Friday, 22 October 2010

Barefoot up an Icy Mt. Vandalino

There are two mountains behind our house, one called Vandalino, which is sort of like home as it’s the mountain I have visited most of all and another called Vantacul which I have tried,at least 6 times to get to from Vandalino along the ridge but each time something happens to turn me back. The first time I arrived too late to make a safe attempt, the second and third times I got driven away by lightning, the fourth time there were too many snakes for my liking, the fifth time someone who will not be mentioned, forgot his boots and then there was this time. Could it be that I am not meant to ascend?  This time both Balders and I are recovering from something similar to flu so feeling pretty grotty generally. We got to the top of Vandalino alright and even got two thirds of the way along the ridge to a few hundred yards short of the start of the climb up to the summit of Vantacul but neither of us felt like it so we turned back again and settled for lunch on Vandalino.For me that’s it. After six tries east to west the next time I will try an overnighter west to east and creep up on it unawares just after dawn and from the side.The weather was brilliant though if somewhat chilly with a cool wind and snow on the top. Just what you need for a sore throat and tickly cough. Courtesy message - For all those sick to death of me writing about barefooting you might as well skip the next few paragraphs.I’ve been listening to a series of barefooting podcasts recently and one of these featured a guy in Canada who barefoots at all winter temperatures except on melting snow. This sort of stuff fascinates me. I love hearing about people who so completely challenge the accepted views of things, whatever the field.  I can’t say I’d ever go as far as he has but have enormous respect for someone that can and does. So, just to settle any doubts I may have had about barefooting, I did two hours and 600m height gain up the stony track to the Vandalino shieling on frozen ground replete with patchy snow, barefoot. And as if to confirm what I  heard on the podcast my feet yet again amazed me. OK the first 100 yards were somewhat chilly I will confess but as soon as my tootsies warmed up and as long as I didn’t stop there was no problem. I wore some footless socks to keep my ankles warm and a shemagh to keep my neck warm and blow me if I wasn’t hot after a while. My feet weren’t as warm as the last frosty trip but comfortably cool. Even walking over the patches of snow was not as cold as I had imagined and certainly not painful in any way. And the sensations were fantastic. I’ve never really had a much experience of walking on thick frosted grass and it’s ‘tis a  most fun and tickly thing to do. Of course not having even a tiny masochistic bone in my body when I got to the serious snow I put my shoes on because that was definitely cold. The donning of shoes was interesting because I felt some discomfort when my feet started warming up, a sort of burning sensation. But once they were warm they were fine, just a little more sensitive than usual due to the roughness of the terrain. I find it OK starting off in shoes of course because that’s what I’m used to  but starting off barefoot and then putting shoes on is a real killer. In fact the  remaining 400m or so up to the top were somewhat uncomfortable and rather ungainly – it’s totally instinctive to go from a normal shod gait to barefoot gait but quite uncomfortable to do the reverse. But the views were well worth it. We could see Turin in all its glory and even as far as the Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn.Something that I have seen many times but that has never registered before today is that we are almost completely surrounded by mountains. I measured the mountainless space with my compass and amazingly there are 330° of mountains and only 30° devoid of them. A bit of nifty brickwork and we could dam the lot and have a huge artificial boating lake

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Barefoot to the Souiran Pass

