There have only been a few times in my life where I’ve thought I’m not going to make it.
That speedboat trip in Bali. Skydiving with socks over my ballet slipper shoes in Cuba.
The weird moto ride in Cambodia. Or the long-tail boat in Lombok with Angus, Lani and the 8ft waves. And finally, those walks where I’ve managed to convince myself the only way I’m getting back down is with mountain rescue. A bit like the time we walked up Scarfell in a heatwave and ran out of water. I’ve still never written that story down. And then, there was the time we climbed Helvellyn via Swirall Edge and Striding Edge.
I trust my husband. I trust my husband.
I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
Crawling on my bum, clinging to rock. Literally scrambling up the face of the crag.
I trust my husband. I trust my husband.
This couldn’t be the path? This wasn’t the way up, was it? We’re lost.
I knew I should have downloaded that app. You know the one with the words that knows your location? This is it. My last hill.
Stories From Helvellyn
To start with, I honestly thought it was called squirrel edge. That gives you an insight into the research I’d put into this
walk climb. It was cold. It was raining. Moisture clung to the air, making everything damp. Making breathing feel hot and hard. By all accounts, a pretty standard summer’s day in the Lakes.
But the Helvellyn climb is all about the views. You see, it’s straight up and down, really, with a fancy loop in the middle. You’re not here on this walk for the amble, and the lovely path. It’s all about the view. So, in retrospect, the drizzle didn’t bode well.
Back to the hill.
Still there. On my bum. Lowering myself down parts of the ‘path’, slipping on scree. No idea where we were. No idea how far we’d come. How far we had to go. I just knew we weren’t at the top. I’d never wanted to bag a trig point so badly. Only to know I was halfway there. But if I looked left or right, front or back, it didn’t matter. I couldn’t see a thing. I couldn’t see the view. But I also couldn’t see the edge.
I didn’t like scrambling across the ‘path’ in the cloud. I didn’t like hauling myself up a rock face in the mist. I didn’t like the feel of my knees trembling, mouth agape as I realised this really was the path. But if I could have seen the drop, or the way forward, I think it would have made it worse.
Don’t Look Down
Now that I’ve looked at YouTube videos, seen all the beautiful pictures on Instagram, I’m glad I couldn’t see the view. Sure, it would have made a great photo. But I’m glad I wasn’t peeking over the precipice, watching as gravel dropped miles below. (Okay, I may be exaggerating, but you get the idea). My legs are jelly at the best of times, let alone when I can see how far we’ve got left to go. Or how steep the edge is. Sometimes, I think the limited view is good for us. We can’t see what’s coming. We just have to keep moving forward.
If we could always see what’s coming, of course we could look forward to the good bits. We’d rejoice, celebrate as they came into view. But we could also worry more about the bad stuff. We’d get a glimpse at what’s coming and we’d psych ourselves out. We’d worry before it even happened.
I was worrying enough about getting down and I couldn’t even see how high we were. Imagine if I’d have seen the drop.
‘Right, when we get to the top. No messing about. No photos. I just want to get down.’
Reader, I didn’t say messing about.
I’m glad my husband didn’t listen. I’m glad he made me pose for the picture. I don’t know how he managed to make me smile. My anxiety was bouncing, but my rational brain eventually settled on. Well, what can you do? There is only one way down and you’ve got to keep pushing.
The View From The Bottom
Why do we push ourselves? What’s the point? Why do we climb mountains in the rain?
The view from the top is normally a pretty good reason, and there have been days where the view has left me speechless. But my reason is that pint at the end.
Blimey, it’s always a good one. I’m not sure I’m supposed to say this, but it is my favourite part of any walk. It’s the signal to say you made it, you did it. Top to bottom. You can celebrate now. You earned it.
And that pub, at the bottom of Helvellyn, when I saw it come in to view, I think I actually shed a tear. Talk about views. It was quite simply, the best view in the whole of the Lake District that day. We timed it perfectly and nabbed a table outside, sheltered from the rain by a sun umbrella. This was not a day for halves.
Estrella. Pint. Please.
To top it off, we then raced to Dominos and dried off at a friend’s house with more beer and the England Euro game. The view that day kept getting better and better as we got further and further from the mountain.
I’m sure, though, these parts wouldn’t have tasted and felt as good if I hadn’t earned them. Walked for them. I can’t tell you how happy I was in that pub. How good the pint of Estrella tasted. How good it felt to have achieved it. To see the view at the end. As we left our friend’s house, the rainy mist that had been following us all day continued to descend. We walked back to the safety of our campervan and slept well.
So, let’s keep climbing mountains. Let’s keep writing the stories about the days that aren’t perfect, but know those stories still matter. Let’s keep holding out for the view, whether that’s from the top, or from the pub at the bottom. We know it will be worth it, and the journey just makes it even more worthwhile.
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