Christie Lake Climb for Kids Tour de Mont Blanc, the Col de Tricot – Day Nine

It is really hard to figure out what to write about after 2 weeks in the mountains. There are so many impressions, ideas and feelings that come with accomplishing a really difficult trek. I really thought I would have so much to say after completing the Tour de Mont Blanc, but inspiration is coming slowly.

The Tour De Mont Blanc deserves to be written about. It is a dramatic, difficult trek that tests one’s endurance at every step. The Col de Tricot 2120m, summitted by our group on climbing day 9 was really one of the great challenges of the Tour.

The Suunto map at the beginning of this post really does not do justice to the day. But it gives you some idea of the scope of the day.

starting up the Col de Tricot

We started up the Col and it really looked similar to other climbs we had done over the past two weeks. However, it turned into a steady, long grind up a 500 m ascent in 30C heat directly into the sun.

I have learned that it is a really good idea not to look up too much on these climbs. the summit never seems to get any closer. You have to go into yourself a little bit and make the mountain the path right in front of you. It has to be one small, steady step after another, one switchback, then another all the way up.

The climb probably took us an hour and a half, but you wouldn’t be able to tell this from the photo I have included here. This is the maddening thing about photography on the mountain, it is really hard to convey the perspective, the steepness of the ascent.

The group strung out over the mountain. We all struggled in the intense heat. John, our wonderful guide encouraged us up the col – small steps, breathe deep. He set the pace, slow and steady – the same every day. John told us that it had taken him at least seven years to work out this pace. Often it was like meditation in the mountains, this day it was the only pace that would get us to the top.

Even so, John ended up carrying two extra packs for trekkers who were suffering from the heat and the push to the top of the col.

We reached the top of the col and the group spread out exhausted. We took off our boots and socks and lay in the sun. It was still hot, but there was always a beautiful mountain breeze that was our reward after a difficult climb.

Just before leaving the col, I took some footage that I have included here. I don’t know if this shows any better the difficulty of the trek, but it is the best that I have.

Funny, as I listen to this I hear myself saying that we have an easy descent coming up. I don’t think there were any easy descents on the TMB. What we did have was a long steep descent followed by a second climb up another col then for some of us a crazy 700m running descent in the gathering thunder back down to Chamonix to catch a bus to our campsite.

As the joints and muscles heal back here in Canada, I can say that this was easily one of the most challenging treks I have ever taken part in – right up there with Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Ausangate Range in Peru. What continues to bring all this together is the wonderful camaraderie of our Climb for Kids group and the knowledge that we are doing all this ultimately to raise money to help transform lives back home.

Oh yes, there is plenty more to write about the TMB, but just like our recovery, I need to be patient and let the process play out. This was a spectacular trek with great people all for a wonderful cause. It deserves the time needed for reflection.

We all achieved something important and special, something worth celebrating, something that teaches each of us something.  There is lots more that needs to be written. Lots more to learn.

Advertisements

Tour de Mont Blanc – Day Eight for Climb for Kids

Our route after 8 days of trekking, we are now heading back to Chamonix

The map doesn’t do justice to the challenges of the trail. We have trekked around the Mont Blanc Massif for 8 days now and we have two challenging days ahead of us including a 1500 m ascent on our last day.

It is certainly hard to put into words what we are doing. Most of us have a good amount of experience trekking in the mountains and I think all of us would agree that this is the most challenging trek we have undertaken. Every day starts with a dramatic ascent followed by an equally trying descent into another beautiful valley.

The scenery is staggeringly beautiful. We are constantly introduced to another scene of mountains, rivers and valleys. To get these views you have to work hard. Our days start before 6 in the morning and the last two days we have been on the trail by 7:10 am to avoid the heat.

A few things for starters. The TMB is an international community on the move. Almost everyone greets you with bonjour, buongiorno, the occasional kon’nichiwa and hello. People from all over the world are here trekking for the day, the week or like us, the full two weeks.

