Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sunlight sends me on my way...

For once this blog isn't about some scarey river, or a mountain trip complete with stunning photos. Instead it's about a journey, and that journey is the one we call life. It's a little reminder about not giving in when the going gets tough.

One tough thing I've tried is my life is to come and live in this crazy country called Sweden. This comfortingly western land, with habitants adept at speaking English cunningly disguises for tourists a different side. Behind this fascade you'll find a land that is actually filled by people who most of the time speak a foreign language, and lots of small cultural differences with huge implications.

When I first came to live here I was amazed just how challenging everyday life was. Weeks wizzed by and all I'd managed to achieve was mastering the how to do my laundry and finding where to buy stuff I needed. Now I've been here over a year things have become a lot easier. It’s starting to feel like home. Heck I'm even starting to get the hang of the language thing. Well, at least that's what I thought until October hit me.

Ask any Swede what the worst time of the year is and they'll tell you it's October and November. Infact you don't even need to ask. In the height of Summer you'll go to a party and Swedes will say to you, "Isn't this great. Summer is fantastic. But you just wait until October and November. Then it's horrible here, you'll hate it". It's no coincidence that I ended up in Nepal for these two months last year.

Unfortunately they were all right. It's rained everyday for the last two weeks. It's cold, it's damp and it's already really dark. It's depressing. Of course there's plenty of water in the rivers but everybody else is too sick or tired or busy to paddle.

Unfortunately, I've had a real hard time of it. It's been a depressed, crying over nothing, craving companionship but struggling to string sentences together, kind of time. For several weeks I’ve also missed the sunshine in my mind, and that makes life pretty damn hard.

But if this journey of living in a foreign country has taught me anything, it's taught me that it doesn't matter how bad life gets, I still have the power to fix it. For example, if I’m lonely it’s up to me to join a new club or invite someone to dinner. If I’m frustrated then it’s definitely time to start running every day again. The point is, no one else is going to fix the problem for me, I've got to do it myself.

As the depression tried to suck me in and take me down, I realised this time I really did need to dig deep and find some energy to start crawling back out of the hole. If there was going to be a test of my believe that I could change my predicament then this was going to be it.

I knew I had to fix some things that had been annoying me for a long time. So I made some changes. I put energy back into my relationship and work and friends. It didn’t take much, just a little bit of honesty and a couple of small changes and things started to come right.

Slowly at first and then more quickly the sunshine poured back in. Now it is blazing in my head and I am on a real high. I still can barely sleep but this is way better than where I've been lately.
My point? Most of the time in life all you have to do is to keep moving incrementally towards your goal, but sometimes a little more is required from us. Sometimes you really need to summon all your energy and make some big changes you’ve been thinking about for a long time.

At that time it’s important to realise that you can fix whatever you feel is wrong. Now, this maybe not true for absolutely every human on the planet, but if you’re reading this then it’s probably true for you. But what's more, simply believing you have power makes you feel better. Stop being a victim. Empower yourself and follow those dreams!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Kebnekaise, and the roof of Sweden

Our trip to Kebnekaise, the top of Sweden, reminded me just how uplifting a day in the mountains can be. Kebnekaise may not be one of the highest, or most difficult mountains I've climbed, but this was definitely a trip to treasure.

Don't get me wrong, this trip wasn't quite the easy walk I was expecting. We had cold, difficult conditions and there were many challenges along the way. But maybe that's where the magic comes from. It's a special feeling knowing you've meet all the challenges the mountain decided to throw at you.

Our trip began by boarding a plane and flying 1500km north to above the polar circle. It was an exciting was to start to the trip. Amusing also, as my heavy jacket, mountaineering boots and hand luggage in two plastic bags attracted plenty of stares from the ordinary Friday night commuters.

We reached Kiruna in the dark, jumped in a taxi, brought some fuel and then drove 70km to the start of the track. I felt really exciting about finally being here in the far North of Sweden. At the same time I also had a sinking feeling that the fuel we had brought was not actually white spirits even though the the bottle had said good for all "spirit köks". The next morning, we found out that I was right.

You could say it was a ominous start to the trip. Here we were at the end of the road, with no car, no one in sight and the wrong fuel. Four days of freezing temperatures and cold dinners didn't appeal, so as Greig patiently tried to convice the cooker to burn the stuff, I went off to find some petrol. Eventually I found a local family and after some persuation in Swedish that I really did want normal petrol, they gave me some. First problem solved.

