Pain is inevitable suffering is optional

Buddist Quote

With the aim of getting myself Rich and Andy to the same level or close to in the scrambling stakes we’ve had this event planned for months. Now of course I trust my friends but that trust is taken to another level when you know what you are doing. I’m sure I’ve read more than a few times and heard in conversation ‘such and such is a good friend such a good friend that I’d trust him/her with my life. Might be worth examining that statement as yes I trust my friends, but when it’s doing things like this, not with my life if they haven’t had training. This isn’t a normal situation, and as much as I love my mates hoofing it straight up the side of a mountain and just expecting them to know what to do if I fall is just stupid. He’s my mate, I trust him with my life but he’s waving sparklers around in a room full of fireworks because he doesn’t understand how dangerous it is, as an example. Saying you trust someone when they don’t know what they are doing is pretty special. And this is the thing, as friends REALLY being able to trust each other with each others lives is something not many people will ever know.

Bryan, the instructor who took me training for grade 3 scrambles in the Langdale pikes is meeting us soon for two days of training around the Glyders range which has some excellent routes. The idea is that we can all tackle these things in future with a bit more group confidence as you can clearly see a lot of these blog posts are now covering areas which are a lot more sketchy. I’m confident I can put gear in and belay the guys in a number of scenarios however I want to be confident they can do this too! Plus it means we can take on more interesting (and by that I mean shit scary) things together. You all need to be on the same page, because one freakout effects everybody. You really don’t want to be half way up something where the only way to escape is to finish it and have one of you get hit by the fear rigour mortis.

Unfortunately close to the time Rich drops put at the last minute due to work related stuff so as per usual it ends up being just me and Andy who are still in, not a massive issue two of us is a good shout for a scramble. Remember when your folks said to you ‘ if your friend said jump off a cliff would you do it?’ well if they are really good friends they are usually well up for it.

Andy comes to meet me at Pen Y Pass Hostel, and I’ve booked us into Llanberis YHA. Why you ask? Well it’s an excuse to get away from work which I’m living at for the moment and I don’t fancy being woken at 4am by the stomping feet of 3 peak challengers who always seem to forget other people aren’t taking part in their challenge. Having a room above the self catering kitchen was NOT a wise decision.

We are going to drive down to Llanberis, both of us in fact as I now have a car. I’ve not been driving long, and this is my first car at 37, which is a little shameful but better late than never. I guess I can almost consider myself an adult now, to a degree though I’m never planning on actually growing up ever. Even though the fact that I now get excited over nice furniture is a constant worry. The little silver car barely gets up some of the mountain passes but it’s transport, it is totally tiny but you can’t half fling it down winding country roads and It’s definitely going to increase my range of adventures that’s for sure, even if it is like a mess tin with four wheels.

We arrive and check in at Llanberis find our room get settled in and out comes the equipment laid out on the floor to make sure we have the right gear for tomorrow. Luckily I went on a mad one when I still worked at Snow And Rock and bought a absolute ton of gear so I’ve got plenty spare to build a rack for Andy.

The next day we go to meet Bryan in one of the many car park around the Ogwen valley and as he drives an old British gas van in a bright blue and a first we struggle to find him because it turn out old British gas vans are pretty common for climbers, we see at least three knowing around. Eventually we find the one that’s Bryan lair and have a quick catch up on what we are going to do today. I don’t really enjoy explaining to Bryan about my massive bad luck and the resulting dodgy feet and knees from reactive arthritis since last time we met. On a positive note It’s always a good idea to tell your leader about any medical conditions in case they later become a problem on the mountain, as I’m sure a lot of people don’t. At the moment with the bad joints and feet and so on I’m getting a free sample of what it might be like when I’m 80 so hopefully I don’t live that long. I guess if I keep doing stuff like this I probably won’t!

After a quick equipment discussion half the stuff I’m carrying ends up being left in Bryans van, because as usual I’ve over-prepared as I do have a tendency to just bring everything just in case, though what part of me thought I’d need a caving ascender today I don’t know. We get our packs on and we set off past the visitor centre and up towards Llyn Idwal. Being as we missed it last time I had said I wanted to do the Idwal Staircase however Bryans found us an interesting route that heads behind and above it, which I’m kicking myself for not knowing was there. Clearly I need to invest in a few more guide books for future.

It’s not long before the staircase appears in front of us very distinctively as Bryan gets us to identify it, which being as it’s burnt into my memory from not doing it last time it takes me about 2 seconds to identify it’s dark diagonal slash in the rock wall that surrounds Llyn Idwal. We get the gear ready and Bryan leads the way as if it’s not a scramble but he’s taking a stroll out to get some shopping, showing the benefit of lots of experience. 

This route turns out to have a pretty epic panoramic view of the valley below and it’s a nice and clear day, so we stop for a moment and of course I have to take a picture of me pointing at Idwal Staircase for Ben as it’s far below here and it feels like we have gone one better. The only irritating thing here is If we’d have known this route was here with it’s beginning just to the right hand side of the Idwal staircase route, we could have done it last time.