There are lots of young people here. They are fit and fast and many of them are carrying their full packs on the journey. This is really encouraging to see. I am thinking that if more and more people, especially the young, start trekking through these beautiful mountains maybe we will start looking at the world not as a place to make a profit for the very few but as our precious home that needs to be preserved.

The days are long so there is lots of time to think. Every day we see evidence of global warming. As our guide John explains, the alpine glaciers are sick. They are eroding at a dramatic rate. Still, we have crazy politicians who aren’t convinced of the natural emergency we are facing with global warming. We are not spending enough time in the wilderness and we are not heeding the messages that are truly evident if we take the time to look and see.

Today is a rest day and we really need it. Yesterday we trekked for 11 hours and climbed 1000 m at the beginning of the day descending 1400 m to our camp. The group is in very good spirits, but our bones and muscles are sore. They will recover for tomorrow as we take on the two most challenging days of the trek.

Every day we get stronger. The ascents of the next two days don’t look too bad even though at the beginning of the TMB these would have been very difficult. Every day on the TMB your body gets stronger. The muscles adapt and the long hours harden the body and the mind.

Our bodies are the vehicle that are bringing us through these mountains. We are learning and growing on a journey that is transforming us. We chose the right type of trip to highlight Christie Lake Kids. Kids live lives of struggle and are transformed by Christie Lake programs and people. We honour their work as we saunter in the mountains.

 

To Be a Pilgrim

Who would true valour see, Let him come hither
One here will constant be, Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent His first avowed intent,
To be a pilgrim

John Bunyan

Pilgrim – person who journeys to a sacred place; a traveller or wanderer.

Lightfoot Companion to the Via Francigena

symbol for the Via Francigena

Retirement is a funny thing. After decades of defining oneself by an occupation, the time comes where your definition needs to come from somewhere else. It is a different journey with fewer signposts.

After two and a half years, I think I am putting some of the pieces together. While there is work from time to time, retirement for me is becoming defined by the sojourn. This was not the plan, but it seems to resonate.

Two years ago I climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and entered the world of thin air and extreme trekking. Later, I travelled the old military roads of the Scottish Highlands with my daughter Colleen. The following year, on our first Climb for Kids trek, we climbed the sacred ground around Ausangate in Peru.

Colleen finds the Braveheart Car Park on the West Highland Way

My son Liam and I followed this up by walking the Pathway of the Gods in Amalfi. We also traced ancient Roman ruins at Pompeii and Rome. Very soon, our second Climb for Kids group will be trekking 170 km around Mont Blanc.

Liam and I starting another trek on the Amalfi Coast

Now I am starting to plan for my longest journey, part of the Via Francigena next October. We are also actively planning for Year III of Climb for Kids. The next trek will be an epic climb, but we won’t announce this one until the end of the summer.

I think what is happening here is that in my retirement I am becoming a pilgrim. There is an ‘avowed intent’ that is linking all of these walks. I think the most important intent is to connect or reconnect with people. On my treks in Scotland and Italy, I had the wonderful privilege of travelling first with my daughter Colleen then with my son Liam.

There is a true beauty in reconnecting with your adult children. We all change as we grow older and we all need to take the time to make sure our relationships stay vital and fresh. You can do this really well by walking and talking or sometimes just travelling in silence.

Climb for Kids is a wonderful experience for all sorts of reasons. I wrote about Year II last week and you can see that post here – Communities Move Mountains. This trek is about connecting too. Most importantly I get to travel and plan with my wonderful partner Heather Swail. We did our first high-altitude trek together last year in Peru and we experienced the beauty of the mountain together. After so many years together, it is still possible to learn things about your partner, especially when you are trekking under conditions of high physical stress.

Heather reaches the high pass at 5200 m with her buddy Beth

We have a great group this year and we will learn a great deal about each other as we travel around the highest mountain in Europe. Mountains take you to another place. They help you to hold others who travel with you in higher regard. They help you to gain a greater respect for yourself and for what you are able to do. The mountains truly make you a pilgrim.

