Month: July 2012

Three Peaks Challenge – a stereotypical reaction to (encroaching) middle age

To the rugged outdoorsy types who frequent this blog, this entry will seem remarkably tame.  But all things must be seen in context.  When you live in London and have a demanding job, daily endurance challenges are generally restricted to squeezing into a Northern Line tube at rush hour or forcing yourself to climb the third escalator in a row (I’ll admit to occasional smugness, especially if I’ve got a heavy briefcase).

This year saw me and a number of school friends hit 40 so when one of them suggested that a group of us take on the Three Peaks Challenge for charity, he knew he was pushing at a psychological open door.  It helped that we were in the pub at the time, with a reduced resistance to stupid ideas.

The Three Peaks Challenge is simple – you have to climb the three highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales in 24 hours.  The peaks are Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Pike in Northern England, and Snowdon in North Wales.  You can do it as part of an organised and guided group (there are charities taking groups on this trip most weekends) but you can also just do it yourselves, which was the option we went for.  You just need to find a willing driver – the lack of sleep for the walkers makes it potentially dangerous for them to do the driving as well.  Luckily my partner’s father was up for the challenge; as a long-distance truck driver, he’s used to driving through the night and bedding down in small spaces.

We chose a schedule that, due to the lighter summer evenings, would mean we weren’t climbing any of the peaks in the dark – starting Ben Nevis at 4pm and finishing around 10pm, driving to Scafell Pike and climbing between 4.30am and 8.30am, then finally Snowdon between 12pm and 4pm.

As the highest of the three peaks, it was no surprise that Ben Nevis was the toughest climb.  The path is pretty clear all the way up, and the number of people climbing on the weekends means it’s difficult to take a wrong turn – in fact you spend most of your time dodging people coming the other way.  However, the paths are steep and for much of the second half of the ascent, you’re climbing on loose rock, so for idiots like me who had done little training, it was a painful lesson.  The weather worsened before too long, and when we finally made the summit after 3 hours, the visibility was virtually zero, with driving rain and cold wind; so if you landed here by Googling “Ben Nevis summit views”, sorry to disappoint, we got no photos of the views.  We did however get photos in front of the snow field, to boost our adventurer credentials.

After a long descent which made me glad of my walking poles, we devoured some of the cold pasta dishes we’d packed and headed for Cumbria.  Rather optimistically, I donned my ear plugs and eye mask and reclined the seat.  But a Ford Galaxy is not Club World, and 4 hours of travel and about 15 minutes of sleep later, our bleary eyes were met by a beautiful dawn breaking over the hills as we drove along the shore road at Wastwater Lake, dodging petulant sheep on the approach to the start of the trail.

Scafell Pike is pretty steep from the word go, so with already tired legs and a lack of sleep, it was a daunting start, but after 45 minutes I found a comfortable pace, my confidence undoubtedly boosted by the glorious early morning sunshine.  There is a fair amount of scree scrambling on the way up Scafell Pike too, particularly the final third, but with the clear day and improved energy levels (must have timed my food intake better after Ben Nevis), summiting Scafell Pike seemed less of a chore.  That said, two hours later, we returned to the car as staggering drunks, our legs unwilling to expend valuable energy correcting the constant stumbles.

One more to go.  After another long and sleepless drive, we strapped on the boots for the final time.  In theory, Snowdon is the easiest of the three, and we reckoned we could complete it on adrenaline alone, especially as it was in our own backyard, having all grown up in North Wales.  It starts pretty gently, but after an hour or so, there are some incredibly steep sections, and by this time the cloud had descended and the rain had begun, so it was impossible to tell how much further we had to climb.  Climbing next to the tracks of the Snowdonia Mountain Railway can also be fairly dispiriting, as you occasionally see or hear the tourist train taking more sensible folk up to the summit in comfort, whilst you battle to find the reserves of energy to scramble up the last slopes.

While some day trippers gathered round the trig point at the summit for pictures, I barged into their shots, slammed my hand on it with a growl, and headed for the summit café.  Yes, there’s a café.  Not exactly Sherpa Tensing territory I realise, but I never said I was hard core, and I don’t think I’ll ever taste a better cup of tea.

