It’s a funny old thing, bonding. You know, that thing we humans tend to do when perfectly normal strangers are thrust together in abnormal circumstances.
There we were one minute, saying ‘Hi, my name’s Ange’ and shaking hands, the next we’re holding hands again, this time to haul each other up a mountain. It’s not the only intimacy we will share over the next five hours. But more on that later.
Snowdon is, arguably, the most user-friendly of the three main UK peaks. Not as high as Ben Nevis, not as unrelenting as Scafell, but possibly twice as busy as both. On the day we climbed, it was shrouded in cloud and windy enough to knock you off balance at times, but still there was a steady stream of walkers, some in T-shirts and trainers. It made us feel snug and smug, with all the gear (but still not much in the way of idea). SCHOOLBOY ERROR
Well, when I say ‘all the gear’...it wasn’t quite. Paddy Caldwell made the schoolboy error of making sure the post-walk beers were packed but neglected to be as careful when it came to ensuring his boots were in the back too. Still, he completed the 7-mile trek in his trainers without a single whinge. Except, perhaps, to suggest that it was his wife Janet’s fault for not checking. His effervescent missus was having none of that. Their light-hearted marital banter can raise a smile in the most trying of climbing circumstances, and I know I’m not the only one who’s delighted they’ll be scaling the big ‘un with us come October. They even brought their nipper Archie on the weekend’s climb, a delightfully cheeky chip off the old block.
There’s another addition to the team for the Spectrum Kilimanjaro Challenge. My partner Dean Fisher (@arhinoabroad on twitter) is now tagging along for the ride. If Janet’s propensity to provide the gang with all those necessities you never thought you’d need on a long climb (pork pies, tangerines, anti-blister patches) makes her indispensable, then Dean’s genius for the perfectly-timed double entendre make him the light relief, like Sid James with a broad Dewsbury accent. NSFW
But even Dean can seem like Oscar Wilde compared to our resident barber - oops, sorry, men's stylist - Paul Heesom. I’d like to be able to share some of his witticisms with you but I’m afraid every single one is NSFW.
And then there was Ade Cunliffe, our skipper, who’s pulling the trip together. He’s our safe pair of hands. Well, we thought so until we started to set off for Snowdon. We’d met at Ade’s so we could travel in convoy to Wales, with his wife Rachel in our car, and Ade himself in another.
“He went to bed the other night and left about five candles burning downstairs,” she confided. We watched and waited as he faffed about, eventually getting in his car to set off on the trip.
“Look,” said Rachel, as we started to cruise out of the cul de sac. “I told you he would.” Yes, she had predicted it, and so it transpired. He’d left the front door to their house wide open. We still have faith though. WET AND WILD
Along with Jenna Brough, our fitness queen with the 1,000-watt smile and a competitive edge that’d make even Bradley Wiggins look uncommitted, the aforementioned had all climbed together in the Trough of Bowland. For Snowdon we welcomed aboard four relative newbies.
Mike Ellenthorpe, Ste Gavin, Chris O’Dea, and Richard Heyes (the latter two with their delightful daughters) all joined the gang for the wet and wild trek to the top of Wales, while the rest of the world, it seemed, was bathed in August sunshine.
The conditions were challenging. Almost from the off, we were enveloped in a foggy drizzle which meant the rocks beneath our feet were slippery as well as steep. (Note to self: must fit in more lunges and squats before October). As we approached the summit we heard from one woman descending that it was so bad at the top they’d suspended the train service and closed the cafe. So no quick way down and no celebratory beer at the top. Never mind.
We won’t just be climbing Kilimanjaro, we will also be playing a a record-breaking game of rugby league at the top. Oh yes, a proper game of league, with a referee and everything. So we took a ball up Snowdon and half-heartedly chucked it back and to for ten minutes, while other climbers looked on, puzzled. (Note to self: Practise catching a ball. And throwing accurately). LONG DRINKING SESSION
And with that, we were going down, another summit tackled, another day doing something most of us would never have attempted had we not found ourselves signed up for this crazy challenge.
One of the most fascinating aspects of getting together for training climbs like this is just how much you can learn about people in such a short length of time. It’s like being on a long drinking session - you share so much more about yourself than you’d ever planned (except that with alcohol you tend to forget it all by morning).
Rather than ‘do you come here often?’, the conversation starter on these climbs is invariably, ‘So, why are doing it?’. Every one speaks of Steve Prescott’s inspiring story, but also of why it has touched and motivated them. There are as many stories as there are climbers; some awesome, some funny, some heartbreaking, every one personal, every one inspirational in their own right. FRIENDS FOR LIFE
It wouldn’t be fair to reveal such personal stories here, but I would one day love to write it all down in a book, not just as a memoir but also to show others how drive and determination can be found in everyone, not just in champions and trophy winners. Some of the stories I have heard climbing up and down these slopes of Great Britain will stay with me forever.
I hope we’re all making some friends for life too; and yes, that means you Mike ‘Batwing’ Ellenthorpe, Janet ‘Three Coins’ Caldwell and Chris ‘Where’s Me Watch’ O’Dea. Anyone fancy Ben Nevis? Meet the whole team here