Back to the mountains

The world works in mysterious ways, but my mind isn’t one to let that be. I spend hours trying to figure out what the world is trying to teach me, why certain events take place, the reasons for meeting certain people, and why I end up in different places. Are we programmed to look for the positive conclusions during these reflections or is it just the eternal optimist in me?

I’ve spent the last few days justifying why work cancelled on me last minute, why my brand new beloved rain jacket was stolen from my pack at the airport, why it poured with rain the following few days, why the bitchy lady on the airport shuttle sent me to the wrong ticket line so I missed the bus and my train, and why my plans all of a sudden flew out the window.

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It wasn’t until I was back in the mountains that I remembered the very simple way I often look at life: ‘If you’re happy in the present, you shouldn’t regret the events of your past that brought you here’. I’ve been surrounded by glorious mountains in Northern Italy, staring up at their snow capped peaks in awe. When the rain clouds in the forecast finally turned into little yellow balls of sunshine I grabbed my pack and told my friend Carissa I’d be back in three days. Her husband gave me a huge laminated map with the trails marked on it, pointed out the towns I could visit along the way, then drove me to the trailhead. When my hiking poles hit the trail and I started to ascend into the forest, a squeal of joy escaped me. I’m back, I’m finally back!

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The only other people I came across that day were mountain bikers heading up the chairlifts. They stared at me, watching this lone hiker wander past, climbing the trail they were flying over. I didn’t have my stove or a way to treat water, so I went into the towns along the way to fill up my bottles and have my morning coffee.

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It was a heavy snow year which meant a lot of the trails I wanted to hike were too high. I chose the lowest options between 1000 and 1600m, but even then I hit some very snowy sections. At first I stepped cautiously on the snow, as if it was going to swallow my whole leg. Then I realised it was so well compacted I could simply cruise over the top without too much trouble. The tricky part was when it covered the trail on a vertical slope and I found myself kicking foot holes in the snow with my Solomon sneakers. Luckily I had my hiking poles as I’m not sure I would have braved it without them.

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On the first night I camped about 600m above a small village called Molveno. I was adamant about finding a spot with a view, and searched for a good hour without much luck. Views meant uneven ground and wind, so I opted for a more comfortable option and was bunkered down by 8pm. Despite the three layers I was wearing I woke every hour from the cold, deciding gloves and extra layers would be the way to go the following night. In the morning around 6am I woke to a loud grunting sound and the vibration of hooves. My body automatically freezes now when I hear animals outside my tent, big or small. I mostly revel in the adrenalin, especially when I know there isn’t anything out there likely to eat me.

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I descended into the lakeside town of Molveno around 8am for coffee and a brioche, then prepared myself for the climb to 1667m, which was the only way to get around the mountain and over to the other side. Considering I’d experienced snow at 1300m I knew what was coming, but the lack of footprints meant I was relying solely on the tree markings and my not so accurate map to find my way to the top.

Video:

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I found the only dry piece of ground, surrounded by a sea of white snow to sit and eat my lunch. The sun was in the perfect position to keep me toasty warm while the icy breeze blew across the pass. There was absolute silence apart from the birds chirping and the occasional clump of snow falling from the trees to the ground. I felt elated. I don’t know what it is about being in a place without any other human beings, but to me it’s the greatest gift on earth. Silence, solitude and being in the fresh mountain air makes me feel ALIVE. Before the PCT I never would have had the courage to do such a thing. It’s been a gift.

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Coming down the mountain was not as joyous. Some of the trail was only a few feet wide, some was on dirt tracks, and other parts were steep rocky paths which I couldn’t imagine anyone actually walking up under any type of condition. I could see the town I was hoping to reach far below, which only made the slow shuffle downwards more excruciating!

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Once down I made a quick pitstop into Covelo to grab some water. I bumped into a German couple looking to do a pleasant day hike up into the mountains. Their English wasn’t great, but they asked me how the trail I just came down was. I probably scared them off hiking altogether because my face scrunched into a painful grimace and I shook my head furiously. ‘Avoid the 612, it’s horrible’. They looked disappointed, so I quickly showed them all the hiker friendly trails I’d walked until they seemed satisfied and drove off heading back towards Molveno.

