Yes, yes, they fucking can. Because I’m a perimenopausal woman and I’ve just done exactly that…. climbed a big fuck off mountain.
Apologies for the swearing, I usually wait at least a few paragraphs before letting rip. But this is a huge deal. Not just for me, and I don’t want to get above my station and everything, but this is a huge deal to perimenopausal womenkind too. Because this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that regardless of the hormonal hell that gets thrown at us, us women are capable of incredible things.
My Hiking Adventure In The Italian Alps
So yeah, I climbed a mountain. And I’m not talking some massive metaphorical thing, I climbed an actual real-life mountain. Three days of hiking through the Gran Paradiso National Park in the Italian Alps, with an average daily mileage of 10 miles, you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t such a big deal. But throw in elevations of up to 1228m (that’s over 4000ft in old speak) whilst carrying a 50-litre backpack absolutely rammed to the rafters with kit, suddenly it’s looking more impressive, right!?!
I went with a couple of friends (a husband and wife) and we made up part of a 12-person group, 9 of whom we had never met before. Which is scary in itself, especially for an overthinker like me. I mean what if they’re all younger than us, fitter than us, or worst of all what if they’re complete dicks! And then there’s the fact that it’s me, going on holiday with my married couple mates. Christ, what are people going to think… that I’ve got marital problems because my husband hasn’t come, or that I’m in some weird throuple wife swap sex fetish thing!! Like seriously now Bex, stop with the overthinking!
The original itinerary involved ascending the Col Rosset, however Italy has had an unusual amount of rain for this time, which meant the snow at the top of the mountains hadn’t melted enough for it to be deemed safe enough for us to pass through. So, instead the itinerary went like this:
Day 1 – Start in Pravieux and hike up the eastern side of the valley to Rifugio Chabod. Continue below Moncorvè peak and stop for lunch at Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II (2719m). The last leg of the trail takes you to Rifugio Tetras Lyre (1996m), where we spend the night.
Day 2 – Follow the Savara River across alpine pastures before arriving at the lakes in the Col Nivolet Plateau. Descend to Pont Valsavarenche before a short drive to the village of Thumel where you will hike to Rifugio Benevolo and spend the night.
Day 3 – Hike up to Goletta Lake, at the foot of the Goletta Glacier. Stop for lunch at Rifugio Benevolo and then trek back to Thumel before being picked up and taken to Turin airport.
Difficult to really get a sense of what these places are unless you Google them to be honest, I’d certainly never heard of them beforehand. If I was to sum up each day by the landscape however, it would be:
Day 1 – Stark, rocky boulders. The most challenging of the 3 days – both in terms of distance and height.
Day 2 – Lush alpine meadows filled with carpets of wildflowers, wildlife and waterfalls everywhere.
Day 3 – A bit of everything – glacial lakes, snow, rivers, waterfalls, meadows. The shortest hike of the weekend, but by that point we were all knackered!
A really great mix of terrains, challenging enough without sending me to absolute breaking point (although arguably it got pretty close), and organised really well.
It was booked through the travel adventure company Much Better Adventures – not an ad, not gifted to me, just found, booked and paid for out of my own pocket as a birthday celebration for my mate and as a bucket list, I’ve always fancied doing it, kind of thing for me. Described as mountain hut to hut trekking, the epic adventure involved lots of challenging hikes across varying terrain and staying overnight at mountain Rifugios (refuges). Our guides, Nadia and her boyfriend Matteo, were brilliant. They know the mountains like the back of their hands and also somehow managed to work out timings that were pretty much to the second. If you ever get lost on a mountain, these are the guys you’d want to find you!
And I needn’t have worried about the group dynamics, we were good. A diverse mix of ages, backgrounds, male to female ratio was pretty much balanced, meant we had plenty to talk about. Plus let’s face it, if you go on a holiday like this it’s fairly safe to assume you like hiking and the outdoors, so we always had that in common.
Fitness wise, I reckon I hovered around the middle. Some parts of the day I was near the front, others I was much nearer the back. But as the weekend went on, I came to realise that actually hanging towards the back was a good thing. It meant I could take my time and enjoy the surroundings, stopping to take photos or just simply to look at things, that when I was at the front powering on through I was missing. Above anything else this weekend gave me a chance to slow down, to spend some time with myself in my head, to prove to myself that I am way tougher than I give myself credit, and to also show myself that I get the greatest sense of achievement when I do the things that scare me most. Whether that be as trivial as traveling without my husband and having to be the one in charge of passports and money (a small thing, but it’s something he usually does), meeting, spending time, and sharing rooms with complete strangers, not knowing whether we’ll get on, but doing it anyway, right through to conquering mountains across difficult terrain, carrying a heavy as fuck bag. I did that. Me, Bex Stafferton, little Miss Awkward, who fucking overthinks everything, and constantly worries what if. I did that!
Did Perimenopause Hold Me Back?
