I finally arrive at the base of the mountain ridge and start to climb. It’s an ideal opportunity to use some Zen and concentrate on my breathing. A vital part of the practice of Zen is to be aware of the importance of breathing deeply in and exhaling fully. Breathing should occur from the lower abdomen the hara that part just below the navel. If someone is said to have hara then he or she is considered to be well-balanced, physically as well as psychologically. In breathing correctly it becomes possible to concentrate totally.
In order to focus the concentration more intensely it is very important to practice counting the breaths; this is called susoku. Every exhalation is the end of one breath. Susoku is counting each breath to ten and then repeating, again and again. The repetition acts as a mantra and helps to put you in direct contact with the land or ice beneath you. It’s difficult at first until I get my rhythm going but soon it feels great and I start looking forward to reaching the top. On the way up I stop several times to look around. In the far distance I can see the camp now and it’s comforting to know it is there. No one can hear me and probably can’t see me as the tents appear tiny and I can’t make out any figures.
Antarctic Map Photo Gallery
As I climb higher I am surprised, even shocked at the different kinds of stone and rock I come across. Before reaching the Antarctic one imagines the whole area as being one of endless kilometres of ice and snow. One doesn’t associate it with rocks and mountains. Yet they are there. Although I knew about Mount Vinson being the highest mountain, it somehow seemed apart from the Antarctic itself and anyhow I thought of it as composed of stark rock faces, overall greyish in colour. The rocks and stones here are surprisingly full of colour and I spend a great deal of time handling and examining the smaller particles. The yellow ones, carrying the colour of enlightenment, are particularly wonderful to handle and there are all kinds of yellow and golden shades, as well as reds and silver and black. I gather together a selection of the smallest rocks and load up my pack with them. I am soon weighed down but I don’t want to leave any behind, also I will probably climb down a different way and may not see the same examples again. I very much want to examine those I’ve collected when I return to camp. Rocks, stones and water are essential Zen elements and are used to design natural gardens to imitate and pay homage to nature’s forces. Most stones speak but you have to listen with your eyes.
After climbing much higher, straining under the extra weight, I step on to an upper ice ridge. It’s a moment to stop and listen. The ice glistens with a vast array of colours which refuse to submit to my intrusion. At last I reach the topmost ridge and I can see way into the distance in all directions. Zen Master Funei always declaimed, ‘Zen study only aims at perception of essential nature. I relish feeling the immense power of Antarctic nature. For a few moments I feel I am truly a part of it. I continue climbing along the main ridge for some distance. In parts it’s knife-edged and I need to step warily to avoid slipping. I decide to trek off to the right and look for other rock and ice sections and different ways to proceed. It is still extremely icy and again I have to tread very carefully to avoid slipping. It would be all too easy to take off and zoom down. In view of the difficulties I am encountering it seems even stranger that I was allowed to go off on my own. Well I’m here now and it’s too late to consider whether that was a wise decision of theirs, let alone my own. Still I climb and scramble ultra-carefully. I have certainly gained immeasurably by the fact they have let me go. Perhaps they understood this and that my gain would outweigh any dangers I might face.
I make my way along the ridges for several hours but always make certain I keep the direction of the camp in mind, to guide me when I need to make my way back. Although the camp is big the area around is so vast it would only take a small diversion in direction to miss it altogether. I could stay out much longer but as it is my first full day I finally decide it would be wiser to turn around before I become tired. Of course I take one or two more interesting small rocks with me from the top ridge. Rocks in this region range in age from as recent as 250,000 years old to more than 1 million. This is certainly the place to feel high!
I hadn’t realised how far I had come and it takes a very long time before I eventually climb down the final section and reach the edge of the ice plain. The sight of the camp has now completely vanished and I am again all too aware how easy it would be to head off in the wrong direction. Still I set off very confidently and start on my way back across the ice. It’s more slippery than ever and I am making slower progress than I expected. I soon start feeling more tired than I had anticipated, in my excitement I have definitely overdone it on the first day. However, there’s no other choice but to keep going and I plod slowly on.
Suddenly I see a ski-doo making it’s way across the ice and I wave enthusiastically to attract the driver’s attention. At least this would be one way of confirming I am definitely heading in the right direction. At first whoever’s driving it doesn’t see me and it starts pulling away. I shout out but my voice doesn’t seem to have enough strength to carry for any distance, I’m probably more weary than I realised. Just my luck, the wind has strengthened so that it is also preventing the sound of my voice carrying across. Then amazingly the ski-doo veers round and heads straight towards me. It is a wonderful moment. Although I am not really in any danger it is especially welcoming now to see another human being. My moments of solitude are coming to an end, for the time being.
As the ski-doo slows to a halt next to me I recognise the rumply, rotund figure of Art Mortvedt. Art, sweet man that he is, has come out specifically to look for me and bring me back. He thought that I had been out too long and he was worried. Art runs a wilderness camp in Alaska where he organises fishing, boating and a whole range of outdoor activities. His camp is called Peace Of Selby Wilderness and the name indicates the kind of place it is, as well as something of Art’s own philosophy. His warmth and caring attitude show how much he must think about the welfare of his guests. He is obviously a treasure to enjoy at first hand if I ever have the chance to travel in Alaska. I clamber on board and Art drives off. I can feel my pack pressing down with the weight of the rocks and every now and then they clink rhythmically. I hope Art does not hear as my explanation might appear a little strange, although he is a man of the outdoors and would presumably understand.
On the way back we see the Twin Otter taking off and Art tells me that it is taking Hans and Christian to the mountains to enable them to attempt Vinson. That’s really great news and it gives me hope that Ian and I might also have our chance at the Pole soon.
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