I have to admit I am pretty concerned about undertaking mountain leader training after being ill for many months, and I’m thinking it’s not impossible that maybe I’d hurt myself while doing this worse than I can recover from. What’s more is the fact I really haven’t had a lot of time to repair my fitness and feel ready for this, I’ve gone from being able to run ultramarathons to having some days where my feet and knees are agony. On the bright side I’m still a load better than I was many months ago where I needed morphine, codeine and Amyltriptaline just to sleep. Some day’s though I still feel like someones swapped my legs for the legs of an 80 year old, and smashed my right foot with a sledgehammer and done the river dance on it. I have managed a few long days out on the mountains since I got here, but they did really hurt after. I’m standing here looking at my calendar, the course starts tomorrow and I’m nervously packing a ton of hiking gear into my duffel bag all the time worrying if I’ve forgotten something important.
It’s been a pretty crazy few months, and after It was announced my old workplace was closing down I thought I’d have a crack at actually getting jobs in North Wales and making something happen. After losing the other half and a close friend to covid, I just didn’t want to be in Birmingham anymore and I became tired of just talking about escaping, I wanted to finally do it. I mean who would after all of that? Plus I have spent almost half my life trying to get the hell away from this city, it is grim. The sort of place that only looks clean after fresh snowfall. So off I went applying for different jobs that weren’t in Birmingham and it’s a good job I did because less than a week later I got a call and not long after I’d bagged myself a job working in Snowdonia. It was perfect timing as the other option was moving to Fort William up in Scotland with the old business who desperately wanted to keep me but not desperately enough to pay me a wage I could actually live on. And Fort William is far more isolated than Snowdonia, and a lot harder to return from when you are there! At the point I’m writing this, I’ve spent just over a month now at Pen Y Pass and it’s been challenging totally changing jobs, location, leaving all my mates and family back in Birmingham. And just to add to the load, instead of relaxing after a month of super hard work in a seriously understaffed business, here I am about to head out for Mountain Leader training. I won’t cancel though even if my feet and joints are putting me in serious pain, because I’ve come this far and I feel like it’s meant to be, because it turns out we will be doing some training on Cadair Idris which was, the first ever mountain I hiked top many years ago and was the one that got me hiking mountains in the first place.
Weirdly I put a post on Instagram the one day saying how much I’m looking forward to doing my ML Training and I got a response from Laura who just so happens to be on the exact same training course. She’s even staying at the same campsite as me, so we organise meeting up before we go on the course and having a day out hiking around and exploring Dinorwic Quarry down the road from me. During this and being as we get on pretty well we decide I’ll get a lift around with Laura during our mountain leader training. It’s lucky I met her really as being devoid of a car makes getting around in what is essentially the middle of nowhere pretty difficult. I am looking at car prices at the moment but part of me wonders if it’ll just be cheaper and more appropriate living out here to buy a horse.
So it’s the day before the mountain leader course begins and I’m spending the evening packing my stuff which for some reason I really enjoy. If there’s one thing I’ve always enjoyed it’s preparing to leave! The next day Laura arrives at Pen Y Pass to collect me, I mentally wave goodbye to the crazy amount of tourists, and we start the short but very picturesque drive down to South Wales. We are heading to Tan Y Fron campsite in the small town of Dollegau. This isn’t a holiday though, mountain leader lasts 6 days and I feel like it’s going to be a challenge with the state I’m in at the moment.
Tan Y Fron is a really pleasant little site which is unusually quiet for the time of year, I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a bit cold for the time of year or maybe the Welsh chased all the tourists away with pitchforks. Because we are going to be out on the mountains basically every day we’ve both booked glamping pods for a bit of luxury, well if you can class sleeping in what is essentially a B&Q shed as a luxury anyway! For those of you who don’t know what glamping is, it’s a buzz word for not really camping properly and having warmth, shelter and more amenities. Personally I’ve spent enough time already camping on windswept mountains for anybody. On that note, these pods we have even have their own Mini Fridges in little outhouses which I’m way too impressed by. So impressed that it’s almost too late for me to avoid the angry queen wasp that comes buzzing at me through the ping pong ball sized nest made of wasp vomit paper and hate I’ve not noticed hanging just slightly above my head in the fridges little shed.
