“Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill!” It’s a familiar comment. It can infer a multitude of things: Don’t be a drama queen. It’s easier than you think. You’re such a pessimist. In fact it is a pessimistic sentiment in its own right. I can hear the pragmatists saying “It’s all relative.” There’s nothing wrong with that, especially as now my molehills are genuine mountains.
When I was thirteen, I had one of the most thrilling experiences of my short life. Mr Gordon, a geography teacher at school, organised a coach trip to North Wales. We were going to climb Tryfan.
I had no idea what to expect. I recognised Bettys y Coed but after that, going down the Nant Ffrancome Pass on a grey rainy day in May, blew my mind to smithereens.
I went on holiday with my family to Conwy when I was only five years old. We stayed in a rickety little caravan on the A55. But opposite us was a mini-mountain.
My dad called it the little big horn because I said it was a mountain on a mountain. It left an impression. On the fifth day of our holiday we ascended to its modest summit. I could see the coast before me. We’d been to the beach a couple of times but I was drawn to the hills. For a boy of five, living on a council estate in Fazakerly this was amazing.
I had the same feeling at thirteen on the way to Tryfan. The coach stopped and we piled out. “You’re going to get wet,” said Mr Gordon. I just loved the way the grey rock gave off a silvery sheen in the spring rain. It was fine rain. A gentle mist of damp wispy warmth falling all around us. There was no wind. There was no noise. I’d never heard silence before.
Then we began our quest. Originally I’d imagined a slightly extended hilly walk along a well defined path as in going up our local hill at home. Thurstaston Hill is a beautiful sandstone outcrop where you can see both the Mersey and the Dee.
After twenty minutes I was saturated and bruised. The gradient of the hill had already left me exhausted. Mr Gordon was smiling. He knew we were being tested. But none of us were going to give up. I was driven on by elegance of the surroundings. These shining rocks were drawing me into their quiet powerful majesty. I had never been so exhausted. But on we went. I was looking forward to the scramble as opposed to the battle up the severe plane. Above me were stepping stones merging with the cloud. The thought of being in a cloud was magical. It was magical. As we stepped up the slippery slate we were in our own world.
At the top I looked at the two Tryfan monoliths, Adam and Eve. Around us was the white coating of the world we only ever dreamt about.
From the ground clouds look like a ceiling of fluff. I would lie back on the grass seeing the little balls go racing by, imagining that I could be riding them to somewhere like the land of the faraway tree. (Enid Blyton)
But to be within the comfort of a cosy damp cocoon was a unique experience. It was a bit like a gentle sauna. I began to think of my family and friends. Had they ever been in a cloud before? It was a special moment. By the time we had slipped and skidded our way down (mostly on our arses), the cloud had cleared and we could see our achievement. I never use the word awesome lightly but it was awesome.
We had other trips to mountains in all weathers and every time I felt empowered. In 1979 I had a car and would do the 160 mile round trip to Snowdonia as often as I could. My favourite was Snowdon itself. Winter, Summer Autumn and Spring; I was all over it.
One trip I remember well was on January the third 1981. At the time I was cycling everywhere (no car) so I went with my mate Eddie Kelly. He was always up for an adventure. After crossing the first ridge I saw the cloud swirling around the summit. It is at this time when the music of Where Eagles Dare begins to float around my head. Just like the castle on the mountain your heart misses a beat.
As we crept higher up the Pyg Track, the wind began to gather. But it didn’t feel cold. I was too hot from the walking. At the monolith which signals the last push up the train line the wind was screaming. The cloud raced around trying to enshroud me in its turbulent blanket. I knew Eddie was behind me but I couldn’t see him. At the top was the ghostly presence of the rail terminal. Everything was grey. It was a lonely place.
A panting Eddie came up behind me. Obviously I was fitter through all the cycling I was doing. I never realised how steep the last part was until I took the train up there. I looked down to the Crossways and the Monolith thinking “how on earth?”
These are brillant memories: Tryfan, Arenig Fawr, The Glyders, Moelwynn Mawr and Snowdon twenty two times. Once I could see Blackpool Tower from its lofty summit. Another time we climbed it and my mate Tony passed a joint around. I even took a young lady there on a first date. I think I’ve experienced every single type of weather on that Grand Old Lady. Every time has been different. On the way down I’d sit down and take in the views from Llyn Glaslyn, the upper lake.
On quiet days when the cloud was skirting the surrounding peaks of the horse shoe my mind would turn to Norse Mythology and the Hall of the Mountain King.
Hailstones are the worst. It’s like someone is shooting you in the face with air gun pellets.
And now? My mountains are rather mundane. Getting through the day without falling. Cooking good food. Going out on my scooter. Oh yes, that’s a mountain. I have to unfold the outdoor portable wheelchair, use my walking stick on the joystick to guide it out of the front door (a masterpiece of manoeuvre) leaving my indoor chair by the door in order to scoot down to the parking bay and fire up the Tramper. But the Tramper goes fast. It’s like coming down that mountain with my dad on our bottoms.
Now I live in East Sussex. It’s a beautiful county.
But I look at the walkers wandering around the downs and think: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Thank-you for reading.