Falling

It is not that easy to begin this post. I am not even sure anyone reads this anyway, but writing as always been something I enjoyed. Thus, I am writing. Last week I took advantage of Koningsdag being on a Thursday to travel to Chamonix.

The plan of the trip down to Cham was to hike three days, and enjoy the Alps. Simple.
I checked the weather forecasts for a while, until they converged into what we can consider a mixed forecast: rain and snow the first days, and sun the remaining ones.
I brought all the clothes and gear that I thought were enough for winter hiking, but decided to leave home mountain boots, crampons, and ice axe. I was not going to push that hard, and was ready to back off if conditions were nasty enough to require proper mountaineering gears. However, I brought microspikes and trekking poles, just to be on the safe side.

Friday the 28th of April I was hiking on the Aiguilles Rouges, at low altitude because of the snowfall that was going on since the night before. I hiked from Chamonix to the slopes below the Flegere, and was feeling good. I went up and down to put meters on my legs, and had a pretty good time. I could feel all these months of training were giving fruits as I felt in a really good shape.
At some point I lost the trail because the snow was completely covering it. I checked the map, and knowing where I was I decided to keep moving to find the trail again, and then get down. At some point I realized I was walking over a sloped boulder field, but there were trees and the risk of avalanches seemed pretty low, so I kept looking for the trail. I could always retrace my steps and go back the way I came, but it was early and my turnaround time was still few hours in the future. I was proceeding real slow, though, because I didn’t want to step on a hole and hurt myself, or get stuck.

Then I felt. I was traversing a slope, when my feet slipped below me, and I found myself lying horizontally, prone, sliding down the mountain. The only thought I had was that it was over. I was going to die on that mountain, and rest under the snow in Chamonix.
Clearly that is not what happened, as I am here writing this right now. What happened is that, after few meters, I just stopped. I stood up, moved to a tree nearby, and took the trekking poles that I wasn’t using until then.
I thought “well, that was close” but wasn’t scared, wasn’t in panic. Sure my heart was slightly faster than before when I stood up after the fall, but not that fast. Kept looking for a way down, but after few more minutes of exploration simply decided to trace my steps back. Going back I kept hiking, and was still in a pretty good mood.

Actually, I am still in a pretty good mood. What happened was that I stepped on a rocky slab that was hidden under the snow, and slipped on the wet rock. I walked more carefully going back. But I wasn’t being careless before. There were things I could have done better, e.g. use my trekking poles to check what was under the snow while moving off-trail, but I was well prepared and equipped, and I made only one mistake. Lesson learned. This is what contributes to what we call “experience”.

What surprised me, what really surprised me, is that in a split second I accepted my death. Sliding down the slab I didn’t have any doubt about that being my last moments in life, and I was OK with that. I wasn’t really scared, I wasn’t trashing, I wasn’t screaming, I wasn’t crying. I was just looking at the world moving below me, at the snow, at the trees. I was worried of the speed, there was a voice inside me saying “you are going to accelerate until you stop, then it’ll be over“. I didn’t see my life being replayed in front of me, but I acknowledge that the time was flowing slower than usual.

I don’t know why I wasn’t scared, but I am so glad I wasn’t. If that had to be the end, I certainly didn’t want to spend the last moments of my life being scared of death. Being in peace was such a better feeling.
After the fact, I didn’t think to stop wander and enjoy the beauty that this world has to offer. I didn’t think to stop hiking, climbing, exploring. I didn’t question my choices. I was happy to be there, I was happy to be who I am.

I am happy outdoor.

WetCrag (beta)

During the fall of 2016 there was something on my mind. First, I was thinking about my trips to Fontainebleau and to the TNF Mountain Festival, and what I did remember about these two events was the rain. In 2016, every time I went on a climbing trip, it did rain. Even in Basilicata we got rain and were forced to shorten our trip by one day!
Second, I was about to change job, and thought about getting more familiar with Python. And what better to get more familiar with a programming language than a pet project?

