The final steep climb up to the 3726m summit of Mt Rinjani in Indonesia is relentless loose scree. I’m exhausted, desparately counting out slip-sliding steps upwards between rests. We left our crater rim camp at 3am, and have already climbed over 1000m. The summit is within sight, but I am doubting I can manage the remaining stony climb. As my friend passes me, she reaches into her pack and gives me her last five jelly beans. I eat them. Slowly. One brightly coloured sugar-laden jelly bean at a time.
My legs take hope, my confidence rebounds as much from Nicola’s words as from the glucose hit. My face lights up with a smile as big as as the dawn sunshine stretching across the sea towards Bali when I eventually stand on the rocky summit.
Long after we’d slid and walked back down that mountain, had left the island of Lombok and gone home, the memory of Nicola’s kindness remained. I always carry a small pack of jelly beans in my pack now, in case I need to give them to a fellow bushwalker in need.
Choosing a good hiking partner
Don’t go alone – it’s the first rule of bush walking that we learn. Walk in a group, with at least three to four people. But what if you don’t have anyone to walk with?
The internet is full of instructions on how to select the perfect hiking partner. Someone you know and trust. Must have supplies of emergency jelly beans, be very fit and always cheerful. Do not apply unless you have great technical skills, are a good conversationalist but also know when to shut up. The perfect partner must put the group first, share the load carrying gear and be quick to help with chores when making camp at night.
As the list of demands on this mythical mate gets lengthier, it is not surprising that few measure up, and some walkers consider a dog or going alone. You could join a club, where your abilities, and your gear, will be subject to concerned scrutiny before you can venture out.
Can strangers make good hiking partners?
I know my enjoyment of a walk, and my safety, is positively impacted by those who share the trail with me. But do we over-think the selection of our hiking partners? Recently I hiked the GR20, a challenging multi-day walk in Corsica. I went with my hand-picked mates from Sydney, people I’ve trained with extensively, who I know will have my back on an exposed rocky slab.
We walked the GR20 as part of a group guided by Exodus. We met the other members of the Exodus group for the first time soon after flying into Calvi. Some pensioners from England, a vegetarian from Singapore, a South African who was here to get fit. We sized them up over our first happy hour beers. Could they do the distance?
We had no need to be anxious. Strangers fast became friends. They named the unfamiliar European flora for us antipodeans, bought us French champagne at the refuges, and snored with us in mountain huts as tiny as a British potting shed. They raced us up hills, joined us in icy mountain pools and beat us at games of Petanque in the warm Mediterranean evening. The Singaporean Song Bird accompanied our manic mountain descents with a repertoire that stretched from glorious Italian opera to risque ditties. The South African doctor lightly danced across the rocks, effortlessly stylish despite days without a decent wash.
Our new Best Friends Forever defined my GR20 experience for me as much as the Corsican rocky path did. I only hope I was as good company as they were.
Be a good hiking partner
Oddly enough, while there is lots of prescriptive advice on how to assess a companion to join you on the track, Google is silent on how to actually be a good walking friend. Should we instead redirect that check list of questions for selecting our hiking partners back at ourselves? Instead of exclusivity, should we be more open to the serendipitous magic of strangers sharing our adventures, and aim to give more jelly beans than we get?
Are you a good hiking partner?