We’ve been on a few before you know. It’s hard to define the threshold beyond which something becomes a true adventure. One of the contributing factors for us has been that adventures usually have a higher degree of uncertainty or list of unknowns. Time ‘out and about’ for us has included camping, biking and climbing adventures on the Scottish Munros, mountain marathons and winter weekends where intentions of winter routes are replaced by tables full of empty pint glasses.
We became friends in secondary school through a joint interest in not going to classes on a Wednesday afternoon. Instead we would sneak off to local mountain bike spots. At some point, and I can’t quite remember why or how, we decided to camp near the base of Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms then ride the peak on our mountain bikes the following day. We were young and so was our initiative. I remember packing food such as a multipack of yoghurts, full packs of bacon and cheese for one night on the hill, a far cry from today’s energy bars and dehydrated ration packs. The first night we set up our tent adjacent to a raging burn which roared through the night allowing little sleep. The next day we toiled to the top of the hill then rode all the way down under impending thunder clouds to Loch Morlich. It just so happened that we had timed our adventure on the same weekend as a music festival. We spent the first night off the hill buying beer and whiskey using questionable ID’s and listening to music and comedians.
Our first real adventure was cycling from Zurich to Zermatt by mountain bike. Again the origins of the trip are a bit vague. Our plan was basically to buy a load of walkers maps showing the paths through the various Swiss mountain ranges we would have to cross and set off. And so we did. The photos below show our bikes, and amusingly Ewan’s towel for the trip – he had been boasting about this towel which folded down remarkably small but perhaps not realising the reason for this was that it was indeed, remarkably small, enough to dry the bollocks or face but not both. It’s not so much that we didn’t realise how much tarmac there would be between the singletrack sections and mountain passes, more those were our bikes so that’s what we would use. We spent 10 glorious days cycling over and getting lost within Swiss mountains. Each night we camped in a cramped wee tent and bought cheapo food from the supermarkets to make the budget stretch (hardly an ordeal in Switzerland where food is generally great). We came across things and places we had never expected to see and cycled into Zermatt with a couple of days to spare despite the complete lack of schedule. It’s never all plain sailing but if it was the stories would be boring, who wants to hear about a holiday which has gone entirely to plan? Mid way through the trip we cycled into the town of Grindlewald near the foot of the Eiger. Having been hot all day clouds began to form in the evening and were soon bulging and expanding at an ominous rate. I woke up in the darkness of night in our cramped wee tent in a state of panic, my end (we slept top to toe, “night Bert, night Ernie” style) had collapsed covering my face with soaking fabric. Imagine someone putting a soaking wet cold sheet over your melon when you’re sleeping and you’ll get the picture. Having got my shit together again, I wiggled out of the comfort of my sleeping bag and zipped open the tent door. The wind and rain was lashing down as I poked my head out where I could see some of the tent pegs had come loose in the water saturated ground. I crawled out of our low slung tent in my boxers, wet knees on freezing ground to retrieve the pegs. Having been snug a few minutes previously the rain on my naked back felt like little needles. I’m definitely being a drama queen about it, part of me was more scared another camper would shine a flashlight over to reveal me creeping about on hands and knees in the mud like smeagle from Lord of the Rings, loincloth and all.
Having ticked the mountain bike adventure box our attentions turned to mountaineering. We’ve both spent more time reading mountaineering stories than actually climbing high peaks so the idea was to find something slightly off the beaten track but not too technical. Evenings spent trawling through the search fields of Summitpost and flight comparison websites narrowed our search down to the Caucasus range and Mount Kazbek. It’s interesting how you become aware of different countries in the world, football fans could probably name a lot more European cities than me through following the various leagues. Biking and mountaineering have both helped solidify country boundaries, names and places in my mind. We arrived to a full scale thunderstorm in Tbsili, capital of Georgia. Jumping into an unlicenced taxi we exchanged looks are we were driven along narrow side-streets. The driver tried to get us to explain to his apparently english speaking mate on the phone where we wanted to go. As time went on we became increasingly ill-at-ease until finally the taxi took a sharp turn down a dark, dead end alleyway. The driver skulked round to my door, then kindly opened it and helped us take our luggage out of the boot before showing us the tiny metal door to the hostel we had booked. The next few days were spent running around the city trying to find gas for our stove and eating loads of food because we’re both greedy.
We headed out to the foot of the peak in a minibus a few days later and the photos below show what ended up to be a successful summit bid. As we were returning from the summit to base camp clouds began to gather ominously on the horizon again, it seems to be mother nature’s way of telling Ewan and I – ‘that’s plenty boys, settle doon and away hame’. We hastily packed our tent away and descended all the way down to the village of Stepantsminda in a single long push. The meltwater streams which had been trickles on the way up were now swollen torrents and it wasn’t with a little bit of relief we reached the lower grasslands and safer territory.
In the years between Kazbek and now we’ve been adventuring independently, Ewan went to Thailand and I went across America by bike. We are however good at going on adventures together so decided on a 2016 trip. The world is full of so many places. It can feel like walking into a restaurant for dinner and being handed a menu with hundreds of different main course options, where do you start? We often start by looking at our bank balances which usually has the effect of whipping the main menu out of your paws and replacing it with the children’s version. We batted back and forth a few suggestions from South America to the middle east, eventually arriving back to one mountain range – the Caucasus…will let you know how it goes……