Continuing North

We have been so spoilt recently. After our Aroaki/Mt Cook adventure we decided to take a short detour to Christchurch to meet a lovely hiker who offered to show us around, but absolutely best of all, offered to cook a bloody roast dinner, that’s an offer we couldn’t refuse, literally my dream!

We were shown the sights and sounds of the city, went to a shopping mall to buy new underwear (what a treat!) and matching windbreaker coats, we’ve been a bit cold in the mountains, we would like New Zealand to turn the heating up a bit please. It actually felt totally overwhelming and I couldn’t wait to get outside again. The cure is nearly always hiking so up a coast path we went and back down for an ocean dip, we let the waves crash over us until someone thought they spotted a fin and we were up the beach like lightning. With faces like salty sea dogs we lay around in the afternoon sun, laughing with new friends and lounged long and hard on a sofa in a house. We’ve stayed in nice places, not that many that we love more than our tent, but being in a real home, with furniture and pictures on the walls is really soothing.

We managed to convince our new friend Claire to come hiking with us for a couple of days before we got back on the trail. She took us to see some big rocks and a cave on the way. Now, to most this may not sound terrific, but we LOVE big rocks and caves and had a great exploring afternoon.

Avalanche Peak, 10 miles.

We headed to a place called Arthur’s Pass, back when we were in Auckland we sent ourselves a food parcel to resupply with. Very disappointing when we opened it, apparently we hated our future selves, no snacks, no chocolate, boring pasta, we are going to be hungry on this next section.

We had one day to spare before starting our next trail section to do an amazing day hike before saying goodbye to Claire and the relative home comforts like a car and plates and cheese that she has brought to our little hiking party. A sheer 1300 meter climb up a mountain called Avalanche Peak with views a plenty promised at the top and it did not disappoint. The climb was a total slog, hand over hand climbing up rock faces and boulders, sheer drops to our left and right and a side wind we could have done without. We loved it, back to what we love best, I’m always so proud when I look around, we are women who climb mountains.

What wasn’t fun was the down, in the same fashion as the up it was a slog, it went on for just a little bit too long to be enjoyable, we could see the road for hours but it never seemed to get any nearer until suddenly we popped out on it and staggered down it with slightly more years on our knees than before. The great thing was the road led to pub, which led to a cold pint of cider, what a dream.

Day 17 Te Araroa, Morrisons Bridge to Locke Stream Hut. 17 miles.

There was no more putting it off, we had to put the luxury behind us and get back on the trail. It was harder for me for some reason than Willow, she was her usual chirpy self but I think I may have started with a bad attitude that grew within the first 2 miles to absolute rage. Within 100 steps we were thigh deep in a river, not my favourite but we knew this section had river crossings so we were prepared to embrace it.

We followed the markers and they took us into the forest, the elevation profile was mostly flat but what it didn’t show was the continuous steep up for 20 meters followed by steep down for 20 meters on a bush whacking, scrub bashing semi trail. The cicadas were so loud it was deafening, I had to shout to willow who was only 10m behind me. We love the bird life in New Zealand, we think this was our first Weka sighting, who like the Kea are a cheeky menace of a bird. We also love the little South Island Robins, they are so flirty, and dance around you almost landing on you.

It took about 2 hours to walk 1.7 miles when disaster struck, I shoved my pole into a hole by accident then slid knees first down the bank snapping another god damn pole. I could barely even say words, I didn’t even stop, I lobbed it into the bush and stomped on with utter fury. I felt like I was having a lot of feelings, and they were being expressed as anger but we actually realised we have pretty much been hiking for 2 months now, missing people, feeling homesick and exhausted, with no good food to look forward to and now back to Sophie one pole was a tipping point. I just turned around to Willow and said, I’m not having a nice time right now. She was so good natured to not laugh at me being ridiculous. What was ridiculous was when we popped out of the woods we could still see the start of the trail in a direct straight line up the dry river bed maybe half a mile away but we had been slogging in the woods for over 2 hours. I did a lot of silent and not so silent head shaking, this day was not my day already.

We decided to stay out of the woods and walk the river bed, it was rocky and uneven and a luminous shade of orange, prompting a rendition of follow the yellow brick road loud and proud, but better than the woods which were rocky and uneven, devoid of light, dirty and moist and very up and down. It definitely got better than the morning but there wasn’t much to remark on to be honest, this feels like it’s going to be a head down and hike few days.

We were planning on stopping at the first hut to have a short first day, we were exhausted and had soaking wet feet from fording the same river 15 times, but when we got there it was a tiny little shed, already full of hikers and absolutely no tents spots. For the first time on this trip we had to cook our dinner, wolf it down and carry on hiking another 6 miles well into the evening to the next hut. It was hard and repetitive, we weaved in and out of the river and then on the rocky banks, but we slammed the miles in just over 2 hours and arrived at Locke Stream Hut just before 8pm. Choice well made, there were only 3 nice older hiker guys there and there were 2 bedroom areas so we had our own wing, getting in so late, we were happy to not have to do tent chores.

Day 18 Locke Stream Hut to Hot Pools Campsite.

Another New Zealand first, in the night I woke up to my bed shaking, in my sleep delirium I thought it was the wind which in hindsight was ridiculous because it was actually an earthquake!!

Willow got herself into a predicament within a mile of hiking, she tried to bum slide down a scree slope but got pinned by a tree branch and was just dangling half way. I had to careen down the other bank so I was below her so I could help. I really wanted to laugh but she genuinely had a look of sheer terror on her face so I kept it in. She had to unclip her pack and slide out of it to me at the bottom. Don’t worry I laughed once she was down!

Our only major climb of this whole section was in this morning section, for once we were glad to be going north, the slippery scree and loose rocks would have been a nightmare to go down. There was a mediocre view from the top. I both hate a love that we are view snobs, we try and appreciate everything but it’s because we’ve seen such magical things, some things can’t compare.

A very unremarkable afternoon trail, it was pretty flat, sometimes in the woods, sometimes in a field, sometimes in the river. We’ve taken to choosing our own adventure and not following the markers, the trail has a bad habit of choosing the very worst of the terrain. It’s a game of risk that so far we believe has paid off, or perhaps not, we’ll never know. For some reason the miles did not slip by, they were slow going, even though I was walking to my absolute leg capacity. Whenever I eat something I beg the energy to go to my short little leg stumps, but they are always so fatigued. We had to cross several swinging bridges which, as hard as I try and be, freak me right out.

We arrived at our campsite, a flat piece of grass next to the river. About 20 meters up the bank was the reason we decided to stop at this random spot, a thermal hot pool. We tried to keep our expectations low, but the rumours were true, there was a hot hot pool, we clambered in the eggy smelling water and scalded our aching bodies for approximately 3 minutes before being under full attack of the sandflies. We immediately ran down the bank and jumped straight into the icy glacial river, basically a grubby spa treatment, if you’re willing to suffer to get there. I’d happily swap it for the tiny Nepalese woman who gave me a savage massage in Katmandu, that woman was small but mighty and just what my shoulders need right now, especially since I’m a one pole hiker now, I’m very Quasimodo, feels like my muscles need to be pressed back onto my skeleton. We had to zip into our tents immediately, genuinely the worst sandfly experience to date, literally thousands. You have to get in the tent and lie really still and wait for them all to land, then go on a murdering spree.

Day 19 Hot Pools Campsite to Hope Kiwi Hut. 15 miles.

Straight up and out, no messing, no breakfast to get as far away from the sandflies as we could. The clouds were low on the valley, but for the first time on this section hike I started to see some beauty. Feeling a lot more positive helps and the miles churned under our wet feet slightly easier than the day before.

We again chose to choose our own adventure to try and save miles, our legs and our sanity. We did not want to go into the thick bush rollercoaster so instead we took a straight line across farmland. It was genuinely a great decision, the grass was spongy and flat and the sky was open above us. It became a slightly less ideal situation when we found ourselves trapped in a field of mummy and baby cows by an electric fence. I felt like I had been training for this my whole life (thanks Rach and Sarah) I used my excellent cow herding skills and we kept to the edge of the field with the exit in sight but a trekking pole out and a rock in hand. About halfway through we looked to our left and I’m joking you not, the most enormous bull I have ever seen in my life was staring me right in the eyes maybe 20 meters away, it started roaring or whatever a bull does and without hesitation we threw our bags over the electric fence, slid under and got out of dodge, fear laughing as we went, I’d take the electric fence over the bull anyday, it continued its warning for miles after we had gone.

This hike has just felt a bit tedious, the afternoon dragged on as the heavens opened and soaked us to the bone, the trail sent us through thick face height scrub that was dripping wet, sending water down the back of your neck, like when the first wave crashes over you and the water goes down your wetsuit for the first time. We chose poorly about a mile from the hut, we could see it in the distance but the trail went wiggly around so we ploughed in a direct line only to find ourselves in neck deep tussocks, the trail always wins in the end. We arrived at the hut and the sun came out just enough for us to dry off and sit with our faces burning, bringing us back to life.

As the evening came, the sky closed in, thunder and lightning rang out up the valley. A storm blew in with harsh winds and rain. We have found ourselves in the middle of a southbound hiker bubble, we aren’t used to having to share the trail or huts with so many people, over 15 hikers at the hut turned up from the other direction. I looked at Willow and said people or rain? She chose the right answer, we pitched our tents outside, my endurance for rain is far superior to that of people.

If you don’t want to see what a foot that’s been wet for 3 days looks like, look away now. My skin is literally tearing off the bottom of my poor little feets.

Day 20. Hope Kiwi Hut to Windy Point. 13 miles.

It’s amazing what the motivation of a hot shower and garlic bread (not together obvs, although if someone wants to bring me garlic bread while I’m soaking in a tub I wouldn’t bat their hand away) can do to our trail speed. We absolutely crushed our miles in record time. It was mostly flat with short steep sections through the woods, loads of bogs that were unhopable which was annoying, I can cope with clean river water but bog juice just smells bad and feels slimy between your toes. The woods were baffling, the tree trunks and branches were jet black, and there was a low buzzing all around like we were going to get swarmed by bees at any moment. At first I thought there had been a fire in the past but it was actually some sort of fungus invading everything, it smelt like vinegar and the buzzing was thousands of wasps feeding on the black matter. It was creepy and dark and spurred us on faster than ever trying not to slip over the black snake roots.

By midday we had made it out, feeling relieved to have nailed this 70 mile section, slightly deflated because it wasn’t the most exhilarating hike and definitely exhausted from the lack of food. We had a hard hitchhike into town, but got picked up by the sweetest Chinese couple who drove us directly to our campsite for the night feeling so embarrassed at our aroma filling their clean car. As we got dropped off we were walking into the campsite when a car pulled right up to us and the driver shouted, are you hungry? I’m not sure how she could tell that we were ravenous but she opened her boot to all the leftovers from a corporate event, and told us to fill our boots. I whipped out my pot and with my filthy hands grabbed roast lamb, potato salad, fresh bread and salad, I am confident she changed the pathway of our day. I think it’s perfect that this blog post starts and ends with food.

We are in a town called Hanmer Springs for a few days. We are taking a rest day, visiting the thermal pools, and of course eating garlic bread!

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5 mountains, 4 days.

Well technically 6 mountains in 8 days now!

After our short trail vacation we are back on the Te Araroa for some more suffering. We have had a few gear malfunctions over the past few miles. Most of our hiking gear we bought in 2015/16 for my Appalachian Trail hike, so 7 years later it’s doing pretty good but starting to look ropey. After holding, contemplating and weighing pretty much every hiking pole in Queenstown, I decided instead of buying a pair of poles that are a downgrade from mine but still $300, I’ve gone with a single pole that is comparable to mine, feels the same ish in my hand and is the same ish weight for $99 and go with mis matched poles. Willow’s air mattress was in distress so she had to splurge on a new one. We both like to do our due diligence in researching the best options but as we don’t have access to internet shopping I think we’ve got the best we could. I felt like a winner when I was able to replace my arse ripped leggings with a $4 half price pair from the hospice shop, what was agony was not being able to buy the vintage midi dress that was made for me!

Day 12 Te Araroa. Arrowtown to Macetown campsite. 9 miles.

We skipped a 20km road walking section first thing with a $1 local bus journey to the gold mining tourist town, Arrowtown. Full of crappy souvenir shops we visited the local bakery for a custard slice and a sausage roll to stuff in our bags for lunch. I’m absolutely over the moon that I’m in a sausage roll country, they really are the hiking food of the gods.

No messing around the trail started its climb pretty immediately. The sun was shining, there was a clear trail and we cruised up it, pretty sweaty, there’s pros and cons to using your hair to protect your neck and ears from the violent sun rays. Unfortunately we made muppety error. The trail was called Big Hill Saddle, when we got to a trail junction we didn’t hesitate, just started climbing the biggest hill in front of us. After about 30 sweaty, muscle burning minutes of vertical climbing out of the corner of my eye I saw some hikers on a low path below us. We hadn’t seen the trail branch off and had blasted way up past it. FFS, after some cursing we turned around and came back down. At least the view was worth it.

Back on track we had a cruisey flat section but knew we still had a summit to reach. It was a great climb, steep enough to be mostly out of breath, but not enough to have to stop. Sausage roll break of champions, 360 views and a light breeze.

The downhill section off the top was hard going, the trail was very uneven and slanted in weird ways so my feet were never flat, that’s the worst case scenario for my knee and I could feel every step. There’s a bush called Matagouri, that has inch long spear like thorns, bush whacking through them is unpleasant except when you have 100s of sandfly bites, then it’s like a built in nature scratcher but it always ends in bloodshed. Shout out to the wild flowers today, stunning, foxgloves, vipers bugloss (thanks mum) lupins and many more we don’t know making our walk colourful and summery.

The last section of the day was supposed to be a 1.5mile 4X4 road walk. For starters we spent over 45 mins just trying to find it, off trail, on trail, wrong direction, over the stream, cross the river, I don’t understand why the trail just can’t be appropriately marked, winds me right up! Once we were on it we were shocked at having to ford several big river sections. At first I was building dams out of rocks to stay high and dry but one wrong move and a foot plunge later, I was wading knee deep so wet feet it was.

Macetown is a completely abandoned 1900 gold mining village. Old buildings and foundations lined the trail, with some informative signs buy we were too done in to read. Apparently it was abandoned due to a sandfly infestation. We pushed on to a small grassy patch next to the river as our home for the night. Disaster!!! Willow opened her pack to find she had lost her tent pegs! We just about fit in my tent but our gear would have to be left outside. Not a minute after this terrible revelation, a south bound hiker went past and revealed he was carrying 4 spare tent pegs and immediately gave them up. The hiking community are genuinely wonderful, karma is absolutely a thing, we always share what we can and help when we can and when we need it, it will be provided. We traded him some snacks in return and I snuck him 10 bucks for a beer in the next town. What a fortunate meeting!

Both tents up, and camp jobs done we sat outside and slapped the sandflies away whilst eating our dinner. Last night when we were in town we ordered pizza and packed out the leftovers for tonight, stunning location, surrounded by mountains and wild lupins eating a Hawaiian pizza, I’m pretty stoked with our choices today. A lot of people ask about what we eat and how we manage food on trail. After this section I’ll do a detailed post about it, we’ve got it pretty well down now, but we are still always hungry!

Day 13 Te Araroa. Macetown to Roses Hut. 8 miles.

I can absolutely confirm that the sandfly infestation still exists. Woke up to what I thought was rain pitter pattering on my tent, but it was in fact thousands of sandflies, hungry with violence, trapped between my inner tent and my rain fly. We lay around in our tents hoping the sun would come out and see them off, but the low cloud in the valley lingered. At 9am, which for us is nearly 3 hours later than usual, we got ourselves together, did as many jobs as we could inside our tents so that all we had to do once out was break camp and make a break for it. It was a one two three countdown type situation, as soon as we unzipped they were there, thirsty for blood, we were absolutely swarmed.