This is how WetCrag was born. I wanted a website to give me the status of the rocks in the crags where I climb, or where I plan to go (sooner or later). And I also wanted a short term forecast, to see if rain (or snow) was coming or not.
And this is exactly what WetCrag does. It is really as simple as that. It contains a map with crags (or bouldering areas), and it tells you (and me!) temperature and wind speed at the crag, plus the status of the rocks (if they are dry or wet), and the outlook for the next five days (if rain and snow are forecasted or not).

 

 

Does it work? Yes. We tested it in the past few months, and it predicted conditions at our local crags pretty decently.
Is it 100% accurate? Of course not! We use weather data from the Internet, and cannot be 100% accurate. But it’s better than nothing. Check it for yourself 🙂

At the moment, we have just a bunch of crags and bouldering areas in the map. If you want your local crag to be added just sent me a message with the name of the Crag, and the GPS coordinates. Or even better, send me a link on Google Maps and I’ll get the coordinates from there. My email is me(at)isazi.net 😉

Patagonia 2017

The last of my goals for 2016 was a long hiking trip on my own, and although the trip took place in 2017 I consider this trip to Patagonia the realization of that goal.

Yes, it still sounds strange even to me. I have been to Patagonia. Like, real Patagonia. It took me a while after arriving in El Calafate to realize I was a world away from my beloved Europe, in the land of dreams, of open spaces, of crazily strong winds and mountaineering history.

Many things happened in the 26 days of my trip, and I would love to be a writer to be able to tell a story, but I wasn’t able so far, and I am not writing that story now. Like in a dream I can think of the Dakar team I met on the plane from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires, the rugby team I met in the lounge in São Paulo airport coming back, the never working ATMs in Argentina, the closed border crossing with Chile, the smell of the Pacific Ocean, the cold wind that blew my tarp (almost) away one night, the complete exhaustion I experienced after hiking for more than 34 km and with an elevation gain of more than 2200 meters, the absolute elation I felt reaching, alone, Paso John Gardner and setting my eyes on the immensity of the Grey glacier.
There is too much for words. Patagonia is immense, and it’s too much for me to describe. So much that I’m actually weeping a little while writing, looking at the world map on this room’s wall, looking at that faraway place that I had the luck to walk on.

Maybe one day I’ll sit down, take a stroll through memory lane, and write about my adventure in Patagonia. Today, though, I’ll simply post a video I made with images of the trip. But before that, a quote from Chatwin’s “In Patagonia”, my favorite quote from the book:

“Which religion have you?” Ali asked. “Christian?”
“I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God.”

 

Update on 2016 goals

Just a short update on how 2016 is going. At the beginning of the year I wrote a post about my goals for the year, and I am pretty happy about how things are going so far.

Selfie on the summit of Monte Amaro.

Selfie on the summit of Monte Amaro.

 

The first goal for 2016 was to reach the summit of Monte Amaro, in the Majella massif. I reached the summit during the evening of the 15th of August, bivouacked just outside the Pelino hut, and went back down the morning after. The night was humid but not really cold, and I did see few shooting stars and even a passing satellite. On Stava you can find the GPS track of me going up, and then going down the day after.

Selfie after the run.

Selfie after the run.

 

The second goal was to run a half-marathon, and not just the distance, but a real race. And I just did that. Last Sunday, the 16th of October, I was one of the over 18000 people participating in the Mizuno Amsterdam Half Marathon. Not only I was able to run the whole of it, but I managed to run in under two hours (official time being 1:57:10). And, the most important thing, I did have lots of fun running it, and the atmosphere of the race was awesome. Again, this is the Strava GPS track of the race.

 

There are still some months to go on this 2016, and I hope to achieve even more outdoor goals 🙂

The North Face Mountain Festival 2016

In late May, just before the (kinda) failed trip to Fontainebleau, I read on Planet Mountain that The North Face (TNF from now on) was organizing a gathering of people in Lauterbrunnen (CH) called the “Mountain Festival”. Three days of hiking, trail running, climbing, and adventure in general.
I did buy a ticket on the same day, and the waiting began.