After a quick photo opp and some mumbled congratulations, we started the descent and a couple of hours later, arrived back at “base camp” (OK, another café) as broken, but proud, men, having raised over £3000 for a North Wales cancer unit.

Top tips? Take walking poles, take more food than you think you’ll need and take spare socks.  Also, even if you’re reasonably fit, do at least some training if you want to enjoy it before it’s over.  Best tip of all: if you’re down the pub with friends, and one suggests the Three Peaks Challenge, fake a stomach bug and take refuge in the toilet until they’re safely back on film trivia.

Why I Climb

It was about two or three A.M. and I was violently shivering at Interim Camp in what was supposed to be a 20-below North Face sleeping bag, but instead was a synthetic cover stuffed with newspapers.  The gear shop in Kathmandu rented me the equivalent of one of those “Rolax” watches you can pick up in Hong Kong on the street.  The “Rolax” might make you late for a meeting, but a faux sleeping bag at 19,000 feet will turn you into a popsicle.  I mumbled and chattered audible obscenities while trying to find ways to stay warm; top and bottom thermals, a down jacket, down pants and two pairs of wool socks in my bag weren’t enough.  I looked ridiculous and it was the first time in my life I really felt claustrophobic.

No matter what I tried, I could not keep my feet warm and eventually had to take off the second pair of socks because they were cutting off my circulation.  So, every 1/2 hour or so, I’d have to rub my feet for ten-minutes, stomp up and down displaying the tap-dancing skills of an awkward octopus to keep the blood flowing.  My bones were cold.   As I was doing my tap dancing, I wrote a song called Eff You Sleeping Bag Man that went a little somethin’ like this:

Eff you sleeping bag man
Eff you sleeping bag man!
Eff you sleeping bag man!!
EFF YOU SLEEPING BAG MAN!!!!!!! (repeat)

The sweet harmonies produced by this song kept my heart warm, but not my body.  The night dragged on into infinity and kept getting colder and colder until the sun finally broke over the crest of the mountains.  As the sun crept over ridge and filled the valley floor, I knew I would be able to keep all my toes.  A very inauspicious start to the most important day on my Mount Everest trek: the push to Advanced Base Camp (6,400 meters).

After a few bites to eat, Chandra (our Sherpa) and I set off with our spirits high and our Camelbaks (and bodies) frozen solid. Walking through the seracs in the vein between Interim Camp and the moraine leading to ABC was a welcomed change in scenery.  The route from Base Camp to Interim Camp puts you behind Changtse and a host of other lesser peaks, which ultimately block your view of Mount Everest, so, by this point, we hadn’t seen Her for three days.  In fact, about the only thing we saw during this period were rocks, dirt, an army of Tibetan yak men looking for free food and tea, the yaks themselves and the respective pies they would bake and deliver with regularity.  I saw so much yak shit, that when I did sleep, I would dream of yak shit zombies chasing me all around the Himalayas causing me to wake up gasping for air (the zombies were gone, but the smell wasn’t).

We switched-back up to the top of the moraine while trying to find a rhythm.  Typically, in the high altitude, the worst part of an ascent is the beginning when you haven’t found your rhythm; you are out of breath within minutes and questioning how you could possibly sustain another ten hours of this movement.  For me to get my rhythm, I would look down, start singing a song in my head and watch my feet taking deliberate and conscious steps forward.  It only takes me about five-to-ten minutes to find my rhythm: each body part moving in perfect harmony with all the others; my breathe following and eventually settling in at a rate just slightly above resting.

I had just hit this stride when I looked up and immediately lost my breath again when I saw this:

 

North Face of Mount Everest – just outside Interim Camp

Then I looked left and saw this:

An apartment building-sized, shark-fin serac on the way up to ABC

Have you ever been in an old church or basilica that was just so impressive you knew that you were in the presence of something Greater?   Well, I haven’t.  As incredible and amazing as the Sistine Chapel is, in the end it is always something that was built by men (albeit extremely talented men) as an expression of their devotion to something or someone bigger than themselves.   Through observation, man can collectively learn and understand “how” this world works, but the “why” is the Big Mystery.  Looking up at the most massive and brooding mountain in the world made my place in it feel beyond insignificant in the grand scheme of things…and it was absolutely terrifying.

