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Finding Enjoyment

Finding Enjoyment

Sorry for the radio silence. After Tajikistan I felt the need to simply enjoy everything life had to give without writing it down and sharing it in long form. I still plan on telling the Tajikistan story - maybe some more time needs to go by. It wasn't like it was especially personally traumatic or anything, more that it gave me a new appreciation of my life due to the close edge we got to in that country. 

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What I wanted to write on here is the change in training and mindset I've had over the last six months since returning.

After returning from Tajik the priority was about fun and living life to the full. Of course I already felt I didn't do too badly at this prior last summer but I always felt I had more to give within myself and that I could be a better person in many ways - I needed a focus and this seemed a positive one to have. 

Fun was on the agenda. 

I took the pressure of needing to 'get fitter faster' off my mind with that fear of what would happen if I didn't and this changed everything. 

I started having fun with my training again. 

I had a new gym that proved empty of other people - perfect. I moved house, still in the big city but with the beauty of a large park with rolling hills (kind of) on my door step. This park created more than great hill running routes and fresh greenery, it provided me with imagination and childlike curiosity again.

Well, in my talks I like to ask the audience 'when was the last time you climbed a tree?' As a kid I was forever climbing trees, no questions asked and this kept me happy and naturally fit among the other things. I realised when I was asking these strangers, I was being a bit of a hypocrite! When was the last time I climbed a tree?! I couldn't remember! 

So as I was switching up my regular work outs and keeping it consistent, I decided that when I was home in the countryside for Christmas, I'd put the old rope back on the old wilting willow tree and attempt to climb to the top. This was something I had not done in many years. It was something that was a key part of me growing up but when I realised I had lost it years ago, I was in denial to try to learn again with the fear of failure looming over me. 

Christmas break came and I knew that in my mind it was time - I was thinking in dramatic phrases like this! 

The rope was looped onto the tree, I took off my shoes and scurried to the top in my amazement. I was me again! I can't tell you how pleased and proud I was of myself! I even called over my parents to watch (something we all used to do as kids - 'Come watch me') they weren't too impressed and I think my mum even said 'Well I've seen you do it so many times over the years, it doesn't seem so new!' Well it was new to me once again and I was thrilled. 

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I was thrilled!

After this little moment I bought a climbing rope for my London place and now I head to the park on the weekends with it in a backpack to climb up and down purely for the fun of it. Climb like nobodies watching! The rope even joined me for a weekend in Wales! 

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My point is, because I've enjoyed climbing, running and gymming again, I've naturally pushed myself and found my true self again, even getting all proud and unable to hide my excitement. I get to set achievable goals just because I want to. (My next one is climb the rope with arms only). 

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Tajikistan might have been a wake up call to enjoy these little things like climbing ropes and trees and for that I am thankful for it. I feel ready for this Arctic expedition in 2 weeks time (heading back to the chilly Finnsmarkvidda plateau!) and for the expeditions after that and after that... Let's do this!

MONT BLANC SUMMIT

MONT BLANC SUMMIT

Mont Blanc.

With it’s easy accessibility and zero permit fees, it’s an easy climb right?

Well it has some surprises.

Being a relatively seasoned mountaineer (no pro but no novice either) I went there with no big qualms. Thousands climb the peak every year and it’s tremendously popular with those with  no mountain experience due to the amount of guides that haul them up the peak.

Tim and I went to the Alps with training at altitude being the focus rather than a Mont Blanc summit. It would be our last training excursion before this year’s mega expedition; Tajikistan, and a Mont Blanc summit would simply be a bonus.

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Holiday? What holiday?!

Holiday? What holiday?!

“Going on another holiday again?”

People often think I’m off on another holiday when I commit myself to another expedition.

Truth is, I haven’t been on a holiday since 2011. Expeditions of my type are not a holiday. They are everything but. Yes, I look forward to them and get a sense of escapism from city life, but those are the only comparisons. They are hard going, they take grit and determination to get to the other side and a lot of questioning on why I’m doing it. They are often uncomfortable, scary, exhausting, make me hurt in ways I didn’t know could hurt, involve lack of sleep, (lack of oxygen a lot of the time too), are too hot or too cold, take a lot of brain power worrying and then there’s the making of quick life determining decisions. I cannot say enough how far away from a holiday they are.

The last time I went on a holiday! The difference!

The last time I went on a holiday! The difference!

Not looking my best! Sunburn, no shower, cold!!!!!

Not looking my best! Sunburn, no shower, cold!!!!!

On Denali, myself and Tim swore to each other that our next trip would be a beach holiday with no bag carrying. I can’t see that beach holiday happening anytime soon but I must say I do long to be by the Mediterranean! Of course at the same time I look forward to getting my teeth well and truly into the next big trip. It’s what I live for and I’m not complaining in any way about the toughness of them... The tougher the better!

Coughing my way up! Feeling pretty exhausted on this photo. Not a holiday but a test!

Coughing my way up! Feeling pretty exhausted on this photo. Not a holiday but a test!

