May 1, 2016

Fin de Saison. Where one season closes, another begins...

It’s May 1st . I’m sat in front of a roaring fire in Chamonix, sipping a healthy glass of red wine. This weekend marks the ‘Fin de Saison’ meaning that ski-season is unofficially over and many of the lifts around Chamonix are now closed until the late autumn snows return.  

Sitting here I can’t help but reflect on ‘fin de saison’.  A year ago today, I was still ‘stuck’ somewhere on the Nepal - Tibet border. We had just begun our evacuation off of Mount Shishapangma following the Nepal earthquake and it was the start of several very intense weeks in Kathmandu and an emotional year for me both personally and professionally.  

Since those rather tumultuous few weeks, I returned to a job which both challenges and inspires, I’ve met wonderful people – many of which I’m now fortunate to call friends. I’ve worked on fascinating projects both inside and outside of work, travelled to new countries, shared new experiences, climbed a few more mountains (real and proverbial)… I’ve moved, changed roles, taken on more responsibility in life. Friends have passed away and new life has been brought into the world.  I’ve returned to Nepal on several occasions, followed my heart more faithfully than my head. 

More crucially, I’ve had the opportunity to ‘heal’ and ‘grow’ and take some time out to reflect on this crazy thing called life. Many people say that this is normal following an experience of rapid and unexpected change – so I’m going with it. I just thought it was part of ‘growing up’… I remember that my Dad used to have a coffee mug that read, ‘Middle age is when a broad mind and a narrow waist exchange places’. Maybe this is what’s next?

So, where are we, ‘one year on’ at ‘fin de saison’; how has this story come full circle, and what have I learned?  Well, I’ve already mentioned I’m in Chamonix, sat in front of a fire on a long overdue holiday. I went alpine climbing yesterday for the first time in ages and it was amazing. Whilst the UK basks in 1st May sunshine, here in Chamonix huge snowflakes fall outside.  My guide Jon led a fun 5-pitch route called La Pepite - a fantastic choice given the morning started in sunshine and ended in snow bearing clouds. 

On the second pitch I found myself wedged between a rock and a hard place (literally!) with my ice-axes scraping against the cold granite desperate to find even a hint of a crack from which I could ‘hang’ my trembling frame. As adrenaline pulsed through me, I felt well and truly alive. It was the most alive I’ve felt in a long time… a shame really as life is so bloody short. But it was a wonderful reminder of how important it is to do more than merely ‘exist’ on this crazy journey called life.

It’s so easy to ‘exist’. What I have learned this year is that sometimes ‘existing’ is all that we can do. I’ve learned to be happy in the moment but, like climbing, know when you need to make that big ‘reach’ up to make the next move – even if it’s hard and even if it’s only a few precious centimetres. Those precious few centimetres here and there do add up. 

This year I’ve learned that reaching out and taking someone's hand to get to that next move is the beginning of a journey. At other times, it is allowing another to take yours. The ‘push’ or ‘pull’ from a climbing partner – or family, friends, colleagues - all those people you meet along the way -  who provide help and support in getting to where you’re truly meant to be. Sometimes it’s pretty and sometimes it’s not (in my case yesterday, my unelegant moves on the second pitch).  But there’s comfort in the self-belief that you will get there and you have the support system around you to ensure that you won’t ever fail… Even if the route that takes you there isn’t necessarily the one you thought would and even if sometimes it takes longer than you expect.

Another thing that I have learned over this past year is that it's worth lingering on the journey for a while before getting to the destination. In the past I have rushed from one project to the next, from one expedition to another without taking much more than a moment to reflect. My journey over the past year has been quite different. It’s involved some lingering in unexpected places and at unexpected times - and I’m not sure yet whether I’ve actually reached the destination…but I’m ok with that.  In that lingering, I’ve learned more about myself and the world around me than I ever dreamed possible. I also know that in lingering I’m taking each day one step at a time, and doing my best to appreciate, learn from, and savour every single oxygen filled moment. Because life is so damn short – it would be a waste not to.

So, how did yesterday’s climb end and what about ‘fin de saison’? Well, I’m pleased to report that I did finish the 5 pitches thanks to Jon’s encouragement and leadership. I had a brilliant day out. The conditions were variable but predicted – the snow and poor visibility certainly wasn’t a surprise in the mid-afternoon. As the sun disappeared and the snow began to fall, I found comfort in knowing that a hot chocolate and heaping plate of nachos were not far away.  To every cloud there is a silver lining…

Fin de Saison. The journey that I’ve been on over this past year has been an unexpected adventure. Despite the fact that it has been ‘the road less travelled’ and challenging at times, I'll never ever look back and think that I’ve lost or wasted time. Despite the ‘narrow mind’ that threatens as I near ‘middle age’ (if my Dad’s coffee mug is correct!), I’ve learned there are no short cuts to life. It took each and every situation that I’ve encountered on this crazy journey called 'life' to bring me to ‘the now’. And ‘now’ is right on time and has brought me to exactly where I’m meant to be…

And on that note, the fire in the fireplace has gone out, my wine glass has finished, the snow continues to fall outside and it’s time for me to go to bed. 

Jon celebrating success