I probably don’t have to tell you that I love the mountains, there is something magical and energetic that radiates from those big lumps of rock.
For many people the idea of spending two nights out in the high mountains, in a cold basic shelter with no electricity, running water, fire or toilets might not sound like much of a holiday. For Jens, Tara and I this basic refugio, sitting at 3200m in the Sierra Nevada mountains, was exactly where we needed to be to practice alpine skills. This simple shelter became our base, not just for easy mountain access but also to sit outside in the moonlight to listen to, well, nothing. The mountains are alive, they creak, they groan, they sigh, sometimes they warn you that they want to be alone and sometimes they sit there quietly listening to your thoughts. Spending time in them, especially in the dead of night, is like visiting an old friend who reminds you that you are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
What brought us to this mountain shelter was an alpine introduction course with local guides Spanish Highs. Richard, the founder, had met us at the airport two days before. The following day we went out to practice scrambling in our mountaineering boots and moving together on the rope alpine style. We even managed to simulate a crevasse rescue using a rocky drop off. Despite Richard having been on this mountain many times before I watched him pausing to soak in the atmosphere and views as we picked a route up the mountain side. His mountain love is clear.
The following day he handed us over to our German guide Jens to take us up the mountain in search of some snowy conditions. With a 13kg rucksack on my back and wearing crampons for the first time in several years, I have to admit to feeling clumsy and slow heading up the mountain side at altitude. Jens broke the trudge up with skills practice, we built snow anchors, practiced ice axe arrest and generally laughed a lot watching various things go wrong. These serious skills will need some more practice when we get the chance. Jens’s laid back approach and blunt humor worked well, giving us a chance to figure out what we were doing wrong together, rather than immediately correcting every mistake.
We reached the refugio just as the sun set behind the nearby ridge, little did we know we would be attempting that very ridge the following day. Our teamwork and education continued into the evening as we melted snow for water and made our dehydrated meals badly, who would have thought that was possible!!
The following day we climbed a morning summit near the hut before heading to the ridge. Diving straight into the training we lead off along the ridge roped together with Jens reassuringly nearby for guidance. The skills here were difficult for rock climbers to comprehend, the idea to move quickly and safely when comfortable but protect moves when required. This is mentally challenging, protecting every move will slow you down but you also need to remain safe. More practice will be required to nail this skill. We managed to squeeze in a short sunset hike and a further peak the following morning before heading back down the mountain to reality.
As we headed through the airport to begin our journey home we found ourselves still applying our team working skills fairly effortlessly. We may be physically exhausted, but behind that we are high on life, high on mountain love and high of the idea or our next mountain adventure, thank you Spanish Highs!