The shark-fin pinnacle you see above is fairly unique to Mount Everest.  Due to the warm, day-time temperatures caused by the air in the high Tibetan desert, these apartment-sized seracs melt during the day before the sun drops.  Amazingly, even though these seracs are traveling downhill and would normally point that way, these seracs are all pointed uphill, towards Mount Everest.  The mountain’s mass is so large that it actually pulls some of the objects around it towards itself.  Walking up the moraine, you are passing through tens of thousands of seracs that are all bowing towards Her in reverence.

 

Almost-frozen toes, yak pies and the uncooked chicken at the tea house were all small prices to pay to stand where I was standing at that moment.  All the suffering, the doubts and the discomfort converted to a deep-burn in my soul fuel a euphoria that cannot be matched by anything.

After regaining our composure, Chandra and I began the long slog up to Advanced Base Camp.

The Proper Pack to Prevent Parchedness

ActiveJunky reviews six hydration packs ranging from backpacks to water bottles, even one a dog could carry, so there is no need to feel parched on your next outdoor outing.

While ditching society, stress, and ‘stuff’ is sometimes half the fun, we recommend that no matter how much of a free-spirit you are, you keep just one thing in mind pre-adventure: hydration.

Whether you’re hiking, running a marathon or taking the dog to the beach one of these packs will ensure you quench your thirst and stay hydrated.

Take a Flying Leap Off the Highest Bungee Jumping Spots

An infallible way to get a surge of adrenaline is to stand on the edge of a bungee jumping platform, glance down hundreds of feet while your gear is being secured and then taking a flying leap into the air.  A couple of New Zealanders introduced commercial jumping in the 1980s and since then jumping sites have popped up all over the world, with a few platforms hovering at staggering heights.

Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge (Canon City, Colorado)
1,053 ft. above the Arkansas River is the highest suspension bridge with stunning views of the surrounding canyon.  The Royal Gorge Route Railway and river below can be seen through the wooden slats of the walkway on route to the platform where an almost 10 second free fall awaits.

Nevis Highwire Bungy (Queenstown, New Zealand)
A cable car delivers jumpers to this site at 440 ft. in the air.  This jump has a 8.5 second free fall into a canyon that narrows quickly as the ground comes rushing up.

Colorado River Bridge (San Jose, Costa Rica)
Costa Rica is known for its tropical rainforests and jumping from a 265 ft. bridge in a canyon to a rocky river below with lush green vegetation around just adds a little something special to this 5 second free fall.

Verzasca Dam (Val Verzasca, Switzerland)
Made popular by the opening scene in the James Bond film Goldeneye this 721 ft. high dam has beautiful Lake Vogorno to look at on the way down.  There are four 007 jumps options, from the 007 Classic Jump for first timers to the 007 Ultimo for more experienced jumpers who are not easily shaken by the dizzying height.

Volcano Bungee (Pucon, Chile)
Most anyone can bungee jump over a river or canyon, but it takes a special adrenaline junkie to be able to jump from a helicopter into an active volcano.  The 375 ft. jump is made more thrilling by feeling the heat from the pool of molten lava that is within 700 ft.

Although the thrill of free falling is quick and exciting it’s the experience that will continue to bounce back into your memory for years to come.

Conscious Travel in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula

The most biologically intense place on Earth.  ~ National Geographic

Conscious travel; on the Osa Peninsula, it is common practice.  Located in the southwest region of Costa Rica, Osa is remote and naturally beautiful, but is also very poor.  It is comprised of 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and is mostly covered by the last pristine virgin rainforest on Central America’s Pacific coast.  Conservation is well under way in this area with at least half of the area being protected by the Corcovado National Park and other Reserves.  Corcovado is known to be the most biologically important area in Costa Rica and includes around 25-30 ecosystems.

