It was a fun weekend, if not climatologically challenging. The rain poured and poured on Saturday night but that Dunkirk spirit prevailed and we sat in full thermal gear around a wood fire and waited until the BBQ was glowing before adding the beef burgers and sausages. We may be crap at football but us Brits know how to enjoy ourselves during a flood warning. I hate camping and can think of nothing I would rather do less then wake up fully clothed in a 500 tog sleeping bag, with an aching back, listening to the rain smack against the outside of the tent, bursting for a pee with a puppy licking the top of my head, then emerge to be devoured by 100 million individual midges of death after showering in a cubicle carpeted in soil. But I wouldn’t have missed last weekend for the world – simply because it was a the second reunion of the 2011 Bridge2Aid Kilimanjaro crew – lifelong friends. We laughed until it hurt, reminisced on the heat of the tropics and the Swahili songs of the porters, toasted absent friends and caught up on healthy gossip. All of that after a minor drama that affected many of the climbers on Saturday. As you can see from the photo – the beautiful views from Snowdon were only in our imagination as we approached the summit. We took the South Ridge from close to the Snowdon Rangers camp and disappeared into the clouds for the last hour or so of our ascent. At the top – strong winds, freezing cold and a lot of people, arriving from all directions and clambering to the top of the rock pile for ‘that’ photo. Bizarrely, given the weather conditions), tourists arriving on the train from Llanberis, dressed in casual gear, jumpers, trainers – kids in t-shirts looking hypothermic (why do they run the train when it’s like this? maybe it’s the £25 price tag.) After a very cold photo session at the summit, we headed for the coffee shop and a much needed cuppa and pasty. Sadly, no dogs allowed – so Kibo and Rio were outside, sheltering from the wind behind a wall and we took turns to dog-sit. 30 minutes was enough before it was time to head back down. Here’s where the problems started. We each pulled our clothes, rucksacks, hats, gloves back on and started off down the trail, parallel to the railway track. There was no leader and no back-stop. Rule Number One – appoint a leader – someone whose decision is final. Rule number Two – appoint a back-stop – a reliable person who watches everyone’s back and makes sure nobody gets left behind. So we all start walking down – and because Annie and I have been getting the dog organised as well as ourselves, we are last to leave. We walk for about 15 minutes down the steep pathway that leads from the summit to a ‘crossroads’ where the South Ridge trail meets with the Llanberis pathway and the Pig Trail. None of our party are in sight – they are ahead somewhere in the mist – and I walk straight past our turn for the South Ridge trail and carry on down the Llanberis pathway. This will ultimately lead us to said town – some 15 miles away from our campsite. After a further 10 minutes of walking I realise the mistake (having spent enough time up there in the past) and I turn us around and walk back up to said crossroads, where we take a right and join the correct trail. This has cost us about 20 minutes all told (an extra 20 minutes in the cold and wind) but at least we are now heading in the right direction. After some time we meet Julie, Ian, Tom and Rio (chocolate lab), who have been standing on the trail, waiting to see if anybody was following them. Tom (19 and fit as a flea) has been ahead in the mist and cannot find the rest of the party. We know that 5 of our 10 have taken the wrong turn as well – and are headed for Llanberis. No mobile phone signals, no way of contacting them. We decide to head down the mountain on the basis that they will either realise their mistake and head back up – or carry on into Llanberis and catch an expensive cab. Three of the missing persons, Kev, Matthew and Phil, realise their mistake when they descend through the cloud base and see the South Ridge way off to the left. They decide to traverse the mountain off-trail to get back on course – and end up climbing a sheer rock face with no proper gear. All 3 arrive safely behind us on the trail about 2 hours later but in less favourable conditions could have ended up in serious trouble. Rule Number Four – stick to the pathways, even if you can’t stick to the plan. Our last 2 – Keira and Mike – eventually stagger into Llanberis and wait in a pub until Phil drives over to pick them up – some two hours later then the rest of the tribe. They tell us that the entertainment in the pub was watching other groups of walkers who had taken exactly the same wrong turn and were arguing about how it happened and who was to blame. One has the feeling that the cab drivers of Llanberis have a nice line in returning lost walkers to their campsites and hotels. I don’t want to over-dramatise what happened – in June the rain and wind are just warm enough to avoid serious problems – but a couple of months earlier and it could have been a rather different scenario. Also, the whole weekend was about fun and we all saw the funny side of what happened. But it just does go to show that a simple, small mistake can have large repercussions and that a small wrong turn in life, on a mountain or in business can leave you in a very different place from the one you expected. We are thinking about a Mediterranean venue for next year (and, I hope, a hotel).
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