Back in August, I contributed to The Bigger Book Of Yes. It’s a fantastic book of 22 short adventures stories and the profit goes to Teddington Trust a great charity who helps children suffering from Xeroderma Pigmentosum a rare condition which is an allergy to sunlight. I might be biased but it is a great read and I highly recommend everyone to read it. However, we are currently going through a peculiar time and we all have plenty of time on our hands so I thought I would publish my story on my blog (that I really will add more content to, I promise) for you all to read for free. I hope you enjoy!
My story starts many years ago. I was walking home from college with my friend, Darren, and the topic of conversation swung round again. The same topic that we’d been discussing since we’d both realised a shared unanswered call for adventure.
We were 17 or 18 years old and we were dreaming of the mountains, the challenge and the adventure. Neither of us had a car or a driving licence. It was the idle day-dream of a pair of bored teenagers.
7 years on in 2015 I got a call from Darren. “So you want to do the Snowdon hike then?” he asked. In all the years that had passed neither of us had forgotten our ambitions.
Of course I said, “Yes!”
A few weeks later, Darren, his brother Matthew and I finally got our chance. It was a mild summer’s day with the wind blowing in off of the Irish sea but we made it to the top. Our ambition had been achieved.
It was so much fun that we ended up walking up again a few months later, then many more times after that. Each time we attempted a different path or a different season. Each time we loved it. We seemed to be obsessed with just climbing the same mountain. We had no hiking experience. None of us could read a map. We didn’t even know how to go about starting to learn.
Fast forward to 2017 and we’d finally decided that Snowdon wasn’t enough. There were hundreds of other mountains out there. So Darren and I jumped in his old Corsa and trundled up the M6 to Scotland in search of new mountains.
Our first port of call was, of course, Ben Nevis. It was the hardest climb we had ever done as the weather was atrocious. Torrential rain bombarded us like Niagara falls falling from the sky. The downpour had soaked us through our waterproofs and by the time we got to the top we were shivering. But we made it up and back in one piece with our prides intact and a sense of achievement.
We had heard of a hiking challenge named the three peaks which you are required to climb the highest peak in England, Wales and Scotland in 24 hours. After a bit of research, we discovered how much group guided tours were. As a pair of skint barmen, we knew it was out of our price range. We thought about doing it ourselves but decided that it was too risky to drive such a distance and walk up three mountains unaided. Disappointed we searched around to find a new challenge.
In 1891 a founding member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, Sir Hugh Munro, took on the task of producing a publication called Munro’s table. This was a list of 282 mountains in Scotland all over 3000 feet which are known as Munros. Another list was produced by the Scottish Mountaineering Club for all the 3000-foot mountains outside Scotland in the United Kingdom, which are known as Furths meaning outside (in this case outside Scotland). There is a total of 34 Furths, 6 in England, 13 in Ireland (the list was done before Irish Independence) and 15 in Wales.
In more recent times people went out Munro bagging which is where people hike to the top of a Munro. Each summit climbed is a Munro ‘bagged’. When you bagged all 282 Munros, you’re considered a Munroist. Only 6000 people have climbed all Munros so it is quite an achievement.
All this made me wonder if there is such a thing as a Furthist? We lived an hour and a half drive from the Snowdonia National Park so we finally found the mountain challenge to say YES to!
Me and Matthew decided our new challenge for the summer was to walk up all 15 mountains over 3000 foot in Wales.
Our climbing challenge didn’t start off as well as planned. We started with a trip but it wasn’t quite summer yet. We headed to Glyder Fawr and there was snow and ice everywhere. Visually I prefer it. Everything looks almost mystical. However the challenge to simply walk on the icy rocky floor I definitely didn’t enjoy.
We eventually got to a steep hill near the peak and, after lots of slipping and sliding, we decided it was impossible to reach the summit without the right equipment and we grumpily slogged back down.
It was like we both hadn’t learnt our lesson because a few weeks later, as we enjoyed the white dramatic views, we tried walking up Carnedd Llewelyn which ended frustratingly the same way. This time we were only a few feet away from the peak.
