As previously mentioned, I’ve always wanted to be a writer and, unlike a lot of stuff I’ve always wanted to do, I haven’t always forgotten to do it.
Are you there God, it’s me Emma.
Recounting the tale of his experiences on the Suila Grande in ‘Touching the Void’, Joe Simpson states that (despite having endured a Catholic childhood) it never once occurred to him to pray as he lay fighting for his life and clutching that cut piece of rope. The rope that had once anchored him to his climbing buddy and friend Simon Yates. A remarkable admission given that he then spent the next three days clawing himself out of a cravasse and then down the unforgiving mountain with methods that varied between falling and throwing himself down. He cites it now as one of the many reasons he knows that he does not believe in God. It simply just did not occur to him.
I mention it here now as, following my experiences in Snowdonia this week, I must confess (yes Maddox, puns are always intended) that I found myself hoping there was a God as I made my way down a mountain alone and in the dark; and that He wasn’t too miffed about my silence all these years.
The trip had been planned as a way of me testing myself before my trek up Kilimanjaro but also to help plan a practice expedition before February. Everything from accommodation and food to what route would work best as a test but also a realistic goal for our largely inexperienced group of climbers.
I spent two days in Snowdonia National Park, staying in the idyllic village of Betws-Y-Coed and chose the Pyg Track route up over the Watkins or Miners due to weather and time. I packed a rucksack, planned my route and took all the advice of those who introduced me to the joys of climbing as well as all those guide books. I felt prepared.
So how did I go from that to being alone in the dark?
I don’t have much in common with Chris McCandless or Aron Ralston except a love of the outdoors and a penchant for my own company but that is where I would have ended the comparison before this week. Now, unfortunately, I share one further characteristic. Going out into the wild alone and slightly unprepared based on the assumption that either years spent in that environment or simply enough of a love of it, equal immunity to any sort of danger.
I took every measure I could to ensure my safety as I traversed Snowdon alone on Monday, including a maddening decision to turn back with only a hundred or so meters to go as the weather rolled in (being passed by people in t shirts and trainers as well!) I took this decision despite not being tired as there was not enough time to go before the alarm to turn back went off on my phone.
Yes, I took lots of precautions while on the mountain but for some reason, known only to the furthest recesses of my mind, I neglected to plan beyond getting back to Pen Y Pass YHA. Or rather I neglected to plan a contingency for the sketch plan not working out.
As I approached the YHA with approximately half an hour to go before the last Sherpa service was due to arrive, it did occur to me that there might be some discrepancy between the timetable and the actual time of arrival but not that it wouldn’t turn up. Which is of course what happened. Or rather it did turn up but drove straight past without checking if the three walkers standing by the bus stop were in need of the service back to any of the three villages listed on the front. My own destination being the furthest away. Disaster. There I am, standing at the foot of one mountain with the prospect of having to climb another to get home.
A few phone calls later and a discussion between the other stranded parties revealed that the bus would return approximately an hour later but there was no guarantee that it would return me where I needed to go. There was only one thing for it; I was going to have to walk.
There are few things in this world that fill me with dread but being found in a ditch as the result of an ill advised walk home is one of them. I could just see the ‘oh the irony’ headlines now. There was nothing else I could realistically do though so at approximately 6pm, I began my eight mile (no Eminem music though, sadly) hike back through the valleys with what I estimated to be just an hour and a half of daylight left.
So, ipod in, hat on, ‘boy’ walk set (Ok, so maybe a bit of Eminem) and not for the first time in my life, I had a friend sing to me on that mountain. The only difference this time being that instead of being by my side, he was on my ipod. Either way, encouraging me to put one foot in front of the other foot. At first it was a pleasant ‘march’ through what is undeniably a beautiful landscape. The drama of the peak I had climbed earlier that day mixed with the now dwindling daylight and up beat soundtrack made for a fairly pleasant few miles. So long as I made it to Capel Curig before complete darkness I’d be ok.
Thankfully, I did. Although darkness beat me to it by about half a mile. After what felt like much, much longer than the hour and a half it took. I headed straight for the National Mountain Centre and declared myself to be in trouble.
There are not many things you can be sure of in life but the unending helpfulness of the climbing community is one of them. I will forever be indebted to Josh for offering me a lift back to Betws-y-coed and taking with good humour my statement that ‘at least a hundred people’ knew of my whereabouts and predicament through Facebook. Not quite true of course, my ‘Emma is off the mountain but not out of the woods’ status update would have not have raised much alarm at the time nor dare I say it my Tweet about a ham sandwich. Needless to say I was returned safely to my lovely B&B with just enough energy to crawl into an electrically heated bed and be thankful of all kinds of mysterious ways.
My thanks to everyone who made my trip possible, safe and memorable.
Edit: In my haste to complete this very long post I forgot some stuff. By numbers:
1. If you are attempting any sort of climb on any sort of mountain, always check the weather forecast for the area first.
2. Then check your mode of returning to base – getting off the mountain is just one hurdle!
3. Your phone will not work in the valleys. Bring a lot of change.
4. Tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to be back.
5. Pack extra clothes, food and water.
6. Know the that 6 blasts of a whistle or torch is the international distress signal (and that 3 is the reply).
7. Have fun!