Hiking in the Wilderness

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Saturday through Saturday, Nathan and I spent some time in the German Alps, hiking in the snowy fir forests and climbing some of Bavaria’s most beautiful peaks. For me, the mountains have always had the power to reconnect me to that inner place of peace; to warm my soul from the inside. Our return to the mountains this winter was an adventure that still glitters in heart.

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We arrived in Salzburg on the Saturday afternoon and bundled our gear into the backseat of Lisa’s car. Lisa owns the apartment we booked for our time there and she was kind enough to rescue us from arrivals after our car hire fell though. We spent our journey learning the names of the mountains and pointing out restaurants, before arriving at the apartment, pulling out all the hiking maps from the book library and falling into bed.

Sunday morning was snowy; one of the cold, brilliant blue sky days I love. We took the public bus to Konigsee, Germany’s third deepest lake in the shadow of Mt Jenner and hiked a little way up the trail to the cable car. At the Jennerbahn, we negotiated awkwardly with some Bavarian skiers for their cable pass and took the cable-car to the viewing station, from which we began our descent down deep snowy paths, past the frozen alpine lake which breaks apart the ski slope. We deeply underestimated our descent; arriving in town some 3 hours later and totally drained but full of that brilliant sense of accomplishment. There’s something about spending the afternoon in the cold and the snow and it being such an adventure – it’s definitely something I crave more and more each time we get out. The following days were spent in much the same way, trekking up knee deep snowy mountain trails in trainer socks and never all too sure we were on the right path.

The time we spent hiking in the German wilderness felt almost fundamental, in many ways. It seemed to me to be a return to something simpler; to the experience of being simply a person in nature – timeless in the way that as long as these wild spaces exist, the experiences enjoyed in them will always retain their raw, refreshing power – to clarify ones outlook and cleanse ones soul.

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Road-tripping

A big thank you to the camper for taking us from the mechanics of Calais, to from the mountains of south eastern France, through the fruit fields of Collias and finally to the Mediterranean. It’s been a rollercoaster (literally when the breaks cut out, or teetering on the side of the verdon gorge) but it’s been a pleasure. 🌎 Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

Nature Retreat| Portugal

”Your best ideas, those eureka moments that turn the world upside down, seldom come when you’re juggling emails, rushing to meet the 5 P.M. deadline or straining to make your voice heard in a high-stress meeting. They come when you’re walking the dog, soaking in the bath or swinging in a hammock.”

For the past week I’ve been cultivating a new hope for my life. It involves a hammock, a suntrap veranda, and a whole host of pets. Saturday through Wednesday, Nathan and I spent some time at a nature retreat tucked away in the wilderness of west Portugal. I hadn’t realized how sorely a recharge was needed; some time to switch off, tune out and realign, ready for the hive of activity that’s been buzzing away since we landed back on home turf. I want to say I hadn’t realized how much I needed it, but what I mean to say in truth is that I hadn’t realized how much I need it.

If there’s one thing that can clear a foggy mind, it’s a hammock with a view, and the sound of cicadas across a stretch of beautiful valley. The slower pace of life this past week, in direct contrast with my life back at my 9-5 office job complete with emails, targets and general bureaucracy (don’t tell my boss) sets in motion a vision of something at once so exciting I can hardly contain it and so terrifying I can barely think of it as anything more than a wild dream. I want life to be simple, and I want life to be different. What I really want is life, naturally. And not just 5 days of the year.

One of the most difficult truths I’ve had to accept about myself in the 9 months since I graduated is that I’m never going to do well in an office, I’m not really interested in a career, and my time is the most important thing to me. I don’t really like the city. I’m an introvert and I crave remote infrastructure.

And I’m also conflicted.

I enjoy the freedom to dip into modern society when it suits, and I appreciate the fast pace of life that my routine back home affords me. I don’t want to be disconnected; apart yes, but isolated, no. It’s a funny one. One I’m still figuring out. I’m not really certain of anything at the moment, and perhaps this uncertainty is the price of youth and the pressure to have it all figured out, but I’m surer about some things than others. I want away. Not out, perhaps, but away. Instead of longing for a simple life, I want to cultivate a life I don’t feel the need to flee.

