The Hardest Word

One of my earliest childhood memories was when I was caught munching on a chocolate bar that I shouldn’t have been. It’s not that I wasn’t allowed chocolate. My mother, in her inquisitive ’20 questions’ though, determined that I actually lifted the chocolate bar from the store we visited earlier that day. In fact, it only took two questions. “Where did you get that bar?” and “How did you pay for it?” This was my first clue in my early life that I did not possess the artful skill of deception. I have known since that I am a lousy liar and ought not to ever put myself in a position where that might seem like an option. Without hesitation, she grabbed the bar and marched me “by the ear” back to the store where I had to make a very public apology to the store clerk. It was incredibly difficult to mutter the words “I’m sorry”.


Why is saying sorry so hard? To begin with, you are admitting you were wrong. Surely we all know though, as humans, we are not perfect, and make errors in judgement from time to time. Yet there is something in all of us that prevents us from remembering this fact and it makes it so much harder to make that admission of fallibility. We do not want to be seen as flawed or immoral. It is embarrassing and shameful to expose our dark side, though it is present in everyone.


It is not just the likes of Tiger Woods who needs to say sorry for past indiscretions, institutions have plenty of apologies to make too. When the Pope can’t apologize for obvious sins of the past, what example is he setting? Corporations have plenty to be sorry about too. United Airlines couldn’t say sorry to a musician when they destroyed his $3,000 guitar. It cost them much more than that when he wrote a song that went viral on YouTube. Has Union Carbide (or Dow Chemical who subsequently acquired UC) ever said sorry to the people of Bhopal? I am pretty sure suing women activists from Bhopal who demonstrated and demanded help to clean up the toxic pollution that still covers their community is not an apology. There really are too many examples of WHAT NOT to do when a corporate entity needs to apologize to list here.


Michael McCain the CEO of Maple Leaf Foods re-wrote the textbook of WHAT to do when people were getting sick and dying from tainted meat. He appeared immediately in front of the cameras, before speaking to lawyers, accountants and Public Relations, to take full responsibility, communicate what was being done and … to express regrets. This was no Oscar performance, you could tell by the way he looked he was genuinely distraught. Since then, Maple Leaf has recovered and trust has been regained from people who previously bought their products.


Without sincere apologies, there is no going forward. You are blocked from any success or progress you seek, whether it is in a business or personal relationship, or peace amongst groups of people.


In 2010 I went to the Parihaka Peace Festival at the base of the stunning Mount Taranaki on the western shore of New Zealand. It is mostly a music festival, but it is in the heart of the Taranaki region of Maori country. The Taranaki region is significant because it was the only Maori region that did not sign the treaty the British imposed on the Maori when they ‘settled’ New Zealand over 150 years ago.


For some reason, New Zealand was the last island settled by European marauders. They knew it was there. The French even planted a flag and remained on a tiny peninsula off the South Island. It wasn’t until the British finally arrived and decided that the South Pacific paradise was fine place to farm that Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud, became New Zealand. They promised the Maori their resources and land would be protected from those nasty French who were soon to follow. Though most Maori tribes saw little choice, the Taranaki Maori would have none of it and waged a different way to fight, a non-violent active resistance. They destroyed survey pegs, blocked road construction and ploughed confiscated lands. When the British got fed up, they waged war on them.   Soon enough Parihaka was destroyed and two million acres of land mass was confiscated and given or sold to settlers while Parihaka men were sent to prisons in the South for their belligerence. In 2010, it was the 150th anniversary of that war, and all the sins that typically happen in war. The Taranaki Maori are still bitter, yet want peace and perhaps most importantly, peace-of-mind.


There were workshops at the festival as well and one of them was an entertaining debate on the question “After 150 years, is peace still achievable?” Members of the audience voted the outcome by physically moving to the side after each debater presented their case, which made it interactive and fun. Someone made the point that peace is a ‘state of mind’ and can only come with forgiveness. The counter point was forgiveness can only come if someone asks for it.


