Or…A group of middle aged theatre professionals walk up Mount Snowdon in high winds, giddy with ignorance and favoured by luck.
The date had finally arrived. There could be no going back. Ever.
Sponsorship of £1,500 had been raised in aid of Cancer Research in memory of our friend Laurence Kennedy and we, Team Laurence, made our separate ways to Snowdonia.
Actress Jen Hennessy arrived from Manchester with her lovely daughter Nancy and Line Producer Mandy Doig-Moore came by taxi from Bangor post the train from London.
Pre walk training began in earnest as indicated by the photo below.
We chose not to talk too much about what was actually involved in the planned mountain expedition or which way we’d go until the full team got together the following day, these things could wait and besides, anybody and everybody walks up Snowdon and its really just like a long walk through a park, isn’t it…Isn’t it?
Nancy (below) drew tattoo design ideas on our arms and hands and we had cheesy chips in the pub at Beddgelert.
Other guests looked so serious in their outdoor gear with maps and sticks and water bottles but they were clearly doing the much more difficult kind of walking thing which wasn’t what we were doing at all.
Our mountain was completely manageable, not like theirs.
We admired them. We were going to take the easiest possible route up and it wouldn’t be hard at all. They were clearly professional climbers, athletes even, amazing and good luck to them…another beer?
En route to the cottage actress and producer Susannah Harker stopped in Betsy-E-Coed to buy walking boots; on learning of the plan to scale Snowdon, her mother had advised her to ‘cling on’, suggesting that sandals weren’t the best idea. Now she had the boots she would be absolutely fine.
We were joined by Ex IBM executive and Edinburgh based theatre maker Gregor McElvogue and acting coach, film and TV director Bill Britten and his fabulous daughter Lauren and we all concentrated on having a fantastic party the night before we were due to to climb a mountain, because we hadn’t seen each other for a long time, so we made a very quick decision about which path to take and then forgot all about it and got on with the important business of enjoying ourselves.
Laurences’ wonderful parents Finn and Bob had sent a case of delicious Prosecco and we toasted them and reminisced around a roaring fire. We ate roasted cauliflower and humous and roast potatoes and salad and laughed and caroused until late into the evening.
We’d asked at the railway station that afternoon, tentatively, just in case, about the possibility of getting the train down from the summit but it wasn’t going to be possible.
The man in the ticket office had said If you don’t think you can walk down it, you shouldn’t walk up it.”
How we laughed. We’d be absolutely fine. Just as well we couldn’t get a train down, that would be cheating after all.
(In the photo below Susie has a moment of clarity with regard to what we’re actually planning to do the following morning).
We got up at 5.15 in order to make the car park before it filled up for the start of the Pyg Track for 6.00 AM.
There are several paths up Snowdon.
The Pyg Track is tough as it involves walking up the steep inside edge of the volcano (which is what the mountain actually is) before levelling out a bit further on and then offering more ‘challenge’ a bit higher up but we’d all be fine we were absolutely sure, why the hell wouldn’t we be? We work in theatre and do yoga a bit. We’re ready.
The car park was full so Gregor and Bill had to park the cars at the foot of the valley and we waited for them to return. This meant we could sit outside the youth hostel and eat grapes and pain au chocolat and work on not being nervous. Susie spoke a lot about Meisner technique while leading us in stretches which helped to pass the time. Mandy had no jacket with her and was wearing shorts so I lent her my pink thing and Nancy was really cool about the whole thing and checking her phone. Jen decided we needed to have some food with us, as we hadn’t really thought about that, and tried to buy some in the cafe but couldn’t get any. We knew there was a cafe at the top of the mountain so no need to worry at all really, we’d be totally fine and Mandy had a litre of water for us all to share in her rucksack. I’d had a banana for breakfast, I was ready to go. It was cold. And windy.
If we went at a good pace it would all be over by 3PM and then we could get back to doing what we do best, which isn’t walking up mountains.
Above the eating pain au chocolat moment and below a photo of us all at the start of the walk up the mountain, happy, optimistic, fresh…
Unaware of the journey into hell that was to come.
Trigger warning: the following text contains references to panic, heights, physical peril and the kind of language people use when at the outer limits of human endurance.
