Gear Check #? – The Scottish Highlands

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Ok, so Speyside Way isn’t much of a summit. In fact, much of it seems suspiciously close to a river bed, and it’s still unclear to me how much above the ocean rivers can be anyway. I mean, they run downhill, right? Where do they start?

Regardless, the Speyside Way is so darn far north on the globe that it should still count as a summit of some sort. I can’t rid myself of  this vague idea that things to the north must be higher  than things to the south. And, of course, if you live in  Australia you must get very tired clinging onto the earth for dear life so you don’t fall off.

Yes, there are true mountains for us in the future including Katahdin in Maine. And we hope Mont Blanc next summer.  But for now – it’s four weeks to our multi generational trip to Scotland and England. More on all that to come in future posts.

As six of the eight of our traveling party will be engaged in a 67 mile hike in the Scottish Highlands during week one …. there’s still got to be  a gear check. Admittedly, this is luxury back packing (glampacking?). Our luggage will be  carted along by a taxi between b’n’bs and  small hotels and we only have to carry daypacks. A far cry from the barrels on Mt. Elbrus. (Yes, for those of you new to this blog – you really do stay in converted (but large) oil barrels on Mt. Elbrus.)

Nonetheless, we’ve learned from experience – there’s still gear that must go with you even while glampacking   So what does this trip entail?

  1. Hiking poles. Everybody but me on the trip rejects them, but after day 3 they will be thanking me.
  2. Headlamps. Who would have thought you needed them in Mt. Washington in October but after a late start and letting all the French Canadians celebrating Canada  Day pass us, it was a pretty dark descent.
  3. Hard candies. I’ve sworn by these since Kilimanjaro. Cinnamon is the best but husband J swears by cherry.
  4. Everything waterproof. I have a strong feeling that there is is a lot of rain to be experienced north of Aberdeen. As we celebrate Tropical Storm Colin here in Florida this week the wet theme is definite front and center.
  5. Gloves. Need I say more. Cold hands. (Not small hands.)
  6. Ibuprofen. It will make everything feel better. Especially after a couple of 15 mile days.
  7. A kindle. Weighs nothing. Battery lasts for months. And you can cart an entire library with you. There’s a lot of down time on hikes. You need a good book to read.
  8. Less than four weeks now. Ready for vacation!
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Books for High Places – What to Read at 18,000 Feet

The
The “Old” Library

When most people think of climbing gear, they have in mind ice axes, crampons, helmets, and the other accoutrement needed to maintain life and limb at high altitude. But to me, an equally vital piece of equipment is whatever book I’ve selected to accompany me in whatever arduous spot I find myself in.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of opportunities to read while climbing high mountains. You’re typically going to bed as early as 7, especially if you are aiming for a midnight or 1 am departure for the summit. And that’s just summit day. On a lot of acclimatization days you find yourself collapsed in a hut or hacienda by mid afternoon following your first few forays over 14,000 feet. And, if you’re like me, you can’t sleep unless you’ve first consumed at least a few pages of a novel.

Now books for such trips must meet certain requirements, at least in my mind. First and foremost, they have to be available on a Kindle.  When every ounce you carry can make a difference, lugging paper around doesn’t seem like a particularly wise choice. They have to be of sufficient length to engage you. I love short stories but somehow they seem more suited for an evening jaunt in the neighborhood – not a multi-day expedition. And they have to be engaging. If your goal is to blot out an altitude headache, to forget how cold you are each time a part of you inadvertently slips out of the sleeping bag, and to screen out the assorted snores and noise of your fellow hut dwellers, you need something that transports you into some alternate world. The odd thing is that life on a mountain can be so surreal that the imaginary world of some novels can seem a more likely reality than the one you’re in.

The
The “New” Library

So, what are some of my top choices for high places?

Our first trek, in 2011, to Kilimanjaro, was accompanied by Abraham Verghese’s Cutting For Stone. The story of a doctor and his twin brother it globe trots from Africa to New York, and kept me enthralled at Crater Camp on the Western Breach, where we camped at 18,000 feet. It’s 690 pages long. Of course, I would have been in no shape to write a scholarly analysis of it at that altitude, but it was a good read.

On this summer’s trip to Ecuador I relied on the fantastic creatures and characters of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld to get me up the steep slopes of Cotopaxi. Yes, I do like science fiction and some fantasy, and the alternate reality of Weaveworld and its 768 pages (now you see why a Kindle is essential) fit the bill. Years ago, on a much tamer trip to California I read Barker’s Imagica, and I think it would be a equally suitable high altitude choice.

Some others? Consider:

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – a story of a family in Afghanistan and elsewhere, covering multiple generations and places.

The Dust series by Hugh Howey – a post apocalyptic world – or is it? Be prepared.

The Flamethrowers: A Novel by Rachel Kushner – I will never forget the opening description of speed racing on the Bonneville salt flats.

These are only a few. What do you take with you on your travels? Let’s share.

The Armchair Climber – The Power of the Book

 

My parents' house
My parents’ house

As an English major and daughter of two now retired English professors, I was raised in a house filled with thousands of books. We didn’t just have one copy of a book – we would have triplicate, because, I suppose, you can never have too much of a good thing.

But reading  has always powered my imagination – and imagination is probably behind my  starting  this whole mountain climbing thing in the first place.  Well, to be more precise, it was a 1991 movie called K2 that I saw on TV.  In fact checking for this post, I discovered it was largely panned by the critics, but I still remember the drama of preparation (one of the climbers was a lawyer) and the critical moments on the mountain where one climber had to make the decision to leave his injured companion behind. The husband found the film absolutely appalling.  But for some reason, the adrenalin junkie in me found the battle of man versus the elements completely fascinating.

A good book about the mountains – or any adventure travel – brings you that one step closer to making the summit your own reality. Lots of books have given me that little last push up that extra flight of stairs. Here are some of my favorites and I’d like to know yours – I’m currently perfecting my Kindle reading technique for stair climbing.

The Seven Summits by Frank Wells and Dick Bass. This may be where it truly started. A work colleague of mine lent me this book back  in the 1990s, and, true confessions, I never returned it. It’s the tale of the original two who climbed the seven summits in one year, 1983, the year I graduated from university. Easy reading and puts the mountains within reach.

Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer. The story of George Mallory’s fateful trip to Everest, starting with his days climbing church steeples. The mystery remains – did he or did he not summit?

Mark Horrell’s travel diaries – these are available  very inexpensively in Ebook format. He seems to have climbed everything and his very detailed accounts of mountains ranging from Cotopaxi to Elbrus are quite reassuring to a novice climber.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Need I say more.

And, to finish up, The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. Ok, it’s not about summits but it is about swamps., Possibly the most beautiful prose ever written about the adventure of hiking through the wild Florida of the Fakahatchee swamp and the search for rare orchids. Inspirational for swamp dwellers who want to see more than the concrete of Florida development.