There is a really good story that John Muir told about trekking. He never used the word hike and neither do I. He liked the word saunter because of its connection to an ancient practice.

Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.

John Muir

A Parable of Sauntering

So this is my saunter. It is defining much of what I do these days, although until now I didn’t know if I had put this together. I still have to start writing about the Via Francigena and I will either soon or after the TMB. There is so much to learn and a world to saunter in. Each journey takes me to another holy land and I guess that makes me a pilgrim.

Acclimatization camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Where do the trails lead you?

I am reading about trails. Robert Moor has written a magical book called On Trails An Exploration

This is an interesting book – trails are different from paths, ‘trails tend to form in reverse, messily, from the passage of dirty feet.’ (page 68 On Trails) It has got me thinking.

Trails are where we find something magical. The trail through giant ancient plants on Kilimanjaro. The feral goat who looks down on you on the West Highland Way, the ghostly llama as darkness gathers.

Trails also lead to friends, new and old, sometimes family and loved ones too.

On trails you make friends, but more importantly, you learn to depend on others

Trails draw you into a new life and once you walk the trail you are really part of the trail. 

You don’t go once, you go again.

Climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro

Because of those who walked the trails before I now am hooked. I dream about old trails – can I do them better, can I experience more, can I test myself in some other fashion. The trail takes on dreams and the dreams make me want to push on do more, learn more, experience more.

The pathways are not just pathways. When I walk, I need to do it for another reason too. There are two reasons that I have figured out so far. To help in some way children in poverty and to connect to my family.

The West Highland Way

For me, working for children is a matter of social justice. I walk, raise money and then support programs that actually can break the cycle of poverty. That is why I can only walk for Christie Lake Kids – the cycle can be broken, but it takes innovation and a huge community effort. I want to be part of that effort.

Second – connecting to my family is what I want to do. I am 60 years old. I don’t have to worry about making an impact or being successful in my job. I am happily beyond that. But I do need to reach out to my partner and my children in important ways. So, I need to take the path with them.

Last year I walked with my daughter. This summer I trekked with my partner. In a few weeks, I will hike with my son.

If I am going to do something like this it has to be for kids, social justice or family.

There are, I hope many more trails and many more wonderful people to meet as we raise money and awareness. In between treks for Christie Lake Kids, I will walk with my family – all of them.

This is where the trail will lead.

Towards nightfall with Christie Lake Climb for Kids

Climbing again for Christie Lake Kids – Tour de Mont Blanc

Our first poster for Year II Climb for Kids!

Year I is done. We are back from the Ausangate Range after an epic trek through the Peruvian Andes. We raised more than $28,000 and most of our group are now back to their regular routines as they process the impact of a truly memorable experience.

the group takes a break on the way to Ausangate

It is always interesting to decide when it is time to move on from one experience to start something new. For me, this is the time. This week, we signed off on Year II of Climb for Kids and we are back into the cycle of recruiting trekkers, social media announcements, training and a new launch.

While I don’t want to let go of this first trek through those beautiful mountains, it is time to turn to a new destination. Now we are preparing for Year II and the Tour de Mont Blanc.

The Tour de Mont Blanc will be a different type of trek, which is a great reason for doing this. A really different challenge. The trek is in the moderate to high altitude zone, but not the very high altitude zone (4500m-5000m) we experienced during the Ausangate climb. We will be walking over 170 km around the Mont Blanc Massif travelling through three countries and camping all the way. I think this makes for a great second adventure for Christie Lake Climb for Kids. As one article puts it, “More of a shrine to the Alps than a simple walk in the mountains, the TMB is the definition of a Bucket List Hike.”

So, the training starts again. We will probably do more long-distance walking this time to get ready for the long days. This is one of the many attractions to taking on a new adventure every year. We are in a constant cycle of training. Every day we have to consider what we can do to prepare for the next challenge.

