Yet again I woke to pouring rain, something which was a bit of a theme for the trip! Luckily by now I had making breakfast while lying in bed without even opening the tent flap down to a fine art, and by the time I was ready to pack up the tent, the rain had miraculously stopped. On a particularly precarious set of rocks, I managed to slip and fall flat on my face, where I lay like a turtle with my pack on my back weighing me down, until an elderly couple just behind me helped me right myself. Luckily, I suffered minimal damage as I’d managed to twist slightly as I fell, landing on my side so that the rucksack took the brunt of the impact. Although my damaged shoulder didn’t particularly thank me for the assault on it, I escaped with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises to my knee and side. I learned later that I was luckier than many – one girl apparently dislocated her shoulder falling on the rocks (fortunately put back in place by a passing Swiss doctor, who recounted the story to me while we queued for the loo the following day), while another broke her arm in a similar fall and had to be airlifted out. After a couple of hours, I mentioned to Mark that I thought it was about time for a stop and perhaps a brew, and as if by magic, several seconds we rounded a corner to be greeted with the following sign.
Lo and behold, in 100m there was a man in a tent brewing up coffee and handing it out to anyone who proferred a mug. Judging by the faces, some of us clearly needed it!
Refuelled by hot coffee, we then had the excitement of traversing the “high pass” (and the only real ascent of the trek), and we entertained ourselves by pretending it was a serious summit and discussing the mental and physical techniques we’d need to use to overcome it. Although the others could see it from far off, of course I couldn’t see it at all, so had no real idea whether they were joking or not when they muttered ominously about the terrible difficulties the ascent would involve! It turned out to be nothing more than any simple ascent in the Peak District would involve, and barely got us out of breath, although the weather on top turned distinctly colder and there was a howling wind, drizzle and fog on the summit.
Followed Alan’s stern advice to me on previous days about looking after number one and taking advantage of warm shelter instead of getting cold, I went into the little hut and waited there in the warm while the others were arriving and generally resting. This meant I missed the group photo of our “summit” since the others had completely forgotten about me and not noticed I wasn’t there! Still, I was warm and dry, and it was a good opportunity to break open a couple of cereal bars and chat with the Koreans who were busy brewing up some lunch.
After the stop, we set off for the next checkpoint, which was supposed to be only a few kms, but which seemed to take an eternity, and involved walking over never-ending “pointy rocks” (technical geological term), guided only by some red blobs of paint.
We also encountered our first snow, which although deep in places, was only very patchy.
Unfortunately Saskia then came a cropper on some rocks, and suffered rather worse than I had done by landing on her face and cutting open her chin. Luckily, several of us were on hand to mop up the blood, and apply steri-strips (something I was suddenly very glad I’d thought to pack in my first-aid kit), which were the next best thing in the absence of actual stitches. I could probably have sewn her up with a needle and thread if we’d really needed to, but I was quite grateful not to have to (not least because it was cold and raining!). Saskia, the least experienced of our group, was fine, but a little shaken and wobbly on her feet after the incident, so we emptied most of her pack and re-distributed it amongst the team, which gave her a bit more balance on the rocks. Tricky enough at the best of times for all except mountain goats, the rocks required a lot of concentration and balance when tired, hungry, and loaded with a 15kg pack.
Finally at 3.30pm we arrived at the checkpoint and were able to cook up some lunch. At 5pm we set off again, and it was a long but very scenic slog to the final checkpoint for the day. The availability of “bushes” was rather limited, and I found myself having to take a rather long offroad detour to avail myself of the facilities en route. My shoulders were now agony after my fall earlier, my toenails were falling off, and my feet were screaming from blisters as well as sore toe joints, but there was nothing for it but to munch painkillers and continue. Pain doesn’t get any less if you walk any slower, so I pushed on hard in order to minimise the amount of time walking, and was the first to arrive at the checkpoint around 8.30pm. The views leading up to it were stunning, and I had the luxury of another small shop where I bought chocolate, nuts and hot coffee, before relaxing in the warm bar for an hour or so waiting for the others.
I timed it well, as it started pouring with rain outside, so I felt a little bit smug and very content other than being in pain. I wasn’t really looking forward to going back outside and putting my tent up in the cold and rain, but around 9.30pm we staggered down the hill to the camping area. It wasn’t quite the wilderness experience of the previous nights, but we were too tired to care, and we managed nevertheless to walk a little bit further and escape the crowds. I was too shattered to do anything except crawl into my tent and eat half a cold dehydrated meal (left over from my lunch) with a couple of wraps.