Saturday, 9 January 2010

On the Rituals of Trekking 1

Morning Rituals

Trekking in far off places is supposed to induce the feelings of freedom and adventure and yet when it comes down to it it becomes reduced to a sequence of rituals and fixations. Packing a rucksack can become an irritating chore and unpacking a rucksack in search of something an unmitigated frustration. It’s only after a week on the trail that everything becomes clear. Everything must be packed in the same place every time.

Your camera is their, your rain wear is there, your gloves are there, your torch is there and your lunch is there. In this way your pack becomes a clear part of you and you can spend more time with your head in the clouds rather than deep inside the bag.

Arranging your stuff in the tent also becomes a victim to this need for repetitiveness and ritual. Only in this way can you find what you need in the dark of evenings and mornings. Only in this way can you avoid having to tip everything out to find what you want. Only in this way can you avoid having a tent like an adolescents bedroom with barely room for you to kip down and sleep in.

Everything becomes a ritual and everyday becomes a mere sequence of rituals It’s just as well we have the astounding beauty of the landscape around us to keep our minds off the tedium.

My morning ritual goes like this; my alarm goes off about 5.30. It’s always in the same place so I can turn it off. I roll over and unzip the tent door and peer outside. Is it a photographic morning? If so I proceed otherwise I stay in bed a bit longer and merely delay the ritual, I zip out of my sleeping bag and reach for my clothes just their. My jacket, and hat and gloves just there. I find my insoles somewhere deep in my sleeping bag and grab my boots from the foyer of the tent. Sometimes they are frozen. I grab my camera and tripod and stagger out, breathing icily into the morning air and stamping my feet.

With any luck it’s a clear morning and I can see the first light coming over the mountains. If it’s like this I’m excited about the photographic prospects and if I did some work yesterday afternoon I should have a good idea of where I want to be to take the shots. I walk up to the place I’ve chosen and walk around to find the my starting position. I’ve already felt my pockets to reassure myself that I have various bits and pieces with me. A spare battery, a spare memory card and my lens cleaning kit in particular. I’m waiting for the light now and trying a few ideas through the viewfinder. In the camp below I might seem some others stirring. Sometimes I’m joined by others but usually I’m looking down on the porters moving about and getting a fire lit.

I might spend an hour out here or I might only spend ten minutes if the cold is biting and my fingers have gone numb. In the end I’ll probably see Maneesh moving around the campsite with the morning teas. I’ll go down and wrap my fingers around the warm mug. The first sight of some people in the morning is just an arm reaching out of the tent door to take the tea! No names.

After slipping my camera stuff back into the tent I’ll wander around talking to who ever is up. Now is the time to assess the next ritual which is all about waiting for the sun to reach your tent. Is your tent wet enough to need drying? Will the sun reach the campsite before we have to pack and leave? How much other wet stuff would I like to try and dry? The sun coming over the mountain and gradually creeping towards the campsite and banishing the cold shadow is one of the great pleasures of mountain trekking. The warmth and light refreshes the soul and lifts the spirits. It’s a wonder that most days here are heralded by the sun and and a blue sky. I may have spent the night huddled in a down bag wearing thermal underwear., and I;m probably still wearing the thermals now, but as the sun comes it’s time to get your legs exposed again. It’s a marvel that we can spend the day in shorts and t-shirt.

By the time the sun does come I like to have all my stuff packed and ready to go, notwithstanding that I may be drying some damp stuff on the rocks and bushes around. In this way I can move my free-standing tent around to catch the rays and get it fully dried off. A dry tent is a lot easier to carry and it’s disheartening to put up a damp tent at the end of a long day’s trek.

After I’ve made myself busy with all of this I’m hoping that we shall soon get the call to breakfast. It comes soon enough, generally around 8 o’clock. We usually arrange the night before what time we shall have tea and breakfast in the morning. It all depends on the length of the trek for that day.

Our Guides and Porters have three large tents with them. One is the Kitchen Tent, where the cook prepares our food, another is the Mess Tent where we eat in inclement conditions and which half the porters use to sleep in at night. The other large tent is reserved for the porters. Most mornings the weather is pleasant enough for us to eat outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun and the landscape all around.

Breakfast is set up on two small plastic tables with removable legs. We have a set of foldable stools to sit on. We always have a two course breakfast. First it’s either porridge or cornflakes with hot milk. Afterwards it’s usually eggs or pancakes and invariably we have chapatis to go with it. We also have hot water for tea, coffee or chocolate. Generally the mood is good in the morning but it’s usually quiet too. Everyone is still half asleep. Sometimes of course someone may have lost their appetite and be suffering from a bad stomach. We don’t generally have any aches and pains to moan about and neither do we have much discussion about the day’s trek. We are going where we said we would go! Usually. From time to time we might have issues to discuss and as you may have read in the narrative above this normally comes down to dealing with the moans and whinges of the porters. Fortunately this is an everyday occurrence.

It’s not long after breakfast that everyone has their tent down and everything packed and is ready to leave. The guides and porters are probably not quite ready yet but if we can find someone to come with or the way is easy to find and follow then we will set off. The guides and porters will clear up and pack in their own good time and we will see them later in the day along the trail.

Our last ritual before leaving is to pick up our packed lunches and to ensure that we have enough water with us. The water has been boiled and may still be a little warm when we fill our bottles. We don’t always leave together or at the same pace. some might be in the mood to race and others to dawdle.