Another first for us today, we had a 3 mile river walk. When I say river walk, I mean the trail was the actual river. We were very apprehensive about it to begin with, if we fell or slipped everything we own to eat, sleep and stay warm would be soaked, but it turned out to be almost type A fun (type A fun is actually fun) I’d give it an -A or B+. The water was freezing but my legs were so itchy and bitten and scratched the numbing chilled water was a relief. Most of the time the water was ankle to knee deep, willow had the long leg advantage whereas Sophie short legs here was often thigh deep. Jewel coloured rocks lined the river bed, they were smooth and not slippery which was a bonus. We had a knarly rapids section where a couple of times I thought the current was going to wipe my legs from under me, we had the disadvantage of walking up stream, which was hard work, but I just kept telling myself it was physio, but it was genuinely enjoyable. 5 stars, highly recommend our knock off Portuguese crocs, they are invaluable for days like today, we were able to keep our trail shoes dry and feet blister free. So many people have commented on how great they are (another shout out to Ma and Pa for finding these, can we put an order in for another pair each please while you’re there?) they are an integral part of our hiking gear, wouldn’t dare go without them!

Obviously we missed our turning and walked up the river too far, they need the mark this trail better for people walking north! As soon as we left the river it was a steep climb for nearly 2 miles to Roses Saddle. My technique for getting up is to count my steps, I count to 100 and only allow myself a stopping break dead on 100, then start from 1 again. It helps me keep pace and also concentrate on what’s in front of me rather than stress about what’s ahead. I’m starting to really enjoy the climbs which means my trail legs might be kicking in. We had a late lunch on the saddle with incredible views all around which seems to be the theme in New Zealand. We could see our hut below us on the valley floor, and a 2 mile descent dropped steeply down.

New hikers at the hut tonight, it’s been a pleasure so far to meet everyone, no trail bros or egos, just lovely people sharing tramping stories. We always seem to leave with a phone number and an invite to stay, Kiwi’s seem to be aggressively hospitable, a trait I’m going to be better at.

Our tents look super cute together, we try and put them as close together as possible so we can still talk to each other and play our tent games once zipped in. Behind us are the mountains we will climb the next day, sometimes it’s best to look away.

Day 14, Te Araroa, Roses Hut to Highland Creek Hut. 7 miles.

Well today was a day. You know it’s going to be tough when the mileage is low but the guidebook recommends 7 hours hiking time. We have started to plan our days differently, previously on trails we have looked at the mileage and planned around that, we are comfortable with 15-18 miles per day. On this trail however we are taking note of the recommended hours it takes from place to place and planning for between 7-8 hours, sometimes this is 15+ miles but sometimes like today it’s only 7 miles. The elevation profile had us summiting two mountains, we would gain and lose over 1000 metres over the day.

We had a more relaxed start again in the morning, eating our breakfast whilst our tents dried in the morning sun, and didn’t get hiking until 8:30am. We had some inside intel that just half a mile down the trail there was a river crossing and a bog that was impossible to cross and keep your feet dry so we decided to keep our crocs on to begin with, so that we could have dry shoes for the rest of the day. Apparently falling in rivers is now my thing, stood on the side of the bank, I went to take a massive step onto a rock and  both my feet slipped from under me, my arms and poles shot out sideways and down I went, luckily landing on my amply cushioned backside on the bank. Mildly winded myself and struggled to get up but managed to laugh it off.

The climb started pretty immediately, sometimes nearly vertical, we plodded up, keeping a steady rhythm, feeling good and strong. The view from the top was all the way down to Lake Wanaka which is still a 3 day hike away for us. The down started pretty immediately and was severe. It’s hard to take big steps as it’s so uneven so you end up taking piddly little steps which is frustratingly slow going.

A quick snack stop at the bottom before we immediately started to climb up again. This time it was aggressive, straight up, no switchbacks. I couldn’t see the top and couldn’t crick my neck back that far because of my pack. It was roasting in the sun and every muscle in my legs was burning with the effort. It was a tough two hours, with not much conversation for fear of using too much energy, we would stop to drink and catch our breaths before plowing on again. We promised ourselves lunch with a view which was our reward for the climb which was much needed because the fuel tanks were empty.

Just one last down stood between us and the hut. It started with a dodgy ridge walk, I love heights and being on the edge of things much to my mothers disgust, but this was giving even me some vertigo. On one side of us was the mountain, the middle was the trail which was about 8 inches wide and on the other side was a sheer drop. Keeping focused on the footsteps in front was all I could do. The down was slow going and bone crunching, but the kicker was when we got to the bottom there was a surprise mini mountain between us and the hut. It was only half a mile but I couldn’t go on, I needed to take my pack off and recharge, just 5 minutes does the job usually, so we sprawled dead on the trail, lying in the sun before tackling the last hurdle.

Just before the hut we stopped in the stream, took off our shoes and most of our clothes and had a good old fashioned ice cold stream wash, it’s fantastic to feel clean and fresh after such a hard day. The hut tonight is beautiful, (fun fact, the land and huts are owned or formally owned by Shania Twain, which does impress me much!) So much so that we are sleeping inside instead of our tent. There’s only one other hiker from Germany staying and our trail friend Andy is pitched up outside, so a super chill evening. The view from the hut is the best yet!

Day 15, Te Araroa, Highland Creek Hut to Glendhu Campsite, 11 miles.

Slept pretty ok in the hut, I could hear possums running around on the roof but managed to tuck myself deep into my sleeping bag and fall asleep.

We had just one more mountain to climb in this section, 5 in 4 days has been both exhilarating and exhausting. I had a small tantrum in the morning like an over-tired toddler, I was annoyed that the trail kept trying to push me off, it was so narrow and everything was spikey, I knew we had a huge climb and I just wanted to get on with it and stop piddling around the ridge!

We finally started our climb up Jack Hall’s Saddle and surprisingly got really into it, there were steep sections followed by short breaks and for once the summit was visible and never changed. We stopped at the top and ate our last squares of dark chocolate. It felt like a really profound moment, a once in a lifetime moment, there are some places I have visited in the world where I think, yep I’ll be back, but this mountain, a four day hike from anywhere, with glorious views felt like I had to extra appreciate and remember it because it’s unlikely I’ll ever be back.

Even the down wasn’t that bad and the hut for our lunch stop was as stunning as the others in this section. The guidebook for the afternoon section said the words ‘easy walking’ this is a book of pure lies. For the first 4 miles the trail was continuously steep up for 50 meters followed by steep down for 50 meters whilst climbing over fallen trees, streams and bogs, frustration kicked in, and progress was slow. The last 2 miles were easy walking but that was because it was a dusty dirt road. We fell into the campsite, an enormous village of family sized tents that tower over our little backpacking tents, stripped off and sat around drinking orange fanta, the drink of the trail gods in our rain ponchos while our grubby clothes ‘washed’ in the campsite laundry. I think our clothes are too grubby for conventional laundry machines but at least they’ve touched soap.

Day 16 Te Araroa, Glendhu Campsite to Wanaka, 11 miles.

Early start for the first time in a while, we had an exciting pick up in Wanaka to get to. The 11 miles that stood between us and our little rental car was a beautiful lake walk. We are beginning to understand that if the book says easy walking, what they mean is there’s a trail and it isn’t a mountain. It was however an extremely steep up and down mountain biking track. Good job the water in the lake twinkled around us, distraction is the key to long miles.

Today we picked up a rental car for a few days so that we could visit Mount Cook National Park, to hike around the tallest mountains in New Zealand. We were beyond excited to have the freedom of wheels. We had meticulously planned our meals with really heavy food items knowing we didn’t have to carry them on our backs, tinned vegetable soup, fresh fruit, cheese, and our new favourite ginger slice, not to be confused with my least favourite spice girl.

The drive was amazing, I’m chief driver because it’s my side of the road, but the bloody indicator is on the other side so I was continuously signalling with my windscreen wipers. We had music blaring and mountains all around us, and just felt really happy.

Mount Cook National Park.

New Zealand has no right to be this stunning, it definitely takes the crown when it comes to natural beauty per square mile.

Small trail vacation again and not even a little bit guilty about it. We booked a primitive campsite right in the middle of the national park and made it home for 4 nights. Totally surrounded by the Southern Alps, everywhere you look was a stunning picture. We hiked pretty much every marked route, and saw the majesty of Aoraki/Mt Cook from high and low and east and west. It even managed to sidle its way into my top 5 favourite mountains in the world. There’s a strong Edmund Hillary linkage and it really felt that after our Sagarmartha/Everest trip we were supposed to be there. Another trail vacation spent hiking, but have never been so fulfilled.

Making hiking great again!

We are so fortunate to have met some amazing new Kiwi friends in the last 2 weeks, they are warm and welcoming and genuinely want to show you their amazing country. They have really helped us plan our next course of action. When we decided to come to New Zealand it was because it was so high up on both of our bucket lists, the scenery, culture, wildlife. We both love long distance hiking so you can imagine the Google search that happened, ‘long distance hiking in NZ’ and up came the Te Araroa. Don’t get me wrong we are still absolutely planning on hiking the Te Araroa but because of our time restrictions if we do the whole thing we will actually miss so much other really great stuff, so every now and again we plan on taking a detour, a TA vacation, starting with this week.

We decided we needed a 3 day rest after what we had endured. Day 1 of our rest day consisted of eating things, mainly pizza, pies, crisps, sweets, fruit and fizzy drinks, like teenagers on a sleepover, whatever has the highest calorie content. Whilst Willow may be small, she shows her full might when devouring an entire family sized bag of Doritos to herself, no regrets.

Day 2 was a full admin day. We sat for nearly 5 hours, planning our next sections, our next resupplies, our next rest stops etc. It’s a lot of work, a lot of reading and research and a lot of pre booking things, which we aren’t really used to, it’s taken us by surprise that basically all accommodation is fully booked as it’s school summer holidays until the end of January.

Day 3 we decided to book ourselves on a tourist coach trip to Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. This is something that if we were thru hiking, we wouldn’t be able to do and would have been a huge mistake because it was seriously one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. The morning bus trip incorporated many stops at vistas and lakes along with some excellent fun facts and Maori tales. We got to see our first Kea bird. One of the most intelligent birds in the world, they are a colossal pain in the arse. They are like little cartoon characters, who distract you with cuteness whilst their mates steal and wreck all of your belongings.

We had a lunchtime boat cruise through the fiords and out into the Tasmin sea, it was absolutely spectacular, around every bend was a wow moment, mountains meeting the ocean, waterfalls and baby seals.

We went on a delightful nature stroll, dipped our toes in the glacial waters and fell asleep on the bus on the way back. It was such a relief to not have a job to do today, we didn’t need to hike to be able to sleep somewhere, we didn’t need to plan or book anything, we didn’t have to stress our bodies or minds, we could just be.

Tomorrow we are setting off on a 3 day hike called the Routeburn, it’s one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and will join up with the TA in several days. We are calling it our vacation days.

Routeburn day 1, hiking day 9.                           Routeburn shelter to Routeburn Flats 4 miles

As I said before the Routeburn is a Great Walk which appears to mean there’s a lot of people hiking this famous trail. We had to book all of our tent sites, which were bloody expensive at $32 per person per night for a flat bit of grass. We did a lot of tooing and froing to get to the trail head but eventually got hiking early afternoon.

Oh what a difference a well maintained trail makes, actually just any kind of trail, no bush whacking or bog jumping involved, just pure old fashioned walking put a pep in our step. We had a super short day so we meandered our way through the forest and stopped at the river for a luxurious foot soak.

What seemed like just moments later we arrived at our first campsite. Effing stunning, the dream location, I changed my mind on my earlier statement, I’d pay $32 for this. We are so happy tonight, cooking our powdered mash and dried peas, it’s the hiking break we needed, I’m just sorry not sorry I don’t have any tales of suffering to share.       

Routeburn day 2, hiking day 10.                         Routeburn Flats to McKenzie Lake 16 miles

What a view to wake up to this morning, we are early risers, there’s always a 6 on the clock when we wake up, we like the peace before everyone else takes a bit of it, but it also means we get the best morning light.

Today was surprisingly challenging. It started with a pretty hefty ascent up a rocky path. After about an hour we reached a hut, not like the huts we have been used to on the TA, which have been tin sheds with dirt floors, this was a resort, no wonder people are paying over hundred bucks a night to stay, apprently they book out as soon as they go on sale every year like Glastonbury. We snuck in and tried to blend in so we could enjoy our breakfast break with the luxury of sitting on a bench and not the forest floor. We carried on up the valley, heading towards Harris Saddle, a high pass to the next valley. It wasn’t easy, it was steep and continuous climbing, my calf muscles were on fire and I was upset at how weak my legs felt after 3 rest days. The thing that was easy was the condition of the path, boardwalks over bogs had my jaw dropping and hand rails on steep sections, no one cares that TA hikers could fall to their deaths at any given moment!

After 3 hours of climbing we reached the top of the pass. There was a side trail up to the top of a small mountain called Conical Hill which, as we were making great time, for the first time beating the times on the signs, we decided to take. We were able to leave our packs at the bottom and hike up weightless for the first time. When you have been wearing a heavy pack for so long and then try and hike without it you feel like you are out of control, nothing is tethering you to the ground. The climb was really hard going, sometimes hand over hand rock climbing, pretty much a vertical trail which took us about 45 mins and all of our breath. The reward was obvious as soon as we got there, a panoramic view to die for, which I nearly did on the way down, being a pole short, I only have 50% of my stability.

The theme of stunning views carried on all afternoon, we hiked just below the ridge line, undulating with the contours of the mountainside. Willow had a right grump on, I think it was a harder day than anticipated, even if the trail was a flat field, 16 miles is a bloody long way and it’s easy to get frustrated with your body, but I just got the wind under my sales and flew down the trail ahead. The descent was tough, I was beginning to feel it in my joints, my ankles and knees were crunching so I was utterly relieved to make it to camp. Not such a great view directly from our tents tonight but a 1 minute stroll and we were at the most picturesque mountain lake that was exactly the icy temperature my body needed to recover. We dipped our feet and laid like lizards on the rocks, I watched clouds pass over the snowy peaks and felt complete.

I’m writing this tonight zipped inside my tent listening to an epic thunderstorm right over our heads. I don’t mind a good old storm in my tent as long as I can cook my dinner and squirrel away all my belongings first. Absolutely loved today, the right amount of suffering balanced with the right amount of epic mountain views.

Routeburn day 3, hiking day 11.                       McKenzie Lake to The Divide 10 miles.

If you’ve never camped on a slight slope before you won’t understand the trauma of having to jump your bed back up your tent in the night after waking up to find yourself crumpled at the bottom. The good thing is when you go to bed at 8pm there’s so many hours of night to catch up on sleep. I tend to have several long naps rather than a night’s sleep. The joys of a 3 day hike is that I get to wear a fresh pair of underwear and socks every single day, It almost seems wasteful when my pair from yesterday aren’t even wet.

A sharp forest climb shocked me out of my slouchy morning mood and had me with a sweat moustache by 7:30am. We like to get at least a mile under our belts before we stop for breakfast, it helps us make our lunch and dinner later, helping us not to irrationally eat all of our rations. 

We powered down the trail, which was quite up and then quite down, we only had 10 miles to do today and nailed it in under 4 hours. We took a side trail way up to Key Summit but we were completely socked in, dense, wet clouds deep into the valleys meant no views, but you can’t get too greedy, we were pretty full up from yesterday’s vistas.

There are very few people who think going on a slightly nicer hike is a vacation from hiking but luckily we are both those people. We just needed a few more joyful moments to outweigh the sick joke moments and this was it.

Te Araroa, TA not the AT.

After a week’s rest in Sydney, we flew to New Zealand to start our next big (slightly stupid) adventure. We are attempting to hike the entire South Island. Approximately 800+ miles on the Te Araroa hiking trail. We are not going to be purists about it, if we need to skip a section because of weather or road walking or time etc. then we are allowing ourselves that luxury, but the goal is to hike from south to north.

Day 1. Invercargill to Oreti Beach. 12 miles.

Today we flew from Auckland straight to Invercargill in the very South of the Southlands. The trail passes next to the airport which is a bonus. We actually had a few last minute jobs to do, we needed gas for our cooking stove and I needed a spork, an essential item, it’s 3 utensils in one!

We eventually got on the trail after some taxiing around at about 2:30pm. It was a long road walk to begin with. Our packs are H for heavy, they weigh approximately 14kg with around 5 days of food and a days worth of water. It’s a massive adjustment to our bodies, it hurts everywhere it touches to begin with, until you’ve beaten those body parts back into submission.