Of equal importance is the money we will continue to raise for Christie Lake Kids. Christie Lake is all about transforming the lives of lower-income kids throughout the year. We wouldn’t be doing this unless we could make a contribution and a difference in the lives of children. For this reason, most of the climbers who signed on last year were either educators or connected in some way to programming for children.

This is also all about building a community. Last year, I had 29 supporters who helped me raise $2100.00. Each climber can talk about similar numbers. Together, we raised over $28,000 and put on two great fundraising socials with lots of silent auction and corporate sponsors. This community will grow this year. We will attract new sponsors and new climbers. The positive energy will expand this great social venture! 

This is what makes Climb for Kids such a great opportunity for growth. We transform ourselves by training, fundraising and climbing. We help transform the lives of children by rallying people to give to a really important cause.

So now we need 14 people to sign up for a great adventure. The new group will have some great experiences together. We will work with each other for a year and we will challenge ourselves in ways that are difficult to imagine.

Adventure and committing to helping others transforms. Helping others gives us an important new focus. If you want to do something truly wonderful this year, join us!

Here is what you need to know:

The Booking Form can be downloaded here

The full itinerary is here

TRIP COST: $3525.00CAD
DEPOST DUE AMOUNT UPON BOOKING: $500CAD

This does not include insurance (mandatory) or flight.

In Cusco, the Navel of the Inca World

Our first day of acclimatization started yesterday. We made it to 3800m which is really good for the first full day in the Andes. I think the more important acclimatization, however, was our introduction to the deep spirituality of the mountains and the lands of the Inca.

Really, when you are traveling to a great mountain I think it is really important to be introduced to the story and the spirituality of the mountain before you ascend. This is what we are in the process of doing now. We visited Saqsaywaman, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay – all spiritual centers for the Inca overlooking Cusco which is known as the navel of the Incan empire that once stretched from Columbia down to the tip of Argentina. Cusco was the heart of the Incan world.

looking into Cusco from Tambomachy

Off in the distance, we could barely see Apu Ausangate the place we will be heading on Monday. The Inka religion uses the term Apu to refer to a mountain that has a spirit that is alive. The mountain is certainly sacred and is truly connected to the Incan world as a place of great significance as a giver of water from its glaciers. Farmers around Cusco still take a yearly pilgrimage to the mountain, barefoot to collect a piece from the glacier. They then return to sprinkle the water over their fields.

The walls of Saqsaywaman

This is a really important way to travel. Learn about the significance of the place where your feet will tread before starting on that part of the journey. When you do this, the trek will have so much more significance. It will bring about meaning that we could not have imagined before the trek.

This is a good link to what we are doing. This is not just a holiday trek. We worked hard raising money for Christie Lake Kids before we left. Our actions in the months before the trip will have meaning to people we do not know back in Ottawa.

It seems appropriate then that we are learning about the Inca symbols, the spirituality of water, the apu and the mountain. Learning brings on respect and greater respect leads to powerful experiences.

Today we continue our acclimatization by traveling to the Sacred Valley and Pisaq. Another much more famous traveler, Ernesto Che Guevara traveled there in 1952. He wrote:

After trekking for two hours along a rough path we reached the peak of Pisac; also arriving there, though long before us, were the swords of the Spanish soldiers, destroying Pisac’s defenders, defenses, and even its temple.

The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey. Ernesto Che Guevara

Part of our learning is not only about the Incas but also the destruction of this great culture and civilization by the Spanish. All stories here come back to tales of the conquest. It is also the story of reawakening. It certainly was for Che Guevara as he traveled through Peru in 1952 and it is for us.

The trekking and the learning continues apace.

Inkakorset, Chakana, betydningen af | Inka-Design

The Inka Cross or Chakana is a strong symbol of the old cultures of the Andes and is considered the most complete, holy, geometric design of the Inkas. This symbol is often found in old places and holy centers in the Andes in Peru and in Bolivia. The Chakana has had, and still has, a considerable meaning to the Inkas and it also represents many meanings in its design.

