Little can prepare you for your first walk up Snowdon unless you are used to hiking and, actually, even if you are used to hiking I still don’t think you can be fully prepared. On our journey up we spoke to several people who shared their climbing tales and for some, despite having previously summited, it hadn’t got any easier; and these people seemed fit; they were certainly slim. Imagine then, if you can, what it must be like for a 310lb lump of lard on legs to make her way up a mountain….probably sounds impossible right?
The plan to summit Snowdon and raise money for the British Heart Foundation (a charity my late Mum had supported) was formed in the early months of this year. It was born from a desire to get fit, to lose weight and, not in a half hearted way, I mean actually go for it and get the stones off. This wasn’t the first time I have declared this to myself and it won’t be the last. As it transpires, the stones have not come off as I had envisaged, so rather than Snowdon being something to lose weight for, it became an activity that would serve to increase my fitness levels, as would a class, a swim or a gym session.
My initial plan for Snowdon in July was postponed due to a muscle injury, but not to be put off, I rescheduled for September 2nd. I had two friends committed to being my support and the cash was coming in to my Just Giving page. I never had any doubt that I’d make it to the top. I was convinced I had enough of a good level of fitness to get me up there and if my fitness failed, my sheer stubbornness and unwillingness to fail would see me succeed.
The morning of the climb arrived and we assembled in Llanberis. I was excited, nervous and well up for the challenge. Around 20minutes in I began to repeatedly utter the words, “This was a mistake.” Without a doubt, the hardest part of the entire climb was up a minor road before you even get to the summit path. It is exceptionally steep; the lungs were being overworked and the quads…oh my….the quads! I had jelly legs instantly. I don’t know how many times I stopped on that initial slope, but each time I stared at the mountains ahead of me, I had no comprehension of how I was going to complete this challenge! I felt I was doomed before I had even made a real start.
It wasn’t until later in the climb that my friends revealed their own concerns. One saying that she wasn’t sure she’d make it up , ‘if this was how it was going to be the whole way,’ and the other admitting a loss of faith in me and my ability to continue…. I can’t say I blame him! I didn’t look that confident in myself, but despite my negative outbursts, I knew in my heart that I had no choice. Turning back was not an option, no matter how hard this was going to get. I had set this for myself, and in doing so, had also taken £750 in donations (it has since risen to £830) and had a multitude of amazing messages to bolster me – I was not about to let myself, or anyone else, down.
With the buoyancy of my friends’ encouragement we moved upwards, struggling but moving – a good friend of mine’s words echoing around my head, “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and before you know it you’ll get there.” I was beyond happy when the ground levelled out as I had imagined it would! The flat walk that followed was heavenly! However, we walked for some time before we realised we’d managed to take a wrong turn and had gone past the gated entrance to what is known as the Llanberis path. A large group of people had been in front of the signpost that stated, ‘Summit path,’ when we passed so we hadn’t noticed. It was only when we saw no-one else was in front or behind us that something must have gone wrong. Sure enough, those heading towards the summit were clearly ascending the mountain way above us. In hindsight, I was very grateful for this oversight! It had given me a chance to catch my breath and enjoy a nice flat walk – one which I wouldn’t get again until we had descended.
Now on the correct path it was all uphill – but I was happy because I knew that no matter how tough or steep it got, it was never going to be as bad as the start. This became one more good reason to enable me, mentally, to push onwards to the top. It took 2.5hrs to reach the Halfway House, which I was very pleased with. I was absolutely gagging for a sit down! It seems funny to recollect now. The brain is hard-wired to eliminate the negative emotions, the hardships, the turmoil from memories. To sit here now, recalling that point, I feel like I got there okay and with no undue distress. When I actually put myself back there emotionally, the reality kicks in. I was knackered. I could see the café ahead, but I just kept stopping for breath. I can remember seeing it but not being able to just walk straight up to it, even though I was only a few metres away.
So we sat and had tea and some lunch, took in the view, let the legs rest. I have no clue how long we sat there for, but one of my friends did remark that we’d sat too long. I do remember getting cold and us putting our jackets on; probably not ideal because your muscles will cool down and then it’s extra effort, physically, to motivate and continue. Still, it was what it was. We chatted for a bit, commenting on how far we had come. I looked up to see the, ‘line of ants,’ as we called them, in the distance climbing to the top, (although the summit was out of our sight at this stage) and I couldn’t understand how I was ever going to get up there, but then I looked back and was astonished that I had made it this far. In my heart I had already won. This was mine.
Back on the path and it was steady as she goes. I don’t remember much about the next leg of the ascent, apart from cramp. Oh man the cramp. I had parts of me cramping that I didn’t even know could cramp! I had to perch on a boulder at one point, on a very steep slope, because I couldn’t take another step. Both calves had seized up; I had one friend on each leg trying to massage and manipulate the muscle. I lost my balance and began to topple backwards, fortunately there were a group of four or five large fellas walking by who pushed me back up before I hit the deck! “You alright luv?” they asked, but I was fine. After another gallon of water the cramp subsided and we carried on. This happened intermittently, some worse than others; I would walk as far as I could before the pain stopped me. A good glug of water seemed to instantly do the trick so I knew I was dehydrating.
The closer we got to the top the more people would encourage us that we weren’t far away and to keep going. It was awesome considering I was worried beforehand about being judged by people on the mountain – judging me for being too fat to do something like this. Ridiculous yes, but it’s the fat person’s curse, especially if you’re not a stranger to fatism in life. I imagined noses being turned up in my direction with mountaineering snobs saying, ‘look at her, she’ll not get far, she’ll need to be airlifted out, bloody drain on society!’ So far from what actually happened. Many were encouraging, impressed that I was doing it. I loved it and I love them all for it. There was a real sense of camaraderie now I think about it; we were all there, doing the same thing, all at different ages, fitness levels, all for different reasons, but together with one common interest – to summit and to summit safely.
I had seen an aerial flyby of the route from ground to summit, so I knew what to expect and I was not looking forward to the summit push. I was even less impressed when I saw it in person! It was covered in low rolling clouds, but what I could see was a path that seemed only wide enough for one person at a time, but which was covered in people, one side a sheer drop, the other side hidden from view. I also knew at this point I was definitely going to get the train down, so I had no choice but to make the push. The train leaves from the summit, so the alternative was to turn back and descend the entire mountain. Not happening! So up we went. When you are actually on the push it’s not as narrow as it seems from the base. I was so busy safely placing my feet on the climb, watching where I was going, that I didn’t even notice the landscape around me. It was a fairly hair raising climb at times, but guess what? I bloody well made it! I made it all the way to the summit, hands on the plinth and back down to the café for a brew before the train. 6.5hours in the making, including breaks and pit-stops.
Apart from being a sponsored walk, it was also done in Mum’s honour; but, most importantly this walk was for me, to prove to myself that I can do anything if I really want to, despite how hard it may seem. Not just that, but because I only lost 11lbs before the event, the usual good intentions falling disastrously by the wayside, I wanted to show myself and others that weight should never be a discouragement when it comes to physical accomplishments. Admittedly, and obviously, if I had been lighter and fitter I could’ve summited with less effort, less struggle than I did, less pain than I felt – but once I had reached the top, all of that dissipated immediately and I was filled with a self pride that I knew would come. There is a fundamental change in you when you do something that defies your own self-expectations; when you overcome a fear, when you complete a task you never thought possible before; a switch is flicked and you are changed. Proud. Accomplished. There is no other way of finding this without actually doing whatever it is that you want to do.
At 310lbs I summited Snowdon.