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It’s funny, how people are wired differently.

I walked into my local coffee shop, and the barista greeted me with “So, where are you going to next? It’s about that time for you to be off again, isn’t it?”

…I think you know you’re wired for a life of adventure when even the guy who makes your coffee sees it.

Which, in a really roundabout way, reminded me that I never got around to writing about the Mt Blanc adventure… and while I will get around to a proper recap one of these days, this will have to tie you over. :)

I will say there’s nothing quite like it – especially the final day: waking up at an un-Godly hour, still half-asleep, eating the most expensive bread for breakfast, walking out into the pitch dark, freezing morning, and seeing the zig-zagging trail of headlamps that resembled ants on an ant-hill, leading the way to the summit. So quiet. So beautiful.

While I think we all struggled with mental battles of our own, we trudged on. It was a repetitious one foot in front of the other. Steady breathing.

It’s interesting, before I left, a friend told me a quote by Sir Edmund Hillary (of Everest fame) – “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” And as cheesy as it sounds, I suppose it’s actually quite befitting.

We weren’t setting out to break a record or be the fastest (I actually have no idea what our final time was) or climb it to achieve some level-up in adventure status. It was always about our personal desire to achieve something, and by reaching the summit, we conquered our goal, saw the months of early-morning runs and hours spent training pay off. We proved to ourselves it was possible and had an amazing adventure along the way.

And that’s exactly what I love about adventure. We aren’t pros or Alpine legends – we’re real people embracing the opportunity to step out of our comfort zone and do something kind of epic.

  

This summer was full of exciting things all around, including the wedding of the lovely Charlotte & Andy! Charlotte’s a dear friend, so it was a huge honour to photograph their special (and beautiful!) day, and we had a blast taking wedding party photos at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum – so many fun places to shoot! Enjoy a sampling of their joy-filled day!

  

  

  

We set out on a mission: three people, three countries, one day of adventure.

Because who says you can’t adventure with friends even though they live on other continents? The idea was simple: we each pick a place nearby and go on a microadventure at the same time. Fellow adventurers Steven (check out his microadventure recap here) and Emma would simultaneously explore in England and Northern Ireland, respectively, and I was off to the Superstition Mountains, a nearby mountain range, locally known for its gold-filled folklore. The plan was to hike to the highest point, Flat Iron, and camp for the night.

Running a little late, I set out just before sunset and raced the light up the mountain. The sunset made the mountains seem almost golden, and eventually there was just enough light left in the sky to make out the jagged silhouette of the mountain ridge below. Ultimately, the last half of the hike was completed by the light of my headlamp.

Hiking by a single light source at night was an interesting experience. I could only see what was right in front of me, forcing me to focus solely on the next step. About a mile in, the trail slowly opened into a canyon, and the path turned into a solid series of incresingly vertical boulders leading the way to the top. Everything seemed so much more tedious at night, especially with the increasing presence of slippery ice and snow left as a result of the freak cold-front we’d had earlier in the week.

At one point, I heard a faint shuffle ahead and looked up, revealing a pair of tiny, beady eyes staring back at me, with a super long, striped tail flicking behind them. While I’m sure it was only seconds, it felt like minutes before the eyes vanished and the mysterious creature darted up the mountain ahead of me. If I’m honest, after the fourth encounter (and in a moment of weakness) I wondered if I’d actually lost the trail and was about to wander into the lair of these mysterious fluffy-tailed creatures, never to be seen again.*

Thankfully that wasn’t the case, and eventually the full moon cleared the peak of the Superstitions causing a faint glow of light to fall over the path for the remaining trek. The last ten feet to the top was almost completely vertical, so I hurled my pack over and pulled myself up after it.

Alas, I’d made it. As I heard something howl in the distance, I picked out a spot and set up my tent for the night. Enjoying a cup of tea while admiring the gorgeous view of the glowing valley below (which I could see through the opening of my tent), was definitely a highlight!

With wind bursts up to 40mph throughout the night, perhaps camping on the edge of the highest point wasn’t the brightest of plans, but it sure was exhilerating. The wind was blowing so hard it was distorting the tent, eventually popping the tent poles out of alignment twice in the middle of the night. I resorted to weighting down the edges with giant rocks, which weren’t super helpful in the end, but I didn’t blow over the edge so I guess they did their job.

The wind didn’t let up all night, but I slept surprisingly well, waking up to the much-welcomed warmth of the morning sun; the desert sure is beautiful in the morning! 9am was the scheduled time for simultaneous cooking and conversation with Emma & Steven, but of course, the one flaw in our plan was the lack of signal – too hardcore for 3G! I rocked out my classy camping meal of pasta and broccoli for breakfast anyway, and it was rather delicious, if I may say so myself.

  

After admiring the view a bit longer, I packed up (nearly losing the tent to the wind yet again), and headed back down.

