this post, on the summit of Madeira's highest mountain, Pico Ruivo (6,109' or 1,862m) Rather than look back in wonder at the day, I thought I'd relive it.
It is midday. We have descended from our starting point and traversed a somewhat vertiginous path round the contour to a second peak. Mr B still looks as if he wonders what malign fate has brought him to this place, but in fact has not succumbed to vertigo or decrepitude and is in fact climbing calmly. We have been promised lunch on the top of this peak, but the top is hidden behind a lump of reddish tufa. Mr B and I are quite alone - Adriano is back there somewhere helping the Gasping Lady, and the others went ahead when I stopped for a pee. We are in full sun, with clouds hiding the valley below. Buzzards swirl overhead. I think they may know something.
The trouble is the steps. Steep, red, rough steps of varying height cut in the volcanic rock to make the climb, well, possible. But I think they were not cut with a short-arse in mind, and some of them are 18" high. Each step is a huge effort. I stop after about ten of them and realise that I am panting uncontrollably. However, I don't feel that there is much air going into my lungs. We are at over 6,000' and - as I learn later - there is 16% less oxygen than at sea level. If it was a path over which I could pick my way it wouldn't be so bad, but here we gain height in a relentless and speedy fashion which is ... challenging. I feel a pain in my chest, under where my camera is hanging - I haven't taken any photos for about half an hour. Maybe I am having a heart attack. Mr B points out that there is nowhere suitable to expire here. I shall have to die standing up. I reflect that this would be a worthy and heroic end, much to be preferred to rotting in a home. But I don't die, and we crawl on, not a moment too soon finding the place where we can sit on a rock and eat our pieces and boiled eggs and look at the clouds below - and have our photos taken by a leprechaun in a green semmit.
For the rest of the day I feel invincible. There is a magic in walking all day above the clouds, and at the end I abandon my pack for the final Pico and float up. (That's artistic licence, by the way) A wonderful day.
There are two literary references in this post. Go on - you know you can find them!