Aged 11, my dad took me camping in the mountains for the first time. On the first day, we walked through horrendous weather, and made camp in a barren and godforsaken place, miles from anywhere. The tiredness I felt, from walking up and down mountains for miles, through mud and boulder fields, with boots and rucksack, was not pleasant. Surrounded by a darkness the like of which I had never experienced before, with our tent getting battered every which way by a vicious and howling wind, I was sure I was going to die. I had never had my hands be so cold for so long. I had never had my legs be so tired. Why would my dad put me through this torture? What possible good could come from this nightmare? There is no lesson here, just pain and suffering.
Aged 16, I was on an Outward Bound course, in a group of 30 kids. One sunny afternoon, as a challenge, we were all sent into the woods, with minimal essentials, and told to make camp and stay out the night, ‘solo’. It was a beautiful summer’s day, so we messed around, built half-arsed shelters, with branches and bits of tarp. We all broke the rules by meeting up with each other, ate the last of our supplies, chatted away into the evening, and when it got dark, we retired back to our own areas.
A storm rolled in, and the heavens opened.
We were all on the side of a hill, and the rain turned into rivers, and the rivers and the wind picked up my shelter and washed it away. I tried to salvage it, and refashion something, but it was pitch black, and my torch got wet and stopped working. In the end, I resorted to laying on rocks (which were drier than the mud), wrapping the tarp around myself, and just waiting it out. Our guide, Robin, spent the night walking up and down a logging track above. He shone a torch on me at one point, and shouted down to make sure I was ok. I could hardly hear him over the wind and rain, and remember him being more of an annoyance than anything.
It must’ve been around 4am before the rain and wind finally dropped, and there was enough light for me to get up and build some kind of shelter for myself, get just comfortable enough to fall asleep, only to be woken a few hours later by Robin. He pulled me out, half asleep, half dead, completely soaked through, back up the slope to the track, and along the 10min walk to a log cabin, my legs frozen stiff.
Everyone else was already in there. Dry, in pyjamas. All the other 29 of the group had quit last night, as soon as the rain started, and found their way back to Robin and the cabin. They had spent the night in the bunks, by the wood burning stove. They were now making breakfast. A guy who I didn’t like, had his arm around a girl that I did like, as he fried some eggs and bacon. I will never forget the look on his face.
I walked in, shivering uncontrollably, the only one who made it through the night. Of course the room goes quiet, the laughter stops, and everyone looks at me.
So, this is what my dad had taught me.
And this is what I am trying to teach my Godkids, Isaac and Theo. It is no coincidence that I live amongst the mountains now. I don’t know how to articulate the lessons that the mountains teach. But I know they are there.
We climb Tryfan on Thursday morning. There is no sun. Yesterday was sunny, tomorrow will be sunny, but today is wet, cold and windy. After 30 minutes of non-stop protesting, they both realise I am not listening, and they do not complain again. Tryfan is mine and Nina’s favourite mountain, it cannot be walked up. You have to scramble and climb. The rocks are wet, both Theo and Isaac get cold hands, but they don’t complain. The way down is even more difficult, jarring and slippery. They just get on with it. I don’t have to teach a single thing. The mountain explains it all.
We have hot chocolate on the drive home, and they both remark how this is the most delicious hot chocolate they have ever had.
On Friday, My best pal, Paul, who has driven Isaac and Theo up from London, teaches them guitar and physics. My parents take Jim and El to the train museum. Nina goes to race HQ to pick up my number, meanwhile I am very busy getting ready for Marathon Eryri tomorrow (I am napping).