Impossible is nothing.

I have a tendency to exaggerate. It’s in my blood – my grandfather always said, “Never let truth get in the way of a good story.” But today, I have promised myself I will not exaggerate any of the occurrences below 🙂

Are you ready?

You know that moment when you are hanging by your fingertips at the top of a cliff trying to find a place for your shaking foot, while your other foot feels miles away, the Italian man is trying to guide you as to where to go next in pure Italian (which in this moment, you now apparently understand, perfectly), you are doing everything not to look to the drop off on your left, not to look at the drop off on your right and then you catch the eye of your mother, who is shaken by nothing and you see the fear pulsing through her veins, that’s not the moment to start questioning your why….

But, let me back up….

We had spent many hours the day before talking about and plotting through our next day’s route. It was meant to be the most challenging route we were going to do. In a swift explanation, when my mum had done a perfect job of plotting our 4-day adventure hike through Alpi Apuane, she had been plotting mostly T1 and T2 level hikes (T1-6 grades the level of the hike, see below). To be honest, I don’t know if I have developed some kind of sudden fear of heights, but there were sections of the T2 where I felt I was at my limit. So, after a really lovely refuge made craft beer with our refuge host and prior to an amazing spread of dinner, we researched a number of different articles, exhausted our hosts with questions about the path and finally reached a conclusion. Fiona, felt more comfortable walking a beautiful road path towards our next destination, Isola Santa. And my mother and I were going to do the planned route, accepting the 350m of T3 that was, according to our host, totally okay without the advised equipment that we had uncovered in our research.

To put this in context, my mom has an incredible capacity for danger – there have been very few times in my life (apart from the odd expletive in bad traffic) that I have seen my mom thrown off of her calm center. She is the calm in the storm. Me, on the other hand, I have always operated off of a base of fear. In fact, when asked the other day what I was like as a child, my mom replied, “always nervous and anxious, scared of everything, including the vacuum cleaner…”(can’t say that was the favorite fact I have ever learnt about myself). However, proudly, I have managed to do ALOT outside of my comfort zone and very often find a way to squish the fear I feel and do it anyway.

Hopefully, you are getting a good enough background to this hike.

Morning preparations.

So, the three of us set off together bright and early and split when the path started heading straight up the mountain. Fiona, very happy with her choice when she saw the climb looming straight up the mountain to a very high peak. Mum and I were happy, the climb was steep, but our legs were feeling strong, the weather was absolutely perfect and we were determined to have our first coffee on the mountain. We zigzagged our way up the mountain face and slowly started to move out of the shadow of it and in to the morning light, the dew dampening our socks and the spiderwebs breaking all over me. In hindsight, I should have taken on more of the “spider girl powers”- would have helped 3 hours later. It was exceptionally beautiful and lush – there were many flowers out and the views were expansive, the autumnal colours overcoming the valleys. A colour palette that makes me think fondly of my sister.

We got to a really beautiful plateau after what had been a solid hour of climbing and convinced ourselves that we “deserved” a coffee. And so, there we made our little base, bringing out all the paraphernalia for the most delicious “Mountain café” – my mum appreciates these moments as much as I do and so the sharing of these mountain coffees has become something we really treasure together.

Refreshed and ready to go, we continued the hike up the mountain, the incline getting steeper, the path getting narrower. The terrain in these mountains is tough, it forces you to concentrate. It is not as soft and forgiving as what I felt in Pyrenees, these mountains feel rough, ruggered and brittle. There is a lot of shale, lots of lose rock and a lot of spikey bushes. So, your mind needs to remain present and therefore the intermittent breaks are important. We were having the most wonderful conversations and so time was feeling timeless.

Something that was so noticeable – was the amazing signage on the route. When in these mountains they indicate the trail with a coloured pattern that you typically follow the whole way. This route for us was a horizontal red and white stripe that amazingly, appeared whenever we needed it. But, on these routes, as you are scrambling up the mountain face, you need to be aware. One moment we were talking too much, we lost the signage and the terrain quickly became very tricky. We had to backtrack and retrace where we last saw the marking. And then, all was good.

However, our conversation started to take a backseat to the concentration that was needed for the next section. I slowly started to feel my fear receptors prickling as we came around the corner and the chains revealed themselves. We had heard about the chains (the danger element) and I thought we were now at THAT point. I was wrong, this was just thrown in for “fun”. I needed a breather, my mom had already scrambled across in her style. But my hands were sweating a little and I was trying to work out how to navigate this with my poles and the weight of my backpack. As I stood looking out at the view, saying a little prayer just to see a few more people on the path, my prayers were answered as 2 figures came over the horizon, walking our path towards us. I told my mom I was going to wait for them to get closer cause maybe they could help with my poles. Which is exactly what they offered when I signalled that I was a little nervous. They clearly didn’t speak any english.

