“Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. ”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Today we are heading off to Cadair Idris which for me is kind of symbolic. This mountain stands at 839m or 2,930ft and the first time I was here I hadn’t done much in the outdoors since being very young. I never used to have much enthusiasm for it but after being brought here by a good friend when we were both going through a hard time I realised loved the uncompromising uncomplicated feel and challenge of hiking mountains, and even more that I could deal with my fear of heights.
To be back here as a trainee mountain leader is amazing as it feels like its meant to be. However in some sort of ironic twist I am again going through a hard time, and not just a bit of a hard time but the worst period in my life so far. And I’ve struggled through so much but I took a plunge to come to Wales, I live here now. I took that step into the unknown and I’m doing it and after a year of pain, loss, personal illness, even though I feel utterly broken and lost, I’ve managed to pull this off despite all odds.
Only thing is right now it feels like a bit of an empty victory, because the first thing I want to do is text Vix. But I stop when I realise I can’t share this moment with her, because she’s not alive anymore anywhere apart from in my heart and head. And I’m trying my hardest to be positive but my body hurts, like you wouldn’t believe unless you’ve have arthritis. Yet I’m still doing this, it’s just ten times harder to keep going now not just physically but mentally too. But I have to remind myself, she kept going when anyone else would have given up and so do I and I always will. And that’s the reason for the opening quote not only does it have a point, but she loved that film.
We meet the leaders in the car park along with two guys who are doing their assessment and exchange a few words about the mountain weather and of course if anybody has checked Mwis (the mountain weather information service) for the day. Thankfully unlike yesterday it’s a mainly sunny day which is a relief as yesterday was grim. You can’t really beat a sunny day on Cadiar because of it’s amazing views. I swear I can even smell the not far off ocean from the top when I’m up there but maybe I just used to imagine it.
Making our way up the Minfford path which snakes its way up from the carpark alongside the Nant Cadair (Nant being Welsh for stream), we pass through the woods on the slope of the mountain. Here near the waterfall we discuss plant life here and I get a weird look when I identify some wood sorrel, and just pluck it and eat it. This is clearly behaviour I’ve picked up from my friend Bracken the bushcraft and forest school instructor. The stuff isn’t bad actually as it strangely tastes like apple or apple peel. Might be good in a salad. I’m not really in the right place to start throwing a salad together right now though these lot think I’m weird enough as it is I think.
We discuss how we know where we are and the conversation varies from the water feature (a blue feature) all the way to the nearby trees but eventually we get told…. Its because of the landscape feature (a brown feature). Which I think only one of us, the guy I think is maybe a public school teacher if I remember rightly thought of. Pretty annoying as the feature is right in front of our noses. I cast my mind back to Geography on school and thinking I’d never really need to know it and mentally kick myself. Literally the only thing I could have learned in school that would have been any use in my adult life.
We start to make our way up following the flow of the stream until we top out and come across the stone footbridge made of huge planks of grey slate that crosses the flow of the stream. Passing the bridge our target is the glacial lake at the foot of the Cadair horseshoe. We identify a few ruined buildings on our way which judging by the map were old settlements. Every time up up here I keep thinking I want to find out more about if anyone lived here maybe I’ll get round to it one day for the blogs.
It’s not long until the steely grey blue waters of the lake appear, looking at the small ripples on the surface brings back not so fond but amusing memories of me and my mate Andy getting into Llyn Cau just up our waist and still developing onset hypothermia from not too many hours later. The waters always seem to be freezing cold which I think’s probably a product of the lake never getting the sun even in the summer, being sounded by the horseshoe. Which I guess is where the welsh name comes from as it means ‘closed lake’. I can remember the pure shock of the water hitting me just below the waist as I look at it and the terrified retraction of the family jewels in response. The shape of the lake and the way it’s surrounded by rock walls is no accident, and funnily enough we all discuss as a group how this ice bath was formed by glacial movement.
