When I was about fourteen, I cried my way up Snowdon
It was foggy at the top, and I could barely see my family as I wolfed down a pasty and with cold wet tears declared I was never hiking again. Why anyone would go through the ordeal of climbing a mountain, especially a mountain with a perfectly functional train going up it, I had no idea. At the bottom, we drank the most delicious hot chocolate and I satisfied myself with the thought that I would never have to do such a horrid thing again.
This last week I went on an 8-day hike around Torres Del Paine National Park
Not only does this park contain train-less snow-capped mountains, but a number of snow-queen-blue glaciers. There are two circuits to choose from, the W and the O and my hiking buddy decided on the O before I had the chance to stick the place name into a search engine and discover that it was definitely the more challenging route.
Furthermore, we did this hike not just carrying pasties, but all the necessary food
That’s eight days’ food, a tent, mats, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, coats, clothes, woolly hats, sun-cream, insect repellent and everything else you might need to survive out in the wilderness. Not only did we clamber up mountains and scramble down them, but we also camped beside glaciers and mosquito-infested ice-cold turquoise lakes and in the middle of a knobbly floored forest.
At twenty-nine, I am different than when I was fourteen
It’s not just that my hair is turning grey, but my body is more muscle and less squidge. I cried my way up Snowdon because it was a physical ordeal. My mind did not know how to process the work and I had no idea how to control my breathing or how to motivate myself to be cheerful. When I climbed up Snowdon all the agony was clearly the Father’s fault and the more I blamed him, and the more he refused to accept responsibility, the angrier I became.
Climbing up to the John Gardner pass this last week (which is higher than Snowdon), my legs certainly ached. I’d already done three days of hiking up to this point. What’s more, I’d risen at half five so that we could strike camp for seven and be on our way. The start of the trail closed at 8 am to avoid anyone trying to get over the pass during the afternoon when the wind has a trick of trying to throw people off the mountain.
I knew that there was a steep uphill followed by a steep downhill, both which threatened to be tricky. The previous night I’d slept badly, as we’d been camped close to the Los Perros glacier on a forest floor made of rocky gravel in a campsite where the shower only came in the cold variety.
Yet, there was nobody to blame for me being there other than myself and so I accepted responsibility for the situation without causing myself a fuss. There wasn’t any complaining – other than a grunt of hatred towards the sounding alarm clock. There was mud. There was clambering. My hands were dirty and my blue boots became a dusty brown. My legs ached. My feet ached. My bag was heavy and my clothes stuck to my body with sweat.
My legs ached, but they didn’t hurt
And it was the same with my feet. My boots are getting closer to worn out than worn in, but I love them dearly as with them on my feet I didn’t get a single blister.
Slowly but steadily throughout the morning, I nibbled at cereal bars and toffees, nuts and dried fruit. I sipped at my water, fresh from the glaciers above, and the hot coffee kindly prepared by my hiking buddy in my tiny thermos flask (me being too slow in the mornings for her general approval).
We’d been told to expect rain, but the sun shone bright, giving the mountain snow that crisp white look, and we had to pause when we left the forest to make the final craggy climb, as we needed to plaster on the sun-cream.
And my legs continued to ache, but the ache seemed irrelevant
They were working hard, and expected to ache. If they hadn’t had been aching after all that climbing, I’d have been surprised. Mentally, I’d prepared myself for much worse. The pass proved not to be as difficult as I’d once imagined. Sure, I was tired by the end of it, but taking it all one step after another, it didn’t seem so important. After all, there was sunshine, the wild Patagonian wind was sleeping and we had the sort of view that makes you giggle with exhilaration.
In no time at all we were stumbling into the campsite (which had no showers at all), removing out boots and boiling water for a cup of tea.
When I was about fourteen, I cried my way up Snowdon
I felt defeated by the mountain but I was being defeated by myself. At the time I had no idea of this, I could not see where the anger was coming from and I did not understand my own role in my emotions. It’s not just my body that’s changed, but the way I think has altered in a fashion so radical that I laugh at the thought that both that girl and I are one and the same.
Now, of course, I am greatly thankful for the father taking me up Snowdon. It’s put a marker in my brain identifying the person I don’t want to be. The person I keep on growing away from being. And yet, also it reminds me, whenever I hear someone’s ridiculous complaints, how real such complaints do feel. It makes it a little easier to forgive the stranger who can do nothing but complain about their situation. Every one of us has been there. We’ve all had those days.
It’s just some of us get the wild luck of being guided to grow beyond them.