After the debate, the audience could ask a question or make a 30 second statement. Many voiced their opinions but it was a decidedly white Scottish man with flaming red hair who moved the audience the most. He prefaced what he said with “though I was not here at the time, on behalf of my forefathers who came here and confiscated your land and brought injustices to your people …” tears welling, voice breaking … “I’m sorry”. This sincere apology was immediately met with a very appreciative and audible murmur of “tena koa”, which means “I hear (or see) you”. It was a powerful moment indeed.


At the most basic level, it is what the Taranaki Maoris want more than anything – a sincere apology from the government. Until then, they will not have peace within themselves and the tensions will continue. It seems so simple, yet so hard to do. Where is the mother of the Prime Minister of New Zealand? It is a comical thought but I can see my mother grabbing him by the ear and hauling him down to Parihaka to tell him to apologize. “Right now”!  


My mother passed away last summer. Obviously I was saddened by her death but it was also a relief she was no longer suffering from the cruel fate of Alzheimer’s. One does not die from Alzheimer disease. The fact is, an accident happened at the care facility she was staying at that resulted in massive internal bleeding and bruising on her body. It caused a stroke that no longer left her with the ability to swallow. She could not be fed intravenously so after ten days, she finally succumbed.


Tragedy enough, but more so considering the long-term care facility did not acknowledge the accident at first. Only until it was proven through persistent questioning and third party opinions, did they confess to how the accident happened. An explanation that was false and misleading. Though an apology came with the confession, it was made to mitigate whatever pending legal measures our family might take. It was an infuriating process for me. If they had quickly taken responsibility for the mistake, explained what measures they were taking to prevent it from happening again – and sincerely said sorry, that would have been the end of it for me. Instead, their denial and subsequent cover-up made a painful situation much worse. My mother deserved much more.


So do the citizens of Bhopal, the Maoris and other native groups around the Globe. When we are wrong, we need to find the courage to say “I am sorry”. And then hope the transgressed have the courage to forgive. Only then, can you both move on.

Facing Our Contradictions

I have been tuned in to contradictions recently. They seem to be everywhere.  For example, I saw an ad on a bulletin board announcing a gardening workshop on planting wildflowers.  Er, how are they wild if we are planting them?  I saw a bumper sticker on the back of a Chrysler that said “Lost your job yet?  Buy a Foreign Car.”  It was parked outside a “big box” store with a solid reputation of their stuff being made elsewhere.  Good chance the gas in the car was foreign too.  A few summers ago, my daughter Alannah and I traveled through British Columbia.  One of our stops was the small idyllic village of Tofino.  We returned home to discover Tofino had run out of water.  Startling for any community but more so considering Tofino is in the middle of the rainforest.  Running out of water in the rainforest is a disturbing contradiction. 


After some honest deliberation, I realized I live with plenty of contradictions myself.  We just built an uber energy efficient and environmentally-friendly straw-bale home.  In the back yard you will find our new electricity-gulping hot tub.  Luckily, our new neighbours in Eden Mills, a small village that’s aiming to be the first carbon-neutral community in North America, are forgiving.  They welcome us with wine, and bring along their bathing suits.  We have a share in a bio-dynamic farm which provides not just organic, but local food.  It tastes especially good with a bold Malbec from Argentina.  I eat good food because good health is important to me.  So is bliss.  Like, when I down a cold beer after a good run.  Like, after a long day canoeing when I’m on a rock warmed by the late day sun beside a calm lake, smoking a cigar.  Like, when I finish a tub of Coffee Haagen Daz before you can say “oh, did you want some?”   Even my values contradict themselves!  Health and Bliss debate daily.  If there is something consistent with me, it’s the fact I can contradict myself at any moment, like I just did in one sentence.