After about an hour we reached our first beach walk. It’s so weird that this is our first hiking trail beach walk ever, I feel like I’m at home, the familiar feel of sand immediately in my shoes, a salty seaweed flavour to the air and seagulls squawking in the sky.

It was a long windy walk, we were pitched at an angle forward with sand blowing towards us. We were on the look out for a river crossing as a marker of distance passing approximately 10 miles into our walk. The tide was rising so as soon as we got there we whipped our shoes off and began the crossing. It just got deeper and deeper until we were pretty much waist deep and cracking up laughing at our misfortune so early on. Enough to force an entire bladders worth of wee straight out, good job we were still in the river, next time wee before funny things might happen!

Sodden wet we carried diligently on, letting the wind whip us quickly dry but staying barefoot, enjoying the waves over our toes. The next marker was another stream crossing but it was already 6:30pm and the tide was still rising, we decided to find a secluded and sheltered spot in the dunes to camp for the night. Fun fact, I’ve lived around the ocean all my life and never camped on the beach.

We found the perfect spot in a dip with dunes all around and set up our tents for the first time in forever. Within seconds of finishing our setting up jobs, it started to rain, so we zipped up in our respective tents to wait it out. Let me tell you, at 6am the next morning we were still waiting it out. We endured possibly the worst conditions we have ever had whilst camping. The wind suddenly changed directions and blew gale force directly at us, not just battering our tents but blowing in a full sand storm. The absolute only thing holding our tents down were our bodies, we both lost our tent pegs, and the sides of our tents collapsed around us. Sand blew in from all directions covering everything in sand inches deep. Because we had no pegs, when the rain came, it came in, the sides of our tents soaking everything inside. All we could do was shout at each other over the wind to check the other was still there. There was sand everywhere, crunching between my teeth, in my earholes, asshole, and scalp. I debated getting out to re-peg or even pack up and go, but we were surrounded by water in each direction and had no idea how deep the stream crossings would be. We hunkered down zipped tightly into our sleeping bags with nothing else to do but wait for morning and hope that it would let up.

Day 2. Oreti Beach to Colac Bay. 17 miles.

Well it did not let up, at 6am Willow shouted over to see if I was awake, knowing full well we had both basically been awake all night. We made the decision, now that it was daylight to make a break for it. It had stopped raining but the wind was still fierce. Everything, and I mean everything was covered in sand. Not just a fine dusting, inches deep of both dry and very wet sand. There was literally nothing we could do but shove it in our packs which were also very wet and very full of sand. We spent at least 10 minutes hysterically laughing about the whole situation, which quite quickly turned to hysterical crying. I am so diligent about my hiking gear, I take care of it like it’s made of gold, I love each piece and have put a lot of thought into each thing and where it goes in my pack. No time for that shit, we shoved and shoved, buckled up and got hiking wearing the same shorts I wet myself in yesterday.

Check Willow’s sand moustache!

7 miles on the beach first thing, it was upsetting how beautiful it was because I was enraged in how it treated us last night. Walking on sand is hard going and impossible to tell distance, we walked along the strand line, looking at interesting birds, weird dead fish and pretty shells.

Side story, bloody airport security confiscated our power banks, which we did, to be fair, stupidly put in our checked luggage. They are on that dangerous items list they show you and you just nod when they ask about it. Big problem because neither of us fully charged our phones and they are our sole means of navigating the trail. There was a side trail today that would take us into a town which we were forced to take to try and replace them. We had minor success, I say that because we have one but it’s really shit and will only just about get us out of a pinch as long as we keep our phones on aeroplane mode constantly and limit photography. 10am was time for our second breakfast, which was in fact the food that was supposed to be our dinner last night which we missed because of the sand storm chaos. No calories left behind we are eating everything.

The afternoon was interesting, it reminded me very much of the South West Coast Path, we weaved around the coastline, down to private beaches, up on cliffs and ended with a 4 mile beach hike. It was very beautiful, the colour of the ocean with the blue sky and sand looked like paradise. It did not feel like it, still breaking in my body, it’s rotating between things that hurt, mostly knees, feet and hips, but occasionally the stabbing collar bone pain is a shocker.

Tonight we are staying at a holiday campsite. We spent 2 hours as soon as we got there attempting to de-sand everything we owned, I had sand in my bra and in my socks which were in a dry bag in my pack, the inside of my sleeping bag and tent were a mess. Luckily the weather is amazing, sunny with a bright breeze which meant everything dried amazingly, like it never happened, and with the beach sections firmly behind us I hope it never will.

Day 3. Colac Bay to Martins Hut. 11 miles.

Totally different day today, we turned away from the ocean and headed inland and up. The path was super interesting, we spent the day in the woods, which was a blessing because another strike against the beach walking – major sun burn. The trees are twisty and delicate, the ferns are out of control, thriving in the warm and wet, I’ve literally never seen a fern tree, tall trunk with a fern sitting on top, like an open umbrella.

The trail was slow going and extremely muddy, we had to pick our way around, often going off piste to avoid literal mud holes and lagoons. There was a lot of lady tennis player noises having to step up and down and up and over fallen trees. We had a right laugh at all the plunger noises our trekking poles made when suctioned into a bog.

Tonight is new year’s eve, we are camping at a trail hut with two other super nice hikers. None of us can think of many places other than a trail we would rather celebrate the incoming new year. We decided to have a tent sleepover so that we could set our alarm for 11:57pm and ring in the new year together with a softly whispered version of Auld Lang’s Syne in the absolute comfort of our sleeping bags.

Day 4. Martin’s Hut to Merryvale Hut. 18 miles.

What a bloody day. I write this at the end of the day, but if I had written it at various points in the day it might have very different opinions. Right now I’m a little bit lower half broken, specifically my feet took a battering today.

The day started off totally different again, sharp uphill followed by high open moorland. It was hazy but we could just about make out the coastline from whence we came.

We had been warned about today, deep mud, but as it hadn’t been raining for multiple days in a row and it’s sunshine and hot we were maybe a bit blasé. At first we bush whacked our way around what looked like the deepest bogs, scratched up legs are better than wet feet. Things started to go downhill when Willow stepped backwards and sank thigh deep in thick mud. From that point on it was pretty impossible to dodge, so we just had to plow through. We laughed our way through it, barely making more than 1 mile an hour progress. Why can’t we have nice things, it’s because we are natural bog goblins.

It took about 7 hours to clear 8 miles of trail and with 10 miles still to go, the mud became not that funny anymore. We set off at 7am and finally emerged out of the woods at 5:30pm. The sick jokes weren’t over, we still had a 5 mile road walk to get to our next hut. My feet had been wet for over 10 hours, trench foot was starting to be a problem, every step I took on that road was ripping my skin and it was baking hot in full sun, creating the perfect conditions to both burn and chafe my skin under my pack. Willow had a complete trail tantrum and refused to speak or be spoken to and I just head down walked, hoping that if I tipped slightly forward, gravity or momentum might push me just a bit quicker.

Finally arrived at 7:30pm, that’s over 12 hours of hiking, it’s lucky there are so many hours of daylight, we had enough time to do all of our camp jobs and tried not to eat all of our rations. Fitbit calorie count for the day was well over 5000. Beautiful sunset.

Day 5, Merryvale Hut to Birchwood Hut, 19 miles.

Definitely did some some hobbling in the morning, it takes a good 15 minute plod in the morning, or in fact after any kind of break to get going, you have to remind your body who’s in charge because if you let it do what it wants all the time I’d certainly need to be cut out of my house or in this instance hoisted out of my tent.

The trail guide promised much easier hiking today, and we were blessed with great weather again, with some morning cloud inversion, the green looks super green and the mountains around us were inviting.

It seems that the trail is overly marked in some places with sometimes 4 markers visible at once and other times like this morning, there isn’t a marker to be found, but it was worth it when we did find the trail because it was a glorious 4X4 track, wide, grassy and flat. We managed to push up to a 3 mile an hour pace, which up until now has been near impossible. We had a steep climb before lunch through a forest which luckily ended just before I was about to loose my patience with it and my calf muscles in the process.

After lunch and some unremarkable miles we popped out onto a high ridge line, views for miles. We had to drop down off the ridge which was a 1 mile descent but took us close to and hour and half, it was genuinely the steepest hill I have ever walked down, each step my toes jammed against the end of my shoes and my knees crunched, it was funny not funny, we always seem to find the predicaments we get into hilarious but we often also end up crying.

We ended up at a privately owned hut on someone’s farm. It was an absolute saviour, because number one they had a shower, and although the only soap available was literally washing up soap it was fantastic, the colour of the water down the drain is unbelievable but it felt good to wash two day old bog stink off. Number two amazing thing is that the local tavern will come and pick up hikers from the farm and drive them to their pub for dinner and back again. I ate a double stack burger as big as my face with one hand without even putting it down once. And I tell you what hits the spot every single time without fail, orange fanta!

We decided to sleep in the actual hut tonight to save time, but it’s not for me, in a pinch or bad weather I’d tolerate it, but I didn’t really sleep. The beds are grim, just mattresses with no covers that you know have been slept in by equally, if not grimier hikers, and you can hear mice scurrying around the rafters. I seriously love my little tent.

Day 6, Birchwood Hut to Telford Campsite, 18 miles.

What a day, a day that definitely makes you remember that not all miles are created equally. Today we entered Mt Linton Station. The biggest sheep station in New Zealand, a privately owned farm. Unfortunately it would seem that the land owner isn’t too happy about the trail going through his property. There are menacing signs as soon as you enter and throughout, threatening all kinds of things if you come off the trail but it’s the very worst the trail has been marked yet.

We got a super early start, out before 7am but unfortunately best laid plans and all that, we pretty immediately got lost. We ended up in a corner of a field surrounded by an electric fence. Ask me how I know it was electric, because I lent my trekking poles against it and when I went to pick them up, ZAP! It made me see stars! Not long after that another hiker turned up in the same predicament, followed by a 4th but this time he was on the correct side of the fence. Our options were to back track uphill a considerable distance or attempt to hop the fence which we obviously did. With a lot of help from our new hiker friends (Lisa and Andy) we all made over, but 3 out of 4 of us got zapped!

Being electrocuted before 8am may have tainted my day slightly but from that incident on, the day just got tougher and tougher. The farmer routed the tracks on what seemed like the hardest terrain possible, massive ups for no reason and straight back down the other side when there were obvious better tracks visible. There was absolutely no shade all day and the sun was blazing, it was like being in a frying pan and we walked through endless fields of nettles driving us crazy with the itchy burning.

The saving grace of the day was the views, stunning mountain vistas and the fact that when we got to camp, everyone had had a shit day not just us, which made us feel better. We are always so under confident with our abilities, and have in the past felt like we have to put on a brave face when we arrive at a shelter, rather than admit how much our bodies are suffering, but this group of hikers that we have flip flopped with since the beginning are great, they are having the same experience we are, this trail is tough.

We camped tonight in a big field, where the sandflies were absolutely in charge. We retreated immediately to our tents, zipped in tight but already covered in bites and had to eat a sad can of tuna cold dinner whilst shouting to each other through our tent walls.

Day 7, Telford Campsite to Aparima Hut, 13 miles.

Today was super up and super down both literally and emotionally.

We got out and on the trail at 6:20am, but as is now our thing we spent the first 30mins trying to find the trail. It’s designed to hike southbound and we are hiking northbound so the markers aren’t easy to see. We knew there was a killer up first thing, the guide had said it would take 5 hours and it certainly was killer. The first section was pure bush whacking, chin height scrub and brush that we just had to plough through. Once we cleared that section we found ourselves on an exposed ridgeline. This is where we started to feel like ourselves, climbing up scree and rocks straight up the side of a mountain was exactly what I had been needing I just didn’t know it. It was hard going but the scrambling was really enjoyable and the views from the top were stunning.

We then entered the forest, the never ending forest. There’s only one word that sums up this trail and it’s relentless. No matter what the terrain, it always seems to just go on for long enough or be hard enough to break you before changing. I was hiking as fast as I physically could, my legs were being sliced and diced by sticks and roots, we bashed through vegetation, jumped bogs and it still took us 6 hours, which combined with the mountain climb in the morning made for an 11 hour straight hiking day. Halfway through the afternoon after not speaking to each other for an hour because we were concentrating so hard on keeping our pace up, I suggested we risk my phone battery and play a Disney play list to distract us. Absolute bangers, we sang loud and proud knowing we were the only ones around for miles. Midway through nailing Moana I could not keep my tears silent, I stopped dead, turned round to Willow and just sobbed my heart out, loud, ugly, snot bubbles crying. I cried because I’m tired, everything hurts really bad and it’s really hard. I blew my nose and carried on hiking.

We arrived sometime after 6pm to the hut. It’s the first time we have run into other hikers, some northbound and some southbound. We threw our tents up and spent the rest of the evening telling trail tales. I cannot stress enough how much of a battering everyone’s bodies have taken over the last 8 days, no one is walking easy.

Day 8. Aparima Hut to Lower Princhester. 10 miles.

Set my alarm for 5:15am, we had miles to cover and wanted to finish as early as possible so that we could make it into town tonight as early as possible.

There was the patter of rain on our tents but we didn’t care, we stuffed everything in and got on the trail just after 6am along with the other hikers from the hut, we all meant business. The clouds were low, giving everything a damp vibe, but still managed to look stunning.

Dear lord, the trail was sent to try us today. The first 7 miles were a free for all through over head height tussocks and bogs. We had to bash our way through, falling all over the place, either foot in a bog, slipping on the pressed down foliage or tripping over the tuft. It was like being in an endless maze, it was well over head height and so easy to loose your way. My feet have now been wet for 6 days straight and each step is agony with more blisters than skin. Disaster struck when I went to jump over a stream and slipped on the wet bank and fell hard a meter down into the stream, landing on a rock on my side. All I heard was CRACK and searing pain in hip, for a second I genuinely thought I’d broken my pelvis, but almost second worst case scenario I had landed on my carbon fibre trekking pole and snapped it clean in half. I really hurt myself, it was just bruising but I was furious at loosing a pole, they are a lifeline, I stomped on with rage fueling my pace.

We added on an additional hiker, Lisa, who has been at all of our nightly stops for the last 8 days, to our crew for the afternoon after she got lost in tussock hell. We had a hard ascent and descent to go, through an unruly forest. Down trees, menacing ferns, slippery roots, we made groaning noises, sometimes laughing, sometimes genuinely having to try 2 or 3 times to step up another step with no juice left in our legs at all. I got stuck in fallen tree, followed directly by ripping my leggings wide open on the arse when I slid down a bank. Today has been rough on me, I felt like I was in the Hunger Games.

We got to the hut to the news that there was a shuttle coming to pick us up directly from the hut and not at the end of the road which would have been another 3 mile road walk. It was pure elation, relief and gratitude that we had made it. Our first section on the trail has been an incredibly challenging 118 miles/190km. The way the trail is split up meant that we were doing back to back 18+ mile days, hiking for more than 10 hours a day for 8 days, over mountains, marshes, rocks, bush, forest and tussocks, with wet feet everyday and blazing sunshine. For now we are heading to town for some serious leg and foot recovery, we need to eat a lot and spend time horizontal before we lace up our trail shoes again soon.

Even higher, part 2.

Day 8 Gokyo Ri to Tragnag.                                  733m up 794m down.                                            Trekking height 5340m                                  Sleeping height 4800m

Ok, so I don’t usually like to start a post with a negative but serious sick sick joke alert coming straight up, today was a long day!

Here we are staying at the fanciest of places on the trek. In real world terms it’s not fancy at all, but our expectations are so low at this point, a toilet, no flush, no running water is joy.

At our previous evening map check we discussed today’s plan, to climb Gokyo Ri. For us, this is our first giant, well into the 5000m zone and a huge 700m+ elevation gain. The plan was to leave at 4am to see the sun rise over Everest, but had a stark warning that the temperatures would be well below zero, and all drinking water would immediately freeze.

Off to bed we went at 7:30pm in the hopes of getting a decent amount of sleep before our early start. What a joke, turns out, it was to be the worst night imaginable for both me and Willow.