The feeling of vulnerability and having to roll with whatever nature throws at you is a humbling experience. You have to know what you're doing otherwise things can easily get out of hand. Knowing you have a situation under control is a rewarding experience however, if anything goes wrong it's easy for that rewarding experience to turn nasty and life threatening. 

I know it’s a privilege to be able to actively put myself into such a challenging and extraordinary position but it is something I work hard for in order to make happen. I thrive on the better person I become after each trip and I am addicted to making wonderful, proud, incredible memories and addicted to the bonds I make with teammates that go on to become the closest friends life can give.

So next time someone uses the word holiday to describe one of my expeditions I’m going to crack down on them. I came back from Denali and it took me over a month before I had caught up on sleep and recovered. A month of bad sleep, lack of oxygen and being cold does that to you. I could not keep my eyes open after 12 noon and had to retreat to bed for 4 hours! Thankfully, I’m over that now and I’m now back after that hardship again.

This is what we woke up to every morning. We breathe in the night, our breath freezes to the tent, it snows on us in the morning. Not a pleasant start to the day and I'll never complain about getting out of bed again.

This is what we woke up to every morning. We breathe in the night, our breath freezes to the tent, it snows on us in the morning. Not a pleasant start to the day and I'll never complain about getting out of bed again.

Having hardship means that you appreciate everything again which is another addiction of mine. One moment that sticks with me after Denali was when we flew out from the glacier. A very short plane ride from the bottom of the mountain back to Talkeetna was out of this world. We went from full expedition mode in freezing temperatures on a barren mountainous landscape to landing in Talkeetna to their summer.

Leaving the mountain behind!

Leaving the mountain behind!

It was full of greenery, the smell of flowers was in the air, warmth on our skin and we were met by Sheldon Air Service crew who carried a plate full of fresh fruit all cut ready to eat! I’ve never felt so high in my life! If ever I’ve felt immensely happy to be alive, that was it!! That’s the closest that came to a holiday! (And knowing a shower could finally be had!)

Anti-Aconcagua scare

Anti-Aconcagua scare

I have woken up early this morning because of the sun shining through the jeep's windows.

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I've been sleeping in a 4 X 4 the last few days... No, I'm not (yet) living on the streets because I spent all my last savings on the last trip, I am infact in Iceland on a filming project with the boyf. The view outside is spectacular as I write this, we drove off road to get to where we are now and today we plan on scaling one of the higher peaks to get some cool drone footage on the ridges. I'm an expert drone pilot now!

I digress. Anyway, I woke up thinking of Argentina and the tales to document on here. This to me is like an online, saved forever, diary so it's good to note some of the big events in life.

Tim and I woke up early in anticipation for summit day. We were climbing in Cordon del Plata. It's home to endless 5000-6000 metre peaks and no one heads there because everyone flocks to Aconcagua in order to cross out one of the seven summits.

We had gone to Argentina with the intention of climbing it but were told when buying permits that the price had gone to winter prices (£1000!!!) and that we couldn't go without a guide. Screw that! It's not worth it! So on we went to seek out a less commercialised area with no rules, permits or people. We found out about Cordon del Plata and knew we'd hit the jackpot.

Getting there was a bit of a faff, we had to find a local with a 4x4 and pay him to take us up the mountain to 2900 metres. Next we had to ferry 2 bags up and down to each camp because we had so much camera gear and food (we were staying 2 weeks).

Finally, all our kit was in one place high up the mountain at about 4200 metres and now we could focus on summiting some mountains!

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First we went for Mount  Rincon and had such a great day. The clouds were beneath us and everything looked simply gorgeous. I felt so strong that day, everything was fitting into place nicely.

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After a rest day by the stream, we decided to head for Mount Vallecitos.

It wouldn't be a super long day but it had a reasonable altitude gain in a short period of time. I was game, I had felt strong on Rincon which was a much more technically demanding peak than Vallecitos so Vallecitos should be  piece of cake yes? No.

The morning of summit day I woke up weak. I'd been developing a cough that would get incredibly aggressive when I stopped moving or attempted to sleep. It would exhaust me in seconds as I struggled to catch the little oxygen there was.

A delicious, hefty breakfast of 800 calories worth of porridge by Bewell expedition foods and I thought I'd be raring to go just like usual.

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We began our summit bid. Tim went ahead at his comfortable pace as I attempted to put one foot in front of the other. Climbing at altitude is so hard to nail down to those who haven't experienced it. Every step with a pack on uphill drains the energy from you. I was having to concentrate incredibly hard just to persuade my brain to move my legs up the hill.

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After the first twenty minutes, my legs were starving from oxygen more than usual. They were empty.

As I crawled up, I could see Tim had stopped for some water. That must be it I thought, I must just be dehydrated so I'll have a drink up where Tim is.

It's always a mission in itself to get enough fluids in at altitude and my pee was sure enough not clear.

As I approached Tim, he was getting his pack on again about to leave.