A: At the top to the left

Future
Present
Past

B: At the top to the right

Hana Pacha – Heaven
The upper world, light sophisticated energy. The stars, divine creatures, and gods.

Kay Pacha –The earth
This world, light and heavy energy, here and now, Mother Earth. People’s lives.

Uqha Pacha –The Underworld
Heavier energy, but not Hell, may be lucky, beautiful things. Death.

C: At the bottom to the left

Peace
War
Intelligence

D: At the bottom to the right

The holy animals:
Condor/eagle: represents the upper world in the sky
Cougar: represents powerful land animals
Snake: represents the lower world

Top

Wiracocha / God

Bottom

Pachamama / Mother Earth

Christie Lake Climb for Kids is in Cusco!

We have made it to the ancient Incan capital of Cusco! After 17 hours of traveling, we have arrived and are starting to acclimate to the high altitude here. We are at 3400 m and at this height, your body quickly starts to act in strange ways. A flight of stairs is a feat, repacking your bag is a challenge, walking up a beautiful street can leave you panting with a racing heart.

street scene in Cusco

This is a beautiful place. Cusco is nestled in the Andes, the people are welcoming and the streets are bustling with energy and life. Our group is excited and ready to go and now after a good rest, is in great spirits and adjusting to the altitude challenge.

Acclimatization is an interesting process. The first day is a bit of a shock, there are a lot of breathless moments. Tomorrow will be better so we will have our first short hike of 3 kilometers in the morning. The key will be to walk slow, slower than you would ever walk on a downtown street in Ottawa. The next day will be even better, then we start trekking in the Andes at over 4300 m for five days. We can see the mountains now and we know this will be a great challenge.

The bustle at the end of a Cusco day

While we still have wifi, I will continue to write. This is a very positive group and we are raising money for a great cause. The physical and mental work ahead is daunting, but I am sure that we are all up to it.

Christie Lake Kids Goes to Peru

In a few days, we leave for the mountains of Peru. We are 17 climbers all raising money for Christie Lake Kids – transformative recreation for low-income children here in Ottawa.

A year ago we started putting this experience together. Our small team recruited hikers, planned fundraisers and over the space of eight months raised over $25,000.

This is the big idea. Come up with an exciting experience then recruit fellow adventurers who are willing to raise money for kids and work together to train for a demanding physical experience.

Climbing in the Peruvian Andes is an arduous experience. We will trek for 5 days and 4 nights reaching as high as 5200m (Mt. Everest is 8,848 m). Over the five days, we will never go below 4300m which means we will be living in a high altitude environment for an extended period of time, more than most of the group has attempted before.

We are a new group, we didn’t all know each other before this whole thing started. We have trained together and have held really fun fundraisers together, but the first time the entire group will be together will be in Cusco, Peru. We are united in our love of adventure and the willingness to support a truly wonderful organization that is changing the lives of children every day.

We are supported by Christie Lake staff, three different travel agencies, a wonderful local artist (who just happens to be one of our daughters), two outdoor gear stores which have sponsored us and given us equipment discounts, two physical trainers, various corporate sponsors (whose logos we will take to 5200m) and a tremendous number of individual stores and donors who have supplied silent auction items and venues for our group fundraisers. We also have so many contributors who have helped us surpass our original funding goal by $10,000. We now stand somewhere over $25,000!

just some of our sponsors from our first group fundraiser

So, with such a large community of supporters, I think it will be important to let people know how we progress through the mountains.

To do this, we will be using a great tool first suggested to me by Ottawa adventurer, Elia Saikaly. We will be using the InReach satellite tracker. Once activated, the tracker will send out a waypoint every ten minutes.

The InReach track I created on the way up Kilimanjaro last year. You may notice, there is no track down the mountain. For some unknown reason, I turned the InReach off once we reached the summit!