So it was midday by the time we started our slog up the valley heading for the Kebnekaise Mountain Station. In summer this place is swarming with tourists eating reindeer burgars and the enjoying the luxuries of the huge mountain station with electric lights, drying rooms and a sauna. In October, however, it's completely deserted, and that suited us well.

We found a good spot for our tent and quickly cooked dinner before the rain settled in. In the morning the rain and snow had stopped so we crawled out of our tent, threw some supplies in our pack, and headed for the top.

Right from the start, things were more difficult than we had expected. The route was poorly marked and almost impossible to follow with snow on the ground. Also the clear weather didn't stay and before long we were in the middle of a white out.

The new snow had also created terrible walking conditions. There was too much snow to see where the boulders were, but the snow was so fluffy that we sliped on the rocks with nearly every step. To make matters worse we were confused by a false sighting and the map stopped matching up with the terrain.

Lost in the cloud, stumbling up the mountain we both hit a low point. We felt like we'd never make with all this cloud. We felt like quiting but we keep on walking.

Eventually we reached the glacier and regained our bearings. But where to from here? At home finding our own route from here on seemed like a fun challenge. But it didn't seem so fun when we couldn't see the mountain we needed to climb. Fortunately, as we sat on the moraine wall the clouds cleared just enough to make out a route. Across the the glacier, up a spur, traverse right and then up the gut. We couldn't quite see the top of the route, but maybe it would be okay.

We roped up and headed across the glacier, and then up the spur. As I climbed up the spur my hopes started to fade. The traverse itself looked scarey enough with all the new snow, but getting to it was going to require some serious climbing. Then at the last moment I spied a fixed wire protecting the traverse. My despair lifted instantly. We were going to be able to climb after all!

The minutes that followed were awesome. It's was a real joy to be on such an exposed face in the mountains without the worries of dodgy protection that normally accompany such terrain.

But the joy was short lived. The wire stopped after only 30m and once more we were alone on the mountain. It felt like the mountain was playing with us by getting our hopes up only to destroy them again.

After a bit of exploring, and a few worring moments carefully steeping on the loose snow and rock we finally managed to find where the wire started again. Again we had exhilarating climbing. Now we were climbing up the steep gut. Despite the wire we still had to be careful as a slip would still result in a serious fall.

By the time we topped out to the ridge it was snowing quite heavily. We saw the hut and made a beline for it. We both knew we needed food, so when Greig suggested that maybe we should stay the night and finish the route tomorrow it seemed like a good idea. Luck was shining on us again as inside there were blankets and we had brought our stove with us. As we ate dinner we talked about making the summit before dark, but outside the snow just got heavier and heavier.

That night we lay on the wooden bunk huddling together under the blankets to keep warm. We were comfortable enough until the middle of the night when Greig woke up with a burning pain in his eyes. The rest of the night he couldn't sleep and sometime in the early hours he was forced to remove his contacts. From then on he was half blind.

The next morning Greig's eyes were still burning and the cloud was thick round the hut. Despite Greig's desire only to go down, I managed to persuade him to follow me to the top.

Outside it was well below zero with a fresh wind. As we walked our pack straps froze solid and we started to turn white from the cloud freezing on us. However, as we climbed the cloud seemed to get thinner. After half an hour I could make out the sun and a little while later I thought I could see through to the sky. We didn't know it, but a little bit of mountain magic was begining. After days walking in cloudy, overcast, grey conditions the mountain had chosen to reward us.

It was like someone had suddenly turned the colour on.

First the sun shone through the cloud, enveloping everything in a soft red light. At this point I remember suddenly being of aware of how surface of the snow was covered in delicate snow ball bearings.

We climbed still higher, above the last of the cloud and were greeted by the golden glow of the mountain landscape bathed in the morning sun. Behind the sky was a brillant blue. Ahead of us each pile of stones covered in snow seemed like a work of art.

A little further on lay the small but nevertheless perfect peak of Kebnekaise, covered in fresh snow. It was then I knew, for sure this time, that we were going to make it. Suddenly it felt like the mountain had put the obstacles in front of us in order that we would summit at the perfect time.

We climbed up to the peak together, enjoying making the first tracks in the new snow. We were above the cloud now and it felt like the top of the world. On the top, we I took heaps of photos and I described to Greig just how beautiful it all looked.

We felt a strong sense of accomplishment. We had experienced so many problems but by keeping on walking, even when it was slippery and cloudy and seemed impossible, we had made it in the end. In the mountains, as in life, sometimes all you need is to keep moving upwards in order to reach the sun!

Two days I turned up for work smelly and tired from my 6am flight back to Stockholm. I was still smiling. Infact, I'm still smiling now days later. The mountains had worked their magic once again.

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