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IFSA Adventure Weekend: Adrenaline in the Mountains

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Let me preface this article by saying that I’m not the adventurous type. I’m not even athletic. I reserve the deepest loathing for PE classes and gym shorts, and the most intense game I’ve played recently has been chess. That being said, two weeks ago, I strapped myself to a steel cable and scaled a mountain side.

Every spring, IFSA organizes Adventure Weekend– an all-inclusive weekend retreat in the Lake District: a green paradise in northern England with lush green hills and bubbling creeks that swim into glassy blue lakes. Students are given their pick of activities that range from relaxing – sightseeing and literary tours – to exciting – hiking, archery, canoeing, dragon boating – to the truly adventurous – mountain biking, ghyll scrambling, and a Via Ferrata. I considered skipping the trip altogether, but hey, it was free (transport, lodging, food, activities all included) and I’m studying abroad, enabling me to reinvent myself away from my normal life. Maybe I was feeling particularly bold or maybe there’s just something in the English air, but I impulsively chose adrenaline and adventure with Via Ferrata.

Via Ferrata takes place high in the air. It is a technique developed by the Italian army during World War I. Strapped to a mountain precipice using harnesses and ropes, soldiers shot arrows into the attacking Austrian army. A century after the War, Via Ferrata is now a thriving sport, and on a foggy English morning in March with about 15 other IFSA students, I strapped on a blue harness and a white helmet, and descended a rocky mountain with trembling icy fingers and a clenched stomach. When I looked down, past the rods beneath my feet, past the jutting rocks and tufts of green, down into the narrow gully between the mountains and into the crevasses, I shook in my boots. If I slipped, I would go tumbling down for yards before my harness jolted and dashed me against the mountain. The other IFSA students appeared to be doing fine, and I wondered whether they were as scared as I was, and whether I looked as calm as they did. “I’ve never done anything like this before. Ever.” I said to the boy in front of me. Never have I been so aware of my fragility in this body of muscle and bones.

After 30 minutes of grappling up and down the mountain face, the routine changed. We were now to cross a wire bridge, clumsy circus performers on a wobbly line, sliding one foot ahead of another, breath bated, harnesses strapped, elbows tucked. The fog had thickened and gathered around us, hiding sky and earth alike, and in the middle of the trapezium bridge, I let out a single whoop that echoed among the hidden mountains.

I am not an adventurer. But I am 22 and studying abroad in England, in a country that I had only ever dreamed about. I am not an adventurer, but I didn’t need to be. “I haven’t done this before either” the boy replied. “I read books, not climb mountains.” We made it though, and climbed all the way to the top of the snow speckled mountains and threw gritty snowballs into the air.