Saturday, 3 March 2018

WHEN A HIKE UP A MOUNTAIN GOES WRONG, PART ONE

Pink 'Chamerion angustifolium' flowers of the High Tatras
Tuesday 28th July 2015 

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The vibrant, azure sky was cloudless, the sunlight was beaming from every angle and the colour green was so vivid, it looked as if all nature was showing off its purest beauty. Jack and I set off for the High Tatras at 8:00am. It was the second time that we were hiking up this mountain range and I couldn’t wait to be surrounded by enormous valleys and mountain goats again. I was especially excited today, as we were taking on a different route, one we had not yet ventured up before. 

The beginning of a wander in the woods, Ždiar


The hike began at the doorway to the forest. I still remember how everything looked and felt around me, as if it was only yesterday that I began volunteering for the summer at The Ginger Monkey Hostel in Ždiar, a small village in Northern Slovakia. Although it was warm out, pockets of cool, fresh air occasionally caressed my face and made me feel alive. I was so ready for this wander within nature, excited to embrace every tree and creature that paved the way. The ground beneath my feet was squidgy but firm, still damp from this morning’s dew, and the sound of the stream that flowed beside me echoed gently and soothingly, a melody of the forest. The rest of the woodland was completely still. 

The High Tatra Mountains, which border Slovakia and Poland

Thick branches covered with shades of green continued to shelter us for the first part of our walk. As we began to climb a very steep, crumbly and rocky path, I was too busy focusing on the dirt below that I didn’t even realise we were out of the woods until I stopped to catch my breath. As we walked further and further on, our legs aching from the perpendicular track, we were greeted by outstanding scenery. 

Below, shadows of valleys and hidden caves began to manifest and only upon this magnificent sight did we realise how far we had come. We were surrounded by everlasting, emerald wildlife, with the sun complementing every flora and fauna, bird and bear, visible and invisible. I fell in love with everything that day, as if I was on a non-travelled pilgrimage trying to find the meaning of life or something. 

Small Cold Valley, High Tatra Mountain Rage, Slovakia


The walk through the various valleys was long and tough but Jack and I continued on, rarely complaining, as our adrenaline and determination pushed us through every step of the way. The further we got to the top, the more people there were, which selfishly saddened me because we grew accustomed to having this place to ourselves. 

‘Kamzik’ or Mountain Goats peculiarly revealed themselves, their eyes fixed on the strangers before them, observing us meticulously, whilst defending their territory. I didn’t dare step off the path and venture towards them, in case they all congregated towards me. Although they were a very striking breed of goats, they appeared to be quite impulsive and that made me feel a little intimidated. So I decided to be respectful and leave them to it. This was their home after all and I was just a visitor.

Kamzik (Chamois) Goat-Antelope nestled in the grass of the High Tatra Mountains
It took five, long, demanding hours before we got to the very top of the Tatras, and the further we went, the stranger I had begun to feel. Slightly nauseous and totally fatigued, Jack suggested that it was probably down to the altitude and I agreed. But we had made it and the view from the top was every shade of perfection. As we dug in to our tuna and mayonnaise sandwiches, overlooking the striking valleys below, I realised that I was no longer in the realm of appreciation. My lunch tasted bland and I was so drained, I just wanted to go to bed. I wasn’t quite used to this kind of leg work so I assumed that I had just simply overworked myself. After we finished our food, we decided to head back down the Tatras a different way to which we had come up. 

'The Belá', which runs through the High Tatra Mountains

As we meandered down the summit, Jack a bit further ahead, I felt more and more uneasy. My belly felt abnormally bloated, like when you overeat, yet I hadn’t. I decided that it was down to the bread and crisps that I had scoffed earlier, coupled with the altitude sickness. All of a sudden I had to stop. I could feel something coming up. Vomit. I threw up secretly and quite aggressively in a patch of tall grass that was towering over a lake. I wanted to explore and admire the view but I didn’t have the energy nor the focus to enjoy it, the sudden change of appreciation was making me dizzy and unbothered by everything. 

Being sick had made me feel better and I was ready to take back everything that I had failed to appreciate. I turned around, smiled at Jack and signalled for some water. As he made his way over me, whilst I carelessly stared at the mushed up mess below, I started feeling terrible again. I felt abnormally fatigued that I could have fell asleep there and then. This wasn’t a usual feeling for me, I had absolutely no energy, nor enthusiasm but unfortunately, there was only one way to get home and that was to force myself back down this mountain. 

The village of Ždiar in the distance


The walk back down felt like the longest mission of my life, my mind wandered to all sorts of things, even cursing ‘Jeff’ under my breath, a guy who had brought the sickness bug to the hostel that we were staying at. Although, I felt peculiar, I was still content, as if my feelings from this morning were still apparent and ceasing to dominate my present melancholy. Whilst I embraced 360 degrees of pure bliss, not a soul in sight, my pleasant appreciation would continue to be punctuated, as I threw up again and again, and again. Jack continued to support me and offer me words of ease but I was so miserable and sluggish, every time I opened my mouth I thought I was going to be sick. 

Malá Studená Dolina (Small Cold Valley), High Tatra Mountains


As I staggered down unconsciously, we had finally made it back to the woods. It all felt so different to me now and that made me sad. I was so dehydrated. At one point, I actually understood Frodo Baggins’ agitation when he was climbing up Mount Doom, swatting away hallucinations here and there, in a daze, having some kind of outer body experience. Yes ok, it sounds pretty ridiculous, as if it could be that bad right? Wrong. I was in a such a vile state that I couldn’t even be bothered to wipe away the leftover sick drooling down my jacket. 
Why is this taking so long?” And, “Water, Harry.” Was all that I could think about. We still had a couple of hours to go yet my entire body was ready for bed. 
“Oh shit.” Jack blurted out.
'Oh, what nowWe’re not lost are we?' Rolling my eyes at the irritating remark, the only response I could fathom.
"We have no more water left." Shit.

Continue on to part two...

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