For the most part, no. I had a base level of fitness already from all the walking and running I do at home, so the endurance side of things wasn’t so much an issue. The elevation, certainly to that degree, wasn’t something I had experience of and there were times when we were really high up that I experienced mild problems with altitude sickness – dizziness and slight nausea – but nothing major. But perimenopause… nope, didn’t affect my ability in the slightest. In fact, despite taking my HRT gel with me, there was one night I didn’t use it – you try finding somewhere private to slather gel on your thighs in a cramped dormitory full of people! It’s not easy, I can tell you. And there was a bit of me that started to worry about missing a night. I’ve done it at home before and it’s sent me into a right old spin. There’s a teeny tiny chance it may have upped my anxiety on that last day. But no, it wasn’t perimenopause that fucked me over, it was something else.
As I’ve mentioned more than once, I am a massive overthinker. And one of the unwelcome side effects of being a massive overthinker, is the inability to calm the fuck down and switch off when sleeping somewhere other than my own bed. It is very annoying. At home, I can be out for the count within literal seconds of my head hitting the pillow, it’s one of my superhero skills. Yet, put me somewhere different, even if it’s in a nice hotel, which is what we stayed in on the first night of the trip, suddenly my brain pings into hyper vigilant alert mode. And that is exactly what happened. So, not only did this perimenopausal woman climb a mountain, she also did it on 3 day’s worth of no sleep. And when I say no sleep, I literally mean NO sleep.
Days 1 and 2 I scraped by relatively unscathed. Sure, I felt tired but the adrenaline and excitement of what I was doing was enough to carry me through. The scenery was spectacular, the group were chatty and getting on with one another, and it was totally living up to the adventure I had hoped for. But Jesus Christ, come day 3, I was hanging out of my own arsehole. The lack of sleep had well and truly taken its toll. Plus let’s just throw an unplanned period into the mix as well, because that’s exactly what this girl needed right now! I’d already had 2 periods this month, so I was certain I was in the clear. Fortunately, I had the good sense to pack some sanitary products, because I am totally a ‘just in case’ person, so I was covered in that department. I can only think that missing a night of Oestrogel threw my system out a bit and prompted a mid-cycle bleed. I’ve also found this happens when I overexert myself on the old exercise front, and this was definitely over exertion to the extreme. So yeah, day 3… the arrival of a period, forgotten HRT gel smearage, and 3 nights of no sleep. The result? Me having a mild panic attack at the bottom of the mountain as I struggled to get to grips with how the fuck I was going to get through what should have been the easiest hike of the weekend. Tears were shed, wobbles were had, and of course a few expletives left my grumpy grimaced mouth. Thankfully I have a friend who is the bestest of the best, and she came back down the mountain, took charge of my over tired toddler tantrum, insisted she carried my rucksack while force feeding me energy gel and ordering me to lock up my negative thoughts in a box and throw away the key. Like I said, she’s the best. 15 minutes later, I’m good as gold. OK, slightly less shiny than gold, maybe more Elizabeth Duke silver, but I’m back in the room and I’m ‘powering’ (trudging) up that mountain.
Highlights Of The Weekend
Oh my god, so many highlights. These are the ones I’ve managed to narrow it down to:
- Marmots – Had never even heard of these furry critters before. Basically, a small beaver-like creature that lives on the mountain, they pop up like whack-a-moles in the alpine meadows. Super cute and super distracting when you’re flagging.
- Boulder Scrambling – Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have to say this was probably my favourite part of the hike. Slightly scary in parts, definite risk of injury, but anything that involves feeling like a big kid and I am all over that shit. Thankfully no injuries other than 1 person grazing their leg and my mate losing her water bottle down a crevice. RIP water bottle.
- Snow – It’s still a novelty, even when we occasionally get it here in the UK. But can you imagine the delight of a bunch of Australians to which snow is probably rarer than rocking horse shit!?! It sent them absolutely feral on the day that I was, let’s just say, up for no tomfoolery. Regardless, snow will always put a smile on my face.
- Mountain Air – The freshest air you will ever breathe. Every lungful felt as though I was being cleansed from the inside out. You haven’t ever breathed fresh air unless you’ve breathed mountain air. FACT.
- No Blisters – How I managed to avoid getting blisters, I still don’t know. But I did. It made the whole weekend way easier than it could have done and it meant it was one less thing to worry about.
- Walking Poles – A bloody god send! I borrowed a pair from a mate (bottle of Italian wine winging its way to you!) and I honestly don’t think I’d have been able to do it without them. When your legs are tired, having that 3rd and 4th point of contact on the ground, is the reassurance you need to keep on going.
- Shots – If in doubt, shot it out I say. Downing shots of Jägar and Limoncello al fresco in the mountains – priceless. The hope was that it would send me to sleep. Sadly not, but fun times none the less!
- Rifugios – I never did backpacking as a student, but this felt like a kind of middle-aged version. And whilst I wouldn’t want a whole week of it, and I didn’t sleep well (not through any lack of comfiness of the beds might I add), 3 days of roughing it in shared dorms felt exciting and liberating.
So yeah, although I answered the question right at the very start of this post, perimenopausal women like myself can 100% climb mountains. After all, we climb them every bloody day if you think about it. It’s tough, but then so are we. A little bit of self-belief goes a long way, and sometimes if you want something bad enough you’ve just got to go out and fucking get it. It’s given me a taste of adventure, it’s filled me with a shit tonne of self-confidence, it’s shown that me that even when shit gets tough I keep on going, and I tell you what, if I can climb a fucking big ass mountain, I can deal with anything that the perimenopause has got to throw at me. So, bring it the fuck on!