I tossed it over my shoulder and tried not to count the seconds before the noises it made while falling finally ceased), and when one looks down (mistake!) and realizes the ‘path’ in places  is only wide enough for one’s toes and the ball of the foot and arches and heels are being nicely cooled from the draft below.

What choice does one have in a situation like this but to keep going?

Slow and steady breathing on a regular basis, resisting the urge to grab, lunge, or leap – or the opposite – freeze, refuse to move, and curl up in a little ball, crying. Not that there was any room to curl into a ball and crying seemed a bit pointless, but I could see how people could react exactly that way when one’s reptilian brain threatens to take over. The fact is, with that top rope in place, I might have missed a step and fallen a few feet. I might have dangled for a few seconds before regrouping, climbing back up and continuing on. There wasn’t actually any real danger at this point, but the body and its fierce desire to stay alive and out of trouble can trick you into thinking ‘this is it! Say your good-byes!’ and for someone who hasn’t had a lot of experience in such situations on the top of fragile windy peaks, it was all a bit unnerving.

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Had serenity and a pleasant stroll back down to the parking lot been the end of this expedition, well, I could have wrapped up this blog post right about now. But the next section was what they call a ‘challenging scramble’ which, translated, means, “You have got to be kidding!” At this point the other two really put me to shame, marching along a narrow goat track, seemingly oblivious to the kilometre (? I’m not exactly sure of the distance, but that’s probably not so far off) drop just to our right. At some point Fabio decided it was best to short rope one section, a technique where the leader basically puts the followers on a short leash so that if he feels one of us losing our balance he can lean against the wobble and help the vertiginous regain equilibrium. To me, this seemed like a good way for a wobbler to pull all three people off the mountain in one fell swoop as he was not actually fastened to the mountain by anything more than experience and the sure-footedness of a mountain goat.

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Thankfully, this bit didn’t take too long and after we used ropes to back us up though a rubble-filled chute (probably not necessary – at this point I was feeling confident enough that I would have tackled that without out support) we emerged from the worst of the endless end of the climb.

Getting over that hurdle was still not the end of my troubles, though. Though the terrain lightened up a bit and shifted from loose pile of rock to something rather grassy and alpine meadow-y, we were now in prime mosquito and grizzly territory.

Honestly, I don’t know what was worse – the clouds of mosquitoes that immediately found us and settled on every inch of exposed skin or the shocking numbers of bear diggings we found in amongst the wild strawberry plants.

We could not step more than a few feet in any direction before we saw evidence of bear activity. Fresh digging. Heaps of scat. We all got very noisy, especially Anne and Fabio who sang and whistled and called and shouted so there was no chance that we would accidentally stumble on a bear with its head in a hole rooting around for succulent grubs (or whatever it is they were digging for). The bear population is so dense in this corner of the Rockies that the Mount Indefatigable Trail has been closed since 2005.

Fortunately, the creature coming around the corner was NOT a grizzly...

Fortunately, the creature coming around the corner was NOT a grizzly…

It had rained the night before (which might explain the mosquito frenzy) and the steep slope was slippery making it necessary to proceed carefully, though I would have preferred to jog (sprint?) through to get out of the way of any bears curious about the approaching singers. This bit of bear meadow was followed by a LONG scree gully, down which we had to slither/ski, trying to stay close enough together that lose rock (or falling people) didn’t gain enough momentum to take the others out and far enough apart that falling people didn’t take each other out.

And, by falling people, I mostly mean me.

Between my arthritic hips and wounded arm (I was worried about losing my balance and falling on it, even with the brace) I was a) slow and b) hopeless at this ludicrous sport. Imagine trying to stay upright while timing each step on a still fairly steep slope while everything around you is shifting and sliding. Scree is a dreadful mix of gravel and smallish stones, all of which start moving along with you as you go so your descent is precariously accomplished atop a modest landslide you can only hope doesn’t get too terribly out of control.

Packing up the gear at the top of the scree slope

Packing up the gear at the top of the scree slope

Descending the back side of that ruddy mountain took nearly twice as long as climbing up the front of it and by the time we reached the trail leading back to the car I have to say I heaved a huge sigh of relief! That said, by the time I reached the car maybe half an hour later, I was scheming and plotting where I could go to work on my scree ski skills and how I was going to learn about placing gear and how long it was going to be before I could get back up on another mountain.

Top of the scree slope - we slipped and slithered more or less all the way down to the level of the lake...

Top of the scree slope – we slipped and slithered more or less all the way down to the level of the lake…

My theory is that a similar mechanism to the one that allows women to endure childbirth more than once was at work because these days if anyone asks if I found joy on Joy I don’t hesitate to answer, “YES!”  And really, does life get any better than finding a way to a high point where one can look back on the valley below and consider how far one has come? Even better, do all that with fine company and good conversation and it seems to me that whoever named the route Joy knew exactly what he was doing.