Corporations and lobby groups can be masters of spin and contradiction too.  Clean Coal?  I don’t think so.  How about that tired ol’ chestnut “Our people are our biggest asset” — that is, until we discard them like used kleenex when we catch a fiscal cold.  Laying off people and cutting “discretionary” spending (like training and development) is the first thing to happen in every recession.  I take little comfort with history repeating itself.  In good times, we will defend the virtues of capitalism and the survival of the fittest.  Free market capitalism has become a contradiction when our governments are free to spend taxpayers dollars to subsidize industries that are free to externalize their costs of running their businesses that ultimately citizens pay for. Quite a matrix of contradictions exist everywhere. 

Here’s the rub:  just because I know life is complicated and contradictions exist, does not mean I have to take comfort in them. Fully acknowledging the complexities and vagaries of daily life, I know part of life is to face my contradictions and work out that tension to overcome quandaries.  It is a process that leads to innovation.  Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management writes in his book The Opposable Mind, “We were born with an opposable mind we can use to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension.  We can use that tension to think our way through to a new and superior idea.”  What I am really advocating is for us to keep aware of what is happening, not turning away from the destructive patterns that we can avoid, drawing upon our courage to innovate or at least attempt alternative measures that bring more honour to our “most important assets” and our environment. 


While bail-outs may pacify us in the short-term, innovation is the balm for the long-term.  Begin by forgetting everything you “know” or think you know.  I am not suggesting “unlearning” is easy as our challenges are immense and will be more profound as the days pass.  All the more reason to seriously examine alternatives to make our way through them and move forward – in courage.


Why Travel?

No sooner than two days after arriving back from Patagonia, a good friend of mine here in the village sent out an email to his list, asking us to sign a petition he signed pledging not to fly for “recreation” in 2014. I hardly had my laundry done and was just starting to organize my photos. Talk about buzz kill. My first reaction was confusion. Glenn has been asking me to talk about my trips at our community hall, and now he’s telling me not to go anywhere? And please, define “recreation”. There’s plenty to unpack here.

To begin with …

A little context is required. Glenn is a self-professed doomsayer when it comes to our global climate change issues. He believes it’s way too late for us to do much about the mess we’re in, and the fact that precious few seem to care, he’s pretty sure we’re toast. Glenn and his wife are also among the most intelligent, articulate and well-informed people I know. There’s nothing worse than having reality shoved in your face by people that know what they’re talking about. They started (with some others) the Eden Mills Going Carbon-Neutral initiative here in the village, they built their own energy efficient strawbale home and they live very simply. Because they lead by example, I have a lot of respect for Glenn, for what he has done, but also because he’s outspoken – he’s not shy about telling it like it is.

And on most points, I don’t disagree with him. I too am frustrated by the despondency, and lack of will to meet the climate challenges facing us all. I too have built a strawbale home, drive hybrid cars, created a company and spoke to advocate for organizational sustainability, am concious about the food we eat and all our purchase decisions. My wife and I now sell ourselves as “green realtors”. So, I get it. And yet I travel to far flung places.


How can I live with myself?

Most of us are pretty good at rationalizing our contradictions and can get defensive faster than you can untag yourself on Facebook. I will acknowledge right away, that I live with contradictions. You know that strawbale house I was talking about? It has an electricity gulping hot tub out back. We belong to a biodynamic Community Supported Agriculture farm that provides us with local and delicious organic food. We often enjoy it with Argentinian Malbec. Both health and bliss are fundamental values of mine. They debate daily. It’s hard to stay ‘in shape’ when you can’t find the off-switch while enjoying a delicious meal.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” - Walt Whitman

The point is, we all live with contradictions. They become part of everyday life from “planting wildflowers” to believing in “clean coal” to subsidizing industry in our “free-market economy”. Life’s a bit complicated, which opens the door to rationalize.


What exactly is recreation anyway?

Glenn and his wife fly too, and live with other contradictions. I can only guess they “rationalize” their flights because their flights are not recreational, but have purpose. Fair enough. I like to think my travel has purpose too. I fly to far away places to learn more about our world to help me make more sense of it. One could easily argue that I don’t really need to go to, say, Easter Island, Mexico, Rome to learn how civilizations did themselves in.