Sometimes called natures bulldozer the internet tells me, or in my head ‘that big icy boy’ glaciers erode and shape the landscape. The weight of the glacier is so heavy it causes the sole (bottom) of the glacier to melt. The resulting meltwater moving under the glacier freezes and thaws in cracks between the rock underneath, in a process known as freeze thaw weathering and eventually it loosens it and freezes around the broken off rocks and carrels them away in an action known as ‘plucking’, these rocks and stones move with the glacier abrading the rock underneath and often leaving smoothed and scored bedrock underneath.You can see signs of this in this valley where the rocks look like they have been scratched by huge stone claws. Bits of rock and stone travel inside or on top of the glacier which gives it a dirty look. I’m afraid as yet I’ve not seen an active one up close however it’s totally on the bucket list along with a hundred other things that might kill me. As the glacier travels downhill and begins to melt the rocks are deposited leaving behind a mix of rocks, stones, sand and soil known as glacial till or ‘moraine’ that you can see scattered about the mountain valleys, as random piles or hills of rock and debris. Theres quite a few in this valley scattered about however I remember I’ve see a lot more on the approach to Snowdon. As we set off away from the lake and a seagull that seems fixated on our lunch, I make a note to come and have a wild camp here and use the water as a beer chiller in the near future. And of course maybe bring a super thick wetsuit and give that lake another go.
We head to the summit by a route I’ve taken many times before, and here we are going to practice moving over steep ground . At first we start with a partially buried boulder that makes up a section of the path to the summit, and they show us how to demonstrate to our clients pushing your weight forward up up over the ones, which right now I can’t really demonstrate without gritting my teeth, due to my favoured right foot having a currently barely moving arthritic toe with all the give of a rusty gate hinge. Then as we ascend for the summit the instructor gets us to head off up away from the path on some steeper craggier ground. This is where we are reminded of how to move as a group over this, keeping close spacing so if we do dislodge any rocks, nobody is so far behind they get a granite sandwich, or the more common and less exotic sounding lower leg injury, the most reported issue for people getting picked up by mountain rescue
Relating to group management we discuss putting less confident group members in the middle of the group and it is of course easy to forget that as a leader you are already used to moving on difficult ground and likely desensitised to it. Putting these guys in the middle and or closest to the leader can increase the feeling of security and safety for them. Talking of safety, it’s at this point another group starts to follow us, showing its always best to know where you are going and navigate yourself,. They want to get to the summit but we are practicing on steep ground close to the edge, this isn’t the place for them really. The instructors has to point them back to the main and frankly realky obvious path to the summit. I’ve seen this sheep / lemming effect a lot of times and I have to admit I’m guilty of it too, then again I can at least credit myself with being able to spot the obvious trail to the summit in perfect visibility, which really is just common sense.
Eventually we head to the summit with its epic views. What I’ve always liked about Cadair is its excellent 360 view of the surrounding area, right out to the estuary at Barmouth. Its a really beautiful place.
After hitting the summit we find some bits we can practice steep ground movements on. The leader suggests a game making our way up just using the rocks, which apparently goes down well with kids. And I’m straight into upsetting them again because I love a scramble and they arn’t comfortable with the way I approach the rocks, even though I know I’m perfectly capable. Fair enough I guess though I’m a bit put out I’m not allowed to continue my rock fondling and pebble wrestling because I was finding that easier than the hiking in my current state. My foot and knee by this point are all throbbing, and I’m not long off hoovering up some painkillers.
The route we take back down the mountain puts us on a crash course with the guys who are building and restoring the paths, who are usually the National Park authority, National Trust and often with funds raised by the BMC. They use helicopters to bring in the heavy rocks used to build the mountain paths and because of this as we approach one of the crew it’s not long before we end up learning first hand about what to do when a helicopter comes in. And of course this useful and relevant for a mountain leader, never good to end a hike by having your head lopped off by a rotor blade right? The site guy gets to us to stop and get down on the ground for safety. Apart from the rotors another thing to be aware of is downdraft from the helicopter can blow things away and also kick up dust and other debris from the floor which can potentially injure you. In some cases if a helicopter is powerful enough it’s downdraft can even blow over sheep. I can’t see any sheep bouncing down the mountainside at this point so all good. Oh and it’s loud, really really loud. We keep a large distance between us and the chopper, as we don’t want or need to be anywhere near those blades. Before long after our little bit of excitement we are on our way back down for a quick debrief before ending the day.