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mountains

Senses in the Wild

Senses in the Wild

I've been back working in the city for over two months now. I love the buzz of London with it's fast walking and feeling of purpose but obviously I treasure having my time in the wild for several months a year.

There's a fine balance between the wilderness and the city and it's a tricky one the fact that I like to have both extremes in my life.

I've just come back for a run. It's time to get back on the fitness wagon after having a decent time off. It becomes such a conscious decision to be active when living in the bubble of London. That's the great thing about expeditions - you are constantly doing your own version of yoga, pilates, aerobic, anaerobic and strength sessions. From the moment one wakes up in the tent, you are stretching muscles, squatting, bending this way and that way, lifting things, fetching water from a far etc. A much more natural way to be moving than hitting it hard for an hour every day and staying sat down for the other 23 hours of the day. Doesn't that just sound shameful when said out loud?

Saying this however, I did enjoy my run. I darted around people and cars and found it pretty fun to do so. What got me was the stench of pollution whenever a car went by. The noise of those damn motorcycles that are so loud you can't think.

That intoxicating smell reminded me of what it was like to return to civilisation after having spent so long in the mountains in Cordon del Plata in Argentina. 

In the modern world, most of our senses are neglected as our world is so visual. When our senses are desensitised we don't pay attention to the little things that make up our world. 

In the mountains of Cordon, we spent considerable time at 5000m where the landscape is barren and few things live there apart from some birds of prey and the occasional scavenging fox. 

As Tim and I descended at the end of the trip, more shrubbery appeared and our noses suddenly had overwhelming smells. We could now smell every singular shrub and locate where it was. Every species had a different smell. It went on, we could smell horses before we could see them, smell the earth, the running streams and even the vineyards miles away that we were slowly approaching.

It wasn't until we were in the truck on the way back to Mendoza that these senses got too much. When we had been hiking down, the smells were pleasant. It was the smell of life and growth. Entering the city was the smell of poison. Petrol fumes and the lack of life filled the air. 

Our eyes took over from smell. We noticed all of the adverts, the lights, the signs trying to make us buy things. Our world has become stupidly visual and it's all about meaningless things.

The smell of pollution is not one that is good for the body (let alone the planet) and we need to get rid of it now. Losing the little senses like the ability to smell all the goodness in the world is such an unnatural thing. Being reminded of where our roots are and what the smell of life smells like is something I wish we could all experience.

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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People are Nice

People are Nice

People are nice. We forget this and assume the whole world is out to get us.

My faith for humanity was restored to me on the first day of my Spanish 500 mile hike that began and ended at the coast. I went through the Picos mountain range and into some very remote areas where people were sparse.

I had been walking for 8 and a half hours and my body wasn't acclimatised at all. My pack weighed 26kg (more than it should've because I'd decided to self support as well as bringing all my camera equipment.)

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It rubbed my hips with each step but it didn't seem to bother me until I took a glance at them the following evening- red raw and lumpy.

The weather was scorching and I dreamed of my next self inflicted break so that I could take a swig of water and search for shade. I never realised just how much I loved the taste of water. Every step I'd imagine it on my lips and think why had I taken it for granted in the past?!

At 6pm I still had 6 miles to go to a small hostel. I was on a quiet road that trailed alongside the mountain slope.  I took a break to sip the now very appreciated water. I sat on my bag exhausted and in my dehydrated and rather confused state, I decided to hitch hike.

I've only ever hitched with guys before and never alone. There's a lot of bad stick about hitch hiking that the only person that would pick you up would be the village murderer. I took my chances. I was hot, dehydrated and my feet couldn't take the pounding that the tarmac road brought.

I sat on my pack waiting. Nothing came. My feet throbbed with the release of my weight from them. The blood rushing back, making them swell. My leg and back muscles began to seize up thinking that they'd stopped for the day.

To get up now would be agony.

I tried to think what I'd do if I saw a car but I wasn't sure. Try and look the driver in the eye was the best I could come up with.

Around the corner of the mountains side: a car and my chance . I stood up with my map in hand. I knew I already looked haggered and desperate so I wasn't acting.. I raised my eye brows in an innocent 'please help the poor blonde girl' kinda way.

He didn't even slow down. Bastard. He looked sketchy anyway so I wasn't too fussed.

There was another car soon after his. I did the same thing, expecting for the same reaction but this man slowed down and opened the window.

I hobbled over and poked my head through the window. I asked if he spoke English. 'A little' he replied. Fantastic- the first person I had met today who could say even a word.

I pointed to where I wanted to go on the map and he signalled to jump in. I heaved my rucksack into the boot of his car. It just about fit.

His car was clean and the kind of car one buys when they've retired with their partner and only share one car between them. He was obviously married.

We shared minimal conversation on the way to the destination. He really wasn't lying when he said 'a little English'

We arrived and I felt so impressed with hitch hiking. I'd be sure not to let this be the last time.

I waited by the car as the hitch hike man went to ask about the hostel. Closed.

I scanned the area for a place I could put my tent, there was none.

The man told me to wait as he got on the phone. I was passed the phone to speak and there was a man who said hello. The hitch hike man had phoned his son who could speak good english. I was told by his son to 'Follow his father'.

I put my trust in the man on the phone and got back into the car. We drove back on ourselves.

I hadn't a clue where we were heading, but I didn't mind. I trusted this stranger but had no reason to. I had no reason not to trust him either.

We arrived at a small village. Mountains towered over the village covering half of it in shade.

A 30-something man with a beard approached on a very small bike and began circulating the car. I had a single thought; 'hitch hike man has brought me to a Spanish gang and I'm about to be sold.'

He hadn't and I wasn't.

The man on the bike was the hitch hike man's son, Juan. He introduced himself with a smile. Juan told me that there was accommodation in the village but that it was expensive.

Things progressed and it was decided I was to stay at Juan's house and he would cook me dinner and breakfast and in the morning, take me to my original starting point for the day. I couldn't believe it.

I got back into the car and was taken to Juan's house. A cute, small, wooden house. Juan and his cousin were painting the house so dinner wouldn't be until late.

I met Juan's mum. She greeted me like a long lost daughter. She had no english but persisted to make conversation and take photos of me.

The village elders sat across from the house, watching us. Juan told me they'd lived here all their lives and never had they seen a hiker walk through their village. Especially not a young english girl.

I was told to treat the house like my home. I took the main bedroom and flung myself across the bed, trying to come to terms about what had just happened.

That night, Juan shared stories and wine with me. I was so taken back by the kindness of the family and the willingness to help.

It put a smile on my face and reminded me just how kind us humans can be. I won't let myself forget that again. People are nice.

Short video of my Spanish adventure: