Mountains are great fun to climb but they shouldn’t be underestimated. One bad decision, one mistake, can land you in very big trouble. It is so important to think clearly and make good decisions no matter how innocuous they may seem at the time. Mount Snowdon plays host to 750K visitors a year, mountain rescue are called out as much as three times a day and on Saturday, I was close to making the call myself.
Once or twice a year I go to the Lakes, Scotland or Wales and climb/run a mountain with my mate Bob. 2016 was Ben Nevis, so this year we attempted the Snowdon Horseshoe. A route of about 7 miles and more than 1000 meters ascent it features a scramble across Crib Goch, a ridge famous for its difficulty and danger in bad weather.
Friday night the forecast looked great, clear skies, virtually no rain, sun and little wind…so we prepared our trail packs and set the alarm for 6am. We awoke and checked the forecast again, no change there so the 30 minute drive from our hotel began but the forecast couldn’t have been more wrong. We were trudging along in heavy rain, increasing winds and mist.
One Right Decision
Setting out along the path to Crib Goch we weighed up our options. The stone around Snowdon is slate and slippy when wet, fine drizzle was making hard work of even the easy route let alone Crib Goch. As we approached the junction we climbed a few feet to the exposed ridge and were hit by strong winds. Bob and I really wanted to do the technical ascent but this weather was only getting worse so we stepped back and forked left to skirt below on safer ground.
Getting closer to the summit the wind picked up as did the rain, we were now soaked and starting to realise just how treacherous Crib Goch would have been in this weather.
Visibility was now zero and what was heavy rain turned to snow. We approached the summit and touched the cairn, 1 hour and 9 minutes to reach the top. We got excited by the prospect of a fast descent to make our trip sub 2 hours, a good time in my opinion but the smiles would soon turn.
A Catalogue Of Poor judgement
Trail running is fun, descending a mountain really fast is even more fun but one lapse in concentration can be costly. The terrain on Snowdon is hard work especially when wet, slate is not the best thing to fall on. I had a few heart in mouth moments as I took my eyes off the trail or lost my footing. We were however making great time and enjoying every second of it, enjoying it so much we forgot to check our direction.
20 minutes later as we dropped below the cloud and visibility opened up, the mistake was obvious. A quick check on my Garmin confirmed it, we’d descended 2 miles in the wrong direction!
We discussed back tracking as the safest option but couldn’t face recovering what had passed. So instead crossed a river and started climbing over a mountain with no trail, track nor knowing what was on the other side. Sounds stupid doesn’t it? But at the time we thought our route was just on the other side, the word ‘thought’ should have stopped us right there.
That ascent took more our of us than the climb up Snowdon itself and what was on the other side? Another massive climb. We checked the Garmin and decided to traverse diagonally up in the direction of our intended track, but the ground was a mix of sharp slate rocks and marsh. Feet soaked to the bone, shattered and still miles off finding the track the going was tough. We found it hard to get a proper foot hold and then it happened, ‘shit!’
‘I’m Trying Not To Panic’
I turned to see Bob holding his knee, ‘I’ve grazed it on the rock’. But it wasn’t a graze and it wasn’t a rock. Bob had slipped and sliced his knee clean open on a sharp piece of slate. Before the blood spewed his skin flapped open and I could see almost to the bone. Then the bleeding began. Anyone who knows Bob knows he is tough as most fell runners are by nature, but I could see he was trying to hold it together.
We then realised that neither had remembered a first aid kit! I could just picture myself climbing for hours to find help as Bob lay there bleeding out. Thats dramatic thinking back but at the time we were shitting it. I covered the wound with tissue paper and Bob wrapped his tights applying pressure with a knot. We needed to get off this mountain.
Thankfully the make shift bandage held up with readjustment every 5 minutes but it took us almost two hours to get back. An hour of that was scrambling along the side of a hill in the middle of nowhere with Bob unable to bend his knee. We did eventually get to the bottom and a warden gave us some first aid. Bob was adamant he wanted to wait until the next day for stitches, ‘I’m not wasting an afternoon sat in A&E’, were his words. There was no chance the wound would heal nor stop bleeding so I persuaded him to go and a good job too. The nurse cleaned it out and gave Bob four stitches, she suggested infection was a real possibility if we’d waited till the morning.
We Live And Die By Our Decisions, We Just Don’t Realise It Till We Make A Really Bad One.
Three bad choices, all of which seemed innocent and insignificant combined to make for a close call. It just goes to show how small things can make a huge difference in these environments. We were just lucky Bob’s tights held enough pressure to stem the bleeding. I will never again go off track to save time, forget a first aid kit and be so naive to neglect good navigation.