Seeking Refuge in the Mountains

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A weekend of ski-touring adventures on the Tasman Glacier, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

How insignificant I am standing here in front of a monstrous wall of ice. Yet out of the two of us, it is the hundreds of year old glacier that is now more mortal, more vulnerable than I. It is disappearing. The generations coming after me will never stand where I stand right now. They’ll never see what I see in front of me. They will never feel this sense of awe that ripples through my body as I stare.

They’ll never haul themselves up the side of a crevasse. They’ll never ski new lines of untouched powder, cruise down 20km of uninterrupted perfection. They’ll never wander amongst frozen tunnels, jagged pristine seracs and sparkling shards of ice.

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Here, away from civilization, perched on a glacier, we are happy, we are free. Here, we play with ropes, skins and ice-axes. Here, we drink whiskey from hip flasks and crack smiles that make our skin crinkle. Here, we don’t scrub or criticize our bodies and our flaws. Here, we eat what we can carry and earn every step.

Here, blisters, bruises and cuts wrap themselves around our bodies. Here, our muscles thrum with pleasurable aches. We curl up in sleeping bags and see our breath turn to steam. Here, there is nothing more gratifying than holding a steaming mug of coffee between your frozen hands. Here our phones have no signal so we talk to each other, we discuss real things and look directly into each other eyes.

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You hear the mountains moan and grumble and watch in incredulity as small avalanches release around you like thunder. You put your trust, your life in fact, in other people’s hands. People who you believe (and hope) know much more than you.

Here, you push yourself to do better, to be better. Here, you feel fear and weakness. You feel the tears and panic brimming up inside body but you force them back down. Here, reality is a distant memory, your to-do list at work no longer seems so urgent, the hard time you gave yourself for your bout of overindulgence seems ridiculous. All that stress and worry you carry around with you every day suddenly seems so trivial. When here, out in the elements, you hold your life in your hands. Here, in the backcountry is where freedom and happiness lies.

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But this haven, this refuge for us vagabonds and dirtbags is disappearing. Soon the world of ice will be gone and with it, so will we.

Murray into the Third Round of the Australian Open.

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Andy Murray advances into the third round of the Australian Open after taking an easy win in his second game, beating Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.The third-seed defeated Netherlands Robin Haase in the first round with a similar scoreline of 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. The Grand Slam matches are the Scots first since the US Open thriller last year when he took down Djokovic in the final after five hours on the court, in a game that cemented his name amongst the greats.  It has been 76-years since a British man has been a Grand Slam singles champion. A match which took Murray from been the little boy caught in the big leagues to a hero.

Britain’s number two and fellow Scot Jamie Baker was knocked out in the first round after a 7-6 7-5 6-2 defeat to Lukas Rosol, the player who beat Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last year. The scorching weather seems to be the only factor slowing the Olympic gold medallist, lucky for him he is Scottish and they are a tough bunch. Since the appointment of his coach Lendl the world has seen a new Murray take to the field. One that is in control and knows how to utilise his strengths. If Murray can win the Australian Open, it will make him the only male player to follow up a first Grand Slam title with another. Though he has some competition to face before then, as he is drawn in the same category as Federer and could face his ‘rival’ Djokovic in what could be a marathon of a replay of the US Open final. This is the new Murray, less whine, more hunger.

He faces  Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis in Round three tomorrow.

A Snowboarder’s World

Clotted blood decorates my nose and mouth. It is beginning to morph into an ugly shade of yellow. The scabs have arrived. My thighs and arms host a pattern of bruises. It will hurt to sit for a while. I look like shite, like I’ve been tossed off a bridge or fought in an unlicensed bare-knuckle fight. Yet for some reason, I do not care. I am utterly content in my dishevelment. I am free.

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If you have no fear, I am convinced you can do anything. The world is out there waiting. Only you control the lever that can catapult you into adventure. For it is the very one, that untouched will keep you right where you are, sitting on your couch still in your pyjamas at midday, staring at screens. If you do not discover something about yourself while carving down a mountain in the Alps on a plank of wood then you may pack it in and go back to your couch. But I suggest you try it first.

The alarm crows at eight am everyday;  first lift. Automatically whack snooze. The realisation hits, you are in the Alps. Drag your lazy ass and foggy head up, into the shower and out the double doors, over the balcony. Touchdown in Nirvana.

Surviving on a diet of Pringle laden white bread rolls, helped down with Coke or blue Powerade.  Every night with a theme; unleash the beast, military, pimps and hoes…. Every day has a game, chug a beer on the chairlift, do a run with your pants down. We are like dogs who have been on a chain for far too long and now we have been unleashed. Chaotic, mad brilliance must ensue. The thump, thump of the boombox that is the soundtrack to your week away from reality. Sliding down a mountainside, laughing deliriously. You are invincible.

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I rode a chairlift, I went fast, real fast. I felt the tang of adrenaline taint my tongue. I laughed out loud with no one else around, I fell, I got back up, possibly flashing everyone behind me. I drank, I danced, I ‘boarded’ down a slope full to the guts of mulled wine and I met people with some incredible stories to share and ensnare me with. I got a glimpse of how good life can be and I will not be going back to how it was when you forget and fall back into routine. I ran head first into the lifestyle I have been chasing blindly for many years and already it is so better than in my dreams.

Snowboarding – the coolest sport in the world

Now this is what I call a sport. I’m not going to lie, I picked snowboarding over skiing because it trumped it tenfold in the cool stakes and I was correct, line up adrenaline junkies this your next hit. No wonder snowboarders invent their own vocabulary, because when you are weaving down the side of a mountain, wiggling your hips and dressed all macho with your matching beanie and gloves, a simple awesome just won’t cut it. You are stoked, its rad, banging, insane! Finally after years of trial and error, a bowl of both painful and wonderful experiences, I truly feel, I have found my sport. Now, I must pool my resources together and conquer it.

Three lessons was all it took to lap up the basics and a reasonable eighty squids with Edinburgh Napier University‘s snow sports society (heads up, it is open to all, not just students, however if you are pushing fifty I would advise just going straight to the source itself, the Midlothian dry ski slope in Hillend. Click on the link for prices and directions.

Here is a video which I definitely did not put up to force your hand to try this most epic of sports: