It was March 15th 2020, I remember the day well. I’d just arrived at Kingston Park Stadium for a match, this was workday. Game-day is usually handshakes, fist bumps and well wishes to people you’ve not seen for a while. Today felt different and any unnecessary physical contact wasn’t supported.
We were at the start of a pandemic, but we didn’t fully know it yet.
The game finished and there were rumours of a small break in normality to help deal with this mysterious virus that had started to become problematic. The next day we got notified of cessation to training for two weeks in line with government guidelines, we returned back to training on January 3rd, 2021, 10 months later.
Being an athlete for over 15 years has given me many opportunities to express myself, be tested weekly and has given me a purpose. With lockdown, quarantine and the COVID pandemic taking over, this part of my life had all but vanished.
Now don’t get me wrong, I keep busy in other ways and enjoy many other activities like spending time with my daughter, practising yoga, reading, playing guitar and much more. But something was missing. A physical challenge. A test.
After months of training from home, I decided one Friday, that the coming weekend I was going to climb a mountain. I feel very fortunate living so close to beautiful destinations and after a quick search on the internet, I chose Mount Snowden, Wales. I didn’t have any climbing experience, much of a plan or appropriate clothing but I was fairly confident that with my conditioning base and some common sense that I would be OK.
The journey to Wales took around two hours with some breath-taking scenery to admire along the way. As I arrived, I was greeted by a local taxi driver who drove me to the start of the ascent, on our 5-minute taxi ride he gave me some advice on which path to take. I thought “why not?” and took the well wishing taxi drivers word for it and began my walk up PYG.
The start was tough, very steep with lots of big steps. Many people were on the same path, so I felt as though I was heading in the right direction. It’s pretty straight forward, just keep going up. One thing I will say now is that after a few rolled ankles and “nearlies” I decided pretty early that my running trainers wouldn’t be sufficient for any more climbs. Lesson learned.
Physically I found the climb difficult, after 45 mins sweat was dripping down my face and with no food prepared (smart I know) I had a break to take on some water.
I did have to ask a couple of times which way to go, that might sound strange when you think you should just head up, but I do like to be sure and being on my own I didn’t want to get stranded somewhere and had visions of being “that idiot”.
My first summit
After around 1 hour 30 I reached the summit, what a feeling. It felt like I imagined, magical views, clear air, lots of people experiencing a happy time and a gorgeous sunny day to top it off. I did the usual of taking a few pictures and then found a quiet place to enjoy my well earned coffee from my new flask.
On the way down I found an incredible spot to over looking the water, so I stopped and meditated for 15 minutes, what an experience that was.
It’s funny who you bump into on a mountain in a different country, well this time it was an old friend who I worked with right at the start of my fitness career. Good to see you Josh!
Walking down was less about the physical demand and more about taking in the amazing views and interacting with hikers whenever we awkwardly crossed paths. With a little more planning I would have known to bring some shorts and a towel to head into the water, another lesson to take in.
On the drive back home, my mind wasn’t focussing on problems in the past, or worrying about the future, it was reliving and appreciating what had just happened. I savoured so much from that day and I’m very grateful to have the physical capacity to experience climbing one of the Three Peaks.
I had pizza and a beer that night, smiling all the while.
What happened then?
So, what do you do when you climb one of the three highest peaks in The United Kingdom, you plan the next one. With the rugby season all but cancelled I decided that the feeling I had when I got home was what I missed the most. It was the satisfaction of doing something new, physically testing myself, being completely present in the moment and feeling content.
The next peaks Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike followed, then the Yorkshire three peaks and Helvelyn finished off my climbing season for 2020. Looking back, it’s something I am very proud off and managed to share the experiences with some special people.
There is always something out there to re-ignite that feeling of living. For me, climbing mountains was just that. You have to be brave, bold and get off your backside to experience life.
Here are my top 5 tips from what I’ve learned so far
- Wear the right stuff
- Plan your route well
- Have a nutrition strategy
- Physically prepare
- Take in and appreciate the beauty you discover
See you at the bottom somewhere,