At this stage of the route we have just topped out so we practice a few techniques like using the rope passed behind a large boulder to belay each other with which is quick and handy and Andy gets some practice putting in the passive gear.

We discuss moving on to another route however Bryan and Andy can see that my arthritic knee and foot are playing up so as a group we decide to pack it in for the day as tomorrow we are meant to be heading to Tryvan for something that’s going to be much tougher than this.

Even though I know I can’t help it I am still annoyed with myself for not being able to carry on. I know this reactive arthritis thing is meant to be temporary and it might clear eventually but it is really frustrating. And even though I am way better than I was 6 months ago when I couldn’t even walk without crutches, I feel like I’m letting the team down here, even though I did explain to Bryan about my issues, and Andy knows them first hand. At this point it’s just really pissing me off, going from being capable of ultramarathons to now finding it painful to hike is just brutal. Some days I wonder If i could just get all the painful bits chopped off and replaced with those blade things, instead of walking around like a cowboy with ass cramp all the time. So, instead of continuing we make use of the time to practice a bit of rope work and carrying the rope, tidying it up which is always useful and practice a few more steep ground belaying techniques.

Onto Tryvan

We meet Bryan the next day at the lay-by near Tryvan Bach and set straight off, along the way we find a bunch of mountain goats who seem totally fascinated by a style over the fence, like they’ve never seen before. Smelling them before we see them (goats smell bloody awful) another lot spectate as we ascend the slopes of the mountain.

I recognise the route we are taking, this is the kind of stepped bit that appears when you head to the North East however instead of continuing straight to the top we take a left and head along a trail that takes us to the foot of Bastow Buttress to the East face.

We stop and get the gear out and Bryan describes the route for us. I’m leading so it’s up to me to get that first bit of gear in. It just so happens the start is super sketchy and less of a ‘big step’ and more of a wet rock crack about 5m high. In my head I’m just thinking of slipping and finishing off my bad right foot. In one place the crack is so narrow the thing I hate most when climbing happens, my foot gets wedged, but not in a useful way that will help me climb more the sort of wedge where you wonder if you will get your foot back. And it just so happens to be my bad foot which hurts like hell but it’s so swollen I don’t really need to worry about it slipping.

When I finally recover my unlucky appendage I get the gear in and bring Andy up with me then Bryan joins us with enviable ease and we discuss the next section. This time Andy takes the lead, after he gets up I realise while in the process of doing it that I’m having to do a swing out with the added pressure of being pretty much on the edge of a cliff hanging out over the path we came up, now shrouded in mist so I have no idea of what the fall might be if I cock up. You’d think this would help but having a great imagination, the added mist and guesswork isn’t helping. I’m not feeling overly confident however the last time I was out scrambling I was incredibly fit and healthy and not carrying any injuries, whereas now I’m dealing with the serious foot and knee pain caused by the arthritis. It’s making me feel very vulnerable which if you’ve read any of the rest of my blogs you already know is not my cup of tea. Bryan can hear me cursing as I ascend and he’s a bit concerned as I didn’t have this doubt the last time. ‘Are you ok down there Mark?’ I reply ‘ Yeah alll good just having a bit of a moment’ which is an understatement as I having a full on disagreement with myself. I don’t let the fear take over though I psyche myself up and work my way to the anchor where Andy is waiting. 

Me and Andy tie into the anchor with our clove hitches, make safe and stop for a ‘hey look at us in a dangerous situation’ style selfie in which I barely wipe the look of discomfort off my face, even with the added painkillers. Andy is bloody loving it though so that’s a positive.

With us made safe Bryan heads up to the next section to top rope us and after setting off we hit some steep weathered slopes and I look up to see the rocky cliffs of Tryvan looming out of the mist all around us, looking epic and brooding. Here the way becomes steeper and we traverse along very grippy but awkward rock slopes before taking a break and looking at the vast landscapes below peeking through the clouds.

We grab a bite to eat before continuing up some slightly more technical 45 degree angled what I can only really describe as rock ramps. I think I’d move with a bit more ease over these if I was 100% however the angle and strain it’s putting on my feet and knees is so painful I’m having to grit my teeth which is really frustrating but it’s still a lot better than staying in. I’ve got to push through because It’ll be good for me in the long run I’m sure. 

Eventually we make t to the top of Tryvan and all stand on a big rock slab looking put over everything looking and feeling epic. I’m proud of myself for pushing through but I’m a bit destroyed, and the way back down proves t be a real effort with my feet and knees all seizing up. I’m starting to feel a total burden to the lads as I’m in a lot of pain now and I can hardly walk but I’m determined to get back down. Bryan heads down to the car park to get his van and pick us up when we get back down which is really good of him. I feel kind of bad for making him worry. I guess when I start guiding if I had someone like me and be concerned too even though I had no idea this was going to be this bad though so It’s not like I could have warned him any more. I just hope it clears up eventually because there’s loads more of this to come!