Friday, 21 September 2012

The Shell-Endowed Turtle

Like brightly coloured beads on a string necklace, dropped carelessly by some Yorkshire Colossus, the walkers snaked their way up the craggy faces of Pen y Ghent. Like sheep, we followed, one by one, or in my case two by two as I now had a walking buddy.

'I'll bloody do it today, or break my arse trying", Phil Smith was steely and determined. He had attempted the three peaks two years earlier with his father-in-law. Only to fall at the final peak when severe pains in his knee had become unbearable.

"It's not the going up that does it", he told me. "It's the going down. Yer knees take all the impact".

He was certainly dressed like he meant business ; waterproof coat, lightweight trousers, gaiters and two telescopic walking sticks ( although I'm sure they must have a sexier name) and a rucksack that, by the looks of it, contained crampons, ice axes and a life raft (just in case, like).

In comparison, I looked like I'd popped out to the corner shop for the Radio Times and a packet of Digestive Hob-Knobs. His must of thought of me as a bit of a novice, though he was probably too polite to say so.

"So I take it you're a bit of a novice to this sort of lark are you?"
I knew it!
"Is it that obvious?" I replied.
"A bit".
"Do you think I'm lacking a bit of kit?" I nodded at his backpack. Packed to the gills, it made him look like a shell-endowed turtle.

"Well, the gear is only part of the preparation." He countered and suddenly went all distant and wise, like a father instructing his son, " Yeh, your body can let you down alright, but it's in here you got to be strong". He tapped the side of his head and fixed me with a glare.

At times like this Phil looked a lot older than his 34 years. His weathered features and stocky build added to his robust air. If I was going to make this journey to the end there was no better person to be hooked up with, I thought. This trek was no laughing matter. It would be hard and gruelling. Now, I had the experienced guidance of a man who had given it his all...and failed. Now he was back. Arnie-style.  And fixated on nothing but success. One way or another we would reach the end together, whether it was him carrying me or .... Well, it would probably have to be him carrying me, to be honest.

We started the clamber up east side of Pen y Ghent. So many walkers made it seem almost as if it were people climbing people. Perhaps a scene from a Hollywood blockbuster, where flood waters are rising and hundreds of survivors are desperately,trying to scrabble up to higher ground.

It would prove, for me, a wake up call for what i'd let myself in for. But for some it was proving a little too much already.

Two ladies with Macmillan T-shirts stretched tightly over their significant frames, like ceiling netting straining to holding back balloons at New Year's Eve party, were leaning against the side a huge boulder, red-faced and blowing hard.

 It was probably Brenda and Sue from the office, I guessed, who were  coaxed into coming along by their work colleagues, without being told, or fully appreciating, exactly what they were letting themselves in for.

"Where're the rest of them, Bren?" one puffed.
"They've gone on ahead, Sooz,"came the unsurprising news.
"Blimey, I could do with a ciggie, Bren"
"Me too!" Sue pulled out a pack and offered her friend a fag. Both keen to get some smoke down them, before anymore of that fresh air crap got in.

I was blowing a little, too and hot enough to take my coat off. It was clear that the first climb of the day would filter out the Brendas and Sues of this world, but soon I was to realise that the challenge was about to take no prisoners.

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