We could have considered these two attempts as failures but I don’t think we really were trying to get to the top. I think we knew that without crampons we were never going to get to the summit. We were just having fun, enjoying the views and admiring the photos opportunities.
Finally, summer started and we were straight back to climbing. We walked through the Devil’s Kitchen where water flowed down the mountains through streams and waterfalls. The difference in scenery between the rocky summer mountains full of wildlife and the white, snowy, deserted peaks of winter was huge. It was like we were climbing a different mountain.
We started to walk up the steep hill that had defeated us in winter. Without its coat of ice and snow, it wasn’t actually that steep at all. It felt quite good that we didn’t need to crawl up this hill on our hands and knees like we had attempted before.
Not far away from this ‘not so steep hill’ was Glyder Fawr, the peak we’d been after all along. After another half hour walk and we were at Glyder Fach. Two peaks out of fifteen! It was great to feel the sense of accomplishment this time around. It could only get better from here!
On the way down, we went off route once again (You’d think we’d be better at this navigation lark. We were following the same route that we had used to get up). We followed a very rocky path down. We both struggled to keep our balance.
Matt slipped. A cascade of rocks tumbled down. One heavy lump smashed straight into my foot. I winced as the pain shot up my leg.
Matt stumbled down beside me. “Sorry, Callum. Are you alright?”
I looked at my foot. “I should be fine,” I said through gritted teeth. “Good thing I’ve got these walking boots on. That would’ve broken my foot.”
“Will you be alright to carry on?” he asked, his voice full of concern.
I nodded, and continued hobbling down the mountain.
The next morning, I lay in bed, staring at my swollen foot propped up on a pillow and strapped with frozen peas. I had to take a few days off from the mountain climbing challenge.
There are many reasons I enjoy walking. I love the smell of fresh air. It makes me feel alive. It’s great to feel something real instead of sitting in your room eating rubbish and writing (like I am doing right now!).
I love the idea that, when you are walking, you get to see everything. You have enough time to see every small stream, every cave, every crevice, every bend in the mountain and how it all looks different as the sun moves across the sky. When you walk, you feel a part of the land. You feel as though each step takes you closer to the natural world we live in and closer to an understanding of your place in it.
Walking is so simple when life can be so complicated. It can clear the head of all of the inane worries of our stressful lives. It’s extremely fulfilling when walking up mountains. Of course there’s the satisfaction when you finally get to the top, but it’s the climb that is the real reward.
Our next walk in the mountain was a brief getaway from real life. We decided the smallest mountain of all the Furths was the eminently achievable. The whale back-shaped ridge stands out from all the rest of the mountains. Tryfan looks tiny compared to the giants surrounding it but, despite its size, it was the most recognizable. It is the most rugged, rocky mountain and also the most dramatic. It’s as if it’s screaming “Climb me”.
Tryfan was probably the most fun as well. Being a very rocky mountain there was lots of scrambling sections. The feeling of crumbling rocks beneath my feet as I stretch and pull myself to a secure ledge is exhilarating. I wasn’t used to this kind of climbing. It was putting my body to the test. It was a great couple of hours walking and scrambling and, finally, we got to the top.
As I sat on a rock eating lunch watching the birds fly over the lake below I wished I could fly like them. My bottoms of my feet were hurting, They weren’t used to walking on rocky uneven ground, but that didn’t matter as I have had my lunch in worse places.
I imagined spreading my wings and soaring down the mountain, riding thermals and gliding out to the open sky.
On the way down, we seemed to find navigation a problem (again) and we ended up walking through a boggy swamp. Keeping on our feet was a challenge as we kept on tripping up on hidden burrow in the ground or falling into swampy puddles. We were covered in mud by the time we eventually got back to the car.
The next day, when I complained about my aching arms, people asked what I’d done. Saying I’d hurt them going for a walk just sounded silly. But I’d found a new love. Scramble walks feel like proper mountain climbing.
Our next set of mountains were Pen yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn and they are located on the Carneddau mountain range opposite Glyderau that we have previously tried to climb. The big difference between the mountain ranges is that Carneddau is more secluded. There was no one in sight, only me, Matt and our friend, Connor.
