Standing by the boot of the baby blue Volkswagen Beetle, I am wearing nothing but my pants. It is dusk and I have just finished stuffing 80 litres of equipment into a large rucksack, which—once I have some more clothes on—I will be swinging onto my back and hauling up to the lower slopes of Carn Dearg, just below Ben Nevis.
Back in June, my good friend and long-time climbing partner Matt jetted off to the Zanskar Himalaya for a month. Our sights were set firmly on the unclimbed north face of Chiling II, a stunning 1400m wall of granite and ice.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
- Wendell Berry
"The Fulufjället National Park is home to many wild creatures, particularly brown bears", the sign reads. Matt and I exchange that look. You know, that look where you realise you're in a completely alien country, having just driven nearly seven hours on what seemed to be the same snowy fir tree-lined road, in the hope that it had been cold enough to freeze 125m of free-falling water, now to be told you're surrounded by bears.