‘Cause when it feels like a kick in the teeth, I can take it. Throw your stones and you won’t see me break it. Say what you want, take your shots, you’re setting me free with one more kick in the teeth’

Jacoby Shaddix: Papa Roach, ‘Kick In The Teeth’

So I’m at our outdoor equipment shop and everything, every shelf every unit is empty. There’s motes of dust hanging in the air and the sun is streaming in through the large windows just illuminating the bareness of the place. This is the second store I’ve had shut due to the after effects of covid and high rents and I’m just totally done with it now. I kind of wish I’d brought a skateboard or something to try and at least enjoy the emptiness of it all. It’s pretty sad that the stores closing after about 40 years of being open, but it’s the start of something new and being an outdoor person, finally getting to walk away from retail work is a relief. Working in retail never was the plan, is it ever anybodies plan? There are plenty of points in time where talking to people about being outside when I’m stuck indoors became irritating as well as a bit depressing.

Me: ‘Where are you headed?’

Them: Killamanjaro! How about you? Any trips coming up?

Me: Yeah the stockroom!

It’s not like I didn’t try many times to escape either, even at one point and having a teaching qualification I wanted to use as something other than an expensive ornament (along with my degree) I noticed you could get a job teaching with the Army as an officer. And of course to me this sounded like a great adventurous career. It conjured up ideas of teaching in tents in the desert and up on mountains so it had a definite appeal for me. Despite having no intention of becoming a coffee and doughnut fuelled middle manager, in a cruel twist of fate it happened anyway because it was a skill requirement to become an army officer, so I straight up just went and became one in a short time. Getting into the army never worked out though, because being good at quick fire maths was pretty much essential, and quick maths with people trying to kill me at the same time? I’ll pass thanks. On the bright side? Theres nobody shooting at me right now while I’m writing this so I guess that’s a silver lining! And another silver lining was working selling hiking and mountaineering equipment means I know plenty about it, which is definitely coming in useful over my journey to become a mountain leader.

The job itself hasn’t been so bad, most of the staff were adventurous outdoor people and we had a laugh together. Having so much in common definitely helped that’s for sure and that was a thing that made us get on with probably 80% of the customers. Unfortunately working retail that remaining 20% of people seem to go out of their way to be humongous asshats. The people who demand to see a manager at the slightest inconvenience, 30+ women who are the punchline of the ‘Karen’ joke. The same who’s faces always sank when they got informed that actually I am the manager, and that being a dick approach doesn’t wash. Maybe it’s just because of being in a city, but then again it’s more likely that there’s a fair few dickheads out there. Since covid hit everyone in the cities seems to have turned into even worse versions of themselves.

I won’t miss the people who threaten ‘I’ll call trading standards’ to which the reply was ‘go for it I’m sure they will enjoy talking to you as much as I have which is of course, not at all. And I won’t miss selling clothing from ‘The North Face’ clothing which is essentially smack head and shoplifter bait. Most of the time the only ‘North Face’ of anything these lot are heading towards is Winson Green prison. I’m not going to miss the terrible joke when a member of staff hasn’t priced something, and the customer pipes up with ‘well in that case it must be free!’ which I guess it would have to be as they clearly aren’t making any money from being a comedian! I won’t miss the people who think they are in a marketplace and not a specialist store and ask if anything can be done about the price for them. The only thing I’ll do about a price is charge you it, and the only thing you are getting thrown in for free is a receipt!

I’m just not going to miss Birmingham, just the other week there was a multiple stabbing just over the roundabout from the shop which is just grim. So you can probably understand my relief at getting away from this grey city, which only seems to look clean when it snows. Lots of people I know are proud of being Brummies but sometimes I think it’s the sort of pride that you get from prospering in a shitty environment.

Some things you did just have to laugh at though, like The strange and pervasive idea that ‘out the back’ or the stockroom is some magical Indiana jones style warehouse where there may be one piece of clothing you overlooked hanging next to the ark of the covenant. Trust me there isn’t if there was I’d have spent a lot more time out there! Oh and people not looking, listening, paying attention which may just be a city thing. I have seen people trip over wet floor signs and walk directly into doors that are clearly marked with ‘no entry’. Even at the point where we were closed with no stock in the shop and massive signs saying ‘this store is now closed’ people still tried to get in the store. Including the one shoplifter who turned up after we’d emptied the store and we informed that he was too late because all his mates had already nicked it all! I will regret setting up an abseil out of our window on the last day and leaving the place in true style, and not telling more people to go f*ck themselves when they seemed to think it was ok to use shop staff and me as verbal punching bags.

On that note, goodbye retail!

Another exciting day in Birmingham, just a few police cars for decoration

Finally Escaping To Wales

Moving itself is actually pretty nightmarish, between packing up the shop and packing all my stuff I’m totally exhausted. It feels as if I’m packing up my entire life and maybe it should because that’s exactly what I’m doing. After my better half Vix and then one of my close friends Baz passing away I’ve made the decision I need a fresh start. And I think they would approve of what I’m doing, I know they’d both be supportive if they were still here. Unfortunately they aren’t so I have to start looking out for me, there’s no other choice. I’d started applying for jobs away from home, close to the mountains the moment I was told I was getting made redundant yet again. And working in Snowdonia was the first job I rallied for, it’s like the universe finally decided to stop trying to kill me and throw me a bone, so I took the plunge. What better place to live for a trainee mountain leader? And talking about that I asked to move in at Pen Y Pass a few days before actually starting the job, so me and Andy can get out on the mountains and do a trek and a summit. He’s dropping me up to the place with all my stuff which is good of him, and saves any more teary moments with the folks. I don’t think I’d want to put them through anymore, I think seeing me hang off mountains is bad enough for Mum and Dad!