Taking flight amongst the 750 types of trees are the Technicolor scarlet macaws, the great curassows and harpy eagles.  Other endangered species, like Baird’s tapir, jaguars and pumas can be found roaming the jungle floors.  10,000 insect species, 2,418 plant species, almost half of Costa Rica’s 860 bird species, 140 mammal species, and 117 amphibian and reptile species inhabit this condensed area.

This diverse and dense environment not only has an abundance of rare wildlife, but also has tropical rainforests, coral reefs, swamps, cascading waterfalls, miles of deserted beaches that are kissed by the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. With all this going for it the local tour outfitters can offer such outdoor activities like hiking, scuba diving, kayaking, horseback riding, sailing, bird watching, rappelling.  All of these activities can be experienced in just a single trip.

However, protecting this fragile ecosystem takes a lot of effort.  This haven for wildlife and natural adventure is being impacted negatively by unauthorized development.   There are also plans in the works for a cruise ship terminal and an international airport, both of which a growing tourism industry wants but a fragile ecosystem cannot afford.  These additions could undermine the local efforts for sustainable development and conservation.

There are people out there who want to help conserve this region.  People like the folks at iSeeiTravel.  They are creating a documentary project, 2.5%: Conscious Travel in the World’s Most Biologically Intense Rainforest of the Osa Peninsula, to raise awareness about the positive effects of ecotourism efforts, the negative effects of mass tourism and unauthorized development, and how conscious travel can aid in the conservation of this region.  There is a way for the local population to win and develop economically, while the ecosystem thrives.

Check out iSeeiTravel’s documentary project and donate today, with as little as $5.  Help them to Rock the Osa!

Guide Promotion: Free Setup and Best Practices Training ($300 value) – Until July 31st Only!

Guides are the engines that run the adventure travel and outdoor industry.  Being able to share your passion with willing customers and enthusiasts make guiding incredibly rewarding, but it also brings business and professional challenges with it.

PathWrangler is an industry-first web application that empowers guides interact with the clients and run their business better than ever before.  The trips you run can now look like this:

Why Guides Love PathWrangler

Let’s let one of our clients, guide and owner of Inner Passage, Matt Walker, talk about how PathWrangler is making a difference for his company:

“When a guest registers for an Inner Passage adventure we begin an exchange of emails containing word docs, pdfs, and logistical details. I have always wanted to support our guests with a centralized place that they can refer to the necessary information, purchase equipment needed for their trip, and interact directly with Inner Passage staff for support. I am thrilled that PathWrangler will be an aspect of all of our programs from March 2012 forward – it will be a central point of interaction between Inner Passage and our guests following their enrollment in an adventure….not only do they share our vision for bringing adventure into the forefront of our lives, but their product integrates a seamless design that decreases some of the barriers that we all encounter while planning and putting together an adventure. I can think of no better solution!”

Here is what PathWrangler empowers guides to:

  • Save time with preconfigured trip templates for simple trip creation
  • Improve service to clients with intuitive & interactive collaboration tools
  • Maximize efficiency through unified & single point communication
  • Increase customization & tailored trips capability
  • Retain & Attract new customers/members
  • Competitive Advantage vs competitors who run trips using flat files & generic project management tools
  • Expand capacity with less time spent in the office, more time with your clients/members on trips

It can work for you whether you are an independent guide with your own business or if you are employed by a larger company.

This month, PathWrangler is offering guides free setup along with best practices training ($300 value) with any paid account subscription.  Contact us at support@pathwrangler.com to get started today.

Alistair Humphreys’ Microadventure Packing List

The whole point of microadventures is that you do not need much time, money or specialised equipment.

As mentioned in previous posts microadventures are short trips you can do close to home from an overnight stay to a few with minimal gear and budget.

Alistair Humphreys shares with us a list of 20 basic items and 5 luxury items to pack for a microadventure.  It’s a quick packing job for an adventure that gets you away from the concrete jungle for a night or two and into the wilderness for a bit of “wild camping”.