What Goes Up, Has to Come Down!


I was 58 years old and had hiked for years, but never climbed a significant mountain in my life. Why on earth did I think I could climb two in three days, one being the highest in Great Britain?

The “hike” up Cader Idris (meaning Chair of Idris) was not a hike – it was boulder climbing – one over another to get to the summit. But climbers’ pain must be akin to women’s birth pains, (just fuzzily remembered) so the description of the ascent to the summit of Mount Snowdon did not sound so bad – family groups did it, so why not give it a shot – after all, I might never have another chance.

We had engaged a guide for both hikes: he was a skin-and-bones little Welshman with enough tufts of hair left on his head you could tell it was gray. He referred to himself as the “Uncrowned Scorpion-Climber of the Welsh Highlands,” (he also was a member of a group of climbing crazies who annually climbed Cader Idris barefooted!)

The climb up Mt. Snowdon was not exactly a piece of cake –it was long – and the direction was up -- always up and I still had not recovered completely from my Cader Idris climb two days earlier. At the summit “Scorpion Climber” asked us if we wanted to take the train back down, go back the same way --- OR there was a third route down the backside of Mt. Snowdon, but as far as he knew it had not been hiked that year. The other two in the group opted for the latter route. Not wishing to appear wimpish, and more than a little anxious about splitting from the group, I reluctantly put one foot in front of the other and started down. Less than five minutes into the decent I knew I had made a horrible mistake: I was in way over my head, I was a hiker not a mountain climber! Even a tungsten-tipped hiking stick could not anchor a person into rock -- or dirt that moved. The footing was scree -- I WAS TERRIFIED: you put your foot down and it moved and not necessarily in the direction you intended. The others didn’t seem to have difficulty with their footing, but my feet wanted to slide off that mountain with me attached. I was told to bend over and keep my center of gravity low (I was almost crawling, if I got any lower, I would be slithering).

When we had gone too far to turn back, Scorpion Climber confessed to us this side of Mt. Snowdon was where Mallory and company trained for their 1953 Mt. Everett ascent. Now he tells us! I can’t go back and I am walking horizontally across the side of a cliff! Not even scrub vegetation to grab for support. The drop is straight down – way, way down. I don’t look because I’m scared spitless. I keep repeating to myself: DO NOT PANIC! YOU HAVE TO GET DOWN AND THIS IS THE ONLY WAY – YOU HAVE NO CHOICE. The trekking stick is useless so I am gripping Scorpion Climber’s hand tighter and tighter (a fact he reminds me of later when he suggests additional compensation for being injured in the line of duty). He would not stand a bat’s chance in hell of holding me back from a fall as I outweigh him by at least 35 pounds – but I knew he would TRY to save me, and that fact was calming in some strange way.

Finally I reached the bottom of that cursed trail. My legs were shaking so bad that when the females stopped for a tinkle break at the back of a deserted stone cottage, I pulled my pants down and promptly fell face forward into the marsh muck. I was covered in black slimy stuff. Between fits of laughing-so-hard-we-can’t-stand-up-straight, my friend made a photo of me from the rear she can blackmail me with the rest of my life. Looks like a round white pumpkin surrounded by black stuff.

At our last evening meal, my HERO our hike leader (who had become far more handsome) presented me with a certificate:

“In recognition of her Herculean Determination and Wondrous Valor
Beyond the (Common) Sense of Duty”
and he signed it:
“The Uncrowned Scorpion Climber of the Welsh Highlands.”

Now when I am faced with a new challenge and question if I can really do it, I read my certificate. Sure I can… why not!

C Cook

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