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The trail remained flat from Covelo, taking me through some beautiful rolling pastures towards two gorgeous lakes I planned to camp near. The large no camping signs were a little off putting, and there were so many cars and people around that I continued on a little further back up the mountain to camp for my final night in the woods.

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I completely underestimated the effort it would take to get back to Carissa’s the next morning. I knew coming down the mountain would be steep, but I had no idea how many loose stones I would end up slipping on and how many times I’d end up on my bum. Some parts were downright scary, and I moved incredibly slowly after bending my wrist the wrong way on my third fall. It was not a trail I would EVER walk again. One part had a wire to hold onto across a sketchy washout, but the part beyond it was actually more dangerous with nothing to hold onto. My destination seemed so far down, but gradually the tops of the mountains got higher and higher as I slowly descended about 600m in what felt like 1-2km max.

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Two hours later at the bottom the trailhead was fenced off with big signs saying closed. I had to bushwhack around the fence just to get out. The next problem I hadn’t factored in was the giant river between me and the train tracks. I didn’t want to believe Google which gave me only two options, walk an hour to the right or an hour to the left to reach a bridge. This was my reaction to that…

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The two hour walk home was actually nothing compared to the hell I’d just endured on the way down. I welcomed the burning sensation in my calves and the sense of complete exhaustion when I reached home. I missed that, signs that I’d really pushed myself. This is something only hiking can do for me. If I went to a gym to work out I’d probably stop as soon as my muscles started cramping and go home. When you’re half way down a mountain with the same sensations, you don’t have any other option than to keep going. You’re forced to push yourself, which is why you only discover what you’re really made of when your motivation is survival.

I’ve decided to take a break from the blog until my next adventure, so I can focus attention on my giant growing ‘to do’ list. This break in Italy has definitely done great things to my mind and soul, so you can bet I’ll be back on trail again someday soon!

21 thoughts on “Back to the mountains”

  1. Picture postcard place you found. I can sense the air, wind sunshine and exhilaration you would have found in this new environment. Oh btw, you can free up some head space by not always looking for reasons why. Life can have meaning as you like but reason is far more elusive to identify. There will always be work another time and place set your trail to head home to some family love you have been missing.

  2. What a great place to end the blog at for a while. Again, thank you for sharing, and I’m sure we all can’t wait until you post again, but go live your life and do what you gotta do. I’ll eagerly await the next post, whenever it may be. I’m following Bad Seed and Otter on the CDT and Wired on the AT, so I’ll get some of my fix, but you’re my favorite blogger of them all. Can’t wait to hear from you again!

  3. I have been thinking alot about you…glad you blog us….It’s really a FACT that things happen that out of our control….looks like you’ve had your FEAST of that sort of stuff….E.N.O.U.G.H. is what I say….You need your loved ones for awhile….they are the ones who joy in your existence and you would joy in their love and care right now….true????? or am I being presumptuous to tell you that, little one….???? forgive, if I am….So happy you had some MOUNTAIN TIME, difficult and beautiful and peaceful for your soul and spirit….remember, while you are “off blog”, we won’t forget you for you have become a dear one to each of us…(am I not right, dear friend who reply to her adventures???)……Blessings, and peace…..dear Rozanne…..from your “old” friend in Paradise, California, Barbie….

  4. Okay…”see” you on the next trail. I can so relate to that feeling of elation of finding yourself back in the beauty, silence, solitude and awe of the high mountains….it’s just part of m DNA. Such a boost to our souls.

  5. Love love love this post, now this is somewhere I can see myself. Gorgeous mountains, lush green, challenging white. Oh how I relate to the feeling of pushing one’s boundaries and luxuriating in pure exhaustion.

  6. Hi darling, what an amazing, beautiful country and the photos are out of this world. I would have loved to have been there with you.How you end up in all those different places is all your decision and some of the circumstances you found yourself in. I am so pleased that you are happy in the present, the past has gone, can not be changed and only stays in your memory. If you like silence, solitude and fresh air, I can show you a trail which I walked along the coast from Manly to Dee Why with lots of fresh sea air, no silence though because of the wild sea and waves crashing against the rocks but solitude on the open beaches. Love to see you soon in Sydney. Enjoy your time and safe travel. Love you darling, Mutti xx

  7. Hi Rozanne, you amazingly intrepid woman! I might have known you would do something epic as an encore. A wonderful, precarious, sublime trip in the Italian mountains and just the right sort of place to cap all the experiences of the past weeks, but only you would have gone for it wholesale like this.
    Hope the return to the hugs and joy of your family is everything you have longed for on the trail, and you find another kind of peace and serenity there for a while.