The link you can use to follow our progress is here: – https://share.garmin.com/climbforkids

I will also be able to use the InReach to post messages on Twitter and Facebook. We have some preset messages ready to go and I am able to send other messages during our trek. Here’s the tag #climbforkids.

We have also tried to catalogue most of the events that have taken place over the past year. For this, we are using an Esri Story Map, a great communication tool that allows you to tell a story using maps, video, audio recordings and pictures.

One of our Esri Story map pages highlighting an earlier fundraising achievement by the group.

I have a bunch of cameras that I will use to document the trip. The most important part of this will be to get the stories of the individual group members – why are they doing this, what are the challenges they see ahead, how did it feel to put yourself out there as a fundraiser?

The training is over and so is most of the fundraising (we are still happy to take donations here!) The story gets really interesting now as we pack our bags and get ready for a gruelling 11-flight from Ottawa to Cusco. We have a great group and we are raising money for a wonderful organization.

We all hope you follow us up the mountain!

A Virtual Tour of the Ausangate Region – Climb for Kids!

Welcome to Rainbow Mountain Cusco Journey through an undiscovered land of wild desert landscapes, snow capped peaks, herds of alpaca, and arrive at the ultimate destination – The “Rainbow Mountain” hidden deep in the Andes. Throughout your journey you will pass through a vibrant green valley with the impressive Ausangate mountain towering in the distance. You will experience first hand how locals live in the mountains and even have a chance to speak with them. As you get closer to the Rainbow Mountain you will begin to see the first signs of the colored minerals that formed the painted hills. Your guide will explain what makes up the existence of the “Rainbow Mountain”, and finally with one last push you will hike up to a vantage point that gives you a 360 degree view of the beautiful landscape that makes up this sacred land.

Trip Advisor

For the past week, I have been featuring photos that I received from the wonderful people at Merit Travel, the people who are organizing our Christie Lake Climb for Kids! adventure planned for August 2018.

The photos are truly amazing and most are shots that I can’t find anywhere else. Even the locations like this shot of the Red Sand Pass are unsearchable on Google. To me, this is a good thing. It shows how remote this area is. Even a recent Netflix documentary we watched called Peru: Tesoro Escondido had no mention of Ausangate or the Rainbow Mountains.

We are certainly trekking into territory that is remote and obscure. That is great!

I have also found some amazing 360 images on Google Earth using a feature I didn’t know anything about called Photo Sphere. Take a look at the Google Earth shot of Ausangate Mountain below – each of the blue dots are Photo Sphere shots taken around the mountain. The shots are spectacular and all are done in 360. They make up a beautiful virtual tour of the Ausangate region.

The arrows point out some of the Google Photo Sphere shots.

 

Here is one of the Photo Sphere shots. Unfortunately, I can’t make it 360 in this post.

I would give this a try. While this is a remote area, there are easily 30 360 images you can take a look at that are most likely a part of our upcoming trek.

A great way to dream away wintery days!

Climb for Kids – A photo per day!

I just received some stunning photos of the area we will be going to this summer in Peru. They are too good to keep to myself so I am going to start posting some on this blog.

As I post more photos, this edition of the blog will get better and better. Maybe we will even pick up the four or five additional climbers we need to get this terrific adventure going!

Here is today’s photo:

The Ausangate trekking circuit goes through some of the most beautiful landscapes of the Cusco region. The five or six days of this itinerary goes around the Ausangate Mountain –  Awsanqati in Quechua – along with hot springs, and pristine turquoise blue and red lakes.

OK, maybe a second photo

Our first Lodge is located in the Uyuni Pampa, at an altitude of 4,368 m.a.s.l. (14,331 ft.). It is a valley with meadows, furrowed by the ice-cold waters of the Quencomayo River, and a grazing place for a great number of alpacas from the community of Chillca. From the lodge, there is a privileged view of the snow-capped Mount Jatun Jampa; an Apu (Sacred Mountain) visible at the end of the valley.

from Andeanlodges.com

More to come!