Finding closure above the clouds

I did not learn of my grandad’s passing until three days after it had happened. It was my own fault I guess, setting off to remote places knowing he was not in the best condition. A mix of guilt and regret were the first things I felt; then came the sadness and the thought that I could have been there. I could have visited and seen him once more, but at the time the idea of going on a hike around Mont Blanc seemed far more exciting than spending a couple of days with my grandparents in Spain. I wrote him a letter two days before leaving, telling him that I knew we would be doing this trip together if he was my age. I said I could not wait to be back and recount to him my adventures on the trail and show him all the pictures. I wanted to show him who I have become and what I am capable of now. And so I set off on a ten-day hike around the highest mountain in Western Europe, carrying everything I would need during the 170 km trek in a backpack. Across France, Italy and Switzerland, I hiked up wild mountains, crossed peaceful prairies, walked through green valleys and slept before ageless glaciers. I had never hiked for so long before, let alone planned a trip of such grand scale or camped at a different spot every night. Trying to picture the full distance your feet have taken you is really hard to process. To look into the horizon and clearly see the point where you came from that morning, far, far away. To know that you have crossed countries by no other means than your legs—no cars, buses or trains required... On the first day, as the hours went by and I was still going uphill, I did wonder why on earth I was there, putting myself in so much discomfort and pain. My legs hurt from carrying a big backpack for so long, I sweated all day and the trail was pretty challenging—but it was so beautiful. The views kept me in awe and the fact that it comes completely down to you, and you alone, to be standing in that exact spot, is truly mind-blowing. It is not only about the views though, there is a special aspect in the walking itself. Trekking is so different from everyday life, when you can just put off what you have to do for an uncertain amount of time. Or sometimes you are working, but it doesn’t feel like anything is being achieved. When it comes to a long trail there is no opportunity to procrastinate and it is beautiful. Whilst hiking I never stood in the exact same spot, and even if I did not reach my destination, I would still be so far off the point where I was standing that morning, always moving forward. There was a certain conflicting sense of progress on this route—every step takes you further from the start point, but as you walk away and move forwards you also come closer to the beginning of the trail again. The best way I can try to explain it is like drawing a circle, looking for closure, and coming back to the beginning. I found my grandad again in a warm Italian sunset. My emotions were up and down, as if their only duty was to echo the pattern of the path I was walking on. Slowly it felt like I was back in Spain, watching the sun go down from the terrace, with him by my side cracking almonds open. For a second I could even hear the sound the shells made as they broke; then I was back in Italy, certain that I had been next to him on that mild summer evening. I know my being there would not have changed the outcome of things, but I still wish I could have sat next to him and watched the moon rise into the night sky together one last time. I did not expect my journey to be an emotional one so much as a physical one when I set off, but it turned out to be so. I may not have been in Spain with him, but in a sense he was trekking with me.

Carolina Kyllmann