Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Notes on not falling over

This whole trip could be summarised as my personal battle with gravity, a force of nature which, over the four-day trek, I grew to loathe with a passion. The trek would take my group of thirty walkers on a well-used but none-the-less challenging route known as ‘The 3 Peaks’, taking in each of the three highest mountains in Wales, England and Scotland (Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis respectively).
Things had started well. Despite being weighed down by 3 litres of water, enough snacks to feed a small town and a large bag of self-doubt, I had overcome its relentless pull in order to haul myself and my provisions to Snowdon’s peak, I guess it was inevitable that the big G would take its revenge on the way down. It did at least require the assistance of a fellow G – the dreaded mountain gulley – to bring me down. I was as keen as the next man to descend quickly, but not that quickly. Deep in conversation with a fellow trekker, my left foot was soon deep into a gulley, where it was clearly planning to rest up for a little while. Fortunately for me, at least half of the group following behind me were partially-sighted and would not have seen the HD version of my fall. They may well have heard the hard thwack of my knee hitting the rock, followed by the feint thud of my pride doing the same. But my overwhelming sense was triangular relief – my knee was only scuffed, my ankle wasn’t broken and we were nearly off the damned mountain.
 I learned quickly that the key to successfully getting up and down a mountain is not falling over. Staying upright is easier said than done when you cannot see where you are putting your feet. Now that I come to think of it, I have difficulty walking up my street without tripping over – what the hell was I thinking of? Almost every step demanded a level of concentration which was as sapping as the physical effort required to climb or descend. The use of walking poles was invaluable, transforming me from a teetering biped into a marginally more stable quadruped. At 6 ft 4, my additional limbs didn’t exactly turn me into a mountain goat – more a kind of arthritic giraffe – but they were my trusted swords in the battle against the evil forces of gravity. Whilst my poles lent me physical support, I was equally dependent upon the moral and mental crutch on offer from my fellow trekkers. The truth is, I think it was as much the words of guidance, the generosity of spirit, and the compelling desire not to make an idiot of myself in front of them, which kept me on my feet, for the most part anyway.
And, as you may have already surmised, it was no easy gig for my guides, operating as my personal ‘trip adviser’ for several hours at a time.  They had to provide direction – “shimmy left, step sharp right”, information – “18 incher coming up now” and white lies – “It’s not far now, I can see the top” in equal measure. It was a lot of responsibility for them – who would want to risk walking a blind guy off the edge of a mountain? Apart perhaps from his wife, who had opted instead to stay home with the dogs.
Of course, there were times when gravity was not my forceful foe but my best buddy. Like for example, when battling the 40mph wind that welcomed us to the summit of Snowdon, whipping around our heads, tugging at our clothes and bags, driving ice-cold rain into our faces. Had someone inadvertently enraged an ancient Welsh mountain god, invoking this hostile reception to its summit? I gripped tighter onto my guide’s arm, fearful of being hurled back to England by an angry gust, but my hands were now semi-frozen, along with my nose and ears.  “Great fun, this mountain climbing” I joked, but the words were whipped away by the wind. I like to think they are still blowing around out there somewhere, untethered by the pull of the earth.