This would be the first mountain that Connor had climbed and we had picked the right day as the sun was shining in a beautiful blue sky.
At the beginning of the walk, there was a lot of scrabbling which was a hard start for a first-timer like Connor. Matt’s walking habit is to push himself hard for 5 or 10 minutes and build up at a good speed. I’d got used to this and normally try and keep up with him. Eventually I’d concede and drag behind.
But this time, poor Connor wasn’t going to stand a chance at walking such speeds. I hung back, secretly thankful for a walking partner of a similar speed than myself. Matt, at times, did seem a bit frustrated. He would swiftly walk a section and then always sit and wait while admiring the view.
The walk on a different mountain range changed things. Everything looked different. Everything seemed more deserted. The landmass was bigger and the distance to get places was further. At points during the walk, we would walk what would feel like miles without getting any higher, something that didn’t seem to happen on other ranges.
As we slowly reached the summit of the last of the three mountains, the tallest on the mountain range, we slowly felt the pain. It was definitely a hard climb and all three of us were knackered.
I stood looking proudly at the top. The mix of colours and terrain were pleasing to the eyes. From rocky to grassy to bogs, the views never seemed boring. The taste of victory was satisfying even though I knew it was sweat.
On our way down we kept on losing the path (no change there then). Every few minutes I looked down at my OS map on my phone checking if we were actually going the right way. Being lost on a mountain has always been the ultimate fear of mine. With the many tales of the brutal side of the mountains and our lack of survival skills, terrible navigation and sense of direction, when we did end up being slightly lost on a mountain it made me a little nervous. But luckily there are no horror stories for today, just more time consumed searching for the path we kept on losing and finding.
Once we got down and in the car driving home I felt I was a little sunburnt on the parts that I missed with the sunscreen but it seems like I was the only one that put sunscreen on. Matt was lobster red all over. Connor was even worse. He seemed to be completely worn out with headaches, nausea and a mild case of sunstroke.
After all this, I dropped Matt off at work. His shift didn’t finish until 2 in the morning. Now that is true dedication to climbing mountains!
The next challenge we aimed for was to climb the remaining Carneddau mountains that we hadn’t reached last time. This time we had to start from the opposite side of the Carneddau close to the A55 in a place called Abergwyngregyn (You’ve got to love Welsh place names. Don’t ask me to pronounce it!).
Each climb we did we started early in the morning because we wanted to be down before it got dark. As we are both barmen, we both would be working late, so every time we climbed, we would be climbing on limited sleep. But this time Matt and I only got 3 hours sleep between the two of us and both of us were exhausted before we had even started.
The day started off as bad as it finished, pretty awful. It began with navigation problems. We followed the map and realised we were going the wrong way after many miles. We then walked miles in the other direction and realised that we were going in the right way in the first place. Matt was very patient considering it was me doing all the navigation.
It took a very long time to get to the first peak Foel-Fras and as we were physically and emotionally spent. It took longer than it should to get to Carnedd Gwenillan and Foel Grach. When we finally got to Carnedd Llewelyn (an already walked peak), we were both knackered and we still had Yr Elen to walk up. The map made it seem very close but it really wasn’t. If you are tired and hurting you really don’t need a challenging climb at the end of your day. This is exactly what we got.
The walk back included the hardest downhill section I’ve ever done. All we wanted to do was go home to sleep. Every muscle in my body was aching, the bottoms of my feet were hard to walk on and my shoulders felt like they might fall off. We were so exhausted that if we stopped again, we would of both just fallen asleep right there on the mountain. Neither of us was talking to the other. We were both just too tired. It had been a very hard climb. I was over the moon when we finally got to back onto flat ground. Maybe we weren’t as fit as we thought we were.
On days like that where you have pushed yourself too hard, you start to wonder why you are you doing this? What is it all for? Why do people obsessively go through pain and misery just to get to the top of a mountain? What is the point? Why not look at a photo of the view at home in the comfort and warmth of your living room?
When you have had a hard day in the mountains it’s hard not to think negatively. It’s hard to imagine yourself ever going back in the mountains.
