Once you live that hiker life, that unapologetic life, that unashamed life, that life where your only goal is to see the beauty in the people and places around you, it is easy and wonderful to fall back into. It's even better when you are in good company. Selfy and I left London in a Volkswagen Up (yup, that's a real car) with nothing ahead of us but ten days of heading north into unknown weather with mostly incomplete plans of where we would sleep, eat, hike, or shower. A situation we had found ourselves in before, but this time we had wheels. Easy trails.
We left the Groom residence in Richmond, England, one morning just a little later than we had planned due to the last full paragraph of the last blog post. The good thing about living the hiker life is that if you leave a little late, you aren't too worried about it. The bad thing about living the hiker life is that if you aren't too worried about it, you will end up hiking a really dangerous trail as night falls. The good thing about living the hiker life is that if you end up hiking a really dangerous trail as night falls, you enjoy the beautiful sunset and look forward to the challenge of getting down. That's two good things and one bad thing. Totally worth it.
Selfy warned me that as we went farther north, I would have a more difficult time understanding what people were saying. It didn't take long before I found this to be true. We stopped at a travel plaza with a petrol station along the motorway, and I went to the Burger King inside. I did not understand a thing that the guy at the counter was asking me as I tried to order, and of course my order was wrong in the end, but I honestly think there was a fire in the kitchen while I was standing at the counter waiting for my food. It was a little frantic for a minute as the three employees who were working started talking loudly to each other while running around. I think I heard something about a fire, but I can't be sure. So when I got my food and it was not exactly what I ordered, I let it slide. They were either distracted by the fire, or they could understand me about as well as I could understand them.
We had a plan that was actually just more of an idea than a plan to climb the three tallest peaks in the United Kingdom. Snowdon Peak in Wales, Scafell Pike in England, and Ben Nevis in Scotland. This is why we drove to Wales on that first day. Here I really couldn't understand the locals. They have a totally different language with more y's and w's than all other letters combined. We made it to the foot of Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa in Welsh) about an hour before sunset. Since we drove all the way out there and didn't have much else to do we decided to take a quick sunset hike up to the peak, then figure out our sleeping arrangements when we got back. It was probably a seven mile or so round-trip hike. Of course I didn't really know that when we started.
We had some great views of the sun setting over the grassy, rocky mountains of the Welsh landscape that stretched farther than you could see. Then we hit the really difficult part of the hike. Crib Goch is a very rocky, narrow ridge that leads to Snowdon Peak. Of course there are other trails you could take up to the peak, but why would we? It is similar to the Knife Edge of Katahdin, but a shorter traverse and lower elevation. Just as sharp of a drop off on each side though. Although to be fair, it was tough to compare the two trails because I did half of Crib Goch in the dark. I couldn't see exactly how far I would fall to my death if I took a bad step because my headlamp wasn't that strong.
We eventually made it all the way across - which is your only option once you start a traverse like that. Going back is usually much more difficult than pushing through. We got to the base of the final climb to the summit of Snowdon two hours after we started our hike. We were only about 100 yards from the peak, but we decided to have a snack. We hadn't eaten dinner yet, and hiker hunger is always an issue. We made an executive decision during our snack break, which is usually the only time we make executive decisions. We would take the easy trail back down and hike back to the summit for sunrise the next morning. We waved goodbye to the summit, which we probably could have seen if it wasn't completely dark, and headed toward the VW Up.
That was the closest we got to Snowdon Peak. The next morning when our alarm went off and it was time for us to pack up and hike back up the mountain, all I could hear was rain on my tent. I lied there listening to the tent next to me to hear if Selfy was up and moving around, and I'm sure he was doing the same. When neither of us made a move, without making a sound, we went back to sleep. 0 for 1 on our peaks of the UK challenge.
Somehow we had an extra day to kill between hiking mountains, so we hiked more mountains. We packed up our camp near Snowdon and drove to the nearby town of Betws-y-Coed for breakfast. We decided to head over to the Lake District in northern England. There was a mountain there called Helvellyn. The name seemed scary enough so we figured we would climb it. It was really a lovely hike at first. Beautiful scenery, friendly sheep, nice trails. Once we reached the top though, that English weather brought hell. A storm came screaming through all of a sudden. As we saw the storm chasing us down quickly, we had to make another executive decision and this time we didn't even have snacks. Go down the mountain, into the valley, and around the other side to try to avoid the worst of the storm? Or charge the damn thing and run back over the peak the way we came to minimize our time inside the storm? We chose the latter. As we were running back across the peak the storm hit us in the face with a thousand tiny ice balls that stung our skin like needles. Selfy ran, I walked. Don't think either strategy worked very well. We found a little shelter behind a rock wall and waited the storm out. It didn't take long. The sky cleared, and we were free to take our leisurely stroll back down the mountain like nothing ever happened. If it wasn't for the soaking wet clothes, you would have never known we had just battled Mother Nature.