Fast forward few months, and now I am back home after the event took place. And I must say it, it was a really cool weekend, and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

But what did happen last weekend in Lauterbrunnen?

Well, I arrived in Geneva Thursday evening, after a delayed flight. Then took a train to Interlaken, where I planned to spend the night in a hostel before going to the festival. It did work out, eventually, and I did spend the night in a hostel (a good night, even), but it took longer than expected, because due to a train failure I got stuck in Lausanne for a while. The only notable event that took place on the train was that I was called “a good boy” by a girl to whom I borrowed my phone (I guess she missed her stop and had to call someone home). As far as how usually my journeys are, this was pretty easy.
Although extremely expensive, because Switzerland.

OK, I will avoid spending hundreds of words talking about events that are of any interest to me only (if even), and just get to the main points. First of all: it did rain. Apparently it always does when I travel, so I was not pissed off at all. It was actually a good test for my gears, and the only issues I had were (1) condensation in the tent (next time I should leave the rain fly open even if it is raining, or just use a tarp instead of a tent), and (2) the discovery that the Patagonia duffel I brought with me (and left outside my small one person tent) was not really waterproof. Some of the content of the duffel got wet, not all of it, and not completely soaked, but it was a mild failure. Still, this setup with a tent all for me to sleep in, and a duffel with all the stuff sounds like a good idea to me, assuming I have a base camp and I’m not carrying everything with me all the time. Not that a different setup would have kept me dry, because my two trail runs were under the rain, and I got soaked anyway. And so did the clothes I was wearing. And due to the rain and the humidity, there was no way anything would dry, so I did just wear wet clothes, and found out they dry out really fast just with my body heat.

I did really enjoy trail running, but I may have underestimated my fitness level. Although I do run, and do run every week, I always run on flat terrain (way to go Netherlands), and going uphill and downhill killed my muscles. Moreover, next time I should keep a slower pace. Lesson learned, and still cannot wait to run again in the mountains.

I also made a small mistake booking a short hike, and realized that a short hike does not do much for me.
Next time, I would either skip hiking, or join a longer and challenging one. So I kind of overestimated my trail running fitness, and had a great challenge, but underestimated my hiking prowess, and was not challenged at all. I did properly estimate my climbing skills, though, but unfortunately decided to climb the only day that climbing was moved indoor because of the weather. There are weather Gremlins out there, I know, trying in every possible way to prevent me to climb outdoors. You will not have me, Gremlins!
On a positive note, base camp had clean (most of the time) toilets, and hot showers. Quite a pleasure to come back from a cold run and have a hot shower waiting for you, instead of just more cold rain.

Together with activities there were talks and other workshops. I did take part in a mobility workshop organized by Commando Active (really good one) and attended all talks given by the TNF sponsored athletes. No need to say that most of the talks were really inspiring, especially “Nanga in Winter”, the story of the first Winter ascent of Nanga Parbat (that did happen just few months ago) by Simone Moro and Tamara Lunger. I was really looking forward to this talk, and was not disappointed at all.
The best thing, though, was that these same athletes were also taking part in the activities, and all the ones I met were really nice and down to earth people. I did run with the likes of Tamara Lunger, David Göttler, or Jez Bragg, and climbed with the Pou brothers: not bad at all as a crew. They were all supportive, and I clearly enjoyed interacting with them. I am a little fanboy, clearly.

So I came back from this weekend pretty excited and motivated, ready to work harder to reach my dreams, and with a list of skills I want to acquire soon. I also got the idea for a possible multi-day Summer hike in the area (a loop beginning and ending in Interlaken, touching Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen). Too bad wild camping is not allowed in Switzerland, cause it would make a hike like this even better. Oh, and if you happen to have the chance to do it, visit the area of the Bernese Oberland, because it is an outdoor paradise.

If you are interested in some pictures, I took some and made a small album. All the pictures are by me, except the trail running ones that were taken by Jez Bragg.