I’ve been home nearly a week now but Annapurna, and Nepal, feels like a lifetime ago. Was it really just two weeks ago that I realised the weather gods were conspiring against me and the opportunity to run the circuit would need to be put on hold for now? Making the decision to not carry on was easy, it was obvious, the hard part is coming to terms with what that decision leaves.
I’m lying on a bed in a hotel in Pokhara, sniffling with a cold. Not exactly how I thought day 7 of my Run Annapurna adventure would be. There has been non-stop snow for over a week up high which has completely blocked the Thorong La pass putting any attempt at even walking the Annapurna Circuit, let alone running it, out of the question.
Time for plan B.
Two days to go until I get on a plane and fly to Nepal for my biggest adventure yet, running the Annapurna Circuit, a 220km trek in the Nepalese Himalayas. The kit I take on this is going to be crucial to the success of the run; too heavy and I will be slowed down, too light and I risk the dangers of exposure at high altitude. I am proud to share that I am teaming up with Haglofs for clothing, Powertraveller for solar power, and LED Lenser for lighting on this adventure.
I first met John Ellison at the Chamonix Mountain Festival as both of us were giving a helping hand to the brands setting up their (somewhat complex) stands. We chatted away in the morning sun with me being none-the-wiser to who this happy go lucky and friendly man was. As we carried on chatting over a coffee he mentioned Climbers Agains Cancer and it all suddenly fell into place. Hints at his history, experiences, and, more recently, amazing stories all clicked and I realised who I had been chatting with for the last half hour.
On the 2nd March, I am going to be heading to Nepal to take on what will be my biggest challenge yet – a solo, self-supported run of the Annapurna Circuit. At 200km, with 10,000m of ascent, and with a high point of 5,416m, I am in for a whole world of firsts. My first time to Nepal, my first time to over 5,000m, my first time running that distance, and, my first big adventure without Sophie. Yikes!
My life in the outdoors has been pretty short, only four and half years ago did Sophie and I sign up to climb Mont Blanc and it was a little over 2 years ago that I came to the Alps for a winter trip to try out waterfall ice climbing. In that first trip, I fell in love with ice climbing and especially mixed climbing as we had one of the best days of my mountain life on a route called the Lillaz Gully. I would never have guessed that just over two years later, I would be back and climbing it, sharing the leads, with a friend.
Last winter, while still in London, my training consisted of strength and conditioning, and road running. The running didn’t provide the most inspiring of environments but it served a purpose. At the same time, I saw friends out in Chamonix waking up and setting off to go ski tour up a mountain, enjoy the alpine dawn, and ski down in time for work.
One of the biggest items on my Alps tick list has been to do just that, it was the last straw that made me want to through it all in and move to Chamonix. Finally, after a choppy start to the winter, Sophie and I set off on our first ski tour. I’m hooked!
“You know, I’ve not brought a beginner class over here before”. Mike, our instructor, smiles, shrugs his shoulders, and is suddenly off down a red run. 3 days into me learning to ski in Chamonix and things have suddenly got a little steeper.
I love being in the mountains. That combination of the physical, mental, and emotional pressures make me feel truly alive. To make the most of it, and to stay safe there, I want to be a mountain athlete. The buzz, strength, and determination I have developed in the mountains has turned into a true asset in the rest of my life both professionally and personally and, with this foundation, I believe I will be better prepared for life as a whole.
Sophie and I give each other a knowing look after dinner, saying ‘do we have any chocolate?’. I get up and find some stashed away for emergencies and we both smile guiltily. It’s well into 2015 and we are both trying to undo the inevitable Christmas indulgences but it is so easy to break when you’ve got a partner in crime.
I’m standing at a belay looking up at the clear blue skies as Pat and Graeme sort out the gear for the next section of the climb we are on. 7 months ago I didn’t know either of these guys but I’ve been working hard at making friends and, already, we have confidence in each other, a relaxed atmosphere, and enjoyable banter – key ingredients for an amazing day out.
Where to begin. Do I start with a summary of what an incredible year 2014 has been? The ideas and plans for 2015, Sophie and I have been hatching? Or the feeling that, even after so many experiences, I still feel like a complete beginner.
The arrival of winter is being very stubborn, with no significant snowfall and relatively warm temperatures, it was going to be a challenge for Matthias Scherer, Tanja Schmitt and Heike Schmitt with the Cogne Ice Opening Festival.
Winter has still not quite arrived in Chamonix but it is most definitely on its way. It has got me thinking about what I’m most looking forward to this winter and I just can’t wait for my first winter season in the Alps. Summer is wonderful here but there are some really unique and incredible things to do but winter is going to be a whole new ball game. Bring it on!
(Edit: Added a seventh, Something that helps others)
Christmas is fast approaching and the panic of getting the right present of Sophie is creeping in. Every Christmas, birthday, and anniversary is the same; she not-so-casually drops hints and I do my best to remember them. I do, however, like to get her something that she might not have thought of, something that I see as really her. This brings an element of risk into the gift giving scenario and honestly gives me sleepless nights.
As I have been thinking of what I can get her this Christmas, I’ve been remembering all the wonderful gifts we have given each other over the years. They have fallen into 6 sections and I wanted to share them with you here, to hopefully give you a little inspiration too.
Please do send any suggestions you might have as time is running out..!