There are plenty of spectacular images online of Iceland, Patagonia and New Zealand – does one really need to go there to appreciate the raw beauty of nature? For me, the answer is emphatically YES.


I used to own an experiential learning company. The basic premise of the organization was to expand on what we “know” intellectually or academically, to learn more deeply through an emotional “experience”. Lasting change happens on an emotional level, not an intellectual one. For me, to set foot upon nature is viscerally and profoundly important. I also want to think that by sharing what I learn through speaking and/or writing inspires others to either think more critically or to go themselves. I believe those that want to save the world, savour the world, and you do that best by experiencing it first hand. By travel.

Another friend of mine was incredulous by a posting that encouraged people to travel to see the top 11 destinations in the world that will be most affected by climate change. Hurry, before it’s too late. The contradiction was palpable. I do postulate however, if more people did go to these places, the more they’d be incented to preserve them.

Of course, it’s not that simple. It’s too easy to judge others and what they deem recreational. Is going to a resort to lie on a beach purposeful? It is to many who live in Northern climates and are stressed with life. Is traveling to new countries so you can put a pin on a map justifiable? I find it bewildering how quick we admire people who have been to so many places, yet when you ask them about a place, they have so little to say – especially about what it meant to them. I know of a person in Portland, whose objective was to see every country in a year. Really?

“I don’t travel to collect stamps in my passport, I travel to have experiences stamped on my memory”.

In contrast, I met another Portlandian in Patagonia who quit her high paying job to spend six months in South America to learn Spanish and re-boot her life to something that’s more in line with her values. Christina is having her memory stamped – the rest of us can be inspired by her courage.

Nobody wants to be a tourist, the guy with the funny hat and loud shirt, jumping off the bus to take snapshots of each other in front of something. We all want to be travellers (or even “pilgrims”), and go on “adventures” – the most overused word in travel. I don’t believe every trip you take needs to be a pilrimage and I’m trying to be more tolerant of those who find the need to go to Disneyland, but let’s acknowledge, there’s a profound difference and it’s hard for travellers to have a lot of respect for tourists.

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”  Paul Theroux

I’m not sure if “recreational” travel is the problem to begin with? The US Dept. of Transportation says that 40% of people jumping on planes are doing it for business. As someone who has done most of my flying “on business”, most of it was not necessary. I used to jump on planes to sell video conferencing! To Glenn’s point and the real purpose of the pledge, travel is banal for too many people on planes, and we should think twice. And then think again.

So think about it, why do you travel? Sometimes the real purpose of our journey isn’t truly revealed until it’s over. I’m paraphrasing from a movie called 180° South. It’s inspired by the journey Yvon Choinard (founder of the clothing company Patagonia) took with his climbing buddies back in the day. I heard him speak in Britain a while ago and have long been inspired by him, his business practices and his philosophy. It’s partly why I felt the need to visit Patagonia – before it’s too late.

Patagonia is one of the last accessible nowhere lands on the planet. After Antarctica and Greenland, the Southern Ice Field in Patagonia is the world’s third most important reserve of fresh water. On this wilderness of glaciers and mountains, companies are primed, and supported by the Chilean government, to raise seven massive dams connected to a 70-meter-high transmission line with more than 5000 transmission towers to transport power 2400 kms away to Santiago. The line would require one of the world’s biggest clear-cuts, a 120-meter-wide corridor through ancient forests—fragmenting ecosystems, and blighting the magnificent views.


The movie suggests that Patagonia is the last wild place on Earth. Catchy, but not true. In my country, Canada, there are many similar wild places and we face the same challenges of development as mining companies lick their chops with opportunities being born from climate change. The Northwest passage is melting, providing new shipping channels for all that copper, oil and gas. The Canadian Arctic is a “minefield of opportunity”. Pipelines that cut through the Rockies will deliver oil to energy hungry China. The Great Bear Rainforest be damned, there’s serious money to be made. The Peel River watershed in the Yukon is the source of so many major rivers in the Yukon and Northern British Columbia, that acclaimed Canadian anthropologist and author Wade Davis calls it the Serengeti of the North.

