The Big Feature: Getting High.
It’s hard work, it’s legal and it’s every bit as addictive as the title might lead you to expect. Dave Anderson and friends discuss what draws them to the mountains.
7.00am at 1,980m in the Italian Dolomites. Dragon breath steams out of my mouth on every outward breath, but I’m toughing it out in T-shirt, shorts and sandals because it’s our summer holiday and that is correct summer attire. The Italians clad in fleece and down as they head off to the toilets disagree. As I wait for the Jetboil to perform its morning coffee duties I keep scanning over the Dolomitic spires of the Sass Dlacia, watching the progress of the morning sun, waiting for it to crest the mountains that form a panorama around our campsite and bring the day’s heat with it.
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I rounded off my singletrack search with a series of solo overnight bikepacking trips into the national park. Sometimes the paths I followed were so sublime they might have been crafted by the finest Welsh trailbuilders. They wended their way through the magical queñoal forests of the high Andes, a reddish tree whose flaky bark, aside from reminding me of a mille-feuilles in the finest French bakery, serves to trap heat at such extremes in altitude. At other times, I hauled my bike up ferociously steep piles of rock or dragged it across thigh-high rivers in search of the prize. Shepherds tending their livestock would gaze upon my struggles and quiz me over my reasons for being in the Cordillera Blanca. ‘I’m looking for chacinani,’ I’d say in broken Spanish, watching as their eyes lit up at the word. Despite the best efforts of Columbus and his crew in 1492, Quechua remains the first language of Peru’s mountain people. ‘Chacinani‘, they’d repeat with a broad smile, adding yet more creases to their dark, leathery faces. Then they’d tip their hats, bid me safe travels… and point me on towards distant trails.