It's now four days later and my quads and calves are still screaming. They're sore. And so was I. They've been ravaged. And so have I.
Funny how I expected the climb of Scafell Pike to be the least challenging of all the national three peaks - the shortest of all, the 'baby' of the group. The mighty Ben Nevis with its title of the UK's highest, Snowdon in all its epic splendour - these two pressed me and strained me but they did not batter. But Scafell Pike - this windswept, angular, angry boulder field fought me the whole way up. It fought my heart which morphed from angry to sullen to joyful to bitter to elated for the duration. For every grinning photo I shared with friends thereafter, there were some three or four preceding with those pained faces, those angry memories etched into my brow. But the smile always pushed them away, sent them sailing over the edge on the **** end of the gusty wind, taking the rest of my self doubt along for the journey. Good riddance I say. Don't let the door hit you and all that.
Still, this mountain fought my serenity and boiled my guts with fear. As wind gusts folded me over time and again I'd grab on to anything unmoving til they passed. In one lull I'd recall to the friend who climbed with me that as a child I once got myself up a tree and was too fearful of the height to get back down. Years later I'd climbed on to the roof of a friend's house by ladder and again, couldn't return to the soil. That infrequent fear of heights near paralyzing if I'm not strapped into a rollercoaster, and even then still nips at my sanity if the bar doesn't come down low enough. I had not a single memory of these things throughout my adulthood until last April when I found myself dizzy with vertigo a quarter of the way up Ingleborough. Perhaps it was hyperventilation. As the song says 'if you're afraid of falling then don't look down' and I'd just made the schoolgirl error of doing just that. As such I've determined that clearly my slow pace on the mountains is not solely a fitness issue but equally down to the fear of departing from the earth into the void. Death doesn't appeal.
So who on earth would go hike up mountains if they're uneasy at height? Why, those very people who awaken to see a north face every single day of their lives. When nothing is ever easy you sometimes need to seek out that which is a larger challenge to better manage the every day. I hearken back to childhood bullying, I revisit frayed familial relationships, I remember the exorbitant levels of patience you need to raise a disabled child in a world that's trying to 'other' him every day. When your eyes keep opening to see that north face you strap up your boots and climb. There is no other way. And the only way is up.
This mountain, the baby of the national three, also fought my patience with all that time and water under the bridge that I'd had to wait until the day of reckoning. And there we reached the car park around 7:30 am, and I got a good look in daylight of that set of what appeared to be cycle racks where I'd cried in fury those nine months ago, raging against the disparaging 'guide' company who'd done their level best to belittle me, twice now, galactic fool that I am to have returned with them post Yorkshire. But my money was long gone to them, as was that night of rage, and with a grunt of finality I turned my back to the crying place and looked toward the mountain. My trekking poles were safely stowed in the pack. They wouldn't come out til the descent. This was already a major victory.
Crossing the car park, now with its jaunty National Trust welcome post in place of the porridge distribution point which stood there when I last visited in the dark, over to the very same foul smelling toilets, to the sign board to photograph directions of the route and then we were heading up.
I remembered how steep it had seemed in the dark and the light of day didn't lessen the impact. A later look at the Strava track tells me the incline would stay near the 20% range, fluctuating mostly between some 15% and 30% for the duration. There were no long flats to catch breath - it was straight 'up the hill and into the wind'. As we walked, I was fixated on the thought of how these conditions were the perfect metaphor for life; you are heading up and up, seeking a destination you cannot see. The climb is arduous, the wind is pushing you back in anger, disallowing your success and forcing you to fight back. Still you press on. And you curse that wind and you seek out a line upwards which makes itself known as nothing more than a subtle curve of lighter-coloured rock snaking across an unstable boulder field.
Those rocks underfoot constantly threatening to snap your ankles. That path beckons, glistening silently, like a stream of flourescent green algae trailing a great ship. You follow the line up and up and up. Because you can. Because you must. The wind folds you in half again, nearly knocking the camera out of hand and breath out of your lungs. The surrounding beauty darkens and grows fangs when the fear returns. As the wind presses you back you put your head down and push through it.
Up the hill and into the wind. Every day before this. Every day after.
Moments: the choked up pause at the gate where they'd stopped me. I saw the rock I'd sat on in the dark. I heard the relentless water falling down the hill to my right, drilling that memory into the back of my skull like a taunt. 'Try it, try me, you didn't do it last time, you sat right here and turned around, you try me...'
My friend Kate asking how it would have gone last time had I kept going despite the knee trouble and the honest answer: 'very badly'. The pace too fraught, the darkness too vast, the terrain too dangerous, those meant to guide too impatient and giving zero ***** about my personal safety or the cause behind my purpose. No, it would have had a very bad ending. Yet this knowledge was an adrenaline injection. That wasn't the right time. But despite the wind trying to shove me down off this mountain on this occasion, THIS was. There would be no other result on this day.
I photographed the gate I couldn't wait to get through with the shadow before me pointing back down the path I'd not see again for hours. I see the photo now and it looks like something is buried there. The past. The memories. Six feet under.
The grin on my face when I turned to go up. And up and up.
Those morphing faces photographed again at the summit as I slapped the trig point three, four, now five times as if to say 'here I am you b******* you haven't stopped me'. And then like Snowdon the head in the hands and floods of tears. Relief. Pride. Joy.
Up now to the very highest point, and the raging wind that popped the tail end of my do rag out of its nesting point blowing my hair around like Bozo the Clown. The grin as big as that wind, the joy as huge as the universe. It must have been cold but I didn't feel it. I didn't want to leave but there was really no reason to stay. I'd done what I came to do. I checked my watch to see that we'd reached the summit of Scafell Pike in 2:15:09 and for anyone who's seen my thing about numbers in the past, there was my Pop's input clear as day as it had also been for the duration. More tears. No sweeter victory. No better company on top of this final test.
Nine months to the day from that altercation in a Snowdon car park, where some pathetic stranger with a chip on his equally pathetic shoulder decided that me expressing my disappointment at being turned away from a goal was evidence of a bad attitude. No, friend. That is called drive. That is called determination. That is called Buzzer spirit. You aren't worthy of understanding this because you are not one of us. And now you are in the past. And now I win. But we always knew that would happen. Because I'm a Buzzer, that's why.
The 'baby' makes three. And I'm on top of the world.
As it's worth linking up the whole story, my blog that covers the experience I had during the National Three Peaks is here on my personal blog, as is the prelude to this climb. In between was the triumph on Snowdon with so many of you beautiful Buzzers. It's ok to go slow, as long as you go.
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