Not sure if I mentioned the dodgy chicken fingers yet, but up until last night I’d been strictly vegetarian, to be fair barely eating more than a potato a day, so as soon as I saw some protein on the menu I couldn’t resist, my dream was that it would miraculously give me my energy and strength back. Absolutely wrong, as soon as I lay in bed the room started spinning like I was drunk on a boat, I felt nauseous and light headed with a deep belly grumble. Maybe I’m being to harsh to the chicken fingers, with the list of medicine I’m taking (see below) they were probably the last thing causing my new sudden illness.

Diamox for the altitude, antibiotics for the cough, decongestant for the snot, imodium for the shits, paracetamol for the temperature, naproxen for the aches.

But sitting on the toilet, puking into the sink while simultaneously having a nose bleed at 1am was less than ideal. Meanwhile, while I’m shivering in my sleeping bag Willow is having a severe allergic reaction to something, her hands have come up in blisters and she’s itchy all over. Both wide awake when our 3:45am alarm goes off, not a peep of sleep between us.

We reluctantly start layering up, im wearing 3 pairs of leggings and my waterproof trousers over the top, 3 thermal tops, a fleece, down coat and waterproof coat. The top layers barely fit. The minute we walk outside we are hit with a blanket of cold. Walking by headlamps is pretty disorienting, it’s impossible to judge distance when you can only see the lit meter in front of you.

We pretty immediately started to climb sharply, creating zigzags to lessen the ascent but prolong the climb. In an incredibly negative headspace I followed the pack, but did some silent and not so silent crying. I felt empty, devoid of any energy and in moments I just wanted to go home. Didn’t think it could get much worse until I had an attack of the Raynauds. My feet were indescribably painful but numb all at the same time, I couldn’t feel where my feet were on the ground and started to trip over the front of my shoes which gave me the rage but they were also excruciating like all the blood was being compressed out and replaced with ice. If you know you know, if you don’t, count yourself lucky. I knew they weren’t going to miraculously start getting warm, they needed a heat source, I needed to take my shoes off and get some body heat to them. I know I sounded crazy, no one believed me at first, like I was becoming hypothermic trying to take my clothes off but I knew it was the only way so I started to do it anyway, clumsily I might add because I had so many layers on I couldn’t bend my legs to reach my shoes. Appreciation pause for Dawa and Willow who stuck by my side through all of this, remained patient and kind when I was not at my best. 15 minutes from the summit and that was it for me, barriers came up, I was agitated and unwell and frustrated, I sat down and refused to move, shouting that I was a grown up who can make my own decisions, a leave me to the wolves situation. I was only correct on one count, I am an adult but making decisions was out of my hands, Dawa was not going to let me quit this summit, through all the tears and frustration he got me there, to the top, to see the absolute best view of Everest sat amongst the giants of the Himalayas, totally spectacular. We did not need a guide to show us the way on this trip, we can follow a map ourselves, we needed a guide to show us what we are capable of, he’s worth his weight is gold, perfect strangers to him, he made us his family.

Sagarmartha

On the summit I immediately ripped my shoes off again to try and get feeling back into my feet, Dawa unzipped the bottom of his down trousers and zipped my feet into them. I could see on his face how cold they were, it must have been like have ice cubes on your bare skin, but together and with the sun rising things started to get better, especially with the prospect of down!

Hero feet warmer

I bolted down the mountain, surprisingly with no falls, I was so dizzy it was like my brain was working in slow motion but my body was responding in real time, like I was leaving my brain behind. As soon as we got back I needed to lie down, I needed my brain juices to even out, I tried to eat breakfast but my body is now rejecting all food. We negotiated a 2 hour napping window before we had to leave and I immediately fell into a restless shivering sleep.

I was actually relieved to be leaving the Gokyo Resort, not my best 24hrs if I’m honest. We knew we had a tough afternoon ahead of us, we were crossing the Ngozumpa Glacier, Nepal’s biggest glacier, to get to our tea house for the night. Turns out it was a bit of a highlight. The terrain was like nothing we had experienced, like another planet, it was a layer of rocks sat on top of a frozen landscape, we had to do a lot of boulder hopping and scree slopes up and down, Willow was a champion, she forged ahead and conquered a terrain I know she hates. There were constant rock falls and the dust was stifling, making my cough even more extra than it already was, but the experience was really memorable. It was a maze, once down it was impossible to see the way out but once up the path unfolded before you.

Arriving on empty to our tea house we negotiated a 4:30 pm dinner, I took approximately two bites of a bowl of pasta but couldn’t force anything else down. We went to bed when the sun was still high in the sky at 5:10pm, pretty glad that the ordeal was over.

Oxygen 79%. Pulse 81.

Day 9 Tragnag to Dzongla via Cho La Pass. 650m up 510m down. Trekking height 5483m. Sleeping height 5164m

With yesterday’s anxieties still pretty high, we had an early start to our day. The plan was the cross the Cho La Pass, a notorious high pass in the Everest region. I tried to eat some scrambled eggs for breakfast but all I could do was put a spoonful in my mouth and try and swallow it like medicine with a gulp of water, I’m now on day 2 of basically fasting, chewing food immediately makes me retch. We set off just at first light, just enough sun to squint and not need a headlamp. We very slowly climbed up through a valley for several hours, a gradual slope that even when at a poley, poley plodding pace, less than 1km an hour has you fully breathless. Definitely felt better than the climb yesterday, and what a bonus, I could still feel that I had feet on the end of my stumpy short legs.

After a whole morning of trudging, we crested a steep section and I felt pretty great, I was pretty confident we had just made it to the high point of the day, I was able to eat at least 2 bites of a snickers and my water had just about unfrozen enough to drink. That of course was not the notorious Cho La Pass, the giant rock wall in front of us was. From where we were sat, and ultimately from any angle it looked impossible.

The next 2 hours are a blurry dizzy mess in my head. The hike turned into a rock wall, wires, chains and posts lead us up the vertical wall. The higher we climbed the more lighted headed I became, trying to always keep one hand on the wire for fear of fainting off the side of a mountain. My hero arrived in the shape of Dawa B our porter who, had already been to the top with our bags and had returned to take our day bags off our backs. I was having to stop every 5 mins to rest, I felt like I was holding everyone up, willow diligently following behind continued to reassure me that she would not be able to go any faster even if she was in front. There were times when I didn’t know if I had my eyes closed or I was blacking out, at one point I had to ask if my shoes were on the right feet because they looked so distorted through my altitude muddled eyes, but on we continued, trusting that Dawa knew the limits of our bodies.

Under ordinary circumstances I genuinely would have enjoyed the challenge of the climb. In fact, despite the outward suffering on my face, under that, it was a huge highlight. The elation of reaching the top, seeing new friends with arms open in congratulations was something I will take with me always, this was the most type B fun I have ever had. (Type B fun: things that are only fun in retrospect, at the time it resembles practicing dying)

The view from the top was mind-blowing. A huge ice field spread out in front of us, leading steeply down into a new valley, surrounded by snowy peaks. We strapped on our crampons and started to navigate the icy path, trying to trust that the newly added grippy shoes would stop us sliding off the mountain.

Normally I hate down, but down in the Himalayas means oxygen, you should see the speed of me in comparison. It was a beautiful afternoon that seemed like a breeze, tarred only slightly by the now constant dizzy feeling, like trying to walk down the aisle of a moving train or bus.

We got to our tea house and congratulated ourselves with completing our day in 8 hours. We are sharing our tea house with many more hikers than we have seen in days, most are going in the opposite direction and are attempting the pass the next day. A couple of Ozzy hikers said that they were going to set off even earlier than planned after looking at the state of us as we arrived. To be honest this is the best I’ve looked in days, 9 days of hiking in the Himalayas, definitely gives you a certain look.

We managed a game of cards tonight, basically Uno with a deck of cards that we have named Yak Life, I knew a full summer school holidays spent playing Uno in a tent in my garden would eventually be a skill I could call upon. Dinner (5 Chips), maps and health checks. I love going to bed at 7pm.

Oxygen 76%.                                                           Pulse 95.

Day 10 Dzongla to Lobuche. 98m up.                                                                    Trekking height 4928m.                                        Sleeping height 4928m.

Easy day for us today, a short 3 hour hike in the morning saw us on a nice Himalayan flat path, no stress, no rush, just a chance to enjoy the scenery. Ama Dablam is back in our sights and is our mountain north star today. Midway through the morning we joined the main Everest Basecamp trail. Immediately it was wider, and more maintained. We started to see hikers on the trail, something we haven’t had for 10 days. Most are coming straight up from Namche, we’ve just taken the scenic route to get here.

Our afternoon is spent trying to recover from the intensity of the previous few days. Our tea house offers a bucket shower which we all take them up on. Basically a scolding hot bucket of water with a jug, in a room with a drain. Naked in a freezing room, dunking your head upside down in a bucket of boiling water and then pouring it over your body, doesn’t sound like the best experience, but let me tell you, I paid many dollars for that and would do it again in a second.

Trying really hard to eat things, I ordered vegetable cuppa soup and a basket of prawn crackers and nailed it.

Oxygen 75%.                                                           Pulse 80.

Day 11 Lobuche to Gorak Shep, via Everest Basecamp.                                                             436m up 200m down.                                           Trekking height 5364m.                                        Sleeping height 5210m

Today is the big one, Everest Basecamp. I’m probably feeling the best I’ve felt so far, the 8 days of antibiotics has helped me turn a corner of what I’m pretty sure is pneumonia by the rattle in my chest and my inability to take a deep breath. Poor Willow has now got a cold and was treated to the steam bath torture yesterday afternoon, but the snot fest is real. 

It’s a long trek today, we are following the Khumbu Glacier and are 360degrees, completely surrounded by giant Himalayan mountains. It’s hard to look up because the hike is pretty technical, weaving over the glacier, around pinnacles and crevasses of the famous glacier. Everest is hard to see now because it’s only slightly taller than the mountains around it, but every so often we see her peeking out. The views are stunning, out of this world and a real privilege that we have earnt in snot, sweat and tears over the last 2 weeks. We are furious everytime a helicopter flies over, brining clean, wealthy, healthy people from Katmandu for an easy glimpse of the tallest mountain on earth.

We arrive at Basecamp and for half an hour it’s just us. It’s impossible to not be immediately overwhelmed, tears just spontaneously come and we hug each other with fierce congratulations. Just writing that we made it gives me goosebumps, it’s a memory that will always bring emotions immediately to the surface, achieving a dream that began before I knew achieving dreams was possible. We spent time taking it in, imagining the mountaineers who have stood here before us, remembering lives lost but ambitions being achieved and looking at just how impossible it seems that you could climb any higher than Basecamp.

Our tea house tonight is the highest tea house in the Himalayas. Gorak Shep also known as Gorak Shit is definitely the most primitive place we’ve stayed with little  provisions due to its altitude and inaccessibility. In the night I had to break the ice in the toilet and the water bucket next to the toilet with a sledgehammer so that I could simultaneously have diarrhea and a nose bleed, just keeping it real after a day of highlights, mother nature is always the boss.

Oxygen 83%.                                                           Pulse 87.

Day 12 Gorak Shep to Pangboche.             1194m down                                                           Trekking height 5210m.             .            sleeping height 3985m                                      

Today we had the choice to climb our last peak, Kala Pattar, I had pretty much already made my mind up that I wasn’t going to, it would mean getting up in the middle of the night and torturing myself with a grueling and freezing climb. Willow was feeling crap and didn’t want to either so we stayed cosy in bed while Dawa and Graeme, the two yeti of our group nailed it and took some beautiful pictures for us.

They arrived back for a hero’s breakfast and we set off for our day of pure down. Over 1000m of elevation loss would mean by this evening we would be breathing much easier. We decided to make our day even longer than planned so that we could have a shorter day tomorrow, but that definitely meant head down and hike. The views down the valley were stunning as expected, but the minute you took your eyes off the ground, slips, trips and falls happened. The ground was sandy and rocky and we had to pick our way over boulders and down steep stone steps.

It was so surprising how quickly we felt better with every step down, how quickly the barren land turned to brush and scrublands and how quickly biodiversity sprung up around us. We walked through a mountaineers graveyard, a sombre but stark reminder of the lives lost in pursuit of the big one, Sherpas and westerners remembered together, record breakers and one timers who were willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for the highest high.

Cracking lunch of a toasted tuna and cheese sandwich which I very nearly finished, so close to being part of the clean plate club. Today has been a lot of miles in comparison to our previous days which prioritised height for distance but it was just a keep going for your own good kind of day. The valley opened out below, lush and green, the sun shone and the miles melted under our feet.

For the first time since day 3 in Namche, we are sleeping below 4000m. We are the only ones at our tea house, and for the first time in since our very first night we have a flushing toilet, it only flushes at night because in the morning the pipes are frozen but you can bet I put it to good use.

Yak life, dinner, maps, health checks and bed by 7:30pm. Standard.

Oxygen 89%.                                                           Pulse 87.

Day 13 Pangboche to Namche.                            590m up 600m down.                                            Trekking height 3860m.                                        Sleeping height 3450m

Absolutely stunning day today starting with a full dog parade. Every single dog in the village accompanied us for the first half mile of the trail, all the good boys and girls running alongside us, barking to tell their mates to join us, it was a joyful moment walking with 30 dogs. Pretty equal in terms of elevation ups and downs. We started the day visiting Tengboche Monastery, an absolute highlight. Dressed in rich reds and golds and floor to ceiling paintings depicting detailed Buddhist life, it was calm and quiet and holy. This was followed by a severe downhill section, made brilliantly copeable by Graeme playing quiz master with a trivia app. The time slipped away as did the descent while answering geography, history and random anatomy questions. Shout out to my ligament free knee, not once has it even twinged, on the downhill sections I’m more hesitant but for no other reason that my brain knows it’s different to the other one, no pain, no weakness, total surprise. I definitely thought I’d be suffering with the limbs not the lungs.

There were so many more people on the trail, some coming towards us, just starting their trip, some overtaking us as our weary legs are still moving high altitude style, but it’s still a shock to have to start the Namaste train as we see people, having been mostly isolated for the last week at least. We are seeing porters carrying impossible loads from village to village, it’s unbelievable how they do it, young and old. Just before lunch we arrived at the turn off for Gokyo, the path we took nearly 2 weeks ago, we had  come full circle.

Clean plate club!!!!! For the first time I finished a meal, it may have only been a cheese toastie, but I ate every crumb and didn’t even share it with my new horse friend.

The last part of the day was familiar ground, the beautiful flat path towards Namche felt like walking home. We are saying goodbye to the mountains that have been our beacons, tomorrow we will drop into the valley but today will be our last good look, so I made sure I really looked, commited it to long term memory and said my gratitudes.

We are staying at the same tea house in Namche and we love it, they have stayed open just for us, most of the family have flown to their winter home in Katmandu, the place feels familiar and homey, safe and warm, things I didn’t know I was craving.

Oxygen 86%.                                                         Pulse 87.

Day 14 Namche to Lukla. 650m down. Trekking height 3450m. Sleeping height 2846m.

Our last day of trekking, a big one, retracing our steps to Lukla, it took over 2 days to get up but we’ve got one day to get down, 22km to cover. It’s a stunning morning, crisp and clear, within minutes we are going steeply down the dreaded switch backs from early in our trek. We quickly get to our very last look at Everest, it was our very first glimpse over 2 weeks ago, but this was our time to say goodbye and thank you.

Down we continued, crossing swinging bridges, hikers and porters. We are in the land of villages and farms, children walking to school on cliff edges and good boys barking at us. All day we cross paths with yak and mule trains carrying precious cargo from valley to valley, it’s bustling.

Stopped for a great lunch, I had a tuna sandwich which I nailed but the best thing was that the lady cooking it picked fresh greens from her garden and sautéd them in butter, it was rich irony goodness, possibly the first green thing we’ve all eaten in a fair while and probably the most memorable thing we’ve eaten the whole trip.

The afternoon saw us push for one final climb, out of Sagarmartha National Park and back to reality. There was no fanfare when we arrived, just stares from locals probably looking at the state of us. Our very last tea house has a shower but we are way too far gone for that, the next shower I have will have white fluffy towels, good smelling soap and clean clothes to put on, at this point I’d be polishing a turd.

