2011 – Reflections on a year in the mountains

As the dawn on a new year breaks it’s a good time to reflect on the past 12 months. 2011 has been unforgettable in so many ways. There were ups and downs, of course (it is the mountains after all…..ha ha!), but experiences in the Sierra Nevada and Patagonia have shown me some insights I thought I’d share with you.

1. You can make a difference to your world no matter how small it seems!

Mule, Muleteers and Mountaineers making a differenceMule, Muleteers and Mountaineers

One day in August a small team of like minded enthusiasts (a mule, 2 Muleteers and 3 Mountaineers) took tools and materials up to 3000m. They did some voluntary work, cleaning, painting and restoring an old mountain hut in the Sierra Nevada. They did it because it needed doing. Nothing more. Little did we realise at the time that from this small seed how things would grow and develop.

Now Accion Sierra Nevada has been born. It has had much support from the mountaineering community and the national park. Funds are becoming available to continue the restoration work on other mountain refuges.

Sometimes the red tape has to be cut through and by-passed. In this case the Sierra Nevada will be the winner! A few like minded individuals acting together can make a difference.

2. If at first you don’t suceed try and try again. No pain, no gain!

First view on attaining the IcecapFirst view on attaining the Icecap

The Patagonian Icecap is a tough place. Our second visit here in 2010 was a difficult experience. We got our asses kicked big time! As I lay exhausted with the wind violently lashing the sides of the tent walls, I remember thinking this would be my last visit to this wild but savage land. No more.

But ….. 12 months later I was back!

This time Patagonia relented. Evidently there are only two short spells a year when there is no wind on the Icecap. We hit one of these. No wind and bright sunshine. This enabled some of the most superb views I have ever seen in my life. Cerro Torre, Fitzroy, Gorra Blanca, the Cordon Adela and Cerro Morena. Wonderful.

3. The biggest thrill in mountain guiding is seeing people enjoy it!

Pepe on Tajos de la Virgen ridgePepe on Tajos de la Virgen ridge

This year I have been particularly fortunate in having some good spanish friends join our mountaineering community and activities. For a mountain guide on his day off, it would seem like a “busman’s holiday” to go up into the mountains. For me, that hasn’t been the case.

For people who are not used to the mountains, but have only been told about them from parents and grandparents, visiting the high Sierras is like travelling to a mystical “shangri-la”.

I have received so much satisfaction from seeing the astonished faces of people who have suddenly realised that another, predominantly vertically based, world exists. Money can’t buy that!

4. I’m not as young as I used to be!

Exhausted on Paso Marconi, PatagoniaExhausted on Paso Marconi, Patagonia

I am now 56 and have been walking and mountaineering since I was 15. This year has been life changing as I have suddenly realised that my legs don’t go as far or as fast as they used to. Sure, this is natural, but for a mountain guide it is initially difficult to come to terms with.

Do I continue to go on as I have done and over the years, becoming slower and slower, until eventually I start to become a liability to other group members?

No. Some thought must be given to a gradual retraction from the harder stuff and an acceptance of the limitations of advancing age.

I will always want to be in the mountains. They have been my life, my love. This will not change, but from now on I may just pick and choose what trips I go on.

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