It’s true, these are far away places – or are they? If you are a bonafide traveller, you know they are not that far away at all. And when you wake up to the tragedy of it all, you begin to see more clearly what’s happening in your own backyard. And trust me, the same thing is happening in your own backyard.

As for Glenn and his no-fly pledge, he was dismayed when the originators of the social media pledge had subsequently invited him to join 6,000 others in Johannesburg, South Africa for the “Climate Reality Project”. No contradiction there.

Coming Home to Carnage

ImageAfter spending three weeks of hiking (135km in total) in the spectacular Patagonian landscape, traveling when my body said eat and eating when my body said sleep, getting up early daily to lurch from one must-see destination to another, and then spending over 17 hours sitting next to a guy on the plane half my size but seemingly requiring twice the space – I was a bit crispy by the time I got home. My wife was traveling elsewhere, so no one was here to greet me, but a friend did pick me up at the airport (past midnight) to provide door-to-door service on a wet slushy night in Toronto.

Coming home after a big trip has always been a bit tenuous for me. I’m happy at home and happy to come home from being away, but I struggle with the instant nostalgia of where I’ve been. The contrast of leaving sunny and hot Buenos Aires and arriving in damp grey Toronto wasn’t helping. My friend told me about the freezing rain in the forecast. Nice.

With my lower lip protruding, I headed to bed. My own bed. Not a lumpy bed that isn’t long enough for my frame, in a crappy and noisy hostel. My own bed, my own pillow, in my own (quiet) neighbourhood. Needless-to-say, I fell into slumber pretty quickly.

ImageAnd then it began. CRACK. At 4am it started. Trees and tree limbs were starting to fall. I got up to take a look but couldn’t see anything. Despite being woken up a number of times, I decided to stay in bed until I could at least see what was going on. I did manage to sleep in but decided to get up when I heard knocking at the door. A group of neighbours were walking around clearing branches from driveways and checking in on people. This, my friends, is community. This is Eden Mills. In future blogs you’ll get to know this place more, and why after a spectacular three weeks AWAY, coming home – even to an empty house – is good too.

The day was a rough one. Still in somewhat of a haze and not too “steady on my feet”, I wandered around my property taking stock of the carnage. And the freezing rain continued to fall, and so did the trees. The miraculous part was my car, nor any of my sheds got crunched, though downed cedars surrounded them. The power was out for two days – and we were lucky. Many parts of the city of Toronto were out for over a week. It’s tough cooking Christmas dinner without power.

Getting back home is always rough, but on this trip, rough was redefined.


What Will Your Legacy Be?

If not for wonder

If not for reverence

If not for love

Why have me come here?


My sister and her husband had to endure the worst nightmare that any parent can imagine, the death of one’s child.  Christopher was my 22 year old nephew when he died suddenly of heart failure. The tragedy was obviously a jolt that rocked the family, and Christopher’s community of friends.  When tragedy strikes, an opportunity presents itself to reflect and be more consciously grateful for your friends and family – especially your kids.

I used to think when my kids were growing up there were few generational differences between us. At least, not as big a chasm as my father and I.  As a parent, we also want to think that we’re leaving a positive imprint, or legacy for our kids. It’s not natural for us to think that our kids are forming their own legacy. One thing is certain, there probably isn’t any other place or time than at a funeral that we understand more clearly what legacy is all about. The important question to ask is, do I want to be remembered by my accomplishments, or by who I was?


Not long before Christopher’s passing, I went as a chaperone to Italy with my daughter Margaret (just a couple of years younger than Christopher) on a high school trip. It was on this trip that I started giving legacy more attention. You can’t really help it when you’re in a place like Italy but I’m kind of embarrassed to admit, I had never before been really conscious of the legacy the Italians and Romans had on our daily lives – from the food we eat, to the scientific discoveries, to the breathtaking art and architecture.  This personal awakening got me thinking about what conditions must have existed for the genius of Michelangelo, Raphael, Dante, Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci among many others in the Renaissance to emerge.