We had a glorious celebration dinner together, curry and a beer. We talked about our best and worst everything, hikes, tea houses, meals, memories and ended with one final game of Yak Life. This team of mostly strangers just a few weeks ago feel like family, they have seen more of my best and worst parts than some of my close friends have. I feel nothing but gratitude for the whole experience, would I choose to do it without pneumonia, absolutely, but I don’t regret anything about this trip, I’m just hungry to do more, and also just really hungry in general.

Day- who knows?

Quick life update

After completing our trek we spent some time in Katmandu. Some time lying down, some time trying not to get dead on the roads, some time visiting national monuments and some time drinking mojitos. It was exactly what we needed to do, totally in love with Nepal.

No idea why they have daily power cuts

We then flew to Singapore for a flying visit, literally 24hrs. The Gardens By the Bay were spectacular, what a city. We met up with some of Willows friends who took us for dinner at a local Hawkers place, a big food court/market selling amazing street food, meat on sticks, bowls of noodles and rice balls, so delicious.

Sydney for Christmas was next on our agenda. We rented an apartment on Cockatoo Island, it had a million dollar view of Sydney Harbour Bridge, our own patio where we grilled shrimps on the barbie and ate 6 different cheeses. We swam at Bondi beach, tried to swim at Manly but the shark alarms kept going off, saw the opera house, sang Christmas carols around a tree and layed like lizards in the sun. I love my new life.

By the time this is published, we will be in New Zealand, starting our 800mile thru hike of the South Island. Watch this space for more updates.

On the rooftop of the world. Part 1.

It’s the start of my travel dreams coming true, this is going to be a long one so grab a cuppa if your interested in hearing about the high highs and the low lows of my Himalayan adventure.

Day 1.  Katmandu to Lukla and Phakding        500m down 500m up                                             Trekking height 2890m                                        Sleeping height 2610m

First of all, I can’t even believe I’m here in Nepal. Willow and I have been fantasising about this trip for probably the last year. We kept it super on the down low, didn’t tell many people, squirrelled away behind the scenes for months and months planning and planning, we weren’t certain we would pull it off, so many ducks had to line up for it to happen, but here we are in Katmandu, about to tackle our biggest adventure yet, the Himalayas.

Backtrack slightly to the night before day 1, we arrived after what seemed like a week’s worth of being either on an airplane or sleeping on an airport floor. Now, I think we have earnt the title of experienced hikers but as the Himalayas are no joke we have gone with a guiding company called Kandoo Adventures. The night before the start of our trip we met with our guide Dawa and two other people, a father and son duo from England, Michael and Graeme. The 5 of us, plus our porters will be a hiking family for the next 2 weeks.

Early start to our first day, 5am hotel pick up. Unfortunately the pollution in Katmandu has given me quite the bark, I barely slept for coughing. Luckily because it’s technically off season we are able to fly from Katmandu airport, typically in the peak season we would have been on a 5 hour road journey first so really already grateful. I’ve got to say, the flight has been the thing that’s been playing on my anxiety brain. Flying to Lukla is one of the most dangerous airports in the world, the runway is only 500 metres long and at a 12% gradient. I looked at way too many horror YouTube videos which was a mistake. The plane was the smallest propeller plane I have ever been on, just single seats, I won’t go into my take off rituals, I’ve been doing them ever since I can remember flying to Majorca as a kid, but I took them very seriously, I felt like the souls on the flight depended on me! After 45mins of deep breathing, I have to say it was one of the smoothest landings ever, touch down, hard break, done!

Even though there were only 12 people on the plane they still managed to not get all of our luggage on board, so we had a slow start drinking tea in Lukla, meeting our porters Dinnis and Dawa (later know as Dawa B) before setting off on our trek.

The first day of walking we were still relatively low in the valley, snaking up a path parallel to the river, crossing and uncrossing on swinging suspension bridges. The land is lush and green, and we pass through many mountain villages, mostly there to accommodate trekkers, tea houses, small shop fronts selling pringles and toilet paper and many porters carrying unimaginable loads up and down. We stopped for our first trail meal, and the menu was shockingly extensive, but it’s already clear this is going to be a carb loaded two weeks, starting with some veg fried potatoes.

We made it to our first tea house late afternoon. Surprisingly luxurious because it’s our lowest stay at 2810 metres, we have our own sit on flushing toilet, so I’d better squeeze as much out of me as I can. The beds are basically wall paper pasting tables with a piece of foam on top. However, because it’s off season, blankets are abundant, which is such a bonus.

We picked out our dinner for 6:30pm but I was in massive struggle town, I could not keep my eyes open, jetlag and coughing got the better of me, so I had to pace around not daring to sit for fear of the danger nap. Our nightly routine starts with dinner, then we get the map out and discuss the plan for the next day, what layers to wear, what to pack, our distance, time and elevation gains and then our health checks, oxygen saturation and pulse rates, and basic mountain sickness questions.

Oxygen 91%.                                                        Pulse 83

Alseep by 7:30pm was such a dream, I kept waking up thinking it was morning but it was only 10pm and I’d already had such a great sleep and had so many more hours to go. The temperature dropped way below zero but I was warm and comfy in my sleeping bag and under the blankets.

Day 2 Phakding to Namche Bizarre. 794m up. Trekking height 3450m Sleeping height 3450m

The day started off similar to yesterday, undulating cliff path following the river though farmlands and villages. The air is overwhelmingly scented, wood smoke fires, burning juniper, frying spices, incense and mule shit. I’ve been desperate for a deep breath of fresh air since landing in Nepal but I just wasn’t getting it.

Let me introduce our hiking team, from the left, Michael, Graeme, me and Willow. Our intrepid leader and motivator Dawa. Our Sherpas Dawa B and Dinnis are lightning fast, each carrying 2 of our bags, forging ahead to make sure our rooms are reserved and bags are ready when we arrive.

The afternoon saw us cross into Sagarmartha National Park, Sagarmartha being the local name for Everest. We also made our first major climb. 600m accent of switchbacks, it was pretty relentless, with some straight up sheer sections. We were however treated to our very first glimpse of Everest. It was through the trees and distant but undeniably there. We have been in the trees for a lot of today but as we emerged higher the trees became smaller, and turned to scrub. After 8 hours of moving we turn a corner to see a city in the sky. Namche Bizarre is a mountain town, buzzing with market stalls, bars and coffee shops, even a tattoo parlor. The people of the Himalayas are deeply Buddhist, and we pass many prayer wheels that are always turned clockwise with intention and helps with gaining merit for the next life. I need some merits, I’m feeling pretty shit. It’s so hard to tell what’s causing it, we have gained some altitude, and I can definitely feel it, it’s super dusty and the air is cold, all contributing to what feels like a big fat man sitting on my chest.

We are staying at an adorable tea house, the Ama Dablam, they have a great common room for eating and relaxing. We play cards together with a wood burning stove making it warm and cosy. Dinner, map, health checks and bed by 7pm is my new living the dream.

Oxygen 91%. Pulse 85.

Day 3. Acclimatisation day, Namche. 430m up, 430m down. Trekking altitude 3880m. Sleeping altitude 3450m

Oh no, didn’t sleep a wink, coughed until I was sick several times, high temp, shivering, I’m not well. When I read the itinerary I naively thought an acclimatisation day would be sitting around, reading, doing some deep breathing, maybe going to for a little explore, WRONG! We are following the altitude principles of trek high sleep low. After a difficult breakfast, all food is now making me instantly nauseous, we set off for our high climb. Up 400+metres to the Everest View Hotel. The climb was hard, steep steps made only slightly better by a big, black, floofy bear dog following us the whole way. Side note on dogs, anyone who knows me knows I’m a dog lover. I had braced myself to see some shocking dog situations, so far the dogs we have seen living in the mountains are well fed, healthy looking, shiny, coats and so smiley. Every time I see a dog I make sure I tell them they are a good dog, they should all have the chance to hear it, and they always smile back. Luckily I’m around dog lovers, most of our hiking group have already started to say good dog now as well.

The Everest View Hotel is a 5* hotel with exactly what it says on the tin, an incredible view of Everest. The majority of people there had helicoptered in, but we arrived trekking poles in hand with bear dog spirit animal and sat in glorious sunshine, enjoying a hot, honey, lemon and ginger with a pretty amazing view of the big one.

Back down to Namche for a glorious afternoon just totally chilled out, enjoying just being here, washing underwear and hanging them in the sunshine means I’ve got a clean pair of undies nearly every other day, what a bloody luxury AND managed to get some, I’m going to say only slightly dodgy antibiotics, cough suppressant and decongestant from the pharmacy in the hopes that this cough won’t get too deep.

I’m absolutely not going to get bored of our nightly (early evening) routine. Cards with the trail family, dinner, map, health checks, bed by 7:30pm. Fingers crossed for a better night, I’m pretty sure our bear dog is enjoying the high life at the 5* hotel.

Oxygen 85%. Pulse 80.

Day 4. Namche to Dole. 634m up. Trekking height 4084m sleeping height 4084m

Phew, better night. Didn’t sleep through, but when you go to bed at 7:30pm and wake up at 1am you’ve basically had a full night’s sleep and then have the same again to go, I’m going to try and adopt this into my real life.

Lots of miles to cover today. The path started out wide and smooth, I have enough miles under my belt over the last few years to be grateful for every step taken on a well maintained path. We were walking directly towards Everest during the first part of the day, but the other mountains that surround it are even more majestic. Dawa tells us tales of the other mountains, Lhotse, Nuptse and of when he summited Ama Dablam, a 6000m+ technical giant, my admiration for him grows daily.

After not very far we took a left turn, off the main Everest route and immediately the path changed, the road less traveled for sure. For what seemed like forever we snaked around the mountainside gaining elevation with every step. We had already been pre warned that we would in fact loose all of the elevation gain after lunch and then have to trudge all the way back up again. The downhill gave me mild rage, purely because my body is working so hard to fight being ill every uphill step is so much effort, the only reward was that the second uphill of the day saw us in a rhododendron forest, with frozen, glistening waterfalls and a musk deer sighting. We gained 634 meters in sleeping height but the time we arrived at our tea house, overall we had climbed 1400 meters.

Tonight is the first time we have had to share our tea house with other hikers. There’s a big Brazilian group staying who are going in the opposite direction to us, and we heard a rumour they got a helicopter ride over one of the high passes, so I’m trying not to let that freak me out, how hard is this going to be? Tonight is also our first night above 4000m, it’s definitely chilly!

Cards, dinner (I’m now exclusively eating fries for dinner, or potato finger chips as they are called on the menus) mapping and health checks. We get asked about headaches, dizziness etc, but there doesn’t seem to be a box about coughing up green PVA glue?

Oxygen 85%. Pulse 88.

Day 5 Dole to Machermo. 326m up Trekking height 4410m Sleeping height 4410m

Sharp climb to start the day but then a glorious morning of trekking on Himalayan flat ground. Not flat at all but gentle ish inclines and declines making a super pleasant walk. We had an amazing view of the 8000m+ giant Cho Oyu, our mountain north star for the day.

We arrived at the tea house and settled in. The absolute bonus of being the last trek of the season is that not only are the trails magically silent, but there’s only us staying yet again. It’s like it’s our own personal home, we can leave our stuff out on tables and spread out. In the sun the temperature is intensely warm, but the minute you’re in the shade it’s -10, so with a couple of afternoon sunlight hours to relax I figured this would be a good time to have my first mountain wash. Cold hose over your head, bit of shampoo for the smells and rinse. It was actually gloriously breath taking, if not a bit of a shock!

I’m glad today was a shorter day because I have deep chest and rib pains when I cough, the very sweet lady tea house owner hooked me up with a steam treatment, it was mild torture because it was so intense but I’m really hoping it will help me sleep better, my body is doing a lot of fighting in the thin air as it is, I could really do without the chest infection taking over too much more. I know I need to eat things but my appetite has completely gone, and not only that just the thought of food makes me retch. In real life if I lost my appetite, Sophie two dinners would be over the moon, but right now I need all the strength I can get, so I force down a fried egg on chips.

Oxygen 86%. Pulse 81.

Day 6 Acclimatisation in Machermo. 600m up 600m down Trekking height 5000m. Sleeping height 4419m.

Ok, so I’m absolutely not a princess about toilets etc, I fully expected hole in the floor, squatty potties on this trek, not a problem and in fact so far they have been better than expected. However, I now have a new toilet fear I did not have before. Here’s the scenario, squatty potty, no flush obviously, so once you’ve been there’s nearly always a bucket of water with a pot in that you fill up and throw down the hole to essentially create a flush. Inevitably water gets splashed on the floor, still not a problem until it’s 2am and I’m doing my first wee of the night with my little headlamp on and the splashed water has all frozen to form a slick sheet of ice exactly where I have to stand to go. I have literally never clenched so many leg muscles so I could stay still and just about aim for the little target and not slip into the hole of doom in the dark. If you’re quick, there’s still some residual body heat left in your sleeping bag when you climb back in. So far so good, I haven’t been cold at night, im sleeping in thermals, a woolly jumper, socks, my down coat and hat and gloves, inside my down sleeping bag, with a another sleeping bag as a blanket, under one sometimes two additional tea house blankets. Occasionally I have been too warm and pulled my socks off.

Today was one of those non relaxing acclimatisation days. Dawa was determined to get us to 5000m, so off we went first thing to climb the ridge above our house. Steep for the first 30mins, quickly turned into a nicely graded incline following a line of prayer flags. We stopped at the base of what seemed like a vertical cliff above us and had a lovely relaxing nap, took pictures, and stared deeply and longingly at Everest. We had no idea at that point that we would in fact be climbing another 300m up the sheer face in a grueling acclimatisation exercise.

Reaching for Everest

The climb was steep, rocky and relentless, not a particularly enjoyable combination when you factor in a high temperature, cough and chest pains. Poley poley, means slowly slowly, Dawa sets a perfect pace, he never makes us think we have to rush for anything, he believes we have all the time in the world, a concept I need to take on board, living my life at 100mph means I might be missing things. About 20m from the top I had a dizzy turn, unable to stand up I plonked down and waited for it to pass. This process was supposed to help us feel ready for the more challenging days but it’s really fuelling my anxiety, my body is not responding well and mentally that’s my nemesis.

Cracking views from the top though.

Even though the acclimatisation days are often hard, there’s always plenty of time for relaxing, more card playing, reading, pant washing and contemplation.

The full moon tonight was mesmerising, the sky goes shades of lilac and purple and the mountain snow glows. Even feeling like utter crap, the feeling of privilege and gratitude is overwhelming.

Oxygen 81%. Pulse 81.

Day 7 Machermo to Gokyo 340m up Trekking height 4750m. Sleeping height 4750m.

Sad to leave Machermo, we have loved staying multiple nights at a tea house, even though it’s incredibly basic it feels like a little home. Side note about water coming up, several times a day our incredible team filters water for us to drink, for this I’m unbelievably grateful, however, whatever they use to treat the water tastes and smells like the hockey puck you get in the bottom of a urinal, it’s really disgusting, kind of a hold your nose and drink situation, a taste you can’t untaste, and remember that bucket of water in the toilet for flushing, that’s the only other option for teeth brushing or face washing, so for now I’m abstaining from most hygiene related admin.

An absolute cracker of a hike today. We take it poley poley even on reasonably easy terrain, the only ups were short and steep followed by glorious flat, following a raging river, glacier and Cho Oyu in front. We were treated to several glacial lakes, all part of the Gokyo Lake area. The colour of the lakes are blues you have never seen and can’t even describe, there’s no Crayola colour to match, the more you look the more they change.

As we approached Gokyo village we could see helicopters landing for the easy views, and a resort style hotel, and to our utter shock, we were guided right to it. Not your basic tea house for us tonight. Full restaurant with lake and mountain views, and a bedroom with bathroom attached. Unfortunately no running water as all the pipes have frozen but, there’s almost what you could call a mattress on the bed, it’s fancy, even if I’m an absolute hot mess right now.

No filter needed

After a nice afternoon, swooning at mountains, playing cards, eating an entire veggie burger and chips for lunch and some questionable chicken for dinner next to a roaring fire (Dried yak dung is the fuel of choice and surprisingly smells much better than the wood smoke) we retired for the night. Tomorrow is our first big climb above 5000m.

