“Why are we doing this?”
“Because… you can.”
Last weekend I found myself engaging in something quite out of character: I hiked up (and back down) not one but three rather large peaks in Wales – all in aid of charity.
And let me tell you, it was, quite honestly, the hardest thing I have ever done — ever. Not to be dramatic, (okay, a little) but as a girl who would rather poke her own eyes out than actively purchase a pair of hiking boots and who loves nothing more than a warm evening in front of a fire cocooned in blankets and eating chocolate, this really pushed me to the limit. And for that, I am actually mega grateful.
It all began with a flippant conversation between a group of girls trying to think of something ‘a little different’ to do to raise money for their chosen work charity of the year, The Royal Voluntary Service.
“Let’s climb up the Welsh Three Peaks?”, Charlotte said.
“Oh yes, what a fabulous idea!”, we said.
And so, just like that, our journey to the peaks began.
The first obstacle was making sure we had everything we needed. And, unsurprisingly, I had none of those things. The ‘essentials’ list was endless: boots, head torch, thermals, waterproofs, wool socks, compass, walking poles, gloves, hat to name but a few. And then there’s the blister plasters, micropore tape (to keep your toenails on *cry face*), truck load of painkillers, sweets and a small bottle of prosecco to cheers the completion (this was on the essentials list).
Skimming over ‘emergency shelter’ and ‘safety blanket’ whilst studying the list, it dawned on me that this might not be as easy as I had first presumed… I had only started collecting pieces of hiking kit and rallying around for donations a few days before due to sheer denial; and despite my valiant efforts to ignore it, it didn’t go away!
So, the day of the challenge flew around at the speed of light and we made our way, with all the gear and no idea, to Chester train station for collection.
Mountain 1 (1085 m)
The first mountain on our to-do list was Snowdon. Bit of context for ya: Snowdon is the largest mountain in Wales and the highest point in the British Isles outside of Scotland. Yep, pretty darn high that thing (smug hair flick). It is also breathtakingly beautiful and if you have any David Bailey photography skills – of which I do not – you would LOVE it.
It was approximately one-third of the way up this mountain when I realised how grossly I had underestimated the ordeal that lay before us. ‘Ice’, one of our charming, chappy Mountain Leaders (who also took on the role of counsellor, passive-aggressive deflector, and motivational mentor) advised us that we would be doing a fair bit of ‘scrambling’.
For those of you unsure what scrambling is — ie. me last week — it’s when three points of your body are on a mountain at any one time. I thought he was joking – but, turns out, he wasn’t.
So, just as Ice had said, the path disappeared, and instead, we had to haul our sopping-wet little selves up the rocks with our cold
claws paws and high into the clouds (1085 m to be exact).
Side note – Yes, you read that right, his name was ‘Ice’. I’m going with self-appointed to give him a bit of an outdoorsy, ‘I’m at one with nature’ edge; however, we later found out his name was Darren which, FYI Darren, we all thought was perfectly acceptable and far cooler than Ice. But whatevs, y’know.
After three hours we reached the summit and were greeted with weather that can only be described as stepping into a washing machine full of arctic water and pins that stabbed us in the face — all while our hands froze off and we tried desperately not to get blown over the edge. We huddled together for a quick photo,
smiled winced with mascara sliding down our faces and prepared for the descent down the other side. Just to note, a fair bit of this was done on our bums — so as not to plummet down and break a leg (or nail).
Coming down was slightly uncomfortable due to my feet really giving me jip and aching. The only way I can describe it is, you know the pain you get after a night out when you have been walking in heels for hours? Or after a long day on your feet shopping? Yeah, that’s the ticket. I know you know.
Three hours later and we made it! A few gentle tumbles in streams of water were had but no major injuries sustained. And, despite being completely drenched, we had succeeded in completing mountain number 1! HOORAY.
Mountain 2 (893 m)
So, back to the bus we trudged. We refuelled with a bacon bap and cup of soup and an hour later arrived at destination number 2, Cadair Idris.