Mountains As We Enter Snowdonia

Hectic, Hectic and suddenly silence.

Finally the day comes and with all my stuff stacked by the door I realise that 90% of my possessions are outdoor clothing and equipment. I don’t seem to have much in the way of normal everyday stuff to take with me. The drive to wales is quite nice but I just find myself constantly on edge because this time we are going on an adventure that I’m not coming back from. As soon as Andy leaves the deal is done, I’m a resident of North Wales. I guess it’s just going to feel weird that I’m not heading back to Birmingham after having a bit of an adventure. I don’t mind doing out of my comfort zone but it’s like I’m going to have to establish an entirely new one. And that makes me even more uncomfortable!

We decide to stop off for lunch in Llangollen which is a place I’ve visited a few times before now for different reasons from cycling to climbing, and we head to Fouzi’s Restaurant which we have tried before. I’ve been eating nothing but junk food for weeks so part of me seems to think I can make amends by eating Pollo Alla Penne Genovese which is loaded with cream. It is however pretty tasty so at least I can justify getting fat. Sort of.

The drive takes a bit longer than expected but eventually we get to the hostel and and meet Katie who looks, well happy but super tired. I get handed a key to my new lair in the mountains and as we walk up to the front door we instantly notice that the path right up into the mountains right next to it. And that strikes me as pretty cool. I steal myself with a breath, praying that the place isn’t a hole and as I walk through the door to my relief it’s like a little breeze blocky extension with serious countryside cottage vibes. Me and Andy lug my stuff into the place, I choose the room thats the smallest warmest one because I’m a human doormouse. Then it’s off for some food and some welsh ‘magic lager’ which apparently was stolen from fairies or something.

When The Miners Track Becomes Not Doing the Miners Track

So it’s the next day and It was my intention to get up early but my burnt out body has decided that this is not an option. Instead I’m awake by about 11am feeling like someone poured a bit of Sahara desert in my mouth, as I wake and my tongue unsticks from the inside of my mouth like velcro. I guess I haven’t slept properly in the last few weeks because of thinking about moving, eventually when I do get up I find out Andy has been waiting for me for hours but didn’t want to wake me up. Or maybe he was just scared away by my giant warthog snoring noises rattling the hostel windows.

We start up the Miners track and spot a few mountain goats and start taking notes on the local fauna in this case the local mountain goats, for our mountain leader notes. I’m a bit concerned about my foot and knee as I’m still suffering from reactive arthritis but after taking a few zen like photos of the lake and then heading up to Glaslyn I can’t resist suggesting a scramble because I’ve already gone too long without a nice dose of adrenaline. And it just so happens there’s a scramble right next to Glasyn, which just appears on the map as ‘Cribau’. If you head to where the stream running out of Glasyn is and cross over the stream its the small ridgeline jutting out just there.

It’s a scramble you’d hardly notice most of the time, most people having their eyes set straight ahead to the Snowdon Summit but if you don’t mind a little exposure (by that I mean to heights there’s not a flasher at the top) then this is a much more fun way to ascent to the peak. Theres a bit of a grim drop on the left hand side and it’s a little more chilled on the right but the more I do this kind of thing the less I’m finding it bothers me. There’s plenty of handholds and the rock is fairly grippy in most places.

The Approach to The Cribau Scramble. Looks meaner than it is.

We get to the top of the scramble and I notice Andy isn’t with me, looking round I see he’s paused to start building a tiny snowman. Because that’s what everyone does on the mountains right? No. Then again he is one of my friends so it’s pretty standard that he’s weird and proud of it.

Time to create Mr Frosty Apparently

We carry on to just below the summit where the Watkin Path joins and head up the loose scree and up to the sight of a slight covering of snow which just adds to the scene. Not sure why but to me it feel like a proper mountain when there’s snow on the top and that’s pretty much what ‘Snowdon’ means apparently in Saxon ‘Snow Hill’. I stop to take a picture out across the snow sprinkled landscape which the dark rocks piercing through the white snow before we reach the summit because It’s looking kinda cool. I’m pretty disappointed but not surprised to see that the summit is a mess and the front door of the Snowdon Cafe is full of litter.I don’t know why people seem to be able to bring this stuff up here and not take what’s left back down again. If I had anything to out it in I would take it back down with me, not that I should have to! After a bit of a look around we decide to take the route back down via the PYG track and eventually make it back to the hostel. And even on the way down with the light of what photographers call ‘golden hour’ shining up Pen Y Pass I’m still trying to mentally accept that I live here now and I’m not leaving for once, It’s a bit mind-blowing.

Snowdon looks pretty majestic when it lives up to it’s name
Pen Y Pass