    Hope you’ve received all my messages?

    Much love to you: what an inspiration you are to women everywhere !
    PS WELL DONE with the Spanish! Do continue, don’t let it lapse now.

    Ali xxxxxxx

    1. Thanks Tim, she’s a great writer! I just read her mountain lion story too. Yikes! Brings back memories. Thank you for sharing!

      1. Hey Mukmuk, Cat here. I wanted to shoot you a pm but couldn’t find an emailadress so I’m gonna do it this way. Kinda wish I had found out earlier (just backtracked the link to my blog Tim posted haha. That’s how I came to your blog entry here just now) you were hiking in Europe, loved to have met you or at least give you some magic. If you ever need a place to stay in Belgium or Germany, let me know ;c) Hope to meet you on a trail somewhere some day. Take care you fellow cat-woman ;c) Love, Cat

      2. Hey Cat, spent a lot of time reading through your JMT adventure yesterday! At the time of the mountain lion incident I didn’t get a chance to look at your link and I was on the edge of my seat reading your story! You’re an inspiring woman and an excellent storyteller so keep it up! NZ is up there on my list of trails so I’ll be interested to follow your journey and hopefully be there myself someday soon! Stay in touch fellow womad! Muk

  8. Sidetracked by life and just catching up on you adventure in Spain, Rozanne. It was certainly different than the PCT in many ways! I also now realize what an excellent photographer you are. I decided a few months ago to learn more about photography. I bought a new camera and lenses, signed up for a couple of short courses and bought a book.
    what I now see in your photos are techniques in composition, technique and framing that I wouldn’t have recognized before. I am studying your photos as I read through your blog to help me as I practice with my camera. Thank you! Looking forward to your next adventure!

  9. Dear Rozanne,
    sounds like some wonderful restful days for the soul, out there in nature, solitude and silence, the wind and the sky all around you, beautiful views aplenty …
    Wishing you a good journey home to see family and friends, to rest a bit more and then to set out again, be it on a real trip as in geographical distance or a camino in life, new job, new people, whatever it may be … Take care, thanks for sharing, see you next time (selfishly hoping that will be rather sooner than later …)!
    Buen camino!

  10. Great you got back into the mountains! If you ever have a spare month in Europe again, do try the GR20, southbound across Corsica. it’s the toughest (really?) high-level walk in Europe, I think you ‘d love it.

    Meantime, have a great break.

    L x

  11. Hey Mukmuk! I think we actually might have crossed paths a couple times in that last few weeks. My wife and I picked up our daughter (from a study-abroad) in Barcelona, Spain, and then we spent two weeks in northern Italy and Slovenia. I guess I should have kept a better eye out for your smile, hat, and bandanna! I’ve enjoyed following your travels since the PCT, and I look forward to following your next adventure! I have some trips planned, but I’ll also be doing more trail magic at Donner Pass this July, to welcome the “new” group of thru hikers to the area. Keep exploring, no matter where you are!
    Reno Dave

  12. Looking forward to reading all about Te Araroa in New Zealand if that is your next adventure! Thanks for sharing your journey.

  13. Just saw this Italy trip..somehow I’d missed it in my earlier travels through your various adventures. I backpacked through Italy for about 3 months in the 80’s. It was wonderful. Many fun companions found me and allowed me to join them along the way aussies, brits, and south Africans. Just more or less shambled about absorbing what I could along the way. Did I say it was wonderful. Well ok I’m repeating, but deservedly so. There, I have planted my flag in your past! In case you ever stroll through here again.

  14. Yes Barbie,
    she has become dear to many of us and we hold here safe in our hearts too. By the way, you seem to be an awesome woman yourself from what I read. I too ama musician and glad it brings you happiness.
    As a matter of fact…I just wrote a song for Muk Muk last week !

    Muk Muk…you continue to blow ME out of the water.

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