Rain, hail, wet feet and the fear of getting lost. Alex Mortimer asks Why? Why climb that mountain? Why brave the elements? Why accept the mental and physical challenge?
Having driven the long 5 hours from Dorset, I found myself alone in North Wales on a very wet Sunday afternoon. I stepped out into the waterlogged car park, pulling waterproofs over my already wet clothes.
As the rain continued to drive down I couldn't help but think about the question that I’m often asked ‘Why?’.
It’s hard to describe exactly what the allure is to someone that isn't interested or hasn't ever experienced a full day walking in the mountains. Why it's worth missing out on time at home comforts with friends and family to put yourself through something that could so easily be avoided.
Most the time I respond with a short and sweet “ It’s the sense of achievement” or “ The views are great”.
But today as I stomped on, feeling tired, cold and wet, there were points where doubt crept in and I started to question it myself.
Moments of doubt
I‘d planned to arrive in North Wales early, in order to have 5 hours on the hill before night fell. I wanted to to walk the last hour in the dark to practise my night navigation skills.
The route I’d planned was fairly simple; parking at Dolwyddean Castle and walking up to the summit of Moel Siabod. It’s about 8km in total, not far for the time I had. This would leave me with plenty of opportunity to practice my navigation.
I started to walk. I warmed up, my legs loosened and I found my stride. I knew that despite the weather, it was going to be another fulfilling walk.
The rain continued to hammer down continuously, and the soggy ground was making things trickier than expected. I’d picked a route avoiding paths, using natural features to help me find my way up instead.
At 400m from the summit, I’d been walking for 3 hours. With an hour until dark, the weather started to close in. I’d checked the forecast and watched the weather closely. I knew it was going to be wet and wild but this was something else. Winds gusting up to 60 mph were bringing driving hail straight into my face. It was getting darker, I was alone. It was time to go home.
It was in this moment I thought of my long suffering wife back at home and really questioned ‘Why?’.
The reason ‘Why?’
As soon as I made the decision to flee the mountain, I knew it was the right one and my mood lifted instantly.
It didn’t take nearly as long to get back down and I chose an easy route using much better paths. It all ended well and I quickly headed to a pub to answer that question ‘Why?’.
I started to relax and was welcomed by a growing sense of achievement but this phrase doesn't quite describe the sensation well enough.
We live in a society of instant gratification, where anything we want is at our fingertips. There is very little real challenge left for us to experience in day-to-day life. We all see people craving the next thing to buy in an unending attempt to fulfil this urge.
As I sat in a warm chair, I though about it. I’d just spent a very short time unplugged from all other responsibilities, not thinking about my life back home, work or worries. Solely concentrating on one foot in front of the other and and keeping myself safe.
This micro adventure had made me feel fulfilled, relaxed and at peace. It reconnected me with the world around me and reminds me we are only a tiny part of a very big planet.
It teaches humility, responsibility, respect and appreciation and most importantly it’s awesome fun!
I can't recommend it enough. Going out and trying a simple walk in the mountains is a liberating feeling that's accessible to everyone.
Go for a walk! Make the most of this beautiful Island we live on and I promise you’ll feel great for it - whatever the weather.