Recollections of two days hard trekking to and from the Poqueira hut in Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Difficult snow conditions and at times blizzard conditions made it an epic and, at times, very testing journey.
The following report of the trip has been sent in by Gary Scully, a member of the group involved, who are raising funds for Help the Heroes. The fine photos are courtesy of Andy Grant (see Flickr Collection).
My first morning back at work has been…’interesting’. The sideways glances as people walked past me, the blatant staring along with the odd smirk…and of course the expected mickey taking from the office workmates.
Ok, today I look…different, my face is quite red to say the least caused by a cross between sunburn and wind burn….apart from where my sunglasses were which has left me looking like the proverbial panda….a bit silly when I have had to wear a suit and tie in a 4 hour meeting with some quite influential customers, embarrassing to say the least.
The questions WTF have you been doing? and why do you do it? Are just a couple of the questions I have been asked today.
The first question is an easy one to answer. I have spent the weekend with a group of friends climbing the highest mountain on the Spanish mainland, an 11,500ft snow covered lump of rock looking over the Spanish beaches on the Costa Del Sol. We were in the capable hands of Spanish Highs, an outdoor adventure company set up eight years ago by Richard and Kiersten from the UK and based in the lovely spa town of Lanjaron in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
The why? could be easily answered by saying ‘because I can’, or ‘because it’s there’ but to me it’s more than that, and to answer the question I have to talk about bubbles….bear with me!!
I see people wrapped in bubbles, these ‘bubbles’ are called life experience and come in four sizes. The first size is huge, if the owner of that bubble reached out there is no way he / or she will reach the sides, in fact the inside of the bubble is so big you could do the wall of death on a motorbike inside it because the person inside this bubble is the base jumper, the sky diver….the adrenaline junkie whose life has no boundaries.
The second size is the ‘flexible’ bubble where the owner can reach out and just about touch the sides but is able to stretch the boundaries of the bubble by doing things just outside their comfort zones and increasing their ‘life experiences’.
Then there is the fixed / safe bubbles where people can reach out and easily touch the sides and are comfortable with that and feel safe with their boundaries. Maybe they would like to have a go at something new, but just cannot make that move to ‘give it a go’.
The final bubble is the type that has shrunken and is claustrophobic, where people don’t seem interested in finding what is out there.
I wonder which bubble you would place yourself in? I would guess the second or third. So…to answer the second question, why? I do it to stretch my bubble and experience new things, to see things you wouldn’t normally see.
On this weekend we were snowshoeing through 6 metre deep snow with clear blue skies, we walked through frozen forests and past snow and ice sculptures created by the mixture of snow and high wind conditions…we had a flypast by a pair of inquisitive Golden Eagles who flew just over our heads.
The second day couldn’t have been more different, we were at the other end of the weather spectrum, we had 80 mile an hour winds which picked up the snow and ice and hurled it at us. Visibility was down to a few meters and we had a 7 hour trek from our refuge in the Poquiera refuge with it’s warm fire and excellent food back to our start point. Today was going to be interesting to say the least…you just wouldn’t get this on a wet weekend here in Crawley.
The trek started on day one with myself and four other friends led by Mike, the more than capable Spanish Highs guides whose task was to get us up the mountain and back again all in one piece.
Now most of us in the group have quite a lot of experience in the outdoors, and I would place us in bubble number two, the expandable one….and then there was Sarah whose idea of an extreme walk would be to walk the full length of Oxford street and not go into any shop…bubble number 3!!
We had only gone 300 metres from the start point when the toys were thoroughly thrown from Sara’s pram!.. She was adamant she could not do this and it was too steep and we should turn round…unfortunately having a tantrum and stamping your feet just doesn’t have the same effect when you are wearing snowshoes in 6 meters of snow…finally, with all toys dispersed and the dawning that energy was being wasted Sara finally realised that, as the song goes, ‘The only way is up’!!
With the hut an 8 hour trek away we trudged our way through pearl white snow under a beautiful blue sky and past the frozen forest, the views and experiences were spectacular, although it took us 8 hours to get to the hut and we were all on the point of exhaustion when we got there, every step was worth it.
The morning after the mountain decided to test our survival abilities and Mikes navigation skills. It hit us with all the bad weather it could muster….internally Sara was creating her own storm and had found another supply of toys which were hurled everywhere…even her two make-up bags nearly went!! But this time she had a point. We were all sore and aching and absolutely knackered because sleeping in the refuge is quite difficult to say the least…unfortunately (again) for Sara her demands for a helicopter fell on deaf ears. The only things that was flying today were the chunks of ice being picked up by the 80 mile an hour blizzard….and this was forecast to stay for another week.
Finally we set off into the storm and within 30 paces the hut had disappeared behind us. Visibility was down to a few metres…Mikes’ navigation skills were set for a real test today…but off he confidently marched with us all in tow behind.
After 20 minutes we found that bits of us were beginning to freeze, but we couldn’t stop to sort ourselves out, we were too exposed, and anyway if you stood still you would have been blown over such was the power of the blizzard.
Finally a huge rock emerged in the distance which we used as a shelter to put on every piece of clothing we could…we only stayed a couple of minutes there, with the wind chill the temperature had dipped to a ‘chilly’ -30 at least! Even Sara had realised we were having an epic trek and we needed to just get on with it.
Seven hours later we emerged from the forest and in the near distance we could see the start point…Mike had done us proud, thanks to his local knowledge, navigation skills….and I am sure, with a little help from the angel of navigation sat on his shoulder, he had led us on a seven hour trip though an ice storm with no visibility straight back to the 4x4 and safety.
After a good hot shower back in Lanjaron and a couple of well earned beers we each mulled over what we had been through and what we had seen over the past two days.
As a group we had certainly expanded our life experience boundaries but the person who had gained the most was Sara. Having started on the first step saying ‘she couldn’t do it, it’s too difficult’ she had completed a 15 hour trek through 6 metre deep snow in some of the toughest conditions the mountain could throw at us and that actually she was a lot stronger person than she thought she was, she realised you can do anything…if you just push yourself a little harder and stretch your boundaries.
The way I see it is, ‘we are all born, we all die, it’s what you do in between that counts’
If any of you reading this fancy giving it a go and would like to expand your horizons in a wonderful part of the world give Richard and Kiersten a shout at www.spanishhighs.co.uk, whose company should have the strapline ‘boundary extensions a speciality’, you will not be sorry.