The Highway Robbery

Hey friends! As many of you are aware we recently took an unplanned excursion back to the UK and the blogs fell to the wayside for a number of reasons (including the fact that it was Sam’s turn to do the writing!). In all likelihood we probably caught up with most of our reader base in person, but just in case somebody wants to hear about our epic again or somehow missed hearing in person, here is a short update from Sam. Hopefully, there will be more regular updates from our adventures in Spain but if not then you can rightly call me a hypocrite since it will be my turn to write the blog. I hope you enjoy that we are changing the narrative style again. Over to you Sam.

After the departure of our special guest (if you can stretch your mind that far back – see previous blog), we were of course horrified to be left on our own having to self-fund again and change from hot vertical to cold horizontal showers. As an aside, to avoid any further debate on what does or does not constitute a shower – obviously a shower involves the flow of water (hence, river = horizontal shower, lake = just a bath). The following day we were back up in Val Masino, ready to round off our time in this region before the weather came in. I took a big exploratory run up to the Rif. Antonio Omio, and on up to the col under Punta Virigilio. I have been super inspired by this valley and one day it would be awesome to come back and do the whole Senterio Roma – after a bit of training!

Amazing run

We had hoped to do a “proper” climb (ropes and all) but decided it wasn’t the best idea and instead we set our sights on the Normal Route on Punta Torelli, usually used as the descent from the proper climbing. Still, to get up and summit in a day was quite a task (20km walking, 2000m elevation gain)! The valley was beautiful and atmospheric, though the sections of thick cloud made us worry about the ridge to the summit; although it is “technical climbing” it was very easy, so we decided to take no equipment and just solo up to the summit.

Summit in sight

We took a pit stop at the Rif. Gianetti for some lunch and to assess the weather, before stashing our bags (remembering the warning from Eren about food-stealing sheep!) under a boulder and heading up the final section. The formations up there are spectacular, with the Pizzos Badille and ­Cenlago towering above, and amazing clean rock everywhere you look.

Obligatory handstand

We took a break at the col in the ridge, before we were meant to take the ridge direct to the summit. On the other side the rock was completely sheer, but for a second this trepidation about the exposure and the ridge to come was washed away by the fantastic view. We steeled ourselves and started up the ridge; consistently exposed, with hundreds of meters of air on either side below our feet. A few tricky moves and 200m of careful soloing later we were at the summit. And we just eked out a new high point for Bethan and Henrietta (as Aled rightly said: “Henrietta seen a lot damn”).

Mt Blanc in the distance
Decathlon sunglasses

The view was easily the best I had ever seen in the Alps, perhaps the world. To the south a perfect cloud inversion, only the huge rocky spires and ridges poking up like islands in a vast white sea. To the east the Badille, towering up with huge blank buttresses of perfect granite. The north and west afforded a view of the entire western alps, with the Matterhorn, Mt. Blanc and all of the great western peaks scattered across the criss-crossing valleys and ridges. A real treat. A slightly more confident (on my part anyway) retreat to the col, followed by many hours of walking we returned to Remy, tired but elated.

The next couple of days we did some sport climbing at Sasso Romeno (the largest boulder in Europe!), and the aforementioned weather finally rolled in. Again it felt bittersweet: excited to move on but sad to leave a place you’ve fallen in love with – especially having not ticked any of the goals I had spent so long dreaming about before the trip. That bittersweet feeling was becoming all too familiar on the road. Val Masino – we will be back (hopefully, this time with a healthy body and renewed confidence for the big stuff).

Over the following days the trip changed dramatically. We decided to re-route to Spain, rather than continue East across Italy, largely owing to the better short and long-term weather forecasts and our track record of not being enthused by anything big and hard. We knew we would have a better time doing some more chilled low-key climbing and hopefully cross paths with friends and family.

The next day we made it down past Nice, and parked up near the Gorges du Blavet, ready for some sport climbing in the morning. However, our plans got slightly delayed by Bethan’s love of dogs (and mysteries). Okay, I (Bethan) am taking over this section because it’s the best thing ever!!! Just as we were getting ready to pack up for climbing, two gorgeous dogs (we promptly named oldie & rusty) blessed us with their attention (okay, it was the potential opportunity for food that captured their attention, but I can pretend it was us). The dogs had no collar but we assumed that this was natural for the area and the owner/s would arrive shortly. I was completely distracted by the dogs, whilst Sam was urging me to get ready for the climbing. However, instead of any owners arriving the dogs multiplied (like tribbles in thatStar Trek episode according to S. Williams) and now there was five beautiful dogs (Rusty, Oldie, Cheeky, Skinny and Ieper-Rusty). It soon became apparent that there was nobody in the vicinity claiming the dogs and instead we became the assumed owners, with many confused French families asking us whether they were our cheins or ordering us to control the cheins. We just shook our heads – not our dogs (but, oh did I wish they were).

