That Time I Climbed a Mountain Alone… And Probably Shouldn’t Have
Today I am here to share with you my journey up Snowdon.
In all honesty, I don’t know why I felt that I needed to walk up this mountain except to prove that I could. Two years ago I went on holiday to Wales and really wanted to walk up the mountain but as I was still in the midst of recovering from low vitamin D levels, decided that it was not something I’d be able to conquer. Thus choosing instead to get the train up to the top. Thus, this time around when I booked to go to Wales again, I told myself that as I am better, I simply had to make it to the top by foot. And thus I got myself ready to do just that.
After booking the campsite, I made sure I looked up all the advice I could about trekking up the mountain and chose the easiest – but longest – route to the top. I made sure I had proper hiking boots on – I had on the ones I took with me to Canada – I made sure I had packed waterproofs for the ran and a cap too. I had a compass and plenty of bottles of water. I was, as far as I was concerned, ready to get on with it and reach the top.
The Day Begins
Now one of the things that I have struggled with since my vitamin D levels dropped is getting up early and out of bed. I am, still, a slug in the mornings. It takes me a long time to truly wake up and become a vibrant human being. But for some reason, on the day I was due to set out for Snowdon, I was even slower than usual. Meaning that by the time I got up and out of the caravan, it was already 9am and I had hoped to be sitting down and eating breakfast by 8.30am.
Not wanting to be thrown off, I got in the car and headed for breakfast anyway. As I knew that I was going to need a lot of energy, I had decided to go for a big unlimited buffet breakfast, in the hopes that I would give myself enough fuel to get me up a mountain. By the time I’d finished food and realised I couldn’t have coffee there – there was no soy milk and the americano tasted foul – it was nearing 10.30am. Still feeling undeterred, I located the nearest coffee shop, positive that I would not be able to make it up the mountain without some caffeine in my system.
Which meant that by the time I got to the bottom of the mountain, all kitted up in my gear, it was nearing noon. Before heading up the mountain, I decided to see if I could get a ticket to take the train down. My plan was to walk up the mountain and then catch the train down. Unfortunately I was told that they could only sell me a return ticket and I had to use it on the train going up to be able to use it going down. So I was told that I may be able to get a train back down if I put my name on a waiting list at the top.
Fine. No problem.
So after using the toilet and gearing myself up, it was finally time to start climbing the mountain.
The “Climbing” Starts
As mentioned above, I had done a lot of research on the mountain before deciding to climb it. Thus I followed the advice which was quite simply that the first part of the trail – or rather, the road that leads to the beginning of the trail – is probably the steepest and hardest part of the journey. And while this wasn’t strictly true, it was definitely one of the harder parts of the journey.
But before long, I finally made it to the beginning of the trail. I had a little bit of a break here because I already felt exhausted but it wasn’t too bad because the view was already pretty damn spectacular so I made sure to snap a few shots.
And then I started. The first part of the trail was so easy. In fact, at certain points I even had my phone out and was playing Pokemon Go! (Because there is a lot of data service on the mountain now meaning I was barely without a way of communicating people). It felt just like a normal trail. A little steep but aside from that just like a little walk up a hill that just you know… never stopped.
During this part of the journey I only saw a few people, and most of them were going up the mountain like I was. I remember seeing one group of lads who were all in trainers and casual “leisurewear” clothes and couldn’t help but wonder how they thought they could trek a mountain in trainers.
Getting To and Past the “Halfway” House
When I finally made it to the Halfway House, I felt jubilant. According to my advice – which I was following throughout – it meant that I was actually over halfway towards the top. I was starting to feel it a little but so far the trek had still just been like a normal walk as opposed to anything like a mountain climb – plus the views were absolutely spectacular.
Just before reaching this point, the rain had started. But fortunately it was only light and not a heavy downpour. After having a small break and a sip of water at this point, I decided not to dawdle too long as I still had quite a way to go. So I started making my way up the hill again.
And it is only a few metres after the halfway house that the trek starts to change. Instead of the gravelly trail at the start, there were now lots of mini steps of natural stones to get over. It was quickly starting to feel like more of a normal mountain trek – which is just what I wanted. It was a nice reminder to me that the part of trekking I love most is the climbing – up hills mostly but it’s always good to keep our options open, eh?
But then came what I thought was the worst part of the climb – I was about to be proved wrong. In front of me was what can only be described as a large natural staircase of rocks. It curved around the mountain and then continued going. It was, obviously, rocky and also quite steep. But I gave myself a stern talking to (“I’ve come this far, no point in giving up yet”) and just simply got on with it.
Of course, this wasn’t as easy as my head told me it would be and meant that I stopped a few times to catch my breath. It was on my way up these that a lot of people started to walk past me. Not all at once but in lots of different drips and drabs. A lot of them said encouraging things and helped me to gain the mental strength to keep going which was really nice. It was also at this point that I really wished that I had thought to buy some walking sticks. I will definitely be making sure I have them for the next mountain I climb!
Before I knew it, I was coming to the end of the rocks and so I sat down for a little bit to regain my breath and have some more water. I was much closer to the top now and was positive that I had just faced the hardest part of the journey – hint: I was wrong.
At this point an older gentleman went passed me, he was maybe in his late fourties, early fifties and asked “Have I been passed you before?”. To which I shrugged, and said “Maybe”. He then told me that he had already been up the mountain once today and was now going up a second time – simply because he could. It was such an incredible thing to do and definitely gave me the motivation to get up and get going.
The Worst Bit
As I went under the train tracks and out the other side, I was feeling determined that I had put the hardest bit behind me. But then I looked up and realised that I was very, very wrong. In front of me was the steepest slope I have seen for a while. It was covered in odd bits of rock and looked insurmountable. But seeing other people walking up it and some people walking down it – including little kids – made me more determined that I could do it.
So I put one foot in front of the other and managed a few steps before I needed to stop. It was at this point that I nearly gave in. I nearly just turned around and walked back down in the knowledge that I could still say I had walked up most of Snowdon but then someone asked me if I was okay and I knew that I couldn’t stop. I had to just keep going.
And thus I started to use the rocks on the mountain as a guide. I would walk from one rock to the next about five or six steps up, stop and gather my breath, and then move on to the next. On and on until I was mostly out of the hard part. Which was when someone walking down the mountain saw me and told me something that almost destroyed my spirit completely. The cafe was closed. At this point I waited until thy had passed and then had one of the worst panic attacks I think I have had for a while.
It was horrific. I could barely breath as it was but then my body felt like I really couldn’t get air and I just found myself worrying because there was one thing I had forgotten to pack; food. I was sure that the cafe would have been open when I got to the top so I didn’t worry about packing food. But as that lady uttered those words to me. I just lost all sense of reality for a short while. I opened up my whatsapp and considered texting my best friends to tell them that I was near the top of the mountain (I was about 30mins away here), and I was having a panic attack and I didn’t know what to do.
But knowing that they also wouldn’t have been able to help or magically bring me food. I decided against it. I also told myself that while the cafe was closed, the train still had to take the employees down the mountain, right? So there would probably still be another train and hopefully a vending machine so I could at least get some chocolate to keep me going until I could eat something bigger. With that in mind, I kept on going.
Reaching the Top
After a fair few more stops, a lot of water and a sadness that I couldn’t see the views as I was now standing in cloud. I finally, finally made it to the final leg of the journey. This was by far the steepest part of the route – but of course it was as I was finally at the mountain top of Snowdon. I pushed on up the stairs until I was at the highest point. I took a few moments to take in the non-view and feel some sort of accomplishment but when neither happened, I went back down the steps and headed to the cafe in the hope that I could find a vending machine.
But I think you may know what happened.
The cafe was well and truly closed. No food. No train. No water. Nothing.
At this point I was sure I only had a dribble of water left. My knee had started to really hurt and I was well and truly drained of energy. And thus I just turned into a massive pile of mess. I cried and I felt awful. A voice was singing through my head that I had made a massive mistake in climbing the mountain and I was, quite literally, full of regrets.
And then someone came around the corner. He asked me if I was okay to which I just started crying again and explained about the closed cafe and my lack of food. To which he then pulled out some biscuits and a packet of crisps from his pack and offered them to me. I would normally have denied but unsure of when my next food would be, I gratefully took it from him and thanked him. He said it was fine and then mentioned he’d be going back down a different route and asked if I would be okay. I said I would be and then sat down to eat.
After a few grateful mouthfuls, I put the packet into my pocket and stood up. It was already 3 in the afternoon by this point and I knew that if I didn’t start going down the mountain now than I wouldn’t get to the bottom until dark and the last thing I wanted was to be on the mountain in the dark.
The Climb Down
While the climb down the mountain was not quick, I can tell you that it was a lot easier and slightly quicker than the walk up. I honestly think the only thing that actually got me down – especially down the harder parts – was my sheer will to live. I did not want to die on the top of a cold mountain with no food or water. So I told my body to just get on with it and I would reward it with rest as soon as I could.
