Thursday, July 13, 2006

the three peaks - part three

I couldn�t be sure how long it would take for the others to arrive, and I was anxious to keep going: we were only just ahead of schedule. I could make out Rob�s headlight in the rain and dark, so I headed for it. Catching up with them, we came across another group coming down.
�Did you get to the top?� I asked.
�Nah,� said the leader, �We got as far as the crossroads and lost our way. It�s pretty rough up there.�
We crossed a bridge over a beck in full spate; the air in the valley was full of water and the roaring of the stream, making it difficult to hear each other. We followed a steep path upwards, going at far too fast a pace. I asked the other two to slow down a bit:
�We�re going too quickly on a mountain none of us knows. Let�s take it a bit slower and make sure we don�t lose our way.�
And we did, for a while, but Brian kept on moving faster and faster. We came across another group of people, amongst whom we found Julie and Gordon.
�Where�s Richard?�
�He went on ahead�, said Julie. �I�m really pissed off with him � he just raced off and said there were some more people behind me. I hate the dark.�
The other group were standing in the rain, trying to consult maps and arguing. In the dark, with the roar of the water and the howling of the wind, it became obvious that none of us knew where the crossing point for the beck was. We had lost the path. Brian, Rob, Julie, Gordon and I moved further up the stream, had a vague guess at where the crossing was, and went over. I got two bootfuls of water. On the other side, no sign of a path, just a hill full of water. We trudged and slipped our way up, Rob and Brian moving on ahead, leaving me and the two others to our own devices. By now, I was feeling distinctly pissed off, wet and miserable. I was cursing each stone I stumbled on, each jar of my bones, my empty stomach and, most of all, the foul weather, which was gradually getting colder. The night very slowly began to lighten; now I could pick out the ridge above our heads, and a dark guess of a place where the peak might be. I continued to struggle up, helping Julie here and there. Eventually Richard reappeared. He pointed up towards the ridge and said that he�d put his sack with a nightstick on it and told us to make our way and wait. Brian and Rob charged on, I followed, and Richard went to the rear to help Julie. For the moment, I was stuck on my own, out of earshot of either group: me, the wind and rain. I felt very low then, and a bit of me wanted to go home. But, cursing under my breath, I stomped up the side, bashing my toes against rock after bloody rock, and made the ridge. It was getting much lighter now, but it made the view worse: rocks, wind and rain, and bugger all else.
After we�d all gathered together and had something to drink, we stumbled over a boulder field towards Scafell, finally hitting a path lined by small cairns. Rob, Brian and I were now ahead of the others, and we pushed on grimly, the wind increasing all the while, the rain unrelenting. Finally, just after five, we were on the top. Joylessly, I touched the trig point, and looked around at the peak. It was utterly bleak, a field of rocks; And now I was beginning to get cold to add to being wet. Richard and Julie appeared with Gordon. Julie was in a pretty bad way, shivering and unable to eat. Richardr made her put on gloves, and as he was doing so, the third part of our team appeared with Rick. When we told him we�d lost our way, he said,
�How�d you manage that? It�s plain all the way.�
And then we began to descend, which couldn�t have come any sooner for me. I was wet, cold and thoroughly miserable, and those few minutes on the peak had left me seriously worried for the safety of some of us. The wind was now reaching gale levels � indeed, if it hadn�t been for my hiking poles, I�d have been knocked over a few times, it was so strong. Also, I kept getting slapped in the face by a pack strap that had come loose, which didn�t enhance my mood.
The daylight came full, and once we were below the cloud layer the path was obvious. We had probably missed it by only a few metres. We trudged down, step after knee-jarring step, and finally arrived back at the vans by half past seven. We had something to eat, and I stripped off as much of my wet gear as I could, leaving me to shiver in the cold day. The weather had almost beaten us, and, looking at the time, I realised that we almost certainly wouldn�t be able to get to Snowdon and up and down it in the 24 hour limit. I also felt that if the weather on Snowdon was as bad as here, I wouldn�t want to do it.
We set off on the final leg, bouncing through tiny Cumbrian roads under patchy skies, until we finally hit the motorway and dashed south. We kept an eye on the time: would we have enough to realistically make it to the top, let alone get back down once more? We made good time going through Lancashire and Cheshire, then turning onto the North Wales coast road. And then, just as we reached Conwy and turned towards Betws-Y-Coed, it began to rain again, and gradually increased as we headed towards Snowdonia. My heart fell at the sight: great sheets of wind-shunted water and mountain streams in full flood. I�d packed my boots with scraps of newspaper to try and dry them out, and now, feeling them, I found they were still thoroughly soaked. Did I really want to do this?
We pulled into the packed car park at Pen-Y-Pass. Decision time. I took a look at the louring clouds, then thought, what the fuck, and started to get my gear ready. It was now 12.40; that meant that we could get to the top, but not down again, inside 24 hours. It was now a pride thing. Brian, Rob and I started to get our kit on, then Brian dashed off by himself while I was still struggling into my boots. Just as Rob and I were ready to go, one of the other vans appeared, and Rick and Gordon got out. Apparently, everyone else on board was too sore to continue. We didn�t know about the last van or whether anyone had decided to climb or not. We trotted off, taking the Pyg track. On clear days, this is a pleasant, relatively easy route to the summit; On this day, under the wind and rain, it felt hard. I was already exhausted, wet and hungry, and had very little energy left, but I was damned, now I�d set out, if I wasn�t going to finish. I just buckled down to the job, and focused on planting one foot after another, all the way to the top. The rain came and went; the wind rose and fell; we plodded on to the top. Finally, we got onto the top ridge, to be met by a freezing blast of wind and stinging rain; it was so bad that, as we found out a little later, the caf� was shut and the train not running. Still we, struggled on, and finally the marker cairn with the trig point came into view. We�d just about made it with minutes to spare. OK, so we didn�t get to the bottom in 24 hours, but we did the more important vertical upwards bits.
We trudged slowly back to Llanberis, following the railway back over five weary miles, with the joy of walking down steep tarmac road on burning knees and thighs at the end to make sure we were really finished off .

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