I started to walk by force. I’m aged 10 in this picture, sitting beside my bro outside a French mountain hut in 1970 something, and we are about 2 weeks into what was to become a family regular summer non-stop-hiking extravaganza, while everyone at home blissfully played in the streets and stuff.
My memory of that particular day is we went hunting for edelweiss later and secretly plucked three- one for each of my two sets of grand-parents and one for our mantel-piece at home.
My sister was the natural walker- the cover shot shows her boots after our first summer in the Alps- and while the regime of bagette, cheese and tomatoes was almost literally ‘to die for’, it seems that I was the one to most inherit the family tradition. Whatever got into me over those early years played itself out in all sorts of places since, with the Picos de Europa being the latest.
I had turned 18 and wanted out of Europe for a taste of the wilderness, and a guy I bumped into heading East ended up my travelling companion scouting out an ascent of Mt Ararat on the Iranian/Turkish border.
We knew it was risky as advance permission was needed from the government and a midnight scout from a neighboring hillside fore-warned us- military encampments encircled the mountain. Our attention turned instead to Suphan Dagi and a water-less 14hr scramble at least sated the desire to reach dizzy heights.
The attraction to mountains is a bit like the sea- it pulls us- and once it gets inside, it is undeniable and an uneasy mistress at times. An attraction to a set of mountains can act similar, and when I came across a picture of the mighty Naranjo de Bulnes in the Picos, I found it hard to get out of my mind.
Similarly, when an acquaintance returned from Nepal in the early 90’s full of stories, particularly with how tourism was growing quickly, I thought I shouldn’t leave it too late to go. It is easy to make a spiritual link to the act of walking, whatever personal way you interpret that, in Nepal, as spirituality laces the entire country. Certain peaks are still sacred and untrodden- I was to encounter this phenomenon years later in Aotearoa/New Zealand- and walking is imbued with a sense of (personal) pilgrimage for many visitors.
In the background to this photograph you can see Machapuchare, another sacred mountain- no-one has breached the summit in respect to local people who believe a deity resides there.
In hindsight, looking at this picture taken at Annapurna Sanctuary (4100m odd) I’m only amazed at the vest. It was like 6am. What was I thinking? I had actually ascended far too quickly and was suffering blinding headaches and about to make a forced descent. Fitness and naivety ran me up there in 3 days from Pokhara, and I wasn’t a sherpa, no matter what I’d like to have thought.
On my way to the Picos in Northern Spain for the first time last year, we encountered many a person heading for the camino de santiago de compostela. We knew our path was to be a bit steeper than the camino, but were convinced that the Picos would unfold to us as a place of genuine mountainous wonder, discovery and enjoyment- and they did.