The Ups and Downs: Climbing Gerlach

“This is so dumb, this is so, so dumb…” These were the words that I was repeating to myself as I took step after painful step up the steep mountain face. This is not, I’m sure, the mountain climbers’ usual mantra – I expect something like “one step at a time,” or “you got this, Louise” would have been more appropriate and slightly more encouraging.

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Gerlach’s “Via Ferrata”

But in the midst of the freezing landscape, white snow beneath me, white fog around me, all I could think was that climbing mountains is a ridiculous pursuit, and that I would be miles better off sat in the warm mountain lodge drinking mulled wine.

I am painting, perhaps, a slightly negatively skewed picture of our ascent up Gerlach, the highest mountain in the Tatra range. At 2,654m, in the winter it is a long, steep climb up an icy face, and although not the highest mountain we have climbed, it was the most technically challenging (and therefore nerve-wracking!).

With near vertical ascents in deep snow and ice, our guide, Jaroslav, kicking steps into fresh snowfall, and having to trust that our ice-axes would hold fast, I found myself often trying to switch off the analytical part of my brain that might assess the risk, and just concentrate on putting my feet in exactly the right spots.

But I actually do love the mountains: so much so that when I see a sweeping shot of peaks in a film, my heart leaps. They are my antidote to the concrete-and-glass, skyscraping, money-worshipping world of Hong Kong. Their mystery, majesty and beauty continues to lure me, and the days when our world is reduced to a simple goal and a series of challenges to overcome are the most glorious days of my life.

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I know it looks like we’re crawling along the ground, but this is actually a near vertical ascent!

And of course, the feeling when you actually make it to the top is unbeatable. Not just the day’s efforts, but the weeks and months of training and planning, somehow make sense. And we did make it to the peak of Gerlach after hours of self-inflicted torture, and I was exhilarated and justified and full of joy.

The journey down, which I tend to dislike even more than the arduous ascents due to the increased possibility of falling, turned out to be something of a comedy. We had descended the longest snow face, and were resting for a moment while Jaroslav answered a phone call. Michal stuck his axe into the snow and looped the rope around it to create an extra anchor point. But, the axe wasn’t in deep enough, and as he pulled the rope tight, his axe was yanked of the snow and disappeared into the icy rocks below us.

So Michal descended the rest of the face with two 15cm ice screws in his hands, instead of an axe. When we finally got to a place where we could walk facing forwards, instead of descending backwards, Jaroslav joked that the axe was a tribute to Gerlach for letting us pass.

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The Summit!

Seconds later, Jaroslav pulled his telephone out of his pocket to take a photo and the cash in his pocket flew out and took off down the valley! He dropped his axe to reach for the cash. Michal leapt to pick up the axe. His thermos dropped out of his backpack, rolling in the opposite direction!

The three of us were tied together on the rope and so by the time Jaroslav could untie himself to chase after the money, it had been carried far and wide by the mountain wind. Thankfully he managed to recover some, but the rest, along with the thermos and the axe, now belong to Gerlach. The thermos is probably resting in the lake – so for anyone in need of fruit tea, albeit, iced, please help yourself and send us a photo!

It is true that pictures paint a thousand words. But the deeper truth is that a picture can never adequately convey the essence of the moment it captures, the tearing wind, the rasping breath, the crisp crunch of snow, the over-worked heart. Photographs only begin to describe our lives and the experiences we find ourselves in. But, along with our memories, they are all we have to remind us of the things we have done, which in turn create the person we become.

So, although I do still think that mountain climbing is in some ways a pointless exercise (you go up so that you can go down…), my days on the peaks have shaped me, more than I know.

But perhaps the biggest curse of mountain climbing is what happens the day after you summit. The dreaded question… “So, what should we climb next?”

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At the summit with Jaroslav
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Not much of a view with so much cloud…
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The Summit: Ice and the Cross
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The Defender, blending in perfectly, at the mountain lodge.
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And more snow…
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Figuring out the ascent.

 

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Mont Blanc 2016

It has been exactly a year since we set off to climb Mont Blanc, an experience we’ll never forget. Here is a glimpse of our journey. As we share this with you we would also like to thank all of the supporters of our campaign. Together we were able to provide 170,000 meals to malnourished children in the Philippines through International Care Ministries.

Mt Blanc Expedition

The Travellers Two are on the road again. This summer we were planning to drive from the UK to Rome to shoot an interview with an amazing photographer, and as we looked at the route we saw that we had to drive through the Alps. And the idea emerged to climb Mt Blanc on the way. We reserved 2 days in Chamonix to go up and down the mountain and then we would be on our way to sunny Italy. But as we started doing our research we realised that it’s not as easy as we initially imagined. Training, diet, altitude preparation, equipment, weather, refuge booking and finding a guide were among the things we needed to consider, research and execute.

