As any pundit will tell you its a game of two halves and today was no exception. Namely up and down. Both had their benefits and drawbacks and it really sorts out the optimists from the pessimists. The case for going up can be made two ways: firstly, it's exciting to be heading somewhere you haven't been, it's easy to keep your footing, your full of energy, there's less impact on your joints and the views are only going to get better. Alternatively, your heading somewhere you don't know - are you lost?, it's easy to keep your footing now but will you be able to get back down?, your energy is running out, it's less impact on the joints but by god do the muscles hurt and your going to realise that the views just aren't worth it. Similarly for the way down we have in the optimists well lit corner an upbeat sergeant major telling us that we've almost completed the day, every step is taking you closer to home, the worst is over, it's almost impossible to get lost as you've been this way before, your bag is lighter as you have eaten lunch and soon your going to be allowed to open up a whole box of yeah ha's and high fives to celebrate your achievement. Meanwhile in the shady confines of the pessimists corner to no-where a reedy voice counters that we've been beating our heads against a brick wall so that we can celebrate when we stop - smart, really smart, the worst is yet to come when your legs stiffen up, you may not think you're lost but don't count your chickens most accidents happen on the way down, you've eaten lunch so your low on supplies and soon your going to be subjected to the humiliating ritual of self-congratulation that accompanies any sort of home coming. I firmly maintain that climbing mountains is simply a state of mind, it's either all good or it's going to be a very long day indeed. You may have guessed by now that today's walk wasn't exactly on the flat but our guide book had some useful tips to get us through the day. "Dehydration is no fun" - no argument there "...scale down on four points of contact, i.e. two feet and two hands" - good job they specified which points to go for, I was thinking of a more twister style one foot, one ear, one elbow and one body part of your choice "if you suffer any pain or discomfort during the trek, please let your leader know" - I think we managed this one with flying colours.
Enough generalities, down to the details of the day which for us started rather rudely with an alarm ringing at 5.45am, holiday? The start of the walk was joyfully flat but it was a luxury which wasn't going to last long. Once it started the climb was relentless, with only the barest downhill slope for 100 meters for the entire day. The rest was steep wet limestone covered in tangled roots. In my diary I have written: "Path - steep gnarly" which sums it up. On some of the steeper sections there were fixed ropes in place to haul yourself up ("see I told you, how are you ever going to get down there?" - a whisper from the dark corner). Every 100 meters there was a marker to mock your feeble progress but given the heat and the terrain it was impossible to make haste and even at our modest pace there were a few slips and scrapes ("Only 2.4km, nothing to it, chop chop!" - a certain bullishly healthy sergeant major). To hinder our progress some more the final 350 meters became a scramble aided by in place ladders, rungs and shaky metal struts over various drops. Coupled with wet slippy ropes to hang onto and you had to wonder if they were deliberately trying to give the pessimists more ammunition. One moment of concern arose when we had to squeeze through a small gap in the rock and with Wesley's large frame and well supplied bag we were close to a man down situation.
With the dramas over we emerged onto a rock ledge in the sunshine ("Well done team, you've made it!" "Your only half way and most accidents....") with our view of the bizarre limestone formations known as the pinnacles. These massive shards of limestone sticking out of the ground make razor like structures covering the entire valley surrounded by jungle. As well as the view I also looked forward to lunch and was even more pleased to see Eleanor pull out some chocolate she had sneaked into her rucksack earlier - at least it wasn't in mine! Out of the canopy of the jungle we were baked in the sunshine and in accordance with our guide book avoided the negative fun by drinking lots of fluids, although this did mean several visits to the 'happy tree' on the way down to avoid 'sad trousers'. Talking of the way down we couldn't stay at the top all night so soon we were making our way down. The first 350 meters were the assault course we had just come up and the rest of the trail was treacherously slippy ("Every step closer to home!") going down was at least as slow as the way up, which had taken 4.5 hours for 2.4km - not quite Naithsmiths rule of thumb. Again the 100 meter markers taunted our progress ("Runners do that it in less than ten seconds you know") but step by step by slip we made our way down back to our hut and the river. Soon we were splashing around in the cool water to wash away the sweat and grim. On the way down Siam had weaved a reed crown for Wesley who wore it almost as proudly as the look of relief he was back safe and sound. After swimming we had a short power nap before celebrating with the same dodgy local beer as yesterday and headed to bed. As a quick straw pole to gauge the swing of optimists to pessimists in the group I asked what people though of the walk. Rich thought it was "torturous", Steve was more upbeat with "good fun" and finally Eleanor typically hedged her bets with "ok"