Sunday, 6 October 2013

Climbing a Mountain (The Hard Way)

I do not know whether it is because I am a writer, but recently my life has been taking on elements of the novels that I write. Namely, it seems to contain much more drama than is necessary. I could go into a lengthy discussion of the age old argument of life reflecting art, but instead, I will talk about my recent expedition to the top of Mount Snowdon.

As is usual with this sort of activity, I left all of the planning to my wife, Katie (minus 5 man points). The summit can be approached by several tracks (the Pyg, Miner's and Llanberis tracks), but Katie decided on the most difficult - the Snowdon Horseshoe. With no climbing/scrambling experience, we should not really have attempted this route, but that is my wife for you.

People who had previously scaled the summit had warned me that it can get very cold up there and we planned accordingly. At the start of the climb I was wearing a warm base layer under my fleece, a pair of leggings under my trousers, hat, gloves and full body waterproofs. The thick mist smothering the base of the mountain suggested that all of this was necessary too. With so many layers, I was bound to sweat profusely, so I also filled my extra large backpack with 4.5 litres of water.

The beginning of the track was steep and despite the cold, after just ten mins we were soaking in our own sweat. The only way to cool down was to strip back the layers, so into my backpack they went. It was a tight squeeze, but I managed to get everything in (although my sandwiches got considerably squashed).

We then carried on up the path until we came to the first fork in the road. We had the choice to take the easier Pyg Track or to begin the steep ascent up towards Crib Goch. I gave Katie one last chance to change her mind, but Crib Goch it was. After a few mins of following a steep, grassy trail, we came to an almost sheer cliff face.

We checked our instructions and they stated that we should 'follow the track up'. The problem was that we could no longer distinguish a track. Some more people had joined us at this point (Aussies or Kiwis - it has been so long I can barely tell the accents apart now) and they were equally confused. We tried making our way around at several different points, but each led to a dead end. It was at that point that we were joined by a group of British girls who unlike everybody else, had followed this route previously.

'Which way?' I asked.

'Up,' came the reply.

It was at that point that I realised that we would be literally climbing a mountain. Feeling nervous about supporting the weight of my fully laden backpack, I followed the girls as they climbed what seemed to me like an almost vertical ascent. All the way I tried my best not to look down. After about ten minutes of climbing, I began to notice that the fog had dissipated. We now had the sun shining directly upon us. It was only when I stopped on a small ledge for a break that I realised that the fog had not really dissipated. We had merely climbed above it. It turns out that the fog was actually a cloud.

We were high. Very high. The fact that I could not see exactly how far away the ground was did not help either. I tried to tell myself that we were only twenty feet up and the cloud was actually a covering of snow. This did not work for one very simple reason - I knew that I was lying. I wanted to give up (minus 25 man points), but going down looked a lot steeper and therefore a lot scarier. I had no choice but to continue upwards (regained 20 man points).

The view at the top was incredible. Words could not do it justice, so it is highly convenient that I can instead show you a photo (left). At just over 3,000ft we were only at a tenth the height of Mt Everest, but just to put that into a more useful perspective - we were as high as 3 Eiffell Towers! If it were not for the clouds shielding me from the true tower of the path ahead, I may have had to call Mountain Rescue. Rather than show my fear, I volunteered myself to lead the way for Katie across the infamous 'Knife Edge' (plus 25 man points).

Some people would walk across the top of the ridge, but some people are just insane. With a sheer drop of 3,999ft on the right, I decided to cross on the left side of the ridge. It began easily enough, but soon started to become tricky. This was mostly due to the fact that every so often, I had no option, but to look down. When we were at the halfway point and I found a flat enough platform to stand upright, Katie noticed that I was suffering from what is known as 'jelly legs'.

'Perhaps, I should lead the way,' she said.

'Okay, Pet,' I replied. 'I love you.'  (minus 25 man points).

After about fifty or so metres of traversing much steeper rock, I noticed a rather unpleasant consequence of what we were doing. I was wearing my wedding ring and it was taking a battering on the sharp, exposed rock. Not wishing to damage it any further, I quickly removed it and placed it in my pocket. It was only a moment later when I was at the most perilous part of the climb that something struck me. Don't worry, it was not a rock. It was instead a terrifying thought. Was removing my wedding ring bad luck? Ridiculous, I know, but that was not the worst of it. If you remember, my last words to Katie had been 'I love you.' In literary terms this was not so much a bad portent as inescapable fate. I was going to die on the mountain!

Ignoring my very precarious footing, I briefly let go of my hand hold in order to fumble about in my pocket to get the ring back. Once it was safely on my finger, I called out to Katie.

'I'm going to die on this mountain!'

This may seem rather alarmist, but I had my reasons for saying this and no, it was not just to scare Katie. Statistically speaking, the odds of an unqualified climber falling to their death on a mountain could be quite high, but the odds of somebody correctly predicting their own death from a freak accident has to be astronomical. (Using absurdly impossible logic to justify my actions - +30 man points). Just a short while later, we were both safely across the knife edge.

From that point on, the rest of the trail should have been easy, but for the two of us at least, it was about to get a lot more difficult than we could have imagined. By this point, we were both a little tired of rock climbing, so when we saw what appeared to be a clearly marked trail to the left of the next rock face, we followed it.

If you look at the photograph on the left, you can see that I have added two lines. The black is the route that hikers are supposed to take. It starts off rocky, but soon levels out onto a flat plateau with unparalleled views of the surrounding national park. The red line represents the route that we took. The trail we were following soon disappeared and the mountainside got very steep very quickly. Unlike on the other climbs, the terrain was now composed of loose shingle and was extremely dangerous. My initial reaction was one of panic and I foolishly ignored Katie's advice to climb upwards and began sliding downwards on my bum! (minus 30 man points)

It did not take long before I came to the conclusion that this was a stupid idea. The problem was that at this point I was committed and turning back was impossible. As was continuing the ridiculous plan of sliding down. We had no choice but to climb this non designated and highly dangerous mountainside. At times I wanted to cry and at times I wanted to vomit with the sheer effort of it, but in order to stay strong for Katie, I kept this to myself this time (plus 10 man points). It took a lot of effort and an even greater amount of concentration, but we eventually made it to safety, joining the Pyg Track just as it started its steepest ascent (plus 25 man points).

Having survived such an obvious near death experience, I did what any man would in that situation. I texted my mates to tell them all about it (+30 man points). Amazed not only to be alive, but also to have full mobile reception at the top of a mountain, I then decided to call my Mum and tell her all about it (minus 100 man points).
Once I had reassured my Mum that I would never be so foolish as to attempt something so stupid ever again, we made the final climb to the summit of Mt Snowdon. Suffice to say, it had all been worth it. I had made it to the summit of the highest mountain in England and Wales and took time to enjoy the view (plus 20 man points).

The horseshoe track carried on over and down another mountain, but after our diversion, I thought that we had more than earned our mountain climbing stripes. We took the Pyg Track back to the car park. This may seem like taking the easy way out, but it was still a steep descent and there was an easier option should we have felt so inclined. With some cold ginger beers waiting back at the car, I hurried down the track, sometimes leaving Katie trailing far behind, but always being chivalrous and waiting for her when I noticed this (plus 25 man points).

For those who have been counting, you will see that I gained 175 man points and lost 175 man points, meaning that the climb was man-neutral. However, it did not take long for me to break the promise that I made to my Mum. Just 3 days later, Katie and I went canyoning. We slid down steep white water slopes, abseiled over a waterfall and leapt 20ft off a sheer cliff face into a deep freshwater pool (plus 500 man points).

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

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