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After four months of preparation we are on the outskirts of Chamonix in the beautiful and quiet town of Le Tour. We arrived here on Saturday the 23rd and met with people from Peak Powder, who organised guides for us. At 2 am on Sunday we woke up at the back of our Defender and drove to Geneva airport and flew to Rome where we spent 36 hours, interviewing Milton Gendel, eating pizza, pasta and gelato.

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Milton Gendel’s guest book

We came back to Le Tour at 3am, and after few hours of sleep we were on our way up our first mountain. It was not a great success as we left too late and we got caught in a storm at two and a half thousand metres above sea level, so we had to come back down. Le Buet conquered us, but despite the fact that we didn’t reach the top we did some good training in the snow with crampons.

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View of Mt Blanc from Aiguille du Midi

The next day we went up Aiguille du Midi at 3810m to get a taste of the high altitude. Walking up and down the stairs wasn’t as easy as at sea level, but we did a little bit of training there.

The following morning we met our guide Benji and headed to the Italian side of the Alps. That morning we got to the refuge in the foothills of Gran Paradiso. After a short nap we did some more crampon training, using our ice axes, ropes and harnesses, and organised our pack leaving all but the absolutely essential. At 3:20am we were the first out of the refuge heading up the mountain. After 4 hours and 25 minutes of walking on rocks and snow we got to the top. Four other teams passed us on the way but we still made it in a good time.

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Coming down from Gran Paradiso

There were moments when breathing was very tough and the thoughts of doubt came through our minds. “Why are we doing it? It’s not fun at all. It’s just walking, but really hard and up the hill in not so friendly conditions.” But we kept going, with our toes and fingers starting to get numb we reached the summit, took a photo, which we need to get from Benji, as Louise dropped her phone on the top, and headed down as quickly as possible. Slowly we started taking layers off as the morning sun warmed us up and we were getting lower and lower. I asked Benji “Why do people do it?” and he replied “I don’t know if it’s for the climb itself or the feeling after” but as we came down to the refuge by the parking lot and had lunch, he said “I think this is why people do it.”

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Breakfast at the L’Olimpique

As for today, we needed to get some rest before Mt Blanc so we decided to get a room for a couple of nights at l’Olimpique hotel in Le Tour, which was build for the Olympic Games in 1924. At breakfast we got the message that the weather forecast had changed and we have to move our ascent back by a day. So now we have a couple of days of rest, sending emails and recharging batteries for Mt Blanc. We’ll be leaving at dawn on Monday morning hoping to get to the top by sunrise on Tuesday.

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Admiring the view from Aiguille du Midi

As we started telling people about this idea a couple of months ago it was just a blurry thought without a clear vision, but as we started getting closer to the date we thought of doing it for a cause, something that will keep us going when we feel like stopping. We both work for an organisation that helps the extremely poor in the Philippines get themselves out of their current conditions. ICM focuses on education so the participants can “take the fishing rod themselves and fish, rather than feeding them once.” But as ICM trainers go to the poor communities they find many children that are malnourished. And this is the part that we felt that we wanted to highlight through our expedition. ICM gets tons of free anti-malnutrition food from a few organisations in the US but they have to pay for the shipping to the Philippines. We’ve set quite a steep goal but we’re hoping to raise enough funds to deliver half a million meals to the homes of malnourished children. You can partner with us by donating here, and if you would like to find out more about ICM please check out their website.

Of course we are aware that we could have donated the money that we invested in the expedition directly to ICM, stay at home and make videos of very slim children, with heartbreaking violin music in the background, but that’s what we do outside of our holidays anyway.

Ocean Rowing

This year we’ve had the chance to do a bit of adventuring on the water. In February 2017, sixteen students from Shantou University will join Charlie Pitcher, world record-breaking Ocean Rower, in an epic journey from Shantou to Hong Kong. We got to witness the beginnings of the training and team selection.

Here’s a short teaser of their journey so far.

Andrew Thomas on Scat Singing

In May 2015, in the first week of our trip across the US, we had a chance to meet one extraordinary man. His name is Andrew Thomas and he is a jazz trumpet player. We met him through his brother Matthew, who Michal went to college with. Matt told us that Andrew is an interesting character, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Andrew charmed us, lured us into his beautiful mind and let us have a glimpse of what he calls his beautiful frustration.

We previously posted an interview with Andrew, but recently we started looking through some files we gathered during our four months journey and came across this video.

February ’16 – Snapshot of life in the Philippines

We recently came back from the Philippines where we were visiting families of the new kids that joined the ICM Choir. We had the chance to visit new communities and take a look at this beautiful country and beautiful people with fresh eyes.

It’s important to remember to stop from time to time, to look up from our mobile phones and take a look at the world around us. Here is a snapshot of life in the Philippines.

