This is quite a long piece; it’s up to you. There’s no car chases and no one died, but there is a kind of narrative.
Last year the Male Section of the Ministry of Shrawley Walks set off for the mountains of Snowdonia, Snowdon specifically. We stayed at the YHA at Pen-y-Pass and ambled up the pyg track and came down the miner’s track past the lakes, beautiful, wet, fucking cold but invigorating. My aim had always been to climb the tallest mountain in our neighbouring country of Welsh Wales and have a pint on top. I know its a terrible wish for the bucket list but what can I say, I like an IPA, especially above the majority of the population. In fact i’d be probably not too far off the mark if i’d have said that I probably was the highest person in the whole of the British isles to be quaffing down a bottle of Artisan Herefordian farmhouse cider with a couple of Norwegians on the Monday in October last year.
This year was going to be different, the weather was not shit and indeed we were promised sunny spells as we planned our second Ministry assault of the mountain; this time was to be hard core; this time was to be Crib Goch. The Chicken’s Comb of a knife edge ridge walk. I say ridge walk, it’s a scramble between 800 and 100+metres above sea level, one side of the ridge a near vertical drop of hundreds of metres, the other side an actual vertical drop of hundreds of metres. Writing this now I’m thinking to myself, what on earth was I thinking.
Spoiler alert: I’m still here and am writing this on the 24th October, so I survived.
The facts revealed here I really didn’t realise until I was soaking in the bath back home on Wednesday night, the door locked, my head spinning and my limbs, all 4 of them burning, tense and full of the void of adrenaline and heavy, my god the weight of them.
We started up the Pyg track then turned left up a hill with rocks on top, there just before the rocks is a stone, solid and vertically erect in the grass with 2 words: Crib Goch. Lets do it!
We climbed and passed a few folks coming down, one with a dog, who told us it would be impossible with the beagle, and 2 guys a little older than us, maybe mid 50’s, whose legs weren’t up to the stretching and so on. We thought nothing of this as we scrambled up the cliffs, taking me back to my indoor climbing wall days, but without ropes and I probably should have realised at that point that maybe this wasn’t the best idea we’ed ever had collectively. But we pressed on up and up, passing a small group of climbers, with an instructor talking them through every move, telling them there was a place to stop and rest a little further up, just a few moves a few sequences further on. In my mind as I write this i’m thinking this was a lesson in mountaineering with us just wanting to get ahead to that bar on the top for an ice cold beer. The first 100m or so was pretty easy, but very steep and we could see the comb of the cockerel when we completed the start to get onto the actual ridge, the knife edge. We looked ahead and pinnacles of blades rose up like the end of the world with empty space either side and no flat surface to speak of either side, just tiny little spaces for our bums of sit and rest, yes we have tiny bums, tiny squeaky bums.
I’m not a fan of heights particularly but when I was climbing indoors the rope enabled me to trust my instincts, knowing I would only fall a small distance if I did slip, on this walk I realised that if i slipped I would certainly fall and really fuck myself up, not just a broken leg but the possibility was there for my limbs to be spread all over the shaley mountainside, my phone obliterated, my borrowed coffee flask smashed and dented and my new jacket (Norwegian) torn. I could die. It was for this reason that after a few hundred metres along I froze. The warden had told us to use the ridge as a rail to hold onto as we traversed along the ridge. A rail, like a bannister, you could cut your hand on the ridge; this monstrosity was taking the piss. Why would anyone do this? This morning I had risen at 5am in Shrawley, driven us all to Wales, had a none too shabby breakfast at the YHA and put on my walking boots. The problem? The coffee wasn’t strong enough to activate the primal dump reflex from my bowels. That’s my morning constitutional; a poo, for the less attuned. So I’d set off without completing the most basic of tasks, the most fundamental act of which we are all slaves. Shit central, sending friends to the coast, a mole at the counter, dropping bombs, dropping the kids off at the pool. I had gradually climbed slightly lower than the ridge, maybe about 10 feet below as looking over into the abyss was too much for me, I could just about bare to see a fucking hideous drop to one side but not to both sides, I couldn’t cope. It was at this point that I started to panic. I couldn’t move, I was stuck and was starting to be slightly negative and vocalising the negativity, coupled with the fact I really, really needed a poo. Which was sort of funny, in a not particularly funny situation. Scratch that, it was a diabolical situation. I was trying to think about getting off the mountain, I was thinking why I had got my self this far up and was thinking about Mrs T and the kids. I was also thinking about maybe calling mountain rescue, about that app 3 words which pinpoints your position anywhere in the world, but i couldn’t get the phone out of my pocket, my hands were clammy and shaking, and all the time my arse was yelling at me to release the bomb doors. This was not a good situation to be in, my good friend, J, had called the mountain rescue when he was walking across a bay in Ireland when the tide came in and he had to scramble up onto a ledge on a cliff face and wait for the helicopter, that made page 4 in the Irish Times; “English Idiot and that weeks girlfriend in Tidal nightmare”, or something along those lines. No that wouldn’t do. All the time N was offering advice to keep 3 points of contact with the rocks and M was telling me to just think about the bar. At this time I think we were all pretty much shitting ourselves, purely metaphorically, I wouldn’t tell you otherwise would I, the shame the shame. So with a push we all clung like limpets to the rock, and went up, the moment my head appeared above the ridge the wind stole my hat, and whipped is off to the sheep below where the king of the sheep will be now wearing a tweed Peeky Blinders style hat, I must reiterate I had mine first, all the King Sheep’s ewes will be boing down to his fashion prowess, and I will never be the same again; maybe its time for my Bowler Hat Idea; my daughter will love that.