And if there’s a single thing that’s clear to me it’s that nature, a simple life, self-sufficiency, wilderness. Not one of these things is to visit. They are home.

 

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“Wildness we might consider as the root of the authentic spontaneities of any being. It is that wellspring of creativity whence comes the instinctive activities that enable all living beings to obtain their food, to find shelter, to bring forth their young: to sing and dance and fly through the air and swim through the depths of the sea.” ~ Thomas Berry

“What is adventure? If a lone wolf lifts his plaintive call into the moonlight near your campsite, you might call that adventure. While you’re sweating like a horse on a climb over a 12,000 foot pass, that could be adventure. When howling head winds press your lips against your teeth, you face a mighty struggle. When your pack grows heavy on your shoulders as your climb a 14,000 foot peak, you feel the adventure. When you suffer freezing temperatures and 20 inches of fresh powder on a hut to hut trip in the Rockies, that could be called adventure. But that’s not what makes an adventure. It’s your willingness to conquer it, and to present yourself at the doorstep of nature. That creates the experience. No more greater joy can come from life than to live inside a moment of adventure. It is the uncommon wilderness experience that gives your life expectation”.

Camping in the Peak District

A couple of weekends ago, Nathan, Sam, Louise and I spent a night camping in the Peak District. Sam recently bought a great little VW T2 camper, and Nathan and I were keen to experience a night in the van, cooking up dinner on the camping stove and pulling on all our hiking gear in the 2×2 meter roof space. We arrived early on the Saturday morning, stopping once for a toilet break in the strangest little petrol station -come -convenience store for some camping snacks and once again at a lakeside somewhere in Derbyshire, where I took some pictures and marveled at how truly good it felt to be outdoors, shivering at the waterside with three of my best friends in the world.  There’s something unbeatable about the feeling; the feeling of beginning an adventure and heading somewhere unknown, about spending the weekend in the rain and the mud and it being an adventure nonetheless – it’s definitely something I crave more and more each time we get out.

Our vague plan for the weekend was to camp at the foot of Mam Tor, Mother Hill, a 517m peak rearing up between the two sides of Hope Valley and just outside of Castleton town. On coming into Castleton, we parked up the van, celebrated the good fortune of a broken parking meter, and set off on a quick recon of the area, hoping to find a camping spot off the main road and away from the bustle of the central village. With a couple of hours left before sundown, we looked to the nearest hill and decided to start climbing! Without any clear direction, and determined to avoid stumbling into any of the 3 pricey cavern tours, we started hiking up the clearest ridge towards summit – a mound atop of ‘Peak Cavern’ which peers down over a breathtaking ravine on one side, and the quaint stone cottages of Castleton on the other. Several slips in the mud, and a crumbled and rebuilt dry stone wall later, we ‘summited’, panting, peeling our thermals from our damp skin and wishing we had proper walking shoes, but giddy with accomplishment. From atop ‘The Devils Arse’, the views are spectacular, and we sat – as close as we could edge towards the drop into the ravine below –  looking out over the dramatic landscape, chatting about how tiny the trees looked from so high up and quizzing Sam about geology. It really is a simple cliche, but up atop of nowhere in particular, messing around on the edge and looking out over a formidable drop towards Edale, I couldn’t help but pause, reminded of my own insignificance.  Against the rolling landscape, we seemed the smallest of things in a sprawling mass of fields and peaks, humbled by the might of nature….. and it felt good. Like a funny sort of ritual whereby every little worry buzzing around in my mind fell silent and mother nature patted my teeny head as if to say ‘you silly thing, it means nothing at all, now enjoy the view’. I took some pictures, and Louise and I returned to our ‘woman in wild’ instincts by throwing some sticks off the edge. UGG UGG. After a quick nature wee, we began to head back down, following the ridge in Z formation – much more quickly than we ascended, with the promise of a hot cocoa and duvets waiting at the van.

There’s something about the first tentative sip of a hot drink out of a plastic camping mug after coming in from a long hike in the rain and the cold bluster of the peaks, which I’m quite sure has the power to make almost anything a little bit better. Freeze-frame: the four of us squidged onto the back bench on Sam’s camper, nursing steaming mugs of Azera and waiting for our hands to warm up again before setting off to find a place to camp for the night- my morning coffee never tastes quite as comforting.