On one hand, we could go climbing, on the other hand, we could try and solve the mystery of the ownerless dogs – no surprises at which option was chosen. Naturally, I saw this as my opportunity to adopt five dogs (if the owners never materialised) and have my own proper wolf pack at home. Now, I did hear my parents voice in my ears saying “You don’t even take Dozer and Dakota on their walks, what are you going to do with another 5 dogs?”. Admittedly I probably wouldn’t have upped the number of walks I attended but once I’d brought the dogs home, what could my parents do?? They’d fall in love and keep them, of course. Failing that, I would divide them up between my friends and we’d each have one beautiful dog. Eventually, after messages posted to the local offices the wayward dogs were finally claimed and I was especially sad to see them go. After performing a dance with the dogs on his arrival and letting us know he had 17 dogs in total, the crazy Frenchman took our new friends away. I think they were also sad to see us go, with Iper Rusty refusing to move from next to our van and having to be lifted into the SUV by their owner. So long friends. Then we did some climbing, it was not as good as playing with the dogs!

Sam and Ieper-Rusty
Oldie, Ieper-Rusty, Rusty and Cheeky

The next day was chores day and having just been to Lidl and put the laundry on Bethan felt the need for an urgent wee, and returned ashen-faced: “My UTI is back”. Thus began our Odyssey.

The next 22 hours were the worst and most expensive of the trip, with spirits starting high and ending very low. It may not have taken us 10 years to get home, but getting home certainly took 10 years from our lives. Long story short, I drove from Marseilles to Cambridge in one continuous over night push only stopping for the ferry and fuel a couple of times. Bethan couldn’t take the wheel since we’d have to stop so frequently for the toilet we would have still been in France now. We shortly swapped the non-toll roads for toll roads – only a braver soul than us could have traversed the country in one push on those roads!!! (Bethan here: I do not know how the French put up with these roads as the primary alternative to the toll roads, and then when you get on the toll roads they are not even lit up at night and cost a fortune. A complete and utter highway robbery.) The toll roads soon broke the bank (the prices we’d been quoted and reasoned were worth the 5 hour reduction in journey time were actually for cars not vans – blame it on being tired). We were further wounded by the last minute ferry booking being £100 more than what we’d edpected. Additional hiccups included not realising that the last ferry check in is a mere hour before sailing, so we only had 5 minutes leeway on the journey to make it, and we needed to refuel at long the way! Our debit cards got declined (we had run out of money) and resorting to Bethan’s ordinary card saved us once she remembered the PIN!

Psyched during the journey

Very early into the journey, we had had the amazing stupid idea to surprise everyone in Cambridge (since it was moving in week, we assumed our friends would be around) with an elaborate story of moving back to Cambridge for PhDs. However, ~19 hours later we turned up in Cambridge completely shattered and without a clue where anyone was or if they were actually even in Cambridge yet. We were saved by Jake, who offered us a drive to park on, a sofa to sit on and a shower to shower in. Legend. I do not think either of us have ever looked so haggard, not a triumphant return to Cambridge. It was incredibly surreal.

Meeting up with friends
and enemies

In the UK we slowly recovered, seeing friends and family (and despite grand plans of surprising everyone we knew with our return, we ultimately ended up with zero proper surprises – gutted), did a bit of climbing and made a few modifications to the van (Remy 3.0). Still adventure-hungry, and with just enough money left after our highway robbery, we booked a ferry to Santander, determined to get back out there… and you’ll have to read the next blog to see if that went smoothly (spoiler, of course it hasn’t!)

It’s not all bad being home!

Off Belay (quite literally, for a long time),

Sam and Bethan.

Please help us with crosswords again….

  • In a tearful manner (12)
  • Able to be defended (7)
  • Prejudiced towards one cause (8)
  • Make one’s own downfall inevitable (4, 4, 3, 5, 7)
  • Partial or complete darkness (6)
  • Military Vehicle (9, 7)
  • A foot of two long syllables (7)
  • Rough string cider (7)
  • Ecuadorian Nature Reserve (9, 7)

TV Recommendations: Welcome to Wrexham (Disney+).

2 responses to “The Highway Robbery”

  1. Crossword: sign your own death warrant, quite fitting from your favourite enemy 😉😉
    Niffy says hi, we miss you, loved seeing you both and H. Next time come back with more dogs but make sure you get the animal health certificates sorted 😉. xx

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