Oxygen 79%. Pulse 81.

Meet you in Vegas!

Ok so, imagine this….. the world is finally my oyster, after all the lockdowns and travel restrictions, I’ve been perhaps the most successful covid dodger of all, im fully vaccinated and ready to do a thing, then full disaster scenario happens.

Wednesday January 12th, zoom call with the Mountain Company who are willing to open up a last minute place in the first Everest Basecamp Trek of the season in April. I’m totally shitting myself because this would be a WW (Without Willow) trip, lone ranger style, but this is it, it feels like the right time, I’m at my peak fitness, my travel account, thanks to the inability to buy flights for the last 3 years is looking reasonable, I’ve got until Friday to secure my place.

Thursday 13th January, totally and utterly smash my knee to smithereens. At 11pm I’m finding myself lying in hospital in utter shock whilst a pompous consultant who doesn’t even bother to introduce himself relocates my kneecap to a more appropriate front facing position.

I was in total shock that it had happened to be honest, I thought I might have sprained it, I tried to carry on in my dance class thinking about when you sprain your ankle, walking it off is the way, unbeknownst to me I was walking around with a pretty much ligament free knee.

I was lucky because I was able to get an MRI scan pretty much straight away, but I remember sitting in the fracture clinic feeling like a total fraud, there were people all around me who were in casts and these huge braces and crutches, and I was sat there with a tubigrip on my knee, I felt for sure the consultant was going to whip it off me, and tell me to suck it up and get on with walking. Instead he used the words ‘catastrophic knee injury’ full ACL rupture, partial MCL and meniscus tears, he called it the unhappy triad. When you hear ACL you can also hear the sharpening of the sugeons knives. Just 24 hours ago I was contemplating Everest and suddenly I found myself in a full immobilising hip to ankle brace, crutches and a no weight baring instruction.

I’m not going to sugar coat it, I went dark, to be honest I’m only just seeing some light, it could not have been worse timing, I had so many plans this year and I just couldn’t and sometimes still can’t see how I was going to do any of them. I felt like my life had been put on hold for the last 2 years and now this, the sickest joke of all.

The people in my life are amazing, im not one to accept help willingly, but it was made so easy for me, it wasn’t a choice, from dropping in meals and treats, to driving me to hospital and physio appointments, letting me shower in their walk in showers and rescuing me when I was adamant I could make it on crutches, when in the middle of winter I definitely couldn’t. I’m not an easy patient and I’m so appreciative of everyone’s kindness.

Enough of the darkness, fast forward several months, I’ve been an exemplar physio student, and have been deemed a good candidate for non surgical treatment, which seems ludicrous that I can just go about my daily business with no ligament in my knee but I have to believe. Surgery would put me out of the game for over a year, but without it I could be back to fitness in months, so I’m going full out with rehabilitation.

Meanwhile…….started to hatch some alternate plans for an adventure. I have this long long list of things I want to see and experience in my lifetime, but I’m beginning to realise that the list is not vertical, it’s not first place, second place, third etc, it’s horizontal, everywhere is number one, there might be a few 1A or 1Bs but essentially I want to do it all, nowhere holds more value than anywhere else.

Way Out West!

Saturday 26th March

Day 1

10 weeks after said catastrophic knee injury I find myself landing in the Las Vegas Airport. Willow waiting for me in an airport hotel. Nope we absolutely are not going to the strip, the lights and the glamour are not for us, we are more smell your socks to see if they will do another day type girls. More on that later.

We are doing the Mighty 5 National Parks of Utah. A 10 day jaunt around the enormous wild west state, and we are ready to walk some walks and view some views.

Day 2

We picked up our rental car and tried to get out of Vegas as quickly as possible. I’ve passed on the driving this trip, this is Willow’s country after all, but I didn’t envy her, no-one likes driving a different car out of a multistorey car park in front of people, it’s like you immediately forget everything you know about driving!

Within an hour we are in full desert, full sun, full 90* heat and it’s everything. We have a few longish drives but we have tried to limit car time, after all this is the USA, a short drive to meet friends is often 4 hours each way!

ZION NATIONAL PARK

We hit Zion later that afternoon, and immediately wanted to stretch our legs. You cannot drive through the park it’s a shuttle bus only situation and we made it just in time for the last departure of the day. We did a short Riverside walk to get our bearings and caught the golden hour just right.

We are not quite ready to allow ourselves full vacation luxury, we don’t want to get too accustomed to the high life then have to feel like we are slumming it again in our one person tents, so we’ve settled on a variety of places to stay including some glamping situations. To us it was total 5* boujie, chandelier above the bed, and a little fire heater, bliss. Just to keep us down to earth and not get swept up with being Mariah Carey we ate cold tuna sandwiches on the floor and had to walk to the shower house.

Day 3

ZION NATIONAL PARK

Up bright and breezy. It’s pretty chilly over night, definitely below zero, so getting dressed needs to be a sport, a cardio activity to get going. It’s a poptart breakfast of champions obviously and back to Zion for our full day itinerary.

Our early start was to get going on one of our hardest trails of the National Parks. Angels Landing is a 6 mile hike up to the top of what is a called a fin, a narrow and pretty much vertical climb and then decent, gaining 1500 ft in altitude. It’s solely reliant on chains and posts to assist the climb. This was the first time putting my knee under any great stress, but it was a head down and focus kind of activity. The picture below is our first view of the fin, after hiking up 23 switchbacks I hilariously thought at first, I was at the top, I couldn’t really believe there was a trail any further.

Going up was nearly type A fun, the trail was packed and the pace was slow. But the challenge was perfect. The views from the top were magnificent, with the canyon opening up all around. At one point I said to Willow, ‘I’m never doing this again” and I think I must have got the intonation wrong because it sounded like I was having the worst time but what I meant was, the likelihood of me ever standing up here ever again I my life was slim, I was reminding myself to look really hard at it so I could remember it forever.

Snack of an absolute winner consumed at the summit.

Now, I always remember watching mountaineering documentaries and them saying the summit isn’t the end it’s half way! The saving grace for the descent was that it was so dangerously busy the we went at a snails pace, I had a lot of concerned comments about my knee because of the bionic brace, but it was surprisingly OK (later that night it was quite enormous, but we’ll just skip that). We passed lots of terrified hikers going up as we decended, but most memorable and I still can’t get it out of my head was a women hiking up the chains with a 2 month old baby in a front carrier. We are experienced hikers and this was super challenging, one false move and there’s a sheer 1500ft drop on both sides of you, trying to not mum shame by any means but this was a really bad choice and made me feel immediately queasy. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a hike like this before where the next day my arms hurt way more than my legs.

We spent our afternoon on the Watchman Trail, a short 3 mile loop which ended up being fantastic, we were slight creepers and followed a guided hike so we could hear some fun facts about rocks, the first of many on this trip.

Does anyone else get big fat sausage fingers when they hike? Mine were particularly bad today. They don’t do it when I use my trekking poles, anyone got any other tips?

A chance encounter with a Park Ranger changed our total game plan for our trip. We over heard that all National Parks have a junior ranger programme with no upper age limit and if you complete the workbook you get sworn in and a badge, this kind of offer was completely irresistible to us. With just 20 mins to complete the book we ran to the nearest bench, and started our assignments, raced back and took our first junior ranger pledge. There’s nothing you can say to discourage this behaviour at my age, I’m a proud outdoor nerd with a passion for fun facts!

Our last hike of the day was a short trail to the Rim Overlook. The golder hour was just glorious and what a way to end our Zion adventure and lead us to the next.

I almost feel guilty for mentioning this, but there’s a hot tub at our glamping site, I honest to god did not know that until we checked in, I feel guilty about saying it because we are hard-core adventurers, but nowhere near guilty enough to not use it, obviously. Would it be more balanced if I mentioned we had to eat cold tuna sandwiches on the floor again for dinner?

Day 4

BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Just a short car jaunt to the next park on our list, we climbed up and up and ended at 8000ft above sea level and full snow. Very unexpected for me, I should have done slightly more weather research, you hear desert and think cycling shorts will be fine right?

Straight to the visitor centre to collect our Junior Ranger packs.

We drove to the trail head and got our first glimpse of the famous amphitheatre and Hoodoos, no joke I have genuinely in life never seen rock formations like it.

It was vast, as far as the eye could see, ombre orange stacks, some uniform some taking on their own personalities.

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I said wow, it was unreal, we both kept asking each other, are you seeing this? It was otherworldly. We did a short 3 mile hike all the way to the bottom of the basin and up the otherside, mingling with the hoodoos. I feel like this blog isn’t the time or place for full rock facts, but please see me for more details should you want them, spoiler alert but as a fully qualified junior ranger I feel correctly positioned to perhaps run a short power point presentation for you should the need arise. For now the basics are, water, wind and time created these formations called Hoodoos.

After our hike we decided to drive the scenic road through the park to the highest point. We were not prepared for the onslaught of cold. We stopped at every viewpoint but it felt teeth shatteringly frosty. I actually do love a bit of snow, but this was cold and high, some people have said they have suffered altitude sickness in Bryce, but after experiencing real altitude in the Andes I can safely say they were in fact probably in need of a drink of water and to pull up their big (insert gender) pants.

Tonight we would be staying in a very primitive Yurt. Not camping but definitely not glamping. No electricity or bathrooms, only a log buring stove. Because we had been so cold during the day we totally panicked about not being able to light the fire and get warm. We drove to several gas stations to make sure we had something we could light the fire with but ended up with the best purchase of cheesy jalapeño bread to keep us warm instead.

But worry not, we girl scouted the heck out of the fire and got it lit in seconds. Cooked our bread on the top and completed our Junior Ranger books by headlamp light. We may have been too good at the fire because both of us ended up outside of our sleeping bags in just T-shirts to sleep, we boiled ourselves.

Day 5

BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Great night in the Yurt, apart from everything smelling like a campfire from here on out it was glorious, 10 out of 10, highly recommend.

Being so close to the park we were back nice and early. We had chosen to do the Fairlyand Loop trail, mainly because the name just spoke to my heart. It was an absolute gem, 8 miles that basically swooped down to the bottom and then swooped back up again. A record number of wows! were said. We had relative solitude for the first part of the trail, just the sound of us nattering away. Sometimes we talk about serious life stuff and sometimes we walk in total silence, I like both. What I love the most is when we start ranking our favourite things, it’s an endless debating game that just fuels our fire. We are a special kind of people.

Sometimes I like to take ‘Hi, my name is Sophie and my hobbies and interests include, hiking, being outside, dogs and snacks’ type photos, just in case the need for a profile photo arises. See below.

We stopped for an incredibly leisurely lunch, we ate pringles and tuna with sun on our faces and for a small window of time it felt like the world outside our canyon didn’t even exist.

Now picture this, we haven’t seen anyone for several hours, but we casually pass a couple hiking the same way as us, a few steps, miles, minutes later it’s hard to tell, Willow decides now is a good time to do a (at least) 10 second long fart. Now what she failed to do was A. Check behind her and B. Look at my horrified face looking at both her and the hiking couple stood directly behind her. I wouldn’t normally tell a story like that, but it seriously made this hike all the more memorable and also, I fear our trip might be a bit too dry without our usual sick jokes, it’s to counterbalance the knee situation, which so far, apart from some sizable nighttime swelling, has been on the good list.

We had a bit of a drive to get to our next accommodation, so we couldn’t dilly dally, it was Junior Ranger pledges and on the road we go.

Our accommodation for the night was the Aquarius Inn. I wished it was trying to be retro or ironic in it’s decor, but the damp bedspreads and lingering smells of smoke from the last point in time you were able to smoke indoors said otherwise. Bonus points for the 2 king size beds, TV and heated pool though. On the way in we had spotted a roadside sign for Curry and Pizza at a little diner. It was unclear at the time if it was a curry house or pizza place, but I can now confirm it was infact a curry on top of your pizza kind of place. I’m not selling it well so far but we absolutely annihilated it, best food so far, think chicken tikka on a pizza base with a curry as the sauce and a load of cheese on top for good measure.

Day 6

CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

Poptarts and go!

We only had a day to explore this National Park. Although size wise it’s not smaller, the accessible areas without an off-roading vehicle are. If it was my little mitsubishi I probably would declare it off road worthy but the rental car would cost the value of my house to replace so we stayed pretty firmly on the roads.

Today was a day of lots of short hikes, we started with the Cassidy Arch, named after the famous Butch Cassidy who was said to have a hide out in the rock formations.

Capitol Reef is home to some historic fruit orchards and also pie, delicious fruit pie. So it was an obvious choice where to do our Junior Ranger homework today.

Fun fact of the day, Capitol Reef is named for the white dome like rock formation that early settlers believed looked like the Capitol building in DC, and the Reef part is because of the 97 mile long ridge line. I would not have known that without our diligent participation.

The afternoon consisted of short drives to lookout views and one final hike with some beautiful immersive scenery. I don’t want you to get the wrong impression here, we had a fantastic day, and really saw some fascinating rock formations, and the general scale was pretty indescribable, but it definitely felt like the underdog National park, Zion and Bryce felt like Disney with it’s infrastructure and visitor numbers but Capitol Reef had some much lower key vibes.

Can I just take a minute to talk about my feet, or maybe my trainers and socks situation. God bless Willow, because whatever combination of footwear I’ve concocted on this trip has created the perfect conditions for possibly the worst smelling shoes I have ever experienced. My guess is that because they are gortex, which make them totally waterproof, not a necessary quality needed in footwear in the desert, which clearly I did not think about, they don’t let any sweat out, but instead form daily warm sweat cocktails inside. How does one get a footwear sponsorship or at the very least odor eating insoles??

Day 7

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

Onwards and quite literally upwards as we are pretty much travelling north up the map. Next stop is Moab, the nearest town to our next two National Parks. We did the drive last night and arrived at our next accommodation, which I have some opinions on. I’ll set the scene with talking about Moab, totally disproportionately expensive to any other towns next to the other National Parks. A cheap and nasty motel room was 200 bucks a night, an actual hotel room was into the 300s. Imagine how lucky we felt when we found a youth hostel with private rooms available for just $32 total? At this point in our trip planning weeks ago, im certain, between us we had well over 50 internet tabs open, looking for the best option, what I don’t quite understand is how and why we didn’t question why the Lazy Lizzard Hostel was a fraction of the price of everywhere else. Now I have travelled all over the world, I have slept in hotels, motels, hostels, barns, the floor of a church, trains, buses, the list is endless but I have to say the Lazy Lizzard was at the bottom end of my of my scale of standards. Very tiny room with definitely not clean bedding, questionable damp carpet, to be fair I think we overpaid at $32. I’m probably ever so slightly more tolerant than Willow, who has a soft furnishings obsession, there was no way any part of her bare skin from her feet to her head was going to touch any part of the floor or beds. Did I mention we had booked 3 nights here?

After a jolly good word with ourselves we got on with our first day in the area, Arches National Park.

First up was the Devils Garden Loop Trail. 9 miles filled with natural arches and mind-blowing scenery. It was genuinely a pleasure of a hike, we did a lot of rock scrambles, slides, and ridge lines. On the second half of the trail we barely saw a person and had wonderful moments of deep peacefulness. The weather was just crystal clear and warm, it was the kind of hike that the further you go the more your internal batteries charge up.

Knee holding up really well, but I could definitely feel all of thoes miles. We did some car touring for a few hours in the afternoon, there are over 2000 arches in the National park, loads visible from short hikes of less than a mile each.

We saved our last 3 mile hike of the day for the very end. The hike was pretty much all on smooth slickrock on a pretty steep incline. It wasn’t demanding, it was pure joy. Delicate Arch is the most famous of arches, we had heard good things about watching the sunset there but unfortunately so did 100 other people. One complaint I have about the park is that there’s always someone in the bloody arches, but this did not distract from the raw beauty of that sunset. It was the kind of sunset I will remember forever. We sat eating salt and vinegar pringles and filled out our Junior Ranger books with the sun going down casting an orange/red light over us and the arch. I genuinely have the world’s worst memory but I will never forgot this moment.

DAY 8

CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Island in the Sky

After such an epic day yesterday, we were far less grumpy about the Lazy Lizzard, I’d sleep in a public restroom if I had to, if it enabled me to hike thoes hikes and see thoes things.