I must’ve passed a dozen people on the way down who were shocked that I’d camped alone at the top, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the fact that I was camping alone or because I’m a girl (or both), but I guess that proves why adventure is such a special thing. It’s such a change from the norm, diving into something unexpected and challenging to experience something new and beautiful. Even if you think it’s crazy, that probably just means it’ll be that much more rewarding.

All in all, my little trek had all the components of a lovely microadventure – looking forward to the next!

*I later consulted Google, which revealed that the ‘mysterious creature’ was a not-so vicious Coati, often kept as pets and able to be litter-trained… Seems a lot less dramatic in retrospect!

I think the cold got to us a bit at Zion.

Maybe camping in below-freezing weather with a fireball-spitting heater does something to the brain… I don’t know. Regardless, we took advantage of the side effects of the frigid weather, and had an immense amount of fun at the expense of the giant icicles that had formed on the walls along the trail we hiked. Icicle walruses – how could we resist, really? (There were also icicle unicorns and wolverine re-enactments… so many possibilities!)

Zion in the winter seems like a completely different place. Bright blue skies were replaced with a constant threat of snow and instead of people everywhere you turn, I think we saw a total of maybe a dozen others. So silent. Yet somehow in its emptiness, the stark contrast of the giant red walls and the bright white of the snow combine to make it stunning in its own way. It’s an almost eerie kind of beauty.

The night we arrived there was a full moon – the crazy bright kind that casts scarily definitive shadows at 2am. It’s such a strange thing to look up and see the mountains almost as bright as the stars. So, despite it being quite a bit below freezing, we stocked up on tea and I took another crack at star trails. There were some interesting results with the gorgeously odd lighting, but I think my favourite part was how the longer we sat in the dark, the brighter the stars seemed to shine – I love how that works!

  

Somewhat begrudgingly we decided climbing was out of the picture since everything was coated in a layer of snow or ice (or both), so instead we planned to conquer a surely stunning sunrise hike…for which we overslept and missed sunrise. Oops. Even so, the view was still beautiful! It even started snowing just as we were getting to the top, which was pretty stunning!

From there, we slid back down the trail, raced the snow-storm out of Zion, and headed onwards to the Grand Canyon…

Yosemite is one of those places that somehow gets more beautiful every time you turn a corner. It’s like the light hits the rock at the perfect angle to make it seem as if it’s actually glowing, and then I turn around and there’s a giant waterfall with a rainbow forming in the mist. And when I think it can’t get anymore unreal, I drive on these windy roads through trees with the most perfect sun rays beaming through them until we get to an open snow-covered field with some bizarre cloud just floating there, 30 meters off the ground. And I look up and see El Capitan towering so high above us in all her glory. It’s actually breathtaking.

We ended up in Yosemite kind of as the result of a passing comment after watching one of those timelapse videos of Yosemite on youtube. It was one of those “We should totally go to Yosemite when you come!” kind of moments, turned into “Wait, why don’t we go to Yosemite when you come?”.

Eleven hour drive? Totally doable…so we made it happen.

We, in this case, references myself and my Northern Irish friend, Annie. Annie and I initially bonded in Belfast over our mutual love for huskies and affinity for climbing. I think it’s fair to say we pretty much bring out the kid in each other (in a ‘let’s eat s’mores for breakfast because we can‘ kind of way). So, having her spend a few weeks exploring Arizona – on her first trip to America – was pretty exciting, to say the least. After hitting up some local stuff, naturally, we embarked on a bit of a Southwest roadtrip… hence our kicking it off in Yosemite. Because Yosemite is beautiful.

As a bonus, Yosemite is pretty much a climbing mecca.

Just, maybe not in the winter.

The thing we discovered about climbing in the winter – aside from frozen fingers – is that ‘distinct climbers trails’ are actually more like ‘obscure paths further obscured by inches of snow’. Nonetheless, we had decided we wanted to climb some sport routes on the base of El Capitan, weren’t so deterred by the invisible trails, and just started heading up to the base via our own route. We had a few scary run ins with slippery boulders and falling trees (!), but managed to find the routes eventually…although we couldn’t climb due to ice and snow melt soaking the rock. Major bummer!

The view was totally worth it, though!

We ended up climbing a crack at Swan Slab near our campsite (the legendary Camp 4!) and felt a little less saddened after our hand/knee/foot/face jams got us to the top. (Note-to-self: work on crack climbing.)

There was also a nice surprise halfway through my rappel back down. The conversation went something like this:

Annie: “*Gasp* HURRY UP!”
Me: “…what?!”
Annie: “Eeeee! Go faster! Hurry up!”
Me: “WHAT? What did you -”
Annie: “There’s a DEER behind you!!!”

Clearly, our enthusiasm and priorities were in the right place!

Anyway, one thing I can say for sure: we are coming back for you, Yosemite!