Updated: Jun 13, 2018
Unlike most people into the outdoors that I meet; at 25 I had never climbed a mountain. In fact, I had never really been outside of the towns apart from to hitchhike between them. My closest experience to the outdoors was an adventure holiday as a young person where we did fabricated ‘outdoor’ activities without ever leaving the site. It was a bucket list thing to do.
A combination of a few hard events in my personal life, depression, anxiety and a tendency towards alcohol and substance abuse meant that at 25 I was attempting to tick off my bucket list with the intention of finishing it and then finishing myself. 7
That’s how I ended up standing at the foot of Snowdon, surrounded by people who looked like they knew what they were doing, wearing trainers, a mac and an impending sense of doom. Even getting there had been an eye opener. Travelling through the Llanberis pass was the first time I had seen anything close to that epic, previously I would have told you that there were not views like that in the UK.
But here it was grey; a grey miserable car park with welsh September mist covering a view of anything. I had joined a guided group as I had no idea what I was doing and followed our spangled guide up a rough path. But a funny thing happened, as my sweat started to mingle with the welsh mist, the mist in my mind started to clear. The rocks beneath my feet looked as if they were more in focus, the air smelt. I didn’t really know air smelt before. I was unfit and was basically panting from about 5 minutes in, but each breath felt like smog going out and life going in. Just as I was starting to almost enjoy myself it happened, we walked through the cloud and onto Crib Goch.
Above the cloud was beaming sunshine. There was nothing visible apart from the blue sky, the rock ridge and a bank of cloud below us. The sun basked on my skin, as I turned my face sideways to it. I started to look down to pick my way across the ridge and something moving caught the corner of my eye. I looked down at the cloud, and there was a giant shadow surrounded by a rainbow cast across the clouds. It looked like every description I had seen of an angel. I put my hand to shield my eyes from the sun and my angel moved its hand. I waved my hand, and it waved back. (I would later learn that this rare effect is called the Brocken Spectre, and is basically your shadow cast on the top of a cloud.) As I stood there, on top of the world, I realised for the first time in my life that my destiny is truly my own.
That spectre was the catalyst that led my life in a whole new direction, now a mountain leader and climbing instructor, living at the foot of the black mountain. I spend my days working with Young people, designing programs to help those who might end up down my dark paths find the outdoors. Helping them to find the angel in their shadow.
P.s - The summit by comparison was a massive let down; shrouded in cloud and rain, and a train full of tourists to dampen your sense of achievement. I suppose the old adage about it being the journey not the destination that’s important fits well here – as if this story wasn’t cheesy enough as it is.