It’s strange because, after you’ve pushed yourself too far, you feel like mountain climbing is ridiculous, stupid and pointless. But in a week’s time, you’ll look back on those so-called ‘bad climbing days’ with fond memories. If it wasn’t for the fond memories of mountains on previous walks I probably would never step foot on a mountain again!
I am not sure if it’s my brain tricking me, putting myself through the same grief, or it’s my brain telling me, ‘You were just tired. Stop exaggerating things!’ Either way, it’s a good thing because I don’t get to miss out on more great adventures. Life can be boring and what would be left if we didn’t attempt anything that was difficult or challenging? Bland mediocrity.
Mountain climbing gets weirdly addictive. Once you get started, you begin to study maps. You trace climbing routes with your finger, imagining the peaks and valleys and tumbling mountain streams. You look at contour lines and envisage the gradient, the heights and the descents. I had imagined the whole bagging idea, where you tick off mountains you have climbed, would be the addictive part. You are ticking off your achievements one by one. But completing one list is never enough. You begin to look at what other mountains you could climb. A lot of people that have finished walking the Munros normally have had such a passion ignited within them that they tend to move onto some of the smaller mountains like Corbetts (mountains between 2500 and 3000 feet) or Grahams (mountains between 2000 and 2500 feet). It’s a never-ending adventure in the mountains.
The midsummer sun was already beating down on us as we prepared to return to the mountain that started it all. Snowdon. This time we were going to go up the Crib Goch route. After all the climbing we had been doing in recent times returning to the mother of them all didn’t excite me as much as I thought it would. But we had to cover two of Snowdon’s smaller sister mountains, Crib Goch and Garnedd Ugain.
Matt and I were smarter this time and smothered ourselves in sun cream. We set off down the popular Pyg Trail route. It was full of tourists, the complete opposite of what I had enjoyed on the other recent mountain peaks.
The sun was relentless and my eyes were burning, not from the sun but from the sun cream that has mixed in with the sweat dripping down the top of my head. At one point I had to stop as I couldn’t see at all. After a few minutes of vigorous rubbing, with red raw eyes we pushed on.
Snowdonia has many stories of myths and legends that make your walk that little bit more interesting. King Arthur has many tales based in the area. Many caves across the region tell of a sleeping King Arthur who awaits the call to return to rescue Wales from future threats. Lake Llydaw, close to where we were walking, claims to contain his legendary sword, Excalibur.
Once we got onto the Crib Goch trail things got much more entertaining. If you had ever heard on the news of any climber that had been injured or died up Snowdonia, the chances are this would have occurred up Crib Goch. Crib Goch mountain is part of a very narrow ridge and I never realised how narrow it was until we got to it. The kick of adrenaline as you walk across it makes the whole trip worth it.
As I walked along, I looked down making sure my feet are placed correctly (as I imagine it would be game over if I tripped). I stared down at my feet. I could see the narrow rocky pathway where I was placing my feet and I could see the rocky drop on both sides. It was thrilling but I knew one wrong footing or trip and it was a long way down. The adrenaline pushed me on. This was truly my favourite small section of the whole Snowdonia challenge. As I walked I imagined how bad it would have been if the day wasn’t as perfect. A strong gust of wind would make the walk a lot more challenging.
I took a glance back to see if Matt was loving the experience as much as I was. He wasn’t. He was hanging onto anything he could, holding on for dear life. When we got to the end of the ridge Matt breathed a sigh of relief. “WOW! that was awful,” he said.
Adrenaline does different things to different people. After such a stunning and fun walk the rest was pretty boring to Garnedd Ugain. From there we joined the queue up to Snowdon.
There is a story about Snowdon where King Arthur kills the mountain giant Rhitta who created a cape out of the beards of his enemies. Rhitta’s corpse is apparently buried beneath a pile of huge stones at the summit of the mountain. Ordnance Survey have now used this supposed burial mound as the spot for their trig point.
Yet again on our way home, I dropped Matt off at his workplace and he worked another shift until 2 in the morning. The boy is a mad man.