By the time we reached our car our clothes were pretty dry again thanks to the several miles long walk and constant chilly wind. Our continuously developing plan now called for a hike of Scafell Pike the next morning. One of our top three. We needed to get as close as possible to the mountain that night. The closest we could get was a parking lot of a little inn and pub. We set up in one corner of the lot with our camp chairs and mountain house meals hoping no one would notice us. Surprisingly no one did and we were able to sleep soundly through the night - as soundly as two guys can sleep in the front seats of a VW Up in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere England while it rains all night with the windows cracked so it doesn't get steaming hot inside and a little water keeps splashing on your face. The rain was still going when light came the next morning, so again without really saying anything, we called it a day. 0 for 2 on our peaks of the UK challenge.
With more time on our hands we found breakfast at a little coffee shop in Windermere. Selfy had made plans for us to stay the night with his aunt and uncle in law in Crook, England, to get the true English experience. And I have never felt more English in my entire life. A good thing in this case. We got to the village of Crook and toured the lovely cottage home and the surrounding land. There were apple trees - where we were put to work picking apples. There was a firewood shed - where we were put to work hauling wood with wheel barrels. There was a garage - where we were put to work splitting the wood we had just hauled. There was a nice living room - where we had a lager after our hard work. There was a proper cast-iron English range for cooking - where our delicious meat pie and veg dinner was cooked. The mushy peas were really delicious.
It's funny. Everywhere I travel around the world, people are always concerned about the food being too spicy for me. Usually they have a reason for concern. The food IS spicy. But I enjoy spicy, so I believe much to the dismay of my company, I've yet to run from the table crying. I was not expecting any spice worries in northern England. When I asked about the sauces on the table for dinner, it was explained to me that we had a horseradish sauce and a mustard sauce - "So, spicy", I was told in a very serious manner. I know that my hosts were just being polite and very wonderful hosts they were, but I had to make an effort to not laugh out loud at the table. The horseradish and mustard sauce were perfect with the meat pie. And even more perfect was the homemade pie and ice cream for dinner.
This particular night of the week was game night in Crook. Game of choice was cribbage. Location of choice was the local pub. So after dinner we got a quick lesson on how to play before the real game started down at The Sun Inn. It was quite the scene down at the pub that night. An American, a lad from London, and four old chaps from the northern English countryside having a few pints. Unfortunately and fortunately there weren't many people there to see it. I had the most amazing time at this cozy pub in this cozy village. I enjoyed my time in Crook very much. I don't think I could have had a truer English experience. It even rained a little bit.
On this road-trip we had one last opportunity to conquer one of the three peaks. This was the big one. Ben Nevis. Highest point in all the British Isles. 4,413 measly feet above sea level. Elevation is not the most important factor to consider when hiking mountains though. Prominence has a greater impact on a hike. It doesn't really matter how high you are, it matters how high you are relative to everything else around you. Ben Nevis has a prominence of 4,413 feet. This means we started the morning at sea level and climbed every single foot to the top of Ben Nevis. And this time we did make it to the top. 1 for 3 on our peaks of the UK challenge.
Selfy and I started hiking just before the sun came up on the final day of our road-trip around Britain. We had just returned from a few days on the Isle of Skye, a few days worth an entire separate blog post because it was so awesome. We spent the night in the VW Up one last time and had a really good night's sleep. We were getting better at sleeping in parking lots by this time. We were the second group to start up the mountain that morning, but after only briefly getting lost, we quickly passed the first group and had Ben Nevis to ourselves on a beautiful day. Beautiful for the first 3,000 feet at least. As we continued going up, the weather continued to remind us we were in Scotland. At the peak it was rocky, cloudy, snowy, icy, and cold. There were ruins of an old stone observatory and a small hut where we hid from the elements and ate cookies for breakfast. Although the view of the surrounding landscape was nonexistent, the view of the summit of the mountain and the highest point in all the British Isles was worth the trip. I'm happy that this is the one that we stood on top of, even if we were in a freezing cloud.
On the way back down, we passed hundreds of people making their way up. Some were wearing only shorts and T-shirts, and Selfy and I talked about how much they would regret that decision. Some looked excited and some looked exhausted. One lady asked us how much farther it was to the summit. In true Selfy fashion he quickly said, "Depends how fast you walk." I suppose that's true.