When I think of winter, I think of my breath visible in a cloud and snow so frozen it crackles when I walk on it. I think of pure white snow covering the world and sunshine so strong it is blinding. All I can hear is the silence, except the crack from my feet moving on frozen snow. Welcome to my perfect white world.
I live in Ireland, where snow is a rarity and….. a nuisance. Every time I say I love winter and snow, I get a side look, even from my partner. Yes, he did not understand my fascination with winter…. But this changed…. let me tell you what happened.
Few years ago we started ‘serious’ mountain activity. Our first trip was unsuccessful attempt to climb Mt Damavand in Iran. During this trip I noticed how uncomfortable John was on a snow. I worried, this might become a problem later during our travels, so something had to be done! After a good bit of googling I found a winter mountain skills course in Polish mountains. We booked the course, bought flights and off we went. It was a ‘winter of a century’ with record low temperatures across Europe…. great! Luckily for us the weather changed very shortly before the trip, so we had a fantastic time. For the duration of the course we stayed in a comfortable mountain hut laying in a valley in beautiful Tatry* range. Day one was spent ‘rolling’ in snow (sorry, the official term is ice axe assecuration) and on attempts to walk uphill in waist deep snow. Crazy stuff… At the end of the day John looked at me and said: ”I understand now why you like snow so much”. This was only day one, still three days to go. Every day we did something more difficult, climbing more and more, higher and higher. All the time the sun was shining, the snow was perfectly white, the views truly magnificent. A paradise. At the end of our stay, John asked me to organize more winter holidays. Yeap!
Few months later we went to Kyrgyzstan, as a part of our bigger trip including Kazakhstan and Iran. The time in Kyrgyzstan we spent camping on Inylchek Glacier, edged between peaks over 7000m high. There was no technical stuff involved there, just acclimatization for next leg of our trip. And what a time we had there! Despite being not only on ice, but at 4000meters, the camp was very comfortable, with all facilities, although basic. We hired the camp’s doctor to be our guide for the few days, what turned out to be a brilliant idea. We walked and walked for hours every day. The company was very enjoyable and the scenery absolutely spectacular! The only let down was the acclimatization to the high attitude and horrible headaches we had for the first two days. The absolute highlight was not only the scenery, but also helicopter flights to and from the place!
Easy to guess, year later we went for another winter skills course. This time our destination was Sierra Nevada Mountains in southern Spain. Again we practiced a bit of ice axe assecuration and walking in crampons. Another skill was igloo building and of course climbing with ropes. At the end of our stay we went up the mountains for overnight camping trip. I paid dearly for having 3 season sleeping bag, waking up through the night from cold. Another experience and another lesson learned. Later we did a bit of sightseeing in Granada, an absolute gem of a place. And guess what, when coming back home to Ireland we landed in full winter scenery! Digging out our car from under the snow and rolling down the airport hill home…. no worries for us, we had our winter skills just refreshed…..
Year after a snow holiday was again on the cards. Choosing destination was more tricky this time, as we decided to go on our own. No winter skills courses, no guides, just us testing ourselves in winter conditions. This time it was John, who spent a lot of time looking up maps and reading about different places.
Finally decision was made, it was time for walking in Caucasus mountains! We chose to stay in Mestia, a lively village and a great base for exploring walking trails. The place had nice choice of accommodations and restaurants, what was a great bonus after long days outside. Not only the mountain trails were interesting though. On our walks through the village we found many traditional houses, and even a thousand years old church, well hidden in maze of twisty streets. There were regular power cuts, and some of our meals were served in darkness, the only light coming from a phone. What harm?!!, the company was more important, and the food never failed either. Leaving Mestia we made plans to come back in summer for more. Little we knew, that in 2020 the world will not be the same……
* the ‘anglicized’ version TatrA gives me creeps, so I use the original name in this post and in life too 🙂
Poland: Accommodation in Tatry: Schronisko Murowaniec Hala Gasienicowa http://www.murowaniec.com very comfortable rooms, clean toilets, super efficient restaurant and unbeatable localization!
Kyrgyzstan: Camp in on the glacier: https://www.instagram.com/aksaitravel.kg/ clean warm tents, basic ‘bania’ (kind of a bathroom), clean outside toilet with a beautiful view, doctor on site, airport within walking distance, tasty food, great service and magnificent scenery 24/7.
Spain: Winter skills: https://www.spanishhighs.co.uk/ accommodation in Lanjaron, Granada and a tent.
Georgia: Accommodation in Mestia: Guesthouse David Zhorzholiani link comfortable, clean, attentive, well located, near a fantastic café.