The conditions could not have been easy.  The un-kept and un-social Michelangelo was constantly in conflict with the Pope while painting the Sistine Chapel.  His rival Leonardo da Vinci continuously created controversy in the church with his art and his “inappropriate” behavior.  Galileo rocked the Catholic Church by insisting the world was not the centre of the universe and was persecuted for it.  One thing was common.  They rocked the boat big time.  They did not conform to authority.  They showed us that the very act of discovery implies questioning what you already know and separating yourself from conventional thought.  What exactly would happen when one sailed perpendicular to the shore?  No one knew for sure until Christopher Columbus tried it.


I was compelled to think about who is sailing perpendicular to shore in our times? Will the boomer generation who has not been able to unlearn quickly enough listen to those with less experience?  Where does our collective wisdom lie?  No doubt, we could use remarkably brilliant minds that rock the boat, who share their knowledge or their genius without first considering their “cut” of the proceeds.  It might imply though that I need to be as brilliant as da Vinci in order to have an impact in this world.  Not so.  It was very evident to me that remarkable ingenuity existed everywhere – from the creation of cement which we cannot match in quality today to the transportation of vast amounts of clean drinking water.

ImageOn our final full day in Rome, our group agreed to meet at the Piazza di Spagna before breaking off into smaller groups for personal discovery (or shopping for some).   I got to the Spanish Steps a bit early to give my throbbing feet a rest.  It was a beautiful day, and with the magnificent view of Holy City of Rome in front of me, I reflected on the bustle of activity.  I looked around and noticed youth all around the large Piazza.  The contrast of that youthful energy with the ancient surroundings was not lost on me.  I wondered how many millions of people would had gathered on the Spanish Steps with their future ahead of them like Margaret’s class.

ImageOur young people are looked upon by many in the boomer generation as lazy, lacking in ambition and apathetic to history and the big issues out there.  As our 70 year old guide Alfonzo took us through Pompeii – I can tell you these kids were anything but despondent. We misconstrue a lack of ambition with the rejection of institutions and corporate life that young people see creating an unholy mess that they will be left to clean up.  They are the ones raising their voices, rocking the boat, trying to stir the rest of us from our complacency, as older generations repeat what the Roman Empire did to themselves.  I wonder if the Michelangelos of our day will be the ones who show us how to save us from ourselves.

ImageMargaret’s classmates started to converge around the fountain at the bottom of the steps and we started taking many playful group photos.  I didn’t realize it until later but the fountain, La Barcaccia created by Bernini in 1629, is in the shape of a boat.  Somewhere in that crowd, perhaps around this fountain, there are future leaders that will rock the boat like those Italian masters and challenge dominant institutions and their authoritarian leaders to help change the fortune of our time. Perhaps the legacy of our younger generation will be more about who they are, instead of what they have done.  It is our youth that gives me hope.

That hope was present at Christopher’s funeral. I found it interesting how much easier it seemed for his generation to grieve openly and to express and articulate their feelings so well.  My generation did very well at maintaining our composure.  The impact Christopher had on the people who knew him, especially the youth who filled the chapel, was clear. It has been seven years now since that dreadful day, and the Italian eatery he was a cook at, still honours him every year with a fundraising event for the University of Ottawa’s Heart Institute. No small irony, Christopher’s dream was to be a cardiologist.  He was however, an over-educated quick-witted cook who filled many hearts with much love, laughter and companionship.  The simple truth is, Christopher had been a cardiologist all along – and to those youth who knew him, it is a legacy no less important than Michelangelo’s.


Chistopher Kennaway

July 12, 1984 – January 24, 2007

W is for Wow

The W hike in Torres del Paine Chile – Day 4


My feet were so sore in the morning, I could hardly stand. I shuffled off to the rest room and wondered if I could actually finish this hike. It was a short 11km day to Grey Glacier so I did my best to wander around the campsite until I could get my screaming tendons warmed up. The wind was present, though nothing like the day before and clouds were forming but the odd shaft of light broke through. Once again, a rain free day!


