The View From The Top
The week building up to the climb had mostly been spent nervously looking at weather reports. The conditions in the mountains, never mind in Wales, are about as consistent as the English football team, so trying to work out what we might be facing was almost impossible. To crampon or not to crampon, that was the question. A question that wasn’t really answered until for many it was too late.
I rolled out of my bunk bed on Sunday morning, drew back the curtains and was confronted by a picturesque vision of snow capped peaks, clear deep blue sky and the remnant reddish hue of sunrise. I opened the window, took a deep breath of crisp mountain air and thought… I wish i’d brought my shorts…..
I was the first person out of the thirteen staying in the house we had rented to rise, however after crashing and banging my way down the stairs and filling the house with the smell of bacon I wasn’t alone for long. The alarm had been set for 2 hours before kick off but there was a lot of admin to get through before the climb. Preparations commenced with coffee and a trip to the toilet in order to unload any extra weight that wouldn’t be required up the mountain. This was followed by having my left knee and ankle strapped to provide some extra support and hopefully minimise the chance of an untimely twist or sprain. Ceri was my physio at Wasps for two years and as i sat there watching him tape me up a sense of anticipation was building; it felt like game day all over again. A mix of excitement and tension was in the air, I had been dreaming of this day for six months and here it was. To say I wasn’t nervous would be a lie; the truth is that I hadn’t even covered half of the distance that was about to be attempted up to this point so there was a huge amount of uncertainty involved. Behind the smile I had piled a lot of pressure on myself. I wasn’t out here just giving it a go on my own, I was doing this for everyone who had supported me along the way and for everyone else who might be able to use this story for motivation in the future… failure was not an option.
Before we set off from the meeting point in the car park at the bottom of the Llanberis path, I turned and looked back to see the best part of seventy people about to head off up the mountain with us. Although i knew there was going to be quite a few people making the trip, to see everyone in person, all there to accomplish something together was amazing, ridiculous, but amazing. I quickly addressed the group thanking them for coming, telling them to go at their own pace and ignore me stopping to wee every 20 minutes, after which we were off.
The first part of the climb is a tarmac road and although steep the surface and a lot of adrenaline allowed me to set off at a decent pace, and by decent I mean ‘too fast’. By the time we had reached the ‘path proper’ and only 1km in to the climb everyone was already dreaming of a lie down and a mars bar. Luckily after a less than casual start we were now into the fields and off the tarmac so the pace naturally slowed as I began to navigate my way across the stones. The group began to spread out as some of the fitter members surged on ahead whilst others dropped back and took their time. I knew that if I was going to make it to the top I would have to go at my own pace, one foot in front of the other, concentrating on every step. Every few hundred metres I would stop for a break from looking at my feet and take in the view. The sun highlighted the surrounding peaks which rose to meet the small cotton bud like clouds that had begun to bubble up. To the North you could see the Menai strait and across to Anglesea, to the South Snowdon was now looming large.
The first sign that things were about to get more serious was when we reached the snow line. We had covered 3 miles already and although i was hardly cruising it, i felt good and was keen to not waste any time getting to the top. Someone had told me that getting from town to the summit in three hours was good going so naturally i couldn’t get that out of my head, and at this point we were still on track to do just that. Where the snow and ice started happened to coincide with the last stop of the Snowdon Mountain Railway. The queue to get down from the mountain was surprisingly large for the time of day and after chatting to a few people we found out why. Apparently the paths to the top were proving pretty treacherous due to compact snow and ice and the official message was that it was inadvisable to continue without crampons. This combined with a -12 wind chill and the option of a quick warm ride to the bottom was proving too tempting for some people and many turned back. Fortunately one of my friends had picked me some snow studs up the day before and after a few hundred metres of my best bambi on ice impression we decided to give them a go. Safe to say they saved the day and along with my spiked walking sticks i was now leaving children in trainers in my wake…. The smugness soon wore off when i realised that a tiring hip flexor combined with a left to right camber and feet now covered in spikes was making it almost impossible to clear my left leg. There was no clever technique that was going to bail me out, the only way i was getting through this final mile was with sheer grit and determination as i was effectively going to have to single leg squat my way to the top.