Canyonlands is vast and very canyon-y. Deep, wide and winding gorges carved aggressively by water over time. Due to the enormity of the park we couldn’t really find one appropriate length trail, especially as our day ended up being 16 miles yesterday. We ended up doing many, many short trails instead, anything between 1 – 5 miles at a time hitting all the honeypot sites we could.

By this point I’m running out of adjectives to help convey what we’ve had the total privilege to see and be part of. We ended our day here on a hike that was totally deserted, just us blabbering on to each other ranking which midwife from Call the Midwife we would want to deliver our fictional babies (Trixie, nurse Crane and Sister Juliene came out top for thoes wondering) It was the weirdest hike because the first mile or so was pure sand dunes and I just couldn’t get over the fact the ocean wasn’t right around the next bend. Instead we sat watching the sun lower down in the sky with the canyon totally to ourselves and our own thoughts.

Epic end to an epic day was margaritas and Mexican food, vast amounts of both. Need I say more.

Day 9

CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

The Needles

We said our farewells to the Lazy Lizzard this morning, I shall remember it not so much fondly but grateful it enabled me to afford the visit.

Canyonlands is enormous enough to have multiple districts. Our second day, just like yesterday was very canyon-y. Another day of short hikes to great vistas. Slightly less remarkable than the previous I would say but it was so much quieter. If we were able to do an over night backpacking trip this would be the place to go, it was remote and full of cool cowboy history and stories.

We set off from the park mid afternoon with a pretty hefty 5 hour drive ahead of us. I didn’t realise until this particular car confinement that I’ve grown weary of long road trips. This one in particular was H for hard and F for far. The road was so straight, we drove a hundred miles without even making a turn, surrounded by never changing desert. Willow was a champion driver and companion, trying to make the dust around us interesting, but I was suffering, especially when we passed a petrol station with a toilet and snacks and Willow assured me there would be another so didn’t stop but that was a lie, there were no other anythings for miles.

Tonight we are staying in relative luxury, a cheapish motel, but they have wooden floors which satisfies Willow’s hatred of shared carpet and crisp white sheets that have been chemically boiled. Great nights sleep!

Day 10

ANTELOPE CANYON

HORSESHOE BEND STATE PARK

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Last day today and we went out with a bang. We started the day on the Navajo Reservation, bucket list item for me are the slot canyons. I think I’ve said this too many times now to be believable, but I have never seen or experienced anything like this before. It was breathtaking, the colours and shapes and smooth lines were from a different planet. To be honest the photos speak totally for themselves.

We ate a totally gourmet sushi lunch at Horseshoe Bend State Park, over looking a huge meander in the path of the Colorado River. We are pretty low maintenance, a great view and a flavoured fizzy water water is my dream day.

During this lunch a decision was made. At this point we didn’t know if it was a good or bad decision but we were prepared to just go for it. It was a 4 hour drive back to Vegas and our flight was at 1am so we had the rest of the day. Instead of driving straight there, our decision was to make a detour to the Grand Canyon, which would add an additional 3 hours to our drive. I’ve been lucky enough to visit and hike the Grand Canyon years ago but Willow has not. I tried to play it cool like, it’s OK, it’s just a big canyon, just in case we didn’t make it, but I was just as excited as she was.

We seemed to get there in no time and our first glimpse was worth every uncomfortable driving second.

We had basically an hour to look at it as hard as we could. We raced to get our Junior Ranger pack, an unexpected 6th National Park and then raced to find a spot and sit and just look. I remember my dad telling me about when he visited when he was younger, he said that you should keep looking away and then looking again because with every single change of light or position of your eye it will look different. It was overwhelming actually, maybe because it was the end of our trip or maybe because it really is just that grand.

Iceland, the country not the supermarket.

Two full years has passed, for a while I feel like I’ve been slowly fraying at the edges, without any wild to hold me together. Lockdown has been harder for me in ways it probably wasn’t hard for others and easier for me in so many ways that I have to feel some gratitude. During the first full year of covid I walked over 3000 miles. Each mile propping me up, bonding with friends I am truly appreciative for and adventures I will always remember. But still, two full years of my life has passed.

28th July 2021, me, scrolling through the socials, article saying travel restrictions have changed, send article to Willow, Willow reads article. Many, many hours on the Google, some hysteria and tears, mainly on my end and 2 days later we have flights to Iceland booked. Not only booked but booked for 4 days time, of which I have to work for two of. We are excellently matched travel companions because neither of us has to worry about each others preparations or packing or gear, we will turn up as equally prepared or unprepared as each other. Didn’t sleep an enormous amount non the less, waking up thinking about where my bloody crocs were, if I have enough grip left on my very old trail runners and most importantly what flavour dried pasta meals will be the least gross and most calorific.

Covis tests, covid tests, covid tests. Adding a new dimension to travel anxiety, one before I leave, one when I’m there and one when I get home, I don’t even care if it’s over kill or the tests cost neary double the price of my flights, it’s a small price to pay, I’ll have my brain tickled by a swab for the chance to get on a plane. Devon needs to step up it’s game though, there’s literally nowhere to have the tests done, it’s been a long while since I’ve felt the annoyance of backwards rural living.

Iceland, Day 1

International travel from the UK is actually amazing. We have the world right there, flights a go go. You know what’s not amazing, traveling to any airport from Devon. I feel like I’m being a bit harsh on my home County and I don’t mean to be because it’s got a lot to offer but public transport is not one of them. However, that being said, I got a considerable amount of joy from being on a National Express coach even if it did take me 10 hours to get to Luton Airport.

Meet me in Iceland were the last directions we gave each other after not seeing each one another for nearly two years. It seemed so normal to just casually see Willow at baggage reclaim, but I couldn’t stop the tears when we finally got to aggressively hug each other in the middle of Keflavik airport, not even caring who was watching our hysteria.

Our first day in Reykjavik consisted of catching up, finalising trekking plans unpacking and repacking our pack, making our best ever trail mix and picking up our packs exclaiming, mmmmm how is it so heavy? Honourable mention of the day has to go to the bowl of soup we had. God knows we love a bowl of soup and this Icelandic (questionable) meat soup was outstanding.

Laugavegur Trail

Day 1

Landmannalaugar to Alftavatn

24km (15miles)

First of all, don’t ask me to pronounce anything in Icelandic, it’s basically alphabetty spaghetti. Secondly, I barely got any sleep last night because I was all het up about making a decision about what to bring on this hike. I had most of my gear sorted, but I had room for one more thing and two items to choose from. It could either be my down bodywarmer or a tube of prawn cocktail pringles. Stay tuned for the answer to this cliffhanger (as if you don’t already know what I chose!)

This is definitely the least prepared we have ever been for a hike. We were definitely not unprepared by any standards, we are girl scouts first and foremost, but when we arrived in the pop up seasonal tent village of Landmannaluagar and looked at the check list for what would be required for the 4 day hike to Porsmork we laughed and started the hike anyway.

Hiking boots – nope

Map – nope

Compass – pretty useless without the above map

GPS – nope, how do they even work?

Guidebook – well…… I did have a guide book that I had downloaded, written by a geology professor which provided some information about the trail and a lot of very useless information about rocks. The best information he gave was that the trail was well marked which we were wholly relying upon.

The trail is broken into 6 day stages, we only had 3 and bit days just because of our travel schedule. We knew we wanted to double up on our first day, I had heard that the first hut at Hrafntinnusker, was high and exposed and subjected to radical winds to the point where your tent would need to be weighted down with rocks, so we wanted to push on to Alftavatn, but after that we didn’t really know. We could be picked up by bus in either Porsmork which would be us then completing the hike in the recommended time scale, or push on the Skogar which would mean us completing the 6 day hike in 3 days, doubling up on every stage. (Without reading on, if you know us, you can predict our decision im sure)

The first 2 miles of the trail were overcrowded with day hikers fresh from their bus with nothing but an enormous camera and umbrella in their hands. The weather was dull and rainy but the mountains were too majestic to care and still looked spectacular. Within 5 mins of hiking, the phrase, ‘wow, look at that’ or ‘oh man are you seeing this’ was just on constant repeat, and even though we knew neither of us were hiking with our eyes closed, we just couldn’t help but say it.

By about 3pm we had reached the first hut and completed the first 12km. Most hikers had stopped here, there was a huge encampment of tents and hikers milling around in crocs, already done for the day. We ate a swift lunch of tuna wraps and prawn cocktail pringles (did you guess right?) and carried on hiking, even though we were cold and wet and tired and tried not to think about how warm they must be.

The second half of the hike turned out to be one of my favourite landscapes of the hike, it was like nothing I had ever seen before, and at this pont I had no idea that everyday would be a landscape like nothing I had ever seen before. Jet black, glinting rocks like glass (I know from my new found rock knowledge it was obsidian), geysers and boiling springs, radioactive green moss and the snow covered peaks of volcanoes. The terrain was hard, continuous steep ups and downs in loose ashy sand. Around every corner and every high pass was a new set of mountains, it’s like a new chapter of your favourite book, you know it’s going to be good, but every page turn gets you more and more gripped and immersed in the unfolding story. It’s the only reward for the hard work.

As the afternoon went on, the weather closed in on us, and rain began to fall and hard. We had to descend into a lush green valley way below us to find our home for night. Even in full waterproofs, I was getting soaked by sideways, in your earhole, freezing rain. The steep downhill trail turned into a river of slippery mud and rolling rocks. In the very distance we could see the lake we would be camping next to, but it was definitely a head down and hike last few miles.

Soaked to our bones we reached camp as it stopped to a light but continuous drizzle. You have to stay at the mountain huts as wild camping is not permitted, but you can put your own tent up outside the huts which we have chosen to do on this hike. Easier said than done when your fingers are so cold they have frozen into spatulas. I would highly recommend practicing putting up your tent with wooden spoons instead of hands if you are going to do this hike, it would have been a skill worth having at this point. We stayed in our wet clothing to cook dinner, for fear of our sacred dry sleeping clothes getting wet, but it was pretty unpleasant. Still no pringles regrets BTW.

Do you have a minute to talk about our Lord and Saviour (nope not Jesus Christ) but King of the luxury items, talcum powder? Seriously, I should be sponsored by Johnson and Johnson, because I have nothing but rave reviews, when you are wet and just want to be really dry, talc is the way, when you smell terrible and need a fresh scent, talc, when your butthole is chaffing, talc. It’s the only thing I carry in my first aid kit and I would never hike without it.

Day 2

Alftavatn to Porsmork

34km (21.6 miles)

Pretty freezing, wet and windy night broken up by a totally surreal moment of going for a wee at 1am and it being light. The sun barely sets this time of year this far north, so knowing we had a lot of hiking hours in a day, we decided to push on, double up on the next two stages, and do the 20 plus miles all the way to Porsmork.

We got a pretty early start, well away on the trail in the 7 O’ clock hour to a few patches of hopeful blue sky. I managed to basically tumble dry my wet clothes overnight inside my sleeping bag, but my shoes were absolutely soaked and frozen which was mildly unpleasant but wore off after a few steps. The great thing about trail runners vs boots is that I know they will dry and be warm almost immediately where boots would just stay wet for eternity.

First up on our agenda was our first river crossing. A total faff, taking off your pack, your shoes and socks and trying to get your leggings to roll up above your knees but not cut the circulation off, then crossing the fast flowing glacial river without getting dunked or swept away, to then repeat the faff in reverse. When you first enter the water it takes your breath away, then by about the middle of the river you’ve lost all feeling in your feet, then searing pain, then it’s over. I enjoyed it way more than I probably should have, totally refreshing!

Surprise, totally new landscape today. A lush green hobbit valley. I love a traditional pointy mountain and all morning we were surrounded by them, erupting around every corner. It’s name is Hvanngil, translated means Angelic Valley. Under our feet was a path straight though a lava field, not obsidian today but basalt (nerd knowledge thanks to our geology guide book) and all around us, bright green mountains and super pretty wildflowers. The ground is so black it’s hard to believe it can support such a delicate and pretty ecosystem. The contrast between the black and the colour scale is really unique.

With some reasonably easy terrain we found ourselves at the first hut by noon, solidifying our decision to press on, we are not the kind of hikers who are good at hanging around camp for an afternoon, although perhaps this is something to investigate for when our bodies give out, but for now we are happy to do big mileages while we can.

With the afternoon came many more changes, we started following a deep gorge, that eventually twisted and turned away, leaving us in a dry and barron basalt desert, but flat (mountain flat) terrain.

Our destination of Porsmork is pronounced Thorsmork. Thor being a norse God and Mork meaning trees or forest. Iceland is not home to any forests thanks to viking invasion who wiped them all out, but a few have regenerated in this rich valley, mostly shrubs no taller than us, but our guide book told us it was tradition to yell “Mork” in celebration of seeing them, which we took very literally for the whole afternoon.

One last river crossing at the 31km mark and we thought we were done, only to discover the actual campsite was a further 3.5km away. I thought we were home and dry with no tantrums, but we trudged on pretty grumpy about the additional mileage with the only consolation being that it was shaving miles off our day tomorrow.

Setting up camp was remarkably easier with opposable thumbs, we are camping pretty much at sea level so the temperature, although still only about 10 degrees, was remarkably warmer than the night before. We have nicknamed Porsmork, pronounced Thorsmork as ‘Porksmork’ which has brought us great joy in many a damp situation so far on this hike, we just have to keep reminding ourselves to not say it in front of other people so they don’t think we are accidentally mispronouncing it.

We bought ourselves a snickers bar each which was so delicious and retired to our tent before 9pm, pretty nervous about the hike tomorrow with very little margin for error, it was going to be a big day.

Day 3

Porksmork to Skogar

26km (16.2 miles)

Slept pretty well, in fact better than I probably would have in a bed, except for the old lady hip pains of being on the ground. From the tent it was hard to be sure and I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but it looked like blue sky. Carefully unzipping the tent we were welcomed by full sunshine, not a cloud in sight!

Our living space is small, our tent is about a metre wide in total, and there’s some intense yoga positions we need to be in to allow the other person to enter or exit or move really, but the combined body heat has been well worth it in these conditions, but we have been fantasising hard about a tent with 2 side openings.

Today’s hike was to take us immediately up over 1100 metres of elevation gain over the top of the active volcano Eyjafjallajokull, which you may remember from the 2010 eruption which caused flights ground to a halt. Early start for us but a wonderful day for hiking.

The day started in full greenery of every shade but was constantly climbing. Not unbearable and the few incredibly steep sections gave way to flat plateaus which proved some much needed respite and sped up our pace. One section definitely got my heart pounding when crossing a deep ravine on a knife edge, which gave way to a section of chain to hold onto to stop anyone falling down the cliff. Absolutely no way I was going to stop and take a picture, I could barely form words and held my breath the entire time and that’s coming from someone who takes absolute joy from the look on my mother’s face when I stand near cliff edges.

The upward climb got continuously more strenuous, there were some terrifying sections of loose ash sand, like walking up an escalator going in the opposite direction, but they were short sections which gave way quickly to other equally terrifying terrains just just keep your brain active. Once we reached the first high pass the landscape opened out to an enormous white and black plateau.

We found ourselves saying things like, let’s walk on the glacier but stay close to the lava. Not a sentence I have ever used in my life before. There were lots of choose your own adventure moments, either walk on razor sharp lava rocks or slippery cold ice. I feel pretty confident walking on scree and sand type ground, probably because I’ve grown up playing in sand dunes, but feel like bambi when it comes to snow and ice which is the total opposite for Willow who has several white out months every year. Shortly after laughing at willow sliding down a sand bank on her derriere I got my comeuppance when it turned to an incredibly steep down hill section of ash covered melting ice. Her words of wisdom were ‘just let your feet slide a bit’ to which I replied, I can’t I’m too busy trying to swallow my mouthful of bile, apparently stressful mountain situations give me terrible indigestion.

On we climbed as the wind kicked up a gear forcing us back into our layers of clothing, to cross the relentless snow fields followed by lava flow followed by ash scree and over again.

We finally reached the high pass of 1100m just in time for lunch. We couldn’t dawdle here, the wind was whipping up into a frenzy and we still had the downhill to do.