The hike to Grey Glacier is mostly an uphill climb, but again, not too onerous. That doesn’t mean the heart isn’t pounding hard this morning, enough to get my body warmed up quickly. Knowing it’s going to be a relatively short day helps a lot.


The final destination offers a lookout that will be with me for a long time. I’m a long way from Torres del Paine’s largest glacier but because I have a lofty view from across the lake, it really shows off just how large it is – 270 sq. km and 28km long. I’m astounded by how much ice there is here, and think more about how much there was. Like all of Torres del Paine glaciers, this one and most others on our planet, are retreating. I’m starting to understand, in more than a visceral way, why we should be worried about these glaciers disappearing. When I read about sea levels rising, I find it hard to imagine the problem given the immensity of our oceans, but when you see glaciers like this, it makes it real.


After heading back for lunch, we had a scenic boat ride on Lago Pehoe to the bus back to Puerto Natales. No one said much, on the boat, or on the bus. Some fell asleep from the physical toll, but most of us looked out the window. There was a lot to see, but if others were like me, we were deep in reflection from an incredible four days of diverse flora and fauna and ridiculously spectacular landscapes. I feel fortunate to have done it. 



Blown Away

The W hike in Torres del Paine Chile – Day 3



I kept hearing and reading about the outrageous winds in Patagonia, but so far for the first two days on this hike, there has been hardly a breath. That all changed today. In fact, nobody slept in our dorm at the refugio because we were all pretty confident we were going to end up in a heap of rubble by the morning.I got up at daybreak and found a few people in the kitchen area watching the wall of windows heave in and out. Thought maybe it might not be the best place to stand.

ImageThat glass-like glacier lake we’ve been walking beside for the past two days is now kicking up water and producing waves like a mid-Atlantic Nor-Easter. Yet, it’s crystal clear sunny. Where I come from, big winds bring a big change of weather – but not here. It’s obviously cooler with the wind but it’s still brilliant outside.

Today’s leg is the longest at 26km. We move up the French Valley (the middle of the W) and then down to refugio Acampar Paine Grande. There is an uphill component to get to the French Valley, but the overall hike is much like the previous day – just much longer. And with the wind, it will make this a very long day. It could be worse though, it could be raining … so once again, I’m grateful.

As soon as we pass the Italian campground we make our way up the Valley. The wind is ridiculous. Two of us have been knocked to the ground, one comically against a bush, the other was “the crazy lady” who faceplanted and broke her camera on the rocks. It’s still not as bad as an alpine hike I did on the Routeburn track in New Zealand a few years ago. They didn’t let people go one direction that day, and for good reason. I got knocked to the ground twice and there were many points where I could have literally fallen off the mountain. Not here, despite being knocked around there was little chance of a free fall off a steep precipice and getting splattered against a sharp rocky shore.

Regardless, it’s making the hike quite difficult – and we’ve only just begun. The only refuge of the day was  where we stopped for lunch. It was stunning. With the bright sun beaming down on me, lying on a large flat rock beside a fast-flowing glacial river with a steep mountainside with snow-capped glaciers on one side, and the majestic horns on the other. I could have stayed there the rest of the day.


But we had a long way to go to reach the refugio. Descending the hill we had just climbed offered beautiful long views of the lake and the horns. When we reached the Italian camp I felt done for the day, but we had another eight kilometers to go. It would have been a relatively easy walk, but as it was fairly open, the wind was continuously knocking us off balance. It took a lot more energy than I had and my dogs were killing me.


The site of the refugio was a sight for sore eyes (and feet). This is when group travel is a bonus. We arrived with our tents already set up. We basically dumped our stuff, had a quick change of clothes and made our way to the bar for some pisco sours and a nice cold beer. After filling my belly, I went straight to the tent, put my earplugs in so I couldn’t hear the howling wind and had an epic sleep. This, my friends, was a good day.