The Travellers Two are back

It has been way too long but The Travellers Two are back on the grid. From the US we flew to Hong Kong and got really busy right away. Louise started studying at Hong Kong University and she had to go to an orientation meeting the day we returned. Fighting through jet lag she officially became a music and journalism student.

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Soon after that we started working on a presentation for a charity banquet. For the past few years we have been involved with International Care Ministries; helping people to get out of extreme poverty in the Philippines. Before we started out on our USA expedition we prepared the program for the banquet, but since we were back we decided to make it better, worked on new videos and tweaked scripts, which is the hardest work.

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But it was well worth it. The evening was a great success. We brought the ICM choir from The Philippines and the members had a chance to share their stories.

Also if anyone is interested in the more in-depth aspects of poverty reduction in the Philippines, here is a link to the keynote speech by the ICM chairman David Sutherland.

For some time we’re going to be based in Hong Kong again but there are so many amazing people around, so many stories that need to be told, and places to see. Hong Kong is also a great hub for traveling around Asia so we hope to do so on the future and share our stories here.

The End of the Road

After twenty-one thousand incredible miles, we made it to our 48th state.

What a blessing to be able to have seen so much of this beautiful land; we’ve had countless people tell us that that is something that even few Americans have been able to do.

The last two states for us to visit were Ohio and West Virginia – but as we were on an epic 48 hour drive on our way back to New York to prepare to fly out, we only got a glimpse of these states.

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A rough sketch of our route

But, we took the time to celebrate the 48th state milestone with one of our last on-the-road meals, at a little park in Bethlehem, WV. Thankfully we could enjoy the sunshine before driving through nine hours of torrential rain across Pennsylvania and New Jersey!

In New York City, the end of our journey, we amazingly met some friends who had also just finished an epic journey of their own. Rob and Christine Lilwall cycled from California to New York City on a tandem!

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We both reached our milestones on Thursday – for us 48 states, for them coast to coast – and we both arrived in New York City on Friday. _MG_0576

Enjoying a celebratory drink overlooking the Statue of Liberty, and where so many Europeans first set foot onto these magnificent shores, we were thrilled to be able to share our stories and congratulate each other. And, we look forward to seeing them both back in Hong Kong.

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In Tulsa, just three days before we arrived in New Jersey, we gave the car a tremendous clean out, scrub and hoover – so much dust from the desert! So when we got to NJ, we just had to get it ready to drop it off with the shipping company.

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It is really amazing how much you can fit into a car! Our stuff was spread all over the lawn, garage and our bedroom. And the car looked very ‘naked’ without all of its equipment.

But now everything is almost-neatly packed into bags and boxes; our whole life seems to be a series of packing, unpacking, repacking and re-repacking. I’m thankful for the new Lianne La Havas album that got me through it.

On Friday, we took the Defender to the shipyard to have it inspected and received to clear customs, before it makes its long voyage home to the UK. The next time we see it will be in December.

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It really is remarkable car; although it is very loud, not the most comfortable, and there’s always something that doesn’t quite open or close properly, it drove us thousands and thousands of miles through extreme heat and crazy terrain, and never let us down once.

If only it had air-conditioning…

While the car is on the ship, we are already dreaming of how to prepare it for the next expedition – what we would change, what we would keep the same, how we can make it fit a few more people in so we can share the road with some friends…

Hopefully next summer we will be able to take the car somewhere even more challenging. We have a destination in mind – maybe we will be able to reveal that within the next few months.

But for now, as we look back over the past four months, we also look forward to The Travellers Two returning to Asia and sharing those new stories as the journey continues.

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Off Road Arches

After our off-road “training” with our Belgian friends in Idaho, we were more confident to take the car off road ourselves. And we had heard many stories from 4×4 enthusiasts that Moab, Utah is the best place for it.

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So after following the tourist trails through Arches National Park, we turned onto a gravel road. The sign said “4×4 vehicles, high clearance recommended” and that it was best to take the road from north to south.

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After a couple of minutes of driving on gravel road, we saw two cars coming down from the hills; a Dodge and a Toyota. The guy in the Toyota stopped, and told us “It’s pretty gnarly up there.” But then he looked at our car and said, “you have pretty high clearance – you should be fine.”

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Michal’s reaction was, ‘hey if your car can do it, we’ll have no problem’ – after all, our car was built for this.

If only he knew what was coming up…

Half way through the eighteen-mile track, we saw that a storm was approaching from the west. We knew that if it started raining heavily, the road would become even more dangerous and impassable, and that we would likely get stuck for the night. But, thankfully, we were only hit by a light spot of rain and the heavy clouds moved north and east.

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After hours, literally, of adrenaline producing hills, with the tyres clinging on for life to the steep rock and soft sand, we made it to a beautiful spot a mile away from the main road.

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As the sun was setting, we decided to stop for a magic hour dinner, and as I was cooking Michal went hunting for the perfect last photo of the Moab’s arches.

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