I took the first tumble of the year in this morning’s long shadows.
January’s low, cool sun accompanied me for seven miles along an empty coastal path. It was time and space enough to reflect at last on the year that has just ended. The year of words.
I’ve been absent here because work words took priority. They also took their toll. The day job on a newspaper; editing of broadcast interviews; tweaking the novel; updating Twitter; and checking in on Facebook . It left my eyes screen-saturated and begging for darkness.
There were a few short adventures in the hills I would have shared: a remote summer camp beside a Highland loch and autumn days spent climbing high for views above Scotland. But they were too few. My whole focus last year was on work. On not stumbling.
And now I’m faced with an enforced break. I have annual leave I need to use or lose, so tentative planning has begun for three weeks in New Zealand, a mix of catching up with family, wilderness walking and work.
When I tumbled this morning (to a soft landing), my head was somewhere along the Kepler Track, the high ridge route I walked with my son last time I visited. I was mentally packing my rucksack, locating my tent , boots, head torch and sleeping mat. Scotland’s mud and ice were 12,000 miles away. And then, quite spectacularly, they weren’t.
Happy New Year.
It’s one of my favourite places on earth.
The walk towards Mount Aspiring starts after 25 bone-shaking (well, in a 35 year old camper) miles up the glen from Wanaka in South Island, New Zealand. I’ve been thinking about it today with the ice still clinging to the high slopes as the first snow falls in Scotland. It’s not what I’m supposed to be thinking about, of course, but
the memories are inspiring and will lead to great things tomorrow. Maybe.
The Maōri called it Titea, which means Glistening Peak and at 3033m high it’s well beyond my vertigo tolerance or walking capabilities. But not those of Major Bernard Head, a Welsh soldier who died, like so many others, at Gallipoli a few years after being the first to climb the mountain just over 100 years ago.
There’s a plaque to his honour in the Aspiring Hut where we dried off and slept last November after the glorious but squally walk up the glen. I’ve just watched some modern videos of the mountain and discovered that many climbers now hitch a lift in a helicopter up to the last couple of steep faces, yet it’s still a stunning achievement to reach the summit. Major Head and his companions must have been hardy men.
The view from my “bed” on waking up in the Aspiring Hut has to be one of the best ever and only matched by unzipping a tent flap and peering out at lochs and hills in the wilds of Scotland. And I’ve only ever walked a couple of hours towards the mountain but I want to return and explore further up the valley past the waterfalls that create Arctic swimming pools. Even the lower ones are irresistible. For a short time at least.
The Mount Aspiring National Park is home to the famous Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks in the Southern Alps. It takes 3-4 days to make the hike which has a series of well-spaced huts. I walked the Routeburn 27 years ago, carrying not only a pack with all my gear but also a five month foetus all the way up to the 4500ft divide. I hope he appreciated it.