The darkness was now thick around us now. The campsite we thought was a quick 15km drive too, turned out to be not so easy to access, even though it was close the road quickly deteriorated and soon the tarmac disappear entirely, leaving instead dirt roads littered with pot holes and great channels carved by melted snow and ice. We crawled along and the distance in front of us that stretched away until our quick journey turned into a lifetime.
Eyes began to reflect our headlights, they stared into us before disappearing, sometimes turning back to look again, two yellow lights in a sea of black. I knew they were foxes or something else of the same innocent nature, but in my head, they morphed and grew into wolves and Blair Witches. The darkness began to press upon us. The headlights seemed to dim, shrinking the tiny amount of space we had. Two tiny lights fighting a losing battle against a world of darkness. All warmth for the day was gone, now it was cold, and honestly, I began to feel scared.
We started to climb and the quality of the road only worsened. The ground to our left fell away to a river that thundered below. I had no idea how far the drop was, it could have been a few meters, it could’ve been hundreds. We were so small, and so lost. The bottom of the car began to scrape on the ruts in the middle of the track. The noise competing with that of the wind that howled past our windows. Rocks bounced up, loudly clanging against the sump guard. I held the necklace around my neck.
Eventually, we decided to turn back, we had to have gone the wrong way at some point. During our descent we saw lights shining on the mountain opposite, we frantically searched for their source, for any kind of help. We were getting desperate, any sign of human life felt like a Godsend. It was while we were searching behind us that the Jeep emerged in front of us, temporarily blinding us – it hadn’t expected to find another car along the track at this time of night, especially not a poorly equipped Nissan Micra. The driver confirmed that we had been going the right way all along so we turned and followed them back up the track we had now driven twice.
When we reached the town of Juta, the passenger jumped out of his seat, “you drove up there in that?! You’re the other side of crazy!” Given the experience we had just had I couldn’t help but agree. Why, why, why had we not just stopped somewhere by the side of the road and camped there? Why was it so important that we reached this campsite? It wasn’t. Everything we had just endured could have easily been avoided if we’d just thought to stop. But we didn’t, and the campsite was further still up the mountain, we had to climb approximately five hundred meters to reach the summit. It was through the town that was sprawled across the mountain side. We got lost in the maze of pathways and houses, so again the short distance seemed to stretch out. When we finally neared the summit a water pipe turned on next to me. It roared and spluttered into life making me scream and drop the sleeping bag I was carrying. In a few seconds, it had rolled down what had taken me minutes of calf-burning climbing to reach.
When we finally reached the campsite, I threw all the stuff I had been carrying in my arms on the floor. Then I threw myself on the floor. I lay on my back with my eyes closed, thinking of everything that had gone to shit in the last couple of hours. The mountain air chilled the sweat on my forehead, making me open my eyes, and when I did, all the stars were out, the tiniest scrap of silver lining in a night of oppressive darkness.
But for as awful as the night before was, the morning was just as spectacular, I opened my tent and found myself in a different world, surrounded by snow-capped mountains with glaciers tucked into their ridges. Alpine grasses surrounded me and horses and cows moved through the meadows. Looking back I’m honestly not sure if it was worth it, but waking up to the surprise of that view went a long way in justifying everything that had happened that brought us up to that point.