A New Hike Arrives in the Mail

Vue du Mont-Blanc depuis les chalets de Varan, au dessus de Passy

Mont-Blanc from the chalets of Varan — courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and “TL”

Nine months ago I reconnected with a friend. I probably don’t need to add that this happened on Facebook. The last time this friend and I actually met was so long ago that I cannot place it. We first got acquainted in 1986, when we were part of a group of trainees that joined Reuters news agency at the same time. That was in London, but few of us stayed in London for very long, our friendships interrupted by overseas postings.

What, you might ask, does any of this have to do with hiking? I am getting there. When Seetha and I reconnected, we caught up on the big stuff – where we are each living, number and age of kids, what we are working at …  Then, a few weeks ago, Seetha said in a message that she wanted to send me a package. What was my home address? I was intrigued, but soon forgot about the matter when I became embroiled in an unexpected trip.

Well, last week a package arrived for me. It contained a thick paperback called The Bible of Mont-Blanc Hiking. I must have mentioned to Seetha that I liked to hike, and to write about it afterwards. Flipping through the Bible, I noticed the tables of information for each hike – 107 of them! I noticed the rough maps full of unfamiliar but exciting names – Col du Bonhomme, Gorge de la Veudale, Torrent de Miage …  There were photos of glaciers, jaggedy peaks, and mountain “refuges” that appeared to put the Appalachian Mountain Club’s rough huts to shame. Then I noticed that the book was signed by its author, Robert Quan, and Robert wished me happy trails.

I was, of course, very touched that Seetha would go to the trouble of sending me a book by a man she knew through a writers’ group in Geneva. But receiving the book also made me think that we should act on this kind of serendipity. I had not really thought about hiking in the Alps (my wilder thoughts recently have turned to Greenland or the Spanish Pyrenees if I should ever have the chance). But at the end of Robert’s book is a section on The International Tour of Mont-Blanc, a 10-day circuit of the mountain through France, Italy, and Switzerland. I’ve made a mental note of the Tour for an autumn adventure one day – an adventure with a tent; Robert says that those swanky-looking refuges mostly close in mid-September.

The Bible of Mont-Blanc Hiking by Robert Quan

The Bible of Mont-Blanc Hiking

A Hiking Anniversary, Work and Absolute Hell

Achfary to Kylesku footpathTwo years ago on this date and at this time I was asleep in woods above a hamlet called Achfary (just downhill of the photo to the left and the header photo of my blog). I was two days and 33 miles into a solo hike across Scotland. Achfary is in the far northwest of the country, in the almost-empty county of Sutherland. By the time I pitched my tent that Sunday evening, I had been mobbed my midges; had slipped on peat and kissed the heather as a consequence; and blisters had begun to form beneath my wet socks. But I had also walked in sunshine along a magnificent sea loch, waded a wild stream, and crossed a waterlogged moor. So as an owl hooted and I fell asleep, I was in a decent frame of mind, if not exactly exuberant.

The journey lasted another six weeks, ending in mid-October on a gray estuary dividing Scotland from England. Then I came home and began to write up my adventure. I’ve been doing that ever since, with “breaks” to attend to real work. I mentioned the start of the biggest break in The Sheer Inconvenience of Work. Now it looks as if I can get back to scribbling. It is not easy, not as easy as hiking, which is an uncomplicated, if not always comfortable, activity. But writing, for me, is not as demanding as office work, and in this I must disagree with no less a figure than Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.

Dahl also wrote Boy, a memoir of his British childhood. My youngest daughter thought I might enjoy it, and – during our week in Quebec – I did. Although 45 years separate Dahl’s British childhood from mine, some things were pleasingly familiar, notably the contents of sweet shops – gobstoppers, Sherbet Fountains, humbugs and the like. But it is at the end of Boy that Dahl gets on to the life of a businessman versus that of a writer. Take this about his first job:

I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours and a fixed salary and very little original thinking to do. The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman.

The absence of original thinking stands the test of time, but I for one have never found simplicity or regularity in corporate life. I did on the long-distance hike that began at Cape Wrath on September 3rd two years ago. And now I’m ready for another crack at absolute hell.