Snowdonia is not just a place packed with adventure and beauty. It also has some secret gems. Things that people go out of their way to find makes it more exciting than just being at the top of a mountain. Some people hunt out the secret pools and lakes that aren’t so easy to find. The Blue Lake is a hidden, guarded by the cliffs. People find this a perfect swimming spot only accessed through a secret tunnel or by abseiling down. It was a slate quarry that opened in 1867 which eventually flooded. The area is actually private property but it doesn’t seem to stop people looking for it for a bit of wild swimming.
On the way up to Snowdon on a very busy path, there is what is known as Snowdon’s Secret Infinity Pool. This off-the-path pool is no longer a secret but people are going out of their way to look for it. The pool exists because of a stone wall built around a hydroelectric scheme on a mountain stream and people love the challenge of finding it. This area has now got the attention of party lovers that want to hang out and drink.
Snowdonia also had a darker side to it, there are 20 known German and British plane crash sites that happened during WW2. As a history lover, I really enjoy reading the stories of the crash sites. In October 1942 Douglas Boston Z2186 entered the cloud and was forced to navigate using their compasses. They were off course and smashed into the Carneddau Mountain range. Unfortunately, the crew members died but the pilot survived with multiple injuries. Sgt. Mervyn Sims lay close to the aircraft for two days before being discovered. He suffered from a broken leg, fractured skull, broken spine and had gangrene while recovering. Despite all of this, he made a full recovery returning to his squadron and went on to be awarded a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross). The human body is truly amazing.
All the aircraft parts remain property of the RAF and the Military Remains Act 1986 makes it illegal for anyone to take the parts so they stay on the mountain for climbers to discover. You can’t beat a bit of history during your adventures.
The day came for our last trail. This time we needed to get to the last 2 mountains, Elidir Fawr and Y Garn. Darren joined us. He had already walked the route before so we were better off with his navigation skills.
We followed the same route we had followed before through the Devil’s Kitchen. We walked the ‘steep hill’ like we did when getting to Glyder Fawr. Once we got to the top we just walked the opposite way to Glyder Fawr. From here it didn’t take us long to get to Y Garn.
In the far distance we could see the route to get to Elidir Fawr and we all felt pretty good about it. We were on top form and we just pushed on. It just shows that the more walking you do, the better you get.
I have always been fascinated by how the body adapts over time. The more you do something, the more your body gets used to it. My feet didn’t hurt, I wasn’t that tired, my shoulder felt fine despite the weight and I felt pretty good. The body is truly amazing.
It didn’t look far but it took us a while to get to Elidir Fawr. Pushing on along a ridge, we finally got to our target. We stopped for food and took everything in. Below us was a massive lake. This was Marchlyn Mawr and used to be used as a high-level water source at Dinorwig Power Station.
It is said that there is a cave nearby that contains King Arthur’s treasures. Strangely enough didn’t feel the need to check how true this was. We were standing on the fourth largest mountain in Wales and it felt great.
We started to head back down and it took until then to actually realise that that was it. We had completed our challenge. I suddenly felt very proud that we had set out to do something and that we saw it through. It was great. It felt weird, like we had conquered the whole of Snowdonia. I felt like I could achieve anything. What mountains were next? I suddenly felt the urge to walk up everything.
The mountains fascinate me and I love being up in the mountains but I can’t put my finger on why I love it up there so much. I’m not sure if I love the struggle. Pushing yourself to the max comes with a certain amount of satisfaction. The pain is normally eased by the amazing views you can admire. The challenge of it all is exciting. The uncertainty of success helps keep you buzzed like an alcoholic trying to avoid the inevitable hangover. It is very simple up in the mountains. You have all the time in the world and the only aim you have is to get to the top. There is no rush, no deadlines, no pressure. It may be a challenge but you can take your own time and take the atmosphere in. It’s remarkable!
I might be obsessed with the mountains because of the peace and quiet. Unless you are walking up the tourist trails to Snowdon, you are mostly alone. Just you, the wildlife and the mountains (in my case, Matt). You have time with your thoughts which is great. You have time to sort your life out in your head (it’s just a shame that everything just makes sense in your head). The only things you can hear is the wind and the tumbling of rocks and pebbles as your boots push their way up the mountain.
