8 lessons from climbing a mountain in the dark
In September 2016 I joined SeaSoul & Snow in a nighttime climb of Mount Snowdon in aid of Trekstock. If you’ve got your can do attitude on and want to know if a trek like this is right for you, here is an account of how things went (up and) down and some key lessons.
Lesson 1 – preparation is key
We arrived at the little rental cottage just outside of Llanberis village (at the foot of the Llanberis path) in torrential rain. My smugness having packed and worn my waterproof gear was vastly different to TC’s wet complaints whilst unpacking the car. Here starts the learning: always be prepared (smugness optional).
Travelling as a vegan or with dietary requirements can be a daunting prospect (see this blog for our essential food items to travel with) so as this was our first trip away as vegans we packed lots of food – proving that travel doesn’t have to mean unhealthy food. Importantly we were still able to enjoy our Chaga lattes and buckwheat porridge topped with fresh fruit!
I spent most of Saturday relaxing, stuffing my face with nutrient dense foods and having a tactical nap in the knowledge that a LONG night was ahead. We did pop to a local pub for lunch, the Heights in Llanberis, where we received excellent service.
We had already checked out the menu ahead of time and believed that they knew a thing or two about catering for vegans. They were really helpful with our dietaries and even recommended the best seats in the pub (the conservatory area, overlooking the lake). We had the most delicious spinach and chickpea curry with rice (without the naan bread to make it vegan and gluten free) which was a good nutrient packed lunch.
I’d already done a couple of ‘flat lays’ and spent a good deal of time considering what I’d need on the mountain in the weeks leading up to the event so, when it came to kit packing time, I felt prepared. My nut butters and snack bars were as close to hand as possible, I had heaps of spare batteries for my torch, my ‘SheWee’ was within easy reach and I’d given everything a practice run or two (and managed to not to ‘spill’ the SheWee in the process). Lesson 1 continued – prepare well and change nothing on the day.
Lesson 2 – embrace the experience
Instead of the nervousness I’d expected to feel on the night, I found myself buzzing with anticipation and on arrival at the meeting point (Pen-y-pass), I was greeted by Sinead from SeaSoul & Snow with a big hug – as if we were long lost friends – and a lovely goody bag packed full of treats, including a couple of the new Deliciously Ella energy balls; these did not last long.
We admired the sunset over the valley whilst waiting for the rest of the trek party to show up and got chatting whilst we braced ourselves for the night ahead.
At 8.45pm six ladies (mostly strangers to each other), turned on their head torches and began their ascent up Snowdon assisted by a guide who had never taken up a novice group in the dark before. We were encouraged by estimates that we’d probably be up and down in around 4 hours…
Lesson 3 – the only way is up
Ok, so the trek was not exactly what I was expecting. I really did enjoy myself and the physical challenge, but I was fortunate because I’d been putting in serious training on account of having a half marathon coming up (another lesson – have a robust but realistic training plan: and follow it). The Pyg path is aptly named – it is a PIG! There is lots of scrambling and clambering and climbing involved. No leisurely hike up a mountain path for us, oh no, we picked our way across boulders, scrambled up scree and splashed through waterfalls and streams all the way up…up…up…
With our range of vision only reaching as far as the beams cast by our headlamps we all developed a fair bit of neck ache looking down and watching where our feet went and any time we achieved a strip of firm ground a feeble cheer went through the group: “Path – at last!” We mostly only managed to talk as we walked the path sections as we were all concentrating so hard on the climbs; there was a good deal of puffing and panting, but everyone was very supportive and voiced words of encouragement or checked everyone was ok.
Lesson 4 – don’t wait until your hunger pangs take over to eat
I managed to cram a Primal Pantry paleo protein bar in my face on the way up for a bit of an energy boost and a mental pep up; for most of the others, Mars bars abounded. The fourth of my lessons – now is not the time to eat conservatively – if you are hungry it is already too late.
There wasn’t much in the way of views on the way up. Snowdon itself seemed to perpetually be loitering in wait behind another peak, so it was just the inky black sky and glimpses of twinkling lights from the valley. And in this moment I found space to be reflective, this was what I came up a mountain at night for – peace and perspective.
Closer towards the summit we noticed the bobbing lights of head torches both in front of and behind us – surely we were the only ones mad enough to be up a mountain in the dark?! No, it turned out there was an extreme triathlon taking place (the Brutal, if you’re interested, which really does live up to its name) and the bobbing lights were chaps running – yes RUNNING – up and down the mountain (not even for the first time that day). As they passed us on the last leg to the summit, lots of them vocalised a “well done”. In our direction. Really, it was them deserving the plaudits. And probably a hot drink.
Lesson 5 – everything is relative
Of all the things that could have brought me close to tears on this journey, the fact that these amazing athletes were passing us and congratulating us for reaching the top of a mountain that they’d run up a few times that day was just astounding. But it really just demonstrated the point that everything is relative.
That day climbing Snowdon in the dark was our mountain, theirs was running, cycling and swimming the area for 24 hours whilst, for the people we were fundraising in aid of, their daily mountain is cancer. Everyone’s mountain looks a little different – that’s not what’s important – what’s important is that we keep climbing and we keep encouraging others to climb theirs.
Lesson 6 – things may get a little Tolkein-esque and Mount Doom at times but there’s always a silver lining
Enveloped in fog and buffeted by gale force winds at around midnight we finally achieved the summit, resting cold hands on the dial at the top. Then, for fear of being blown off, we hastily scrambled back down to the start of the Miner’s Path.
After another scramble, clamber and bum shuffle down…down and down, we reached that much coveted “PATH” at which point I treated myself to a Pip and Nut peanut butter squeezy pack (lesson 7 – adequate nutrition is vital to post workout recovery – whatever time of the day).
And on that path, beside a glassy lake nestled in a valley, we were finally able to take it all in. We were well and truly rewarded for that upwards tilt of the head, revealing more stars sparkling back at us than any of us had witnessed before.
The journey up and down the mountain took us around 6 and a half hours in the end, as well as a good deal of sweat (and tears for some). But we all made it back together and clambered wearily into waiting cars at around 3.30am Sunday morning, well and truly ready for a big cup of tea and a serious sleep (the other side of recovery – lesson 8).
As a group we raised over £3000 for Trekstock and my own total fundraising amount (thank you so much to everyone that kindly sponsored me) was over £400!