This last push of about 400m was horrific and all the time we were just wishing for an end to it all. At the end of Crib Goch there is a tall tower of stone which folk climb up onto the top, as a kind of bookmark to the end of it all. We saw that below was a flat wide pice of mossy ground , a dip in-between the two ridges; Crib Goch and Crib-y-Ddysgl (i’ll never write that again) at Bwlch-Coch (likewise) This was our salvation and only had we touched down here that we realised that actually we still had miles to go, still in predicament, al be it a slightly better looking situation. The choice was stark, another ridge which was completely out of the question and then maybe a slight trace of a path which we later found out to be the “Goat Track” down across the collapsed mountain pieces from above which had been in place for millennia, slowly making their way to the foot of the mountain to become pieces of the Pyg track path if they were lucky; what every errant rock dreams of. The goat track was the track we aimed for but only succeeded in the hopefulness of reaching the Pyg track as quick as we could, walking on the sides of our feet pretty much all the way as a slip would still result in a total buggering up of our frames and a few weeks off work, I’m lucky, I get 6 months on full pay. Tempers weren’t exactly fraying by now but I think we all realised that we had survived something pretty grim in the grand scheme of things, and the only aim was to get off the shitty loose mountainside onto the relative flatness of the Pyg track. The we reached it I get elated, and so full of adrenaline that the march up the track to the bar and also toilet, remember that? was done with ease, like stormtroopers into battle we stridently climbed up the mountain to the peak, blowing a gale and shrouded in filthy opaque mist, unable to see the bastard we had just conquered.
Well lets just say the bottom had nearly dropped out of my world on the Cockerels Comb hours before but in that toilet the world dropped out of my bottom! All the while the Loud Intercom in the toilet shouting out with increasing impatience that “Could Andy come to the restaurant, PLEASE!”
A small child was waiting out side the cubicle door when I emerged, “I’d give it a few minutes son”
And with that, in that flash and smash in the pan, it was all over, a beer in the bar on top of Wales, the lifelong ambition realised and suddenly deadened by the memory of the past 5 hours stuck on a rock.
Don’t fuck with the mountain folks, it’ll win, always and it’s left me pensive, afraid and older. I feel pleased i’m back, pleased that I’ve done it but only because I wanted to return home in one piece, not because I wanted to do it. After watching videos and reading about Crib Goch, regarded as just a grade 1 scramble, not technically hard but one of the hardest scrambles in the country because of where it is, 1000m above sea level on an unforgiving knife edge with a high chance of death from a slip either way, but I feel that what I did was really stupid and I feel personally ashamed I did it. If I had have fallen and if I could have looked back to see my family I would have been so disappointed, that I would have massively let them down, massively for nothing other than a misdirected misadventure, proving nothing and fooling no one.
I did some ridiculously dangerous things all over the world when I was younger, and in another life would probably not be here either, save for the luck that seems to have followed me. But I will never do anything that puts me or my friends in danger like what we three did on tuesday. Many folk do it, many folk have done Crib Goch hundreds of times, and they love it, and I can see the attraction but be aware of your own awareness folks and if it don’t seem right it probably isn’t.
The curry we had afterwards was fantastic, Spice in Llanberris is one of the few curry houses with lemon rice on the menu. M had a mixed dish of loveliness and a pair of knackered knees, N had a madras and a couple of burnt knees from kneeling in lime soda or something like that, maybe lime mortar, I stuck to Jalfraysi and a pint of Cobra, I think the guys behind us had done Crib Goch on tuesday too, but with tales of bravado and derring do, or so it sounded.
Yep folks, in some way Tuesday October 22nd 2019 was when I turned 47, about 2 and a half weeks before I turn 48, and from that little statistic I can see that time is indeed rushing by like a train, not like the train up Snowdon.
And I need a new fucking hat!