Pretty immediately we began to feel the warmth of the sun and had to keep stripping layers off as we descended off the top. The trail was rocky making it slow going but not steep. We had a constant stream of hikers coming towards us on a day hike from our destination seeking the thrill of a mountain top without the hardship of the pass. I’m wondering if I may have lost my tolerance for people over the last months after turing to Willow and proclaiming ‘I’m not saying hello to any more people, im sick of it’

The path turned green and the valley opened up to rolling hills and a deep river gorge. We followed the river down the whole way, being treated to enormous and picturesque waterfalls, that were so loud we couldn’t hear each other but providing a glorious cold mist spray for newly crisp, sunburnt faces.

The hike down was not at all strenuous except that we were nearing 80km after only three days of hiking, our legs were tired and our feet were pounded. We took a ridiculously luxurious pack off, shoes off, feet in the glacial river break with snacks. The ice cold water hurt so good, it was like torture therapy. Another honourable mention goes to our trail mix, a perfect blend of UK and USA, sweet, salty and spicy, it was genuinely a work of art.

The final push of the descent took us down the side of a 65 metre waterfall, where the very bottom would be out final campsite. It was magical and thunderous and possibly our most majestic non mountain tent view ever. We plonked down, poped our tent and began to relax in the sheer relief it was over, a 6 day hike beasted into 3 days finishing with a rainbow. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be, burnt face and all.

Vacation days

Our last 2 days in Iceland were about the closest we’ve ever been to taking a vacation. On the way back to Reykjavik from the trail we stopped at one of Iceland’s infamous public pools, a beautifully clean and warm outdoor pool with many hot tubs varying in temperature from warm to cooked lobster, an ice bath and sauna, everything our poor little bodies needed, absolute heaven, followed by a picnic in the park full of weird cheese and breads and strange chocolate and liquorice items.

Our final day was spent moseying around the old harbour in Reykjavik on a truly beautiful summers day and a whale watching boat tour. We saw Dolphins in large pods and puffins playing and our commitment to seeing a whale was rewarded right when everyone else had given up hope and gone inside to warm up from the artic winds, the breaching back of a Minke whale.

Tinged with some sadness we treated ourselves to some great food for dinner with many stories shared of the last 2 years apart and dreams of our future plans. Friends who suffer together stay together.

Cue more airport crying……

The first rule of rash club…….

One of the things I love most about Willow is this;

Sophie: Hey Willow, remember just 2 weeks ago when we were super suffering up a mountain a we said we needed to take a relaxing beach holiday, well do you want to hike an AT section next week instead?

Willow: Sure do!

And that is how ridiculous adventures are born!

Cut to 2 weeks later and we are standing in Caledonia State Park with a white blaze to guide us forward. We are back!

Day 1

Caledonia State Park to Quarry Gap shelters

2 miles

Most of today was spent in the car driving straight across the exceedingly boring state of Pennsylvania. We knew we had just a jaunt of a hike to our first shelter so we dilly dallied a lot, didn’t get started until gone 5pm and hiked straight up to the first shelter. I think I forget to say that we are backing tracking to the section we missed last year due to flooding in the area, we are in southern Pennsylvania which is weird because it’s the first time we have miles to the north of us that we have already completed. Pennsylvania gets a bad rep for being extremely rocky, but so far so good, the trail was well maintained and apart from the pack the weight of a toddler I felt pretty free. Definitely in the green green tunnel though.

The shelter was beautiful, it’s close to real life so it has a custodian who has made a little garden and it has the most delightful swing, couldn’t be happier, so far this is the correct amount of suffering!

Day 2

Quarry Gap shelters to Pine Grove Furnace state park.

18 miles

Up and out on the trail early this morning. I’m really happy with my choice if pop tart flavour, crisp apple and I also really like that a happy day can be as simple as a good pop tart flavour.

There is very little to remark on during our hike today, everything is very enclosed in green, there are no sweeping views or mountains to summit but the biodiversity is incredible. Butterflies are our trail guides today making me feel like a really dirty and sweaty Disney Princess.

Weirdly today we passed the official halfway marker, it’s weird because I have already hiked way more than half the trail in terms of mileage but because we have gone backwards we have never actually passed the equator of the trail.

The afternoon was a beautiful forested hike, a huge amount of work had taken place to clear the overpowering pines out to make room for more species to thrive, but the air felt oxygen rich and so noisy with birds, bugs and one giant rattle snake which we didn’t stick around to get a picture of, I recommend googling a picture if you are desperate to see one, it’s much safer!

We also passed through what turned out to be a nightmare but started really cool. An invasive plant had clearly gone rogue and had taken over literally everything, it was bright lime green with a triangular shaped leaf, and at first I was just in awe at how powerful it was, but as we entered the forest that feeling became very oppressive, it was so dense and everything was suffering and suffocating, as it closed in around us we realised the plant had sharp barbs that were ripping our clothes and then our skin. It was nearly impossible to see where the trail went and just had to press on. My skin was on fire with what was to be my first rash of this trek, not happy with whatever this plant was!

Just as we hit a rocky section a juvenile copper head snake shot out in front of me, I let out my very distinct snake scream and stood up on a rock to get out of its way. Willow nearly gave me an actual heart attack when she fell off the rock trying to get a better look at the snake, I didn’t even ask her if she was ok before grabbing her and yanking her off the ground, it was not the time to wallow on the ground with a deadly snake just feet away!

We ended our day further than we had planned. We are trying to up our daily mileage on this trip, we are both very comfortable with 12-15 mile days, individually we have done 18 mile days but not in succession. We were also spurred on by the lure of cheeseburgers at the state park which is just the most luxurious way to end your day and they did not disappoint.

Lastly, and I think it was possibly a trail first for willow, she had her first trail tantrum, like throw your trekking poles down and refuse to move tantrum, it was amazing! I’ve had so many if these it’s old hat for me but level headed willow was furious about having to walk 0.3 of a mile off trail to our campsite for the night, I wanted to laugh really baldy but didn’t want to rile her up even more. Made my day actually!

Day 3

Pine Grove Furnace State Park to Alec Kennedy Shelter

18 miles

We had a goal today, to get to a grocery store that’s right off the trail for lunch so we were up and out asap this morning. We stopped for a quick snack break and thanked our lucky stars for such a great weather. I’ve realised that number one on my list of grumpy Sophie makers is rain, actually more specifically wet, I hate wet and so the blue sky, even though we have hardly seen it though the trees has been such a trail blessing.

The trail was mostly unremarkable, this seems to be a bit of a pattern, there are still no views and the only way I can describe my surroundings is green, like the greenest of greens, “can you BE any greener” said Chandler.

We got to the store around midday and took a luxurious lunch break, we ate things, we drank loads of fruit flavoured things and we had a small nap on a bench, yep we made hiking great again!

The absolute best part of our day today was by far the toughest, right at the end of the day we encounter a rock maze, literally boulders the size of houses stacked up and around with the trail winding right through, hard on my legs but good for my brain!

Well it’s been a while since we had to share our trail with some Trail Bros, but just as we were about to hunker down in the shelter for the night 4 Bros turned up and we quickly relocated to our tent. They weren’t terrible but we left them and their massive bongs to it.

Day 4

Alec Kennedy Shelter to Darlington Shelter

19 miles

To avoid bro time this morning we were up and out before 6am, we were packed up and gone within 30 mins which is a record for us. We hiked a mile or so in the dusky light before stopping to eat breakfast poptarts and watch the sun rise through the trees.

Another great food stop 4 miles in, the trail went straight through the town of Boiling Springs so it would have beeen rude not to buy a second breakfast, for the economy and all that!

Today’s miles were weirdly flat, we were crossing the longest valley floor of the AT, the Cumberland Valley. We walked over 16 miles of farmlands, pastures, roads (booooooo hamburger meat feet) corn fields (booooooo they hurt when you have to walk really close to them, scratched my arms and face all up, cue second rash)

We stopped to rest our poor feet nubbins in a cold cold stream and I could have stayed there forever, but we had to push on before the heat of the afternoon scorched us in the open fields.

The miles were not stunning, we didn’t round each bend and gasp with wonder but it was extremely interesting, we were in civilization but felt really unseen, no-one batted an eyelid when they saw two filthy girl hobos hobbling through a farmer’s field with huge backpacks. We walked through an old cemetery, over boardwalks and crossed huge 6 lane highways.

When our final 3 miles of the day came around we were ready for a change in elevation, the day had pounded our feet into stumps so the uphill was a relief. Hard on the heart and legs I did some cry laughing but at very long last we were rewarded with a very mediocre view!

Our camp spot for the night was glorious, flat, no rocks, loads of space, the trail Bros caught is up but they are so reckless we are happy for them to be bear food for us, I’m pretty sure I can out run a high as a kite bro!

Day 5

Darlington Shelter to Duncannon

13 miles

Last trail day, up and out again around 6am, I hate getting out of my comfy tent, but not having to hike in the midday sun is worth it. We’ve been trialing hiking a mile or so before breakfast and I think I like it.

We had some pretty shit miles ahead of us, a big rocky section, which was basically like walking on knives, a sharp downhill where I decided with the rising length of NHS waiting lists I’d better sign up for a double knee replacement now so that in 10 years time when I regret this madness im at the top and then a 3 mile road walk. This picture pretty much sums up the non hilarity of the day. I wore my bandana like a Bedouin camel herder because the nats and mosquitos were practicing their harmonies directly in my ear hole!

Willow: we have a terrible hobby, I know let’s park our car, pay someone a lot of money to drive us far away from the car and try and walk back to the car over a mountain range carrying all of our belongings on our backs.

Sophie: friends who suffer together stay together! Rash club for life!

Playing with the big kids!

Ok so I’m not sure how this post is going to go. We have just got back from our second trek and are feeling a bit broken, broken enough to pay for an entire hotel room just so we could take a 3 hour nap! That’s not because it wasn’t incredible but it certainly was hard. I’m going to start each day off with ‘today was tough’ because it really really was, 3 days was plenty of suffering for now!

Ausangate Trail to Rainbow Mountain

Day 1

Upis – Pucacocha

16km

Starting elevation- 14,430ft (4400m)

Highest elevation- Arapa Pass 16,370ft

Today was tough. After an early start and a 3 hour dawn drive we arrived at our trail head in the village of Upis sitting at 14,430ft (4400m). It’s just me and Willow on this trek (this should have been a warning to what was coming) but we still had a guide, a cook and horseman with us. Today was supposedly the easiest day but still started at an elevation equal to the highest point on our previous trek. We had a breathtaking view of Ausangate Mountain, a 22,000ft giant glacier in front of us, drawing us into the landscape, which was immediately very different to anything we had seen before in Peru.

The terrain was good under foot, rocky but clear pathways, a reasonable gradient but always climbing. We started off at a pace way too fast, our guide stopped and asked us if that was our pace and being beginners in the high altitude business we were like yep, to which he replied slow down chiccas. Altitude is a weird thing, it hits you sometimes but not always. By lunchtime Willow was doing some serious suffering, headache, blurred vision and nausea, our guide had a device to monitor our oxygen levels and heart rate and her oxygen level was down to 79%, anything below 80% is worrying, mine was 82%, we were probably ascending too quickly. Lunch was a welcome break, soup and carbs, lots of water mixed with Diamox (for altitude sickness) and ibuprofen (for everything else). We had our first high pass about an hour’s climb away, but feeling good from our break and taking our pace from our guide we made it to 16,370ft (4990m) no problemo.

We are essentially circling the Ausangate peak, in the morning we were facing the south side and by the afternoon we were sneaking around to the west. The landscape after every turn was just so different, sometimes it was lush and green and full of grazing alpacas, the world’s most hilarious and least majestic animal whom I fear I share an affinity, and then it would look it was like something out of a sci-fi film.

Around the next corner were beautiful glacier fed lakes, it’s absolutely freezing at this altitude, so we couldn’t stop for long, but we could clearly see our path. About now I started to suffer hard, my head felt like it was in a vice and I was very stumbly.

By the time we got to our camp I was ready to collapse, I couldn’t formulate thoughts and was not making much sense, I was trying to explain that I was finding it hard to count my steps but I couldn’t find the words, I was like ‘I can’t remember numbers in the order of the alphabet’ and I was trying to say the word fountain but all that kept coming out was fontoon. Cue mass laughing hysteria, with a hint of worry that I was having a stroke!

Tonight we are camped at the foot of the west glacier, you can hear it cracking and moving, and sudden avalanches are scary and so loud. It’s absolutely freezing, by about 5:30pm the ground and our tents were already covered in frost and it’s still daylight, we estimate the temp going down to about 10 below freezing.

We haven’t met any other hikers today, and we are the only ones camped here tonight, to look up at the stars, a night sky like I have never seen before, the milky way, right there just for us to see seems like a huge privilege only worthy of us pilgrims.

Day 2

Pucacocha – campsite 2

12km

Starting elevation- 14,760ft (4500m)

Highest elevation- 16,400ft (4998m)

Today was tough.

Slept ok for only being about an inch off the completely frozen ground. I slept in 3 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of trousers, 3 tops, a fleece, a down coat, hat, scarf and gloves, inside a down sleeping bag with another sleeping bag and blanket on top, it was cold but manageable except for my old lady hips which are always uncomfortable sleeping on the floor.

First up was an hour and a half climb to another 16,370ft pass. Again I was annoyed that I was in struggle town straight away, I could not catch my breath and I had to ask Willow if my eyes were open because I was struggling to see (one eye was closed which was probably why I was stumbling around). Of course we made it, we didn’t have a choice and the view of the mountain from the top was epic.

We were too cold and doddery to stay at the top so we descended to a sheltered spot for a quick snack break. Cue more hysteria for no reason, I think the phrase we have used most is ‘we need to take better vacations’. I feel like a little year 6 on a taster day to big school and have ended up on the big kids playground by accident surrounded by imposing 22,000ft year 11s. We are not quite out of our league but we aren’t quite in it either.

After lunch we had another 16,400ft pass to climb, I was really anxious about it because of the morning struggle but it ended up being ok, reaching the summit in an hour. It was almost enjoyable but not quite. The terrain is very similar to Corsica, rugged, steep and rocky except we are 10,000ft higher than we were in Corsica. It’s hard to talk for being so breathless and it’s hard to smile for fear of your teeth shattering in the cold, but the sense of achievement at every mountain pass surpasses all these feelings.

Tonight we are camping in a beautiful valley, I am now quite literally wearing all the clothes I have with me me, with each layer completely tucked in, going for a wee is quite the ordeal.

Day 3

Campsite 2 – Rainbow Mountain and Red Valley

13km

Starting elevation- 15,682ft (4780m)

Highest elevation- Rainbow Mountain 16,568ft (5050m)

Today was tough!

3am start, for thoes who know me well, I am not a morning person and I’m even less of a middle of the night kind of person. It was freezing but we had a cooked breakfast of pancakes before starting our trek to rainbow mountain for the sunrise. The walking was actually pretty ok, it helped that we couldn’t see where we were going because we were trekking via headlamps so I couldn’t psych myself up about any impending uphill sections. And within 2 hours we arrived at Rainbow Mountain, 16,568ft in height, just as dawn was breaking, the only people as far as the eye could see.

Now I’m going to start by saying how utterly lucky and blessed we were to be able to capture that moment, to be the only ones high in the sky seeing the dawn break, just for us, it was a really special moment.

Now I’m going to say that it was so fucking cold we were hyperthermic, barely able to stand, it felt like my whole body was convulsing, my face was wind burnt and my lips were cracked and bleeding. It’s so hard to get a good balance of suffering and enjoyment, and now looking back on it, wow, I can honestly say it was a moment in my life I will remember always but in the moment I genuinely thought I was preparing my body for death.

We lingered way to long at the top, Willow was uncontrollably shaking and I unceremoniously puked my pancake breakfast up right off the top of the mountain. We needed to get moving and down! The rest of the days hiking was truly beautiful, down through the red valley, wildlife becoming more abundant the lower we got.

It was a spectacular end to this trek, I feel awe and wonder at the things I have seen and experienced and conquered, I also feel broken and worn out, nothing left in my energy supply, it’s been a long time since I depleted my store to quite this level, but we did it four 16,400ft+ peaks in 3 days, mother fucking trekking champions.