The first part of the Pyg Track is steeply ascending but not too challenging under foot. Its during this period that gaggery is high, the idea of ice creams at the top is floated, this is a breeze- we stop to look at views, increasingly there’s more white than green on offer.
Below, I’m having a snap taken by Susie while Bill and his daughter Lauren, who know more about mountains than the rest of us, begin to voice concern about weather conditions and other unfathomable things that outdoor type people know about.
It looks like Bill is shedding a tear at our incompetence, which would be entirely in keeping.
At this stage we’re convinced that mountaineering is a fun weekend activity that even relatively unfit people can do, you just need to make up your mind to do it, thats all it takes, really.
Susie photobombs Lauren and Bill.
And then it all changed.
Where once the track had been smallish steps, it now demanded giant hip twanging lurches upward, grappling rocks, occasionally on all fours, scrambling, This carries on for what seems like miles. Everyones out of breath, sweating and traumatised.
And we’re only a fifth of the way in.
From this point on it is unrelenting struggle in strong winds. We round the corner at the top of the hill and for a period its flat. Nirvana. This is much more like it, perhaps the beginning bit was the hard bit and now its mostly like this until we get to the summit. Pain forgotten quickly we truly believe we’re nearly there. But we are not. We are so not. We walk around the edge of the lake, not able to see much at all due to the virtual whiteout, aware of feeling colder, being hungry, needing the loo (very hard to do in privacy up Snowdon) and then we’re faced with another incredibly, unfeasibly, steep path taking us up to the zigzags.
The zigzags are terrifying.
The path has stopped and now its hands and knees over shards of slate and boulder, every sinew stretched and aching.
We’re all in small clumps, spread out, off piste, piste off and taking risks.
Mandy screams ‘I can’t see the path- WHERE’S THE PATH…WHERE IS IT?’ to Lauren who shouts back ‘Follow the people in front’ and Mandy swings herself up from the sheer rock face she’d been clinging too.
There is no path through the zigzags, only pain.
Finally post the zig zags there’s relative flat underfoot although the incline is steep, up to the summit, the railway line to our right, but its miles, bloody hundreds of miles long and we’re f’ing exhausted.
Mandy said she’d never felt the urge to kill more strongly than on witnessing warm, comfortable train passengers waving to her as she fought for breath and struggled to find the strength to carry on while the rain lashed and the cloud obscured everything.
The summit of the mountain offered zero visibility.
They were going to shut the cafe and stop the trains because of the high winds but Gregor managed to secure a pasty and coffees were had. We’d witnessed a man nearly getting blown off, he’d rolled towards the edge of a sheer drop. We were all glad it wasn’t us.
The cafe at the top of Mount Snowdon is the saddest place on earth, stuffed with cold scared people whose hollow eyes radiate the awful, almost unbearable truth. Once you’ve made it up you REALLY DO have to make it all the way back down.
Susie went to the shop at the top and bought nordic sticks, various items of clothing and invested in the kit we should all have had before we started.
We came down a different way, along the miners track which was EVEN F’ING WORSE than the pyg track. We were faced by thousands of rough hewn steep steps down, much more frightening than going up because you can SEE HOW HIGH UP IT IS…LOOK AT HOW HIGH UP WE ARE? IS THAT A SHEER DROP? WE ARE SOOOOO HIGH UP….
And then finally, after 6 or more hours we were back at the hostel.
The relief and sense of achievement is clear in this photo.
We did it.
Jen says she never wants to do it again. Susie says she might and so does Gregor. Lauren and Nancy will both do it again because they’re young and fit and enjoyed it but Nancy said she’d like to do it with headphones on next time so she could listen to music. I’d rather eat my own head than do it again.
Whether we do another climb or not, we’ll continue the tradition of meeting every year somewhere to remember Laurence and come together.
We all miss him enormously, he was such an important part of our lives and to be able to remember him in this way is a great thing.
We all felt Laurence with us. He would have loved the partying and the cottage- and probably hated the walk! But thats OK and we’re so happy to have raised money for Cancer Research in the hope that in the future fewer people die much too young.
Thanks to everyone who’s supported us and what an amazing experience we had.