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YEP 7 Exp Kamchatka Day 9

As I lie back in the darkness of the sauna I reflect, something I have been doing a lot of lately.

It seems almost unbelievable to think about my day. The mixture of sounds, smells, thoughts, emotions, terrains, feelings and ideas is enough to fill a week in the life of a normal person, but here I have learnt what it means to literally live life to the fullest and make the most of every second.

Sitting here now in the midst of the snow covered mountains with the Avachinsky volcano we are going to attempt to summit tomorrow towering above us I smile and remember the fear I felt this morning. The deafening sound of the dogs barking and howling drowns out everything. Frantically preparing the harnesses, there are so many things to think about, so many things I have to look out for, so much responsibility that has been given to me. Which dog goes where? Is the anchor in properly? Are the dogs untangled?

I just wish for silence and somebody to go through step by step again what I have to do, just one more time. It is too late for that now, that has already been done, we have all been through the training and now it is up to me to prove myself, I need to be assertive or the dogs will sense my fear. They start to grow impatient as the sled in front leaves. Tug Tug Tug. The sound of howling and barking grows louder. They seem to trigger one another and when one begins the others seem to bark even more. Tug Tug Tug, this time harder, I don’t know how much longer this anchor will hold, these dogs are made for this, for them this is pure bliss, excitement, the thrill of the first powerful launch at the beginning is when they can truly show off their strength and speed. Mikes hand goes up, everybody begins to move away, it is almost time, am I ready? Not being ready is not an option, these dogs have gone. The anchor has been lifted the sled launches forward with a superb acceleration. I am flying through the air, the icy ground means that they can run at their optimum speed. Around the first corner and onto the main track, the sled seems even more rickety than I remember, the ground more uneven, I forget everything I have been taught, I forget to focus and let the dogs take over. I forget that I have a brake. Big mistake.

I am lying on the ground, my dogs have gone running into the distance and I feel like an idiot. First rule: Never let go. I tried not to, but my face that had crashed against the ground protested. I still have a lot to learn. Futilely I try to chase the sled but there is no chance that I will catch up to it now, I just have to hope that somebody further on will be able to stop it for me…

Back in the wooden cabin overlooking the volcano and tundra valley below I smile again, my mind is now wandering to earlier on this evening, sitting in this very spot that I am sat in now, we sit and listen mesmerized as Mike shares stories and educates us with the wisdom he has gathered from his adventures around the world. Tonight it is about survival in the wilderness. I wonder how many people know that a marmot activates the gland that puts it in a defensive attacking mode by lining up with 5 others and rubbing its right leg three times over its ear. It is always wonderful to listen to a story teller who captivates you with their every word and looking around at the faces of my fellow team mates I can see that that is exactly what he is doing. We are so honored to have the opportunity to be able to listen and learn from so many stories from all of the team of experienced mountaineering experts.

The wilderness is such a powerful place. Even the word ‘wilderness’ triggers a strong feeling of excitement in me, today at points with the dogs I was truly alone. Nothing but these 8 magnificent animals and the forest surrounding me it felt so empowering. Yet what can make you feel so strong, excited and free also makes you realize how small you are. As we left the taiga forest behind and began our assent into the more mountainous terrain I began to feel the overwhelming power that the mountains have, volcanoes especially.

All around me the remnants of the 1991 eruption, giant boulders, known as bombs scatter the ground, some as big as 3 meters high. I cannot even see the summit which goes way above the clouds to 2741 meters, all that is visible is the moraine left over by the carving out of the land by the lava flows, glaciers or rivers.

Life is harsher here, yet not so harsh that nothing can grow, looking around on the bare rocks I realize the strength and persistence of nature. I can see the adaptations that the plants have made, the dwarf pines stick low to the ground in an attempt to try and protect themselves from the harsh winds coming in from the ocean, anchoring themselves deep in the fertile soil with their long roots. There are so many things I have learnt on this trip about science, about exploring and about myself, and every day I am here I continue to learn more and more and more.

Ok, time to go and get ready to sleep a dream filled sleep full of dog sledding, bears in the woods, and exploding volcanoes…

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