Throughout the journey down I continued to tell my legs, which were starting to really shake, “if you just get past x or to b then we can sit for a bit.” And somehow, somehow, I managed to make it past the two horrific parts of the climb. Although the horrific natural stairs were a lot easier going down than walking up!
And soon I found myself back at the Halfway House. It was here that I had a little rest and thought I could probably get away with another sip of my limited supply of water. But as I went to grab my near empty bottle, I found a final full 500ml bottle of water. I kid you not, I was absolutely ecstatic! I laughed, grinned and then downed a quarter of it straight away.
The Final Descent
After the Halfway House, I also started to feel a bit better emotionally too. A little less shaky and more determined to make it to the bottom alive and well. I feel like a part of this was due to the altitude and part of it was because I was that much closer to the bottom and so it didn’t seem impossible anymore.
Whatever the reason, I was glad for it. I got down the second half of the mountain quicker and easier -though I had to keep my head watching my feet as my ankles kept trying to give way and I knew the last thing I needed was to twist my ankle when I was so close to the end of the journey.
After six and a half hours, I finally made it back to my car but instead of feeling too much relief at that, I had to quickly get in the car and find out where the nearest public toilet was as in those six and a half hours I had drank nearly 2 litres of water without going to the toilet once. But that was essentially where my journey ended.
And it wasn’t really until a day later that it finally sunk in. I still don’t even think I believe it.
But I climbed to the top of Snowdon and back in one go!
Tips for the Future
As this title suggests, while I did climb this mountain – and alone – I also believe that I shouldn’t have. The reasons for this are simple. I was
a) not prepared
b) not ready
c) should probably have had company
So in this part of the post I want to leave some tips to you if you plan on climbing a mountain and also just some things for me to remember if I ever plan on doing it again!
1) If you’re not an experience solo climber, do not climb alone!
So I love being independent and I loved climbing the mountain on my own but I also know that it was a mistake. If I had gone with someone else, I would have had someone encouraging me along the way. I would have had someone to help me with my panic attack and my tears. I would have had someone to wait with me or go get help if I hurt myself and I would have had someone to celebrate with when we got to the top. It would definitely have been a very different experience. And, just because you’re not climbing alone does not mean you have to climb together either. But knowing that someone is in front or behind you is actually really reassuring.
2) Take walking sticks
They may look silly and you may think they’re a bit pointless on normal trails but up a mountain I felt that I really needed them. It gives you something to balance on or something to push off of when you’re going up the steep bits. I always used ski sticks when skiing so I’m not sure why I thought I’d be okay without walking sticks up a mountain!
3) Make sure you’re wearing the correct outdoors clothing
One thing I was very grateful for was that I was wearing a 2 in 1 jacket. This meant that when I was hot but it was raining I could just wear the raincoat or when it was cold and icy, I could wear all three and when I was slightly warmer but not quite hot, I could just wear the fleece. So if you’re going in the winter, either take a Women’s Winter Jacket or if you’re heading out in spring make sure you take a women’s fleece as even if the weather is fine at the bottom of the mountain, it will probably still be a bit nippy at the top! (Obviously if you’re a man, wear a man’s jacket!)
4) Make sure you’re in contact with someone throughout – if you can be
So one piece of advice I read was to tell someone what time you expect to get to the bottom of the mountain by so that if you’re not back by that time, they can send out a search party for you. However, if, like me, you’re going away to climb a mountain you probably won’t have anyone waiting for you at the bottom. Thus I used the signal I did have to tell my family where I was at certain points so they knew if they didn’t hear from me that they should contact the police. Unfortunately, I did forget to tell my mum when I was finally at my car as I was so desperate for the toilet that I just got in it and drove and then promptly forgot to update her once I was feeling better. Fortunately a small phone call calmed her down again.
5) Bring Water – and lots of it!
I ended up taking 4 bottles of 500ml water and I think that was just the right amount for me. There is a tap at the top of the mountain – or there is at Snowdon but if the cafe is closed, like it was for me, you really don’t want to be caught out without water!
6) Bring snacks
Even if you think you’ll be getting a full meal in the cafe at the top of the mountain, make sure you bring some emergency supplies with you! On second thought on the mountain, if I had ended up injured and stuck on the mountain for a really long time, I would not have lasted very long with my limited supply of water and lack of food!
Have you ever climbed a mountain? Will you ever? What advice would you give to novice climbers?
**This post was sponsored by Blacks & Millets who sent me a jacket and fleece. All the words and experience was my own**