By this point (about 7:30 pm) it was pitch black and the trusty (and extremely fetching) head torches came out to play. Which, secretly, I had been quite excited about sporting since I had lovingly packed it the day before. And so, a little tired and a lot wet, up the second mountain we went.
Thinking back, I pushed myself a smidge too hard too soon on this one. In my desperation to get the burning leg pain out of the way, I charged up the mountain chatting away in a state of mild, over-tired, bacon-butty-fuelled delirium. This caused me to suffer what I describe as a catastrophic sugar crash – and what most would describe as mild fatigue due to lack of proper eating.
After having a minor episode of “how the **** am I going to get down this mountain when my arms and legs feel detached from my body”, and subsequently being force-fed Haribo, a Mars Bar, and sugar tablets, I sprung back good-to-go and pinged my way down the rest of the mountain.
Mountain 3 (886 m)
Four hours on the bus later — taking us to the cheery time of 3 am — we arrived at Pen y Fan: the final hurdle. We had royally had enough by this point and didn’t we make the Mountain Leaders know it. I’m sure one of them, Sam, even feigned an eye injury to stop from having to put up with another minute of our moaning. He actually waited on the bus until we were done, lol.
However, this mountain was my favourite. Not only was the end in sight but it was a relatively kind incline— at least compared to the first two. And there were no huge rocks to scale and it had stopped raining so we could see without huge droplets of water splashing in our eyes (winner)! The sky was so clear we were even able to turn our trusty head torches off and plod by moonlight under the stars. I mean, it could have been quite pleasant had I not been awake all night, up a mountain in Wales, very cold and very far from bed.
Side note – We liked to think of ourselves on this expedition as comedy moaners. Grumbling under your breath about how much you hate the Mountain Leader, mountains and Wales, whilst peeping out the hood of a ‘waterproof’ jacket and looking like a walking bin bag really helped pass the time. Even if none of the above was true (deep, deep down).
So, we finally completed the third mountain at 7 am, 19 hours and 20 miles since we first stepped foot onto Snowdon! We made it! ‘Euphoria’ was how we described it at the time.
Bedraggled and tired we attempted to celebrate with a glass of bubbles, gripping proudly onto our certificates, but opted for a warm and very sweet cup of tea instead. AND, to top it off, we finished with a 6000 calorie deficit – YES!
“When you go out of your comfort zone and it works, there’s nothing more satisfying.” – Kristen wig
Between the first and second peak, whilst I was rummaging around in my backpack searching for spare batteries for my head torch (totally normal Saturday night behaviour), I uttered in frustration, “Why are we even doing this?!” to which, out from the dark next to me, a nice old fella named Peter replied, “Because, you can.” Peter had lost his wife two years ago and he was doing the peaks to raise money for the hospice she spent time in. Heartbreaking. If anything was going to humble my grumpy little attitude problem it was that. I held onto that thought during the second two mountains and it helped me remember how lucky I was to be there, why we were doing it in the first place — and to appreciate how special this adventure really was.
And, before I wrap this rather long ol’ post up, I’d like to give a special mention to the team of mountaineers that completed this challenge with me – Louise, Gaby, Charlotte, Nicki and, of course, Pete. You are all amazing and I’m one lucky hiker to have been able to experience this with such a genuine, spirited and hysterically funny crew. When are the National Three Peaks, eh?
This challenge was so good for me. It showed me what I am capable of and catapulted me out of my comfort zone. It also made me realise how good it is for the soul to put yourself to the test and that it’s okay to take pride in yourself and celebrate your achievements when you are done. I am also aware I have written this as though we have climbed Everest (hikers and climbers of the world, I take my proverbial hat off to you-you legends!) and it did, at times, feel like we had!
Despite all the moaning and achey muscles, I loved every minute. I mean, don’t get me wrong, hiking isn’t going to be my new ‘thing’, but I enjoyed this new adventure.
If anyone feels so inclined or takes pity on us, please feel free to donate here to a really worthy cause.
“Don’t be afraid to take an unfamiliar path, sometimes they are the ones that take you to the best places.”