Hello again! It’s time for round two on adventures with Joel, this time writing from the Heathrow Airport! I’m currently on a very roundabout (cheap flights y’all) itinerary that will end at a Bavarian festival. In this post, we’re going to check out the Scottish highlands.
First off though, as an aside, I want to say how AWESOME my flatmates are. You see, my flat has twelve people living in it. Yes, TWELVE! Our kitchen has three fridges and two cooking ranges. Initially, I was a bit nervous to live with so many people, but I was also definitely excited. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I thought there was a possibility that all twelve people would be exchange students and I would get to live with a lot of people from diverse cultures. Well, my wish was sort of granted. While only a handful of my flatmates are exchange students, almost all of them are international, and most of them are freshers (first-year university students)! The following countries are represented: Bulgaria, Germany, England, Scotland, Oman, Syria, Taiwan, China, Canada, and of course the USA. Needless to say, there’s a lot of “Hey, do you have an X I can borrow? A what?? An X. What the heck is that?!?” followed by a description of what an X is, which then is usually followed up with a “Ohhh, yeah we call that Y!”.
I love that even though everyone is from such diverse parts of the world, we all respect each other and appreciate each other’s food, beliefs, ways of speaking, and cultures. I came to study abroad to immerse myself in other cultures, and living with a load of international students has been a very interesting ride so far!
I’ll also mention that I’ve had some messy roommates in my life and I expected our kitchen to be a bio-hazard zone, but it’s been pretty okay so far. I guess if you’re willing to move halfway across the world alone at 18, you’ve already learned how to clean up after yourself!
Okay, on to the adventure-y bit.
Let’s set the stage.
What a view! I’m on a two-night camping trip in Glencoe with the Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club. We arrived late on a rainy Friday night to set up camp in the dark. The tent next to ours forgot their poles, so we crammed another person into our tent, wrapping our packs in trash bags in a vain attempt to keep our stuff dry. We wake up early, eat a few hard-boiled eggs, and head to the trailhead. Here’s our camp:
“So the group that’s doing the walk over here, and the group that’s doing the …Aonach Eagach… over here. I’m no weekend warrior, so I go with the big boy group.
(I did look up the Aonach Eagach beforehand and read a few lines like “When I started Munro bagging I swore to myself I would never do this scramble” and “there are no other ridges in the area that are ‘so narrow and so difficult to escape from once committed’ ”. Yikes!)
We proceed to haul our cramped bodies up 953 m (3,127 ft) of slippery rocks and at some points actual streams of water to quickly realize that a peak on a ridgeline is just about the WORST place to be if you want protection from chilling wind and spitting rain. Okay no big deal, I found a really good raincoat second-hand, have my waterproof pants, and brought plenty of layers.
A quick snack break later, we set off to scramble the length of the ridge. Keyword: scramble. This was not a hike. This was a scramble. And we quickly saw just why the Aonach Eagach has such a fearsome reputation.
Yep, that’s the trail. This section is aptly named the “Crazy Pinnacles”. You really don’t want to slip.
Lucky for us, we were under the guidance of some very experienced mountaineers from the club (Please don’t try something like this without guidance and preparation!). We all moved very slowly, with careful motions and lots of looking ahead to plan the route. After a few hours of painstaking progress, our whole group made it off the mountain unscathed except for the normal cuts, bruises, and cold noses. Whew!
Looking back, I’m proud that I was able to overcome my fear and tackle something that I didn’t think I could. The above picture looks pretty insane, but if you go slowly, keep a cool head, and have an experienced person along to help, I think scrambling the Aonach Eagach is perfectly attainable for anyone in decent shape. One thing that surprised me was the pure level of focus everyone maintained for the duration of the scramble. When a misplaced foot or hand on a slippery rock means a decidedly unpleasant fall, you really make sure you’re confident in every step.
While a scramble in the Scottish Highlands might look very different from a classroom or office, I think that things I learned about myself apply directly to things like pursuing relationships and a fulfilling career path. The truth is, lots of things in life are scary. Taking that first calculus class freshman year is terrifying. Your first job interview is terrifying. Your first job interview for a “real” job is even scarier. Asking your crush out can seem like a Herculean task. Balancing a social life, a high academic workload at a university like UT, planning your career, and trying to eat something other than ramen every once in a while is probably a good bit more overwhelming than the Aonach Eagach.
Here’s the really cool part: With every mountain that you climb, with every task you accomplish, you get closer to achieving what you’re really capable of. And every goal will seem ten times harder than the last, but that’s the beauty of it. As you push yourself farther and farther outside of your comfort zone, you prepare yourself for whatever obstacle the world can throw at you next. Personally, studying abroad and traveling internationally felt like big challenges for me to accept, but having done so, I am amazed at how my view of the world has changed and how many incredible sights and people I’ve been able to meet. As with the scramble, I think the hardest part is believing in yourself enough to try. If you can keep making slow progress forward, taking it one step at a time, before you know it you’re on the top of the mountain.
Hook ‘em from Scotland y’all!!
This post was contributed by Joel Swiatek, a 2018 Global Ambassador. Joel is a Computer Science major, studying at the University of Edinburgh.
Don’t get left behind. Read more about Joel’s time in Edinburgh>>
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