We spend the rest of the evening chilling out and getting all of our gear ready for the start of the course in the morning, and I’m glad we got pods as it’s way easier to spread out all my equipment and make sure it’s all there and packed than it would be in the tent.
So it’s day one of the course and we drive to meet the course leader in Coed Y Brenin forest visitor centre for a cup of tea and to discuss what brought us all to take a Mountain leader course. After a few introductions we jump back in the cars and head to an area just on the edge of the very isolated Rhinog Mountains. We have a quick kit discussion, and I’m told my rather expensive GPS will not connect as fast with the emergency services as I think. Still, I can still send text messages off it if I’m in trouble so it can’t be that bad. Clearly Graham isn’t much of a fan. I then get told off for wearing approach shoes instead of boots because of the example I’m setting as a leader if I’m not wearing boots, because people might mistake them for trainers. I guess he has a point, not that anybody I’ve seen seems to need any encouragement to wear totally the wrong thing in the mountains. In fact I’ve seen plenty of idiots making their way up mountains in flip flops. The sort of people you know might be coming back down in a helicopter later on.
We head out into the hills to discuss navigation and for Graham to see where we are at with our navigation skills. And on the way be identify a few plants, such as Tormentil which is so named because it ‘Torments Illness’ we also identify Milkwort which was fed to grazing livestock as it’s unique property is that it will stimulate them producing milk. Part of me is wondering if I fed it to random people it would make them start lactating. We also identify sundew plants, a type of bog living, insectivorous plant that we get a lot over here.
Then we get onto proper navigation and I end up in the wrong place pretty much immediately because I’m not staying on my bearing.It’s a mistake I soon decide to never make again because I feel like a total tit when nearly everyones at the small dried up lake and I’m just above it. We also discuss taking different sorts of bearings, which is good as I’ve been lazy as hell with using them up until now.
It’s barely ten minutes after I regain my ability to take bearings again when it begins to piss with rain, and it happens to be the annoying drizzle type that soaks you through. As I’m thinking that my shorts are so wet I might as well be wearing otter skin, Graham asks if I have waterproof trousers. And yes I do but I hate the things of course I do but I’m already moister than a mermaids cocktail party and it isn’t cold. I wonder if it’s going to be this wet and grim for the whole course? We finally stop practice as the rain becomes quite heavy, and I navigate back with more success this time. I’m pretty relived when we stop for a debrief and a chill then finish the day.
We get home for the early evening, because I am soaked through from the legs down, I head rapidly in the direction of the hopefully warm showers. As press the shower button I struggle to contain my shock as I’m hit by a tidal wave of cold water, right in the eyes in fact. This unexpected wave of water washes my dry towel and boxer shorts across the room. Who installed this shower? Neptune? Guess I’ll be going back to the pod soaked then. At least I know I’ll have another set of dry clothes back there being as I seem to pack underwear as if I have the intention of soiling myself every day.
Back at the pod during organising my gear for tomorrow I decide that I’ve got way too comfy in my B&Q shed, so I don’t want to move out. And not just because it’s kinda comfy and warm but because it won’t stop raining.
I decide that I’m going to have to book a few more nights in here, especially as it’s a lot easier to organise gear in here than it will be in a tent. Plus I have a feeling I’m going t9o be so tired by the end of this that crawling into a wet tent at night isn’t going to be fun. I could sleep in a bush if I had to (and I have at some points) bt there’s no point doing it for the sake of it. I also think if I’m outside there’s a chance I might end up swallowing one of these unfortunately named ‘cockchafer’ beetles. Imagine that conversation in the morning ‘Did you sleep well?’ they ask ‘not really I swallowed a cockchafer’ you reply. Anyway on that note I’m off to sleep.