On the other side of the chains, they smiled and handed me my poles. We were all forced to walk together in to the exceptional forest that opened up just around the corner. They really didn’t speak english and my broken Italian was littered with comical hand gestures and a few words I do know in Italian. There were long patches of silence, but then we would try to chat again, they were super fast and so my mom and I had to pick up our pace a little. They must have been in their 70s and they were running circles around us.

In broken Italian I explained which route we were taking, to which they absorbed with wide eyes, gesticulating that we would need to wear climbing equipment. My fear. Oh gosh. I looked at my mom, who was still convinced that her research and last night’s host were accurate – a T3 section for 350m and then we were in the clear. However, the chains we had just done had been scary enough for me. I wasn’t sure if my nervous system had any more in it. Yesterday’s hike had also had some moments. And so when our companions (Marco and Arturio) connected to internet and researched on their hiking sites, they showed us we needed Alpine equipment to do Mount Sumbra. I really didn’t want to get to Mount Sumbra and not be able to turn around because we had got too far, too late. And so, when they suggested we continue on them with their “easy route” and then they would drop us off at our accommodation afterwards, I felt comforted by being with people who knew the mountains better than us. When I asked my mum, she looked so disappointed and it broke my heart a little to not be able to overcome my fear in that moment. I so badly wanted to say, okay, lets do it, but I was scared. It took her a while to walk off her disappointment, which I understood, but when we sat and had our lunch, I said to her…. “Mum, whenever I travel solo and I have these moments, I always have a story to tell, so I promise this will not be a boring day.” She looked at me and smiled, she knew I was right.

Half an hour later, I wish I could have eaten my words. And some humble pie. After sharing in some of our companions local wine and finishing our tiny lunch of tuna on crackers, we carried on their route. Within 5 minutes, the story told itself….

We quickly hit incredibly steep and narrow paths, with shale falling below us and the cliffs getting even steeper. I was getting quiet, but also fluent in Italian and hand gestures that signaled fear (hand pumping on heart) and the only expression I felt was universal – “Ai Yai Yai”. With every step we took, I was aware of my breath, I was aware of my concentration, there was no room for error here. I tried to look ahead of me to see where this might end. But there seemed to be no respite anywhere ahead, I couldn’t see how we were going to get down to the village below us (our final destination) unless a cable car quickly bared its cables.

I was trying to remain calm, I was practicing my breathing techniques. I was far out of my comfort zone, even before we got to the crazy part. And it was only when I saw Marco heading up a vertical peak that I started to laugh, nervously. I cant, I couldn’t, there was no way. And then, I looked back at my mom’s face and her eyes were reflecting my fears. Marco was head of us, with both of our hiking poles, Arturio was balancing behind us, to comfort us that he would, what, cushion our fall?? With drop off on either sides of us and the only way was up. Every foot step was vital and my fingers, at times, struggled to find a way to hold me close to the rock. I think I could even smell the rock for most of the way, that’s how closely I was hugging it.

But to be honest, in trying to remember this section of the hike, neither my mom and I can remember it, we have both blocked it out. I just remember us saying to each other, regularly, “I am okay, are you okay? Okay, we are okay” and then we would take another step. I do, however, remember a moment, when a calm took over me and I managed to just trust in my body, to allow it to have the strength to do what it needed to do, without my mind playing an active role. But as we passed over, the last of the highest peak of Monte Macina from Passio de Sella, mom and I collapsed onto a rock and took a moment. My legs shaking, her eyes back to normal. She looked at me and said, “the route I had mapped had to be easier than that.” She checked on her map and what we had just done was all T3 and all T4!!!! Far more tricky and longer than what we had mapped out. We started laughing hysterically. Our words and colour flowing back. Marco and Arturio looked relieved that our sense of humor was back, I think they had been nervous that they had taken us to our (and the mountain’s) edge.

We also like to believe, they were impressed.

Our hike took a turn to a steep descent through another autumn coloured forest, but mom and I were basically skipping now, elated that we had survived! Every now and then we would just burst into spontaneous laughter at utter disbelief at what we had just done. And we hadn’t even taken one photo of how treacherous the terrain had been!

It was an incredible experience to see how well my mum and I work together in that space. How we both cared for each other and the calm we could give to each other. I also love that she is so capable (more than I am) and I love how these experiences ignite such a passion within her!

But we survived to tell the tale and as predicted,

“Mum, whenever I travel solo and I have these moments, I always have a story to tell, so I promise this will not be a boring day.”

Just before our tuna cracker stop.

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