Over the weekend I went on my first expedition. By expedition, I mean an organised hiking trip, but ‘expedition’ sounds far more intrepid and brave. When asked how it was I was inclined to dismiss all the usual adjectives. They all popped to mind but felt garishly false. ‘Wonderful’ looked like a sugar-hyped five year old and ‘sublime’ strutted away like a ruffled old peacock. Of course it was ‘great’ but there was more to it than that.
Let’s have a few facts and figures then. Destination: Parque Natural De Fuentes Carrionas , namely Peña Prieta (2538m) on the first day and Pico Murcia (2341m) on the second. The weather seemed to be on our side and the terrains abound in dense grass and clusters of trees. Then as we ascended our boots met with sharp rock and some sparse tufts of greenery. The closer to the summit the more raw rock jutted out, often in distinct fan-like layers (Forgive the lack of technical terms, geology is not my forte). We stopped just a little way off the top and I realised I was on a ridge, and scared. My friend looked at me in the same bewildered way I must have been looking at her – are we actually meant to go all the way up to the top? Of course we did, and so cautiously positioning our feet, we trudged onward over more irregular shapes.
It was varied and fascinating. There was this strange, lurid yellow growth on some of the larger boulders and it looked like happy sploshes of paint. There was a stream with sides of mossy cascades either side of the water; birds hunting, hovering and diving, cow bells ringing down below, clouds descending in on us, oscillating temperatures and endless views. A favourite spot of mine was a valley where three mountains met, river cutting through down below. It was covered with deep green save for freckles of orange trees. They seemed to glow like lightbulb filaments. In other places there were colonies of blood red leaves instead. One of the mountains was a marbled white grey with a bear cave on the side. You climb and don’t pay attention to what’s around because you’re minding your feet. And then you look up and remember that you’re not in a park. This is the real vertiginous deal.
So how was it? I’d say it was very human. You may feel something akin to that rounded happiness after a long yoga session, stretched and small; present everywhere at once because the body fits just right. If you’ll pardon me using the ‘presence’ analogy it is probably the most apt. You’re present in the landscape, every mountain yours, every limb an extension of what’s around. The air’s different and you want to gulp it all down. It may have just been an oxygen rush, an endorphin knock-out but it was pretty fucking awesome.
And you never do want it to end. You carry a tangible loss, the tasteless return, and the sensations still floating. It sounds like a come down after a good trip – only the reality is not dull and insipid. Instead, upon return, the reality that was left behind is waiting patiently with a pulsing readiness. Apart from shamelessly hoovering up biscuits and chocolate I also enjoyed a feet soaking ritual in an icy river afterwards. It was painful, painfully beautiful. Oh and I learnt a truly valuable lesson – bring gloves next time.