What an amazing day, well amazing half day really. One of those days when the Gods or whatever decide that it’s your turn and just pile it on. A day to buy a scratch card.Now it’s autumn of course there’s no rush to get up to go hiking as it’s pitch black till late so this morning I woke naturally, no alarm, had a leisurely breakfast watching a black squirrel stealing our walnuts from the trees in front of the house and as the car is at the mechanics set off on my little old scooter up for an easy hike. Skipping directly to the return for a moment, though I’m sad that the dog can’t come I’m really happy to go walking by scooter partly because of the icy-thighed exhilaration  of  a freezing ride up to my usual parking spot, which is I must say a magnificent parking spot in its own right, partly because of the descent, over half an hour of 50kph freewheel but mostly because you can go from peace and tranquillity of our house (kids are at grandma’s) through the early morning bustle of the village waking up and up into perfect peace and solitude and quiet  in less than 2,000 seconds and the same in reverse coming down which if possible is even more of a marked contrast after five hours of not seeing anyone. Amazing. The  enjoyment I get at living in this place is never ending. And today the air was so warm that, though of course I shouldn’t even have thought of it, me being a responsible citizen etc., I removed my helmet too just once again to get that  feeling of the wind in your hair that we all once enjoyed before the nanny state stuck its bloody oar in. Anyway today I thought I‘d do the Mount Servin-Souiran Pass-Crevlira Sheiling route anti clockwise (what a daredevil I am) as  where I had originally intended to go got snowed on yesterday. It is one of my favourite walks and the nearest.  I was really happy to discover that despite the frost and three or four millimeter thick ice on the spring basins barefooting was still possible. Up until now I’ve really only barefooted in high mountain environments but this circular walk  has a mixture of everything except trees. I’ve probably said this before somewhere but splashing through icy water in your bare feet and feeling it warm is perhaps the oddest sensation I’ve had this year. It’s very true that the main thing preventing people going barefoot is their heads and sometimes the fates step in help you make the right decision. Just after Crevlira I stopped to take off my jacket  and looking at the terrain ahead to put my shoes back on for a while. Pulling my jacket over my head I took a step backward and put my foot in a fantastically malodorous and squidgy boar wallow.  Anyone who is familiar with board wallows will certainly agree that it has to be the stinkiest most unpleasant thing outside of industrial chemistry. It really is foul. The next water was quite a way on so not wishing to contaminate the insides of my shoes with boar pee and mud (or worse) I carried on in my birthday shoes up what seemed like the start of a tricky section of the path which was just lose stone and sheep droppings. I’m really glad I didn’t put the shoes on. I thought I’d be finding the usual sharp stones embedded in the 5 cm layer of sheep shit and thistles everywhere else but as it turns out it was amazingly comfy. In fact the whole trip, start to finish was a sensation explosion for the feet and not an ouch moment at all. The four hour circular walk starts off along a perfectly level dirt road which is a great foot warmer in itself. By the time you start climbing your feet at supple and that acute sensitivity you have just after your shoes come off has gone. Just before the boar wallow I came across a little adder. Only about 5 inches long it pottered off in no hurry, sluggish with the cold and like the adder my camera was a little too sluggish so only got a photo of it’s tail. The wonderful thing about this walk is that the route up is shorter than the route back. The outwards bound path is more of less straight but the return path follows the ridge line which is crooked. There were boar diggings everywhere. Quite unnerving as you pass through the rhododendron thickets expecting any moment an explosion of evil pig gristle in your direction.. On the top of the hill overlooking the pass I was for the second time this year engulfed in a fluttering mass of birds, mistle thrushes I think but they moved so fast it was difficult to tell. Then looking above them an eagle was overhead maybe explaining the thrush rush. In close succession a buzzard appeared low over head, two white saddled falcons battled it out mid air and a handful of the ubiquitous ravens ducking and diving did what I keep telling everyone they do but which they refuse to do in front of witnesses which is fly upside down. Peace to airbourne chaos to peace again in two minutes. So taking that as an indication to stop I did so. I’m all for heavy hiking, and destination walking etc. but sometimes (usually) ambling is much much better. So I just sat on the top of one of the outcrops and listened to Vinyl cafĂ© on the MP3 listening to Dave and Morley  get to grips with Arthur the dog and gazing over the mountains chomping on hot sausage and bread sticks washed down with a thermos full of scalding tea. As it turned out I could have left the hot tea in favour of water as the temperature from freezing was soon 33°C in the sun.But despite the relaxing walk I was back home by quarter to two leaving enough time to get on with some work and light the furnace in readiness for the evening autumnal temperature drop