Trails and trials of the writer who walks
If we are born with a supply of adrenalin sufficient for the average life-time, I think I may have used all mine today.
First there was the river crossing. A mere 8 yards or so of water. I followed all the rules: unbuckled my rucksack, kept three ‘legs’ down at all times (eg foot and two poles), and selected a route that seemed to stay below knee-level. I was not prepared for the sheer aggression of that water. Simply bracing against it took every ounce of my strength. I could barely move a foot forward, knowing that a slip didn’t just mean a ducking, it meant a rocky ride to oblivion. I threw myself across the last yard and lay panting with relief. My legs were doing that jelly thing and my heart seemed to be bouncing around on the outside of my ribs. That was the moment when Sensible Head suggested (quietly, so as not to offend me) that this trail might be a tad too dangerous for a 120-pound old age pensioner.
There were four or five more crossings this afternoon, although none quite as bad as the first, and I kept my boots on, knowing I would need as much grip and weight as possible. (I heard later from a professional guide, that this was a good decision). On one occasion, I met a nice young German boy, who traversed with no apparent trouble and kindly waited for me. Of course his knees would have reached nearly to my hips. I was able to return the favour by telling him where he was. Later in the day he reappeared behind me, having accidentally climbed the wrong mountain. He was navigating with a Harvey map (1:40000) and no compass. But he definitely had the right kind of legs for the trip.
When I arrived at the Forest of No Return, dusk was overtaking me (entirely my own fault, due to late and lazy start). Here the path is indistinct through the forest for only perhaps a quarter of a mile before joining up with a loggers’ trail. It’s a typical densely-planted conifer forest. The unusual feature of this one is the sphagnum bog between the trunks. In daylight, the brightness of green of this kind of moss is a sure indicator of a watery plunge. In poor light, there’s no warning. Inevitably, the path petered out, as it always does on wet sections, due to the need for walkers to zig-zag in different directions as they pick their way through. I made several attempts, back-tracking each time to where the path was more obvious. Suddenly one leg disappeared, followed by the second. I have always cursed the closeness of the planting in these forests, but not this time. An instinctive lung forward as the legs went down landed me near enough to another root hump to keep my torso clear and I pulled myself out. (A few days later, I met two forty-year-old guys who related the same misadventure in the same place. One of them said to me, ‘There’s a fine line between adventure and cold fear, and I think that moment crossed it.’)
It was certainly my moment. Abort further attempts. Back to the Pasture of Squelch, to the exposed, lonely hillock where I find the torn ground sheet and the snapped tent pole. That actually makes me smile. Someone has been here before and had a worse day than me.