Occasionally you might see a stranger. Then you can either start a conversation or just a simple friendly nod as a way of saying hi. It’s strange. Because you are all doing the same thing, nobody is afraid to say hi or be friendly. It’s like a big community. It’s the great difference between being in the mountains and being in a city.
Maybe the love of the mountains comes from the unbelievable beauty. As you stand at the bottom, the bold rugged silhouettes looming down at you, there is no way you can resist not walking up. As you start to climb and you look around at the mountains and see them covered with trees, grass, rocks, shrubs and ferns. There is just so much going on.
If the challenge ever becomes too hard you can just stop, sit down and look out to unbelievable views and beauty. You sit and start to list reasons why you shouldn’t actually come back down ever again. With such staggering scenery and surroundings, why would you want to be anywhere else? It doesn’t matter where you are on the mountain. You could be at the top or the bottom. Every part is stunning. When you are at the toughest point in the hike, the stunning scenery is what yells out spurring you on with thoughts of encouragement simply from its imagery. When I am here I just know it will be a good day.
Perhaps my infatuation for mountains come from the glorious feeling of achievement. When you finally get to the top and you look down on everything you have just been through you feel an enormous sense of pride. Looking down on everything and everybody, you truly feel like the king of the world. You may have struggled, you may have got close to quitting, you may have got lost, you may be hurting but none of it matters as you stand on the summit. As you look down on the rest of civilisation below, you feel like maybe you can take on the whole world. It’s a feeling that isn’t felt on any normal day but yet it only takes a simple 5 or 6-hour walk and it will make anyone feel amazing.
It became an addiction ticking off mountains that I have visited. It felt like I was conquering them. So what’s next? Well, there are mountains everywhere. The possibilities are endless! Completing the rest of the Furth list sounds like the next challenge, perhaps trying to tick off some more of the Munros? I might look into the Yorkshire three peaks? Bob Graham Round? Maybe look into learning rock climbing? Why not start hiking abroad? Iceland is pretty. Why not climb a couple of mountains or volcanoes there? The Alps? Ice climbing? Ski Mountaineering in Scandinavia? Why not throw in some of the Seven Summits? The world is my oyster and it’s all very exciting!
This mountain challenge has taught me a valuable lesson. You don’t have to be in some far off exotic unknown land to have an adventure. I used to feel that the UK was boring because I lived here. I used to be desperate to get on with my next adventure but always thought that could only happen by booking a plane ticket. Adventure can happen anywhere. Just because you live on this small island doesn’t mean you can’t have awesome adventures.
The UK is small but is compressed with loads of beautiful scenery, loads of history and heritage, loads of hidden gems to discover and loads of potential adventures. There is so much to do and so much to see you can’t possibly struggle to find adventure. Adventure is just a point of view you don’t need to cycle around the world or walk a continent or row an ocean or walk up Everest to class what you are doing as an adventure. You could go for a swim in a local lake, climb a mountain, camp in your back garden, cycle to work. When I started this challenge I never considered this much of an adventure, but I was starting to discover one of the most beautiful places in the UK and I was living right on the doorstep.
It was the evening of my final walk up Eilidir Fawr. I still had the warm bubbling feeling of accomplishment fizzing in my blood as I sat at the dinner table with my parents. I boasted about my adventures. I told them the stories of the beauty and my love for the mountains. I verbally ticked off each Welsh Furth on my list. After what could have been half an hour of my adventure tales my dad stopped me in my tracks and said:
“Yeah it’s great up in Snowdonia isn’t it? When I was younger, I walked up all 15 in 18 hours”
I was stunned… How?… Do people actually do this?… But doing all 15 in one summer nearly killed me off. It turns out the Welsh 3000 is a challenge in itself where people walk all the Welsh fifteen 3000 foot mountains in 24 hours. It blew my mind! There’s even a guy called Colin Donelly who climbed all 15 peaks in 4 hours and 19 minutes. Wow!
So maybe my achievements aren’t as grand as some other adventurous souls. But that doesn’t mean that my adventure wasn’t perfect for me. There is always someone bigger and better.
The Welsh 3000 Challenge might have to wait for another day!