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My heart dropped a little, I needed to stop, just for a little while, before we made our way up the steep 90 minute climb that would bring us up onto the ridge.

I very feaberly called out "I just need to stop and get a drink." Tim looked back at me and was obviously happy to wait for me.

Then the panic struck.

I was 5 meters from Tim and I stumbled. An easy mistake to make I thought? I bent over and put my pack down in a flustered state and as I stood up again my vision failed.

I could no longer see straight. I couldn't focus in the centre of my field of vision and the edges were blurry and distorted. The light was bright on my eyes and it shocked me. My hands went up to rub my eyes in an attempt to clear my sight. Nothing.

Even though I was in a confused state, I had full consciousness and was aware Tim had seen me having some kind of problem. I remember him moving closer and me desperate to look at him for reassurance but my eyes just wouldn't focus. It got to the point where he was standing up close to me looking at me directly in the eyes yet my pupils were darting about the place, everywhere but at him. My balance was going fast. I felt as if I had been spinning round and around.

It all came as such a surprise and of course I wanted to tell Tim I want having problems seeing and being spacially aware. I opened my mouth to say "I can't see" but nothing came out.

I couldn't talk now either.

Somewhere in my head, the signals from my brain to my mouth had got tangled. I had no control of my mouth which then developed to having no control of my whole face.

I remember feeling confused and worried, I knew things were not right and were worsening.

Tim would say "look at me Lucy, look at me, talk to me Lucy, talk to me." His voice comforted me. He was remaining calm and collected but after the second time asking if I could talk, his voice cracked and I could sense he was getting considerably concerned.

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I was deteriorating fast. Tim grabbed my bag and put it on my back. "We're going down. Hold my bag and follow." He turned me around and I held as tightly as I could to his rucksack so not to stumble further.

We descended fast, I mean bloody fast. The oxygen levels got higher with every step and my balance began to come back and my level of confusion was getting less.

It only took 200 metres or so and my speech returned. Shortly after my eyesight settled down and went back to normal.

I had come uncomfortably close to a much more serious situation that day. It felt exactly as I imagine a stroke to feel like. It felt exactly like the onset of the terrible Cerebral Edema. For those who don't know what that is, it's pretty much when your brain gets a hemmorhage and it's one of the common killers at altitude, alongside pulmonary edema which is the build up of fluid in lungs. --- Altitude is fun, eh?!

I don't quite know what happened that day but I do know that without Tim, I may not be here today. He got me down and took lead when I was in no state of doing either. A hero.

Will I climb at altitude again? Of course. I've been fine in the past. Things like this can happen to anyone and all you can do is  learn from it, know what to do, and climb with others.

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All I have left to say on this post is - Sorry mum and dad that I do these things. I hope you appreciate me keeping these horror stories secret until I'm safe at home.

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GR20: Not to be underestimated

GR20: Not to be underestimated

About a month ago I decided I needed to go for another trek as part of my training for Patagonia. With it being summer, I thought I'd treat myself to somewhere out of the UK and head for Europe. My adventures usually start with one initial idea followed by a Google search.

'Europe hard trek summer' is what I typed into the search engine.

Immedietely I was bombarded with links with the word GR20 in it. Research later developed and I was pleased to read that this GR20 was a trek in Corsica. Not just a trek though, this was named Europe's hardest trek of all.

Perfect.

I did my usual act of going around my outdoor friends (I don't have many) asking if they'd join me. One said he'd be happy to... This later (with only a few days to go) didn't work out and I was left to take on the GR20 alone.

On reflection,  I definitely underestimated the trek. I should stop saying the word 'trek' too. This wasn't a trek, you'd be lucky to see 20 metres of flat, 'walkable' terrain. This was a climb. A climb without ropes.

Concentration is everything on the GR20. I'd often find myself cursing in the early hours of the day as I sleepily began the 3 hour climb across boulders and rock faces. "Pay attention Lucy" I'd say. No one was there to help me if I fell, it was up to me to get through this safely.

Distance isn't a factor on this route. To put it into perspective, on some stages I'd only be walking 5 miles as the crow flies and it would take 7 hours. This proved frustrating. Slowly I'd climb up a 15 metre boulder that stood in the way, then carefully lower myself and my giant rucksack down to the ground.

For the entirety of the trip, I slept in a tiny hooped bivy bag which meant I didn't get the sleep I needed. I was cold at night, waking up in shivers despite the 35 degree Celsius midday heat. All of this added to the infamous name 'hardest trek in Europe.

The route was gruelling but after a while, my balance improved, my leg muscles grew stronger and my confidence to climb without ropes and with chunky boots and a rucksack, grew enormously. There were times I questioned why I was even making myself do this in my spare time, but like anything worth doing, it felt incredible to finish and was a phenomenal way to spend the last few weeks of summer.

Sadly, over half a dozen people have died on this route since June and many are still missing. This is a result of a storm where people were trapped in a landslide and also struck by lightening.

This was a big reminder to take care when on the GR20 and treat it with respect, it won't be kind to anyone.