After a couple of hundred meters the path narrowed, the wind picked up and my bladder took the executive decision that we were going no further until he was emptied. The problem i have is that even though it has improved, my bladder still holds all the cards. When it decides its time (which is quite often) it offers me a few minutes to casually make my way to a toilette before it sends my tone through the roof and eventually takes the decision out of my hands. The result was me stood on the edge of the path staring down an almost vertical drop with Hilly (luckily the strongest person i know) holding me by the rucksack as i threw caution to the wind…. I can confirm it was -12…👀🐛
Despite the temperature having significantly dropped you may have noticed that i still only had a t-shirt on. I notoriously struggle from overheating since the accident due to a combination of my temperature regulation going a bit awry and an inability to sweat from the chest down. People were looking at me like i might have a screw loose but when i put my jumper on i genuinely had to take it off within minutes, so despite the smuggling peanut look, for now it was staying in the bag.
I heard the summit before i saw it. A whoop came out of the mist in front of me as one of the group spotted my unmistakable and now very tired gait rounding the final corner. This whoop was soon followed by ‘where the hell have you been’ and ‘what took you so long’… yep some of my really funny mates were clearly already up there as well…..🙄Those of you that have been up Snowdon will know that the summit is situated on a large rocky outcrop reached by a flight of stairs. It must have been very confusing for everyone to see this rocky outcrop covered with people, all cheering on some idiot in a t-shirt walking like a pirate but fair play most of them just joined in.
Ten steps to go and all i could think was how funny it would be if i just jogged to the top and shouted April fools. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case, besides i think if it was a joke my family may have thrown me off the top of the mountain so it’s probably for the best. I took the final step, collapsed down and planted a big kiss on the trigpoint before looking up to be greeted by smiling faces, hip flasks, glasses of champagne and a bottle of cider… Im not sure what it says about my friends that everyone had just filled their bags with alcohol but i gladly obliged and joined them with a well earned celebratory drink.
I was confident that i would get to the top but i wasn’t sure what my reaction would be when i got there. It wasn’t until i turned to Lois that it all hit home. I looked at her and i knew this wasn’t just about climbing a mountain. All of a sudden i was back in intensive care promising it would be ok but not really believing it. Spending night after night motionless, contemplating what i had done to our life. I thought i had lost it all and now i was stood on a mountain with my future wife, a load of friends and a bottle of cider…. life was well and truly back on track.
After photos, a strip tease from Pete and a few more swigs from hip flasks… I fell over… Im not sure if it was the altitude, the alcohol, or Pete’s italian muscles which did it but it was quite amusing that my only real tumble came whilst i was stood still on top of the mountain. I was dragged to my feet chuckling (an indication that the cider had gone straight to my head) and we begun our descent.
By the time we rolled back into town a lot of the others had decided to also limp around and groan, i assume to show solidarity which was nice of them… Either way it looked like a zombie apocalypse had just entered Llanberis, to the point that i half expected the pub to board its windows up as we approached. Fortunately they didn’t and finally a sit down and that beer i had been dreaming of materialised. 7 hours, 10 miles, 5,938 kcal, 452 wees and it was done.
In all honesty for two days i felt like i had been hit by a train. I loved it. Maybe it’s ingrained in me from rugby but i enjoy pain when i’ve earned it. I know some of you may find that weird but i bet just as many of you know exactly what im talking about. You have to ask yourself why your body rewards you with endorphins after you put it through hell? Maybe it’s the way that your mind shows you that nothing in life is for free, it’s way of saying that to succeed you might have to suffer.
Well we’ve all done our fair bit of suffering over the last 12 months…. Standing on top of Snowdon wasn’t just a test of physical endurance, it represented the culmination of countless hours of effort from more people than i can possibly thank. From the surgeon who saved my life to the nurses who made hospital feel like home. From my mates who became physios to my physios who became mates. From Lois and my family to the countless others i have got to know along the way. We started climbing this mountain together a year ago and on Sunday we reached the top….. Unfortunately for you i’ve already found another one…
Everyone has their own mountains to climb in life. Sometimes you find yourself stood at the bottom facing up at the seemingly impossible and a lot of the time you cant even see the end. Don’t give up. Put one foot in front of the other and start walking. Don’t worry where you’ve been or how far you have to go, just keep going. It will all make sense when you see the view from the top.
Hope everyone had a great Easter
P.s. A massive thank you to everyone who has donated and helped us raise a huge amount of money for charity. I will be closing the account on monday so if you haven’t done so and would like to donate, please follow the link below.