Adventures and Reflections from Cathy O'Dowd

Adventures & Reflections
from Cathy O'Dowd

While I am very much a believer in planning and preparation, the fact remains that the adventures I enjoy most are often the ones that unfold spontaneously. I’ve just returned from a perfect example of that and the satisfaction is enormous.

On Sunday Pär and I were clattering down the icy slopes of Pic Peyreguils in Andorra, despairing over the poor conditions in the Pyrenees. A quick internet search suggested the best snow nearby was in the Ecrins. By Tuesday Pär was home and finding a photo on Facebook from a friend skiing in the area. By Wednesday said friend Rikaard had invited us to stay in the chalet of his friends. By Thursday we were driving. By Friday we were skiing with Rikaard and Jimmy high on the slopes of Pic Blanc du Galibier. A week later we are home with a wealth of new experiences and some new friends, the perfect adventure born out of networking, generosity and spontaneity.

Pär climbing up the ridge.

Isn't the point of skis to go downhill?

Of the five day tours we did the best was again an example of serendipity. Day four, tired and limited in options as the car wouldn’t start, we trudged slowly up the the valley we’d ascended the day before, the plan going no further than getting out of the chalet and taking it easy. Slowly small elements shifted into place: the map I’d been studying the night before that showed a break in the rock band, Pär constantly scanning the slopes for ever more outrageous descent lines, the pair of skiers climbing up the couloir…. Our aimless movement acquired a destination – le Gran Lac and then the head of the couloir.

The couloir rejected as uninteresting to ski we started looking upwards…. Soon a herd of puzzled Ibex were watching us slog up the ridge of snow and crumbling rock, skis on the rucksacks, negotiating ever steeper slopes to a tiny perch from where we could access a sneaky exit line through rock bands onto beautiful snow slopes. And it was the best ski descent of the trip, a gift of spontaneity and curiosity.

Yet this kind of unplanned spontaneity is not in any sense the opponent of planning and preparation. It works because it is embedded in years of experience, experience which subtly informs every seemingly whimsical choice. It is embedded, too, in trust. Pär’s trust in my experience ascending, mine in his with ski descents, so we can broaden the options open to each of us.

Preparation is not something apart, limited to an allocated time slot, but an inherent component in every action we take that expands our experience in some way. It is the bedrock on which we can build spontaneous mountains of serendipity and then ski back down their powder laden slopes!

The best of our photos from the adventure:

The GPS track of our favourite tour, past Le Gran Lac

Leave a Reply