It all started on the Monday really. As you all know, I’m studying to qualify as a counsellor and you HAVE to be organised to be an effective counsellor so I’ve made a real effort to be organised with things, but packing a bag for weekend on a Monday is a little extreme to say the least. However, I wanted to make sure everything was ok. In some ways I was impatient and wanted to get on with it and get it out the way as it had started to feel like there wasn’t a single ounce of enjoyment, even through I was telling friends I’m looking forward to it. The truth was, I had been told by someone, ‘it’s ok doing these small ones but you wait till the Lakes!’ Now if you know me, I’m all for proving people wrong, but had I prepared properly? I just wasn’t sure.
Fast forward to Friday. I woke up full of confidence thinking ‘let’s have this’. Work was done, the car was packed, the sun was shining and off we headed. As we come into the Lake District the landscape changes and you see The Falls. They are massive. If you ever get chance to go even if you just have a drive through it’s a great landscape. I was thinking, “hell, if these are the small ones and they are higher than I’ve done before, what are the big ones going to look like?” We arrived at the hotel and the weather was boiling. I was just hoping the sun would go in over the weekend which is very unlike me. I love the sun but trying to walk in it? I knew I’d struggle. That night I took my dad and his partner Gill for some food and we planned which way we were going to tackle Helvellyn. I drank more red wine than what I’d normally drink, especially before a walk. Maybe it was nerves? maybe I thought it would help me sleep? Anyway, the nerves were there still.
I woke up at 7am and had a really hot shower trying to relax the muscles in my legs. I was talking to myself in there as the water hit me. “Come on Al, you can do this lad” and with that, my confidence head comes on and we headed for breakfast. The advice I got was get plenty of food in you before a big walk. But having a Spinal Cord Injury, that’s a bit of a problem as I don’t have much control of my bowels and if I eat too much then… well I don’t need to tell you what would happen! I had a measly poached egg on toast and a few strong coffees needless to say, I had to move quickly to the loo. Maybe it was a bit of nerves. Whatever it was I didn’t need a upset stomach before heading out.
The decision was made to put two cars at different locations at the bottom of the mountain just in case I couldn’t make it back. We got parked up, boots on and we were off. Darren and I taking the lead. Only once in Everish have we gone straight uphill before and that was Hasty Bank. But this was different, this wasn’t going to be like anything I had done before and this was just the beginning. As I was going up, it must have been 3-5 minutes in, a guy who’s arm had been amputated went past me it was nice to see that even though he had a disability he was giving it a go. Then within 10 minutes I felt my back start to ache. It was sore as hell, “you are kidding me” I thought, “I’ve hardly got going and I’m in bits.” I get Jem to rub pain killing gel into the area where it’s hurting and just like the advertisement on TV I’m running down the mountain. (Well not quite….but you get the idea.) The sun was beating down and sweat was dripping off me, which for someone with my injury is great because we don’t really sweat, and as horrible as it sounds I really like the sweat dripping from me as it reminds of when I played football. I was constantly hearing my dad saying “slow down! You don’t realise how steep this going to get!” Then as we came out of the trees the terrain changed and stopped being just a steady path up.
I was thinking to myself have I underestimated this mountain and bitten off more then I can chew? I give it my all and went in bursts ,using momentum to get over the rocks. I tend to set small goals of walking 50 yards and then doing it again. This time after walking 50 yards I’d stop turn around and take in the view. Phones out and taking pictures it was amazing honestly sat there having a Yorkshire tea looking at landscape that felt great and this happened every 50 yards we’d take in the views. We were making good progress especially with the sun going behind the clouds and cool breeze making life easier. We must have been 20 minutes from the summit and the odd drop of rain was hitting us and it felt pretty refreshing but within 5 minutes the heavens opened. We have been out in some conditions during Everish but these raindrops where MASSIVE, feeling each one pound our skin. Everyone was quickly putting all their waterproofs on. I couldn’t believe it but then it just seemed like it wouldn’t be Everish without having every single weather condition chucked at me and a bit of me sometimes thinks that things are meant to be hard. It’s kind of satisfying having that challenge. 50 yards to the summit the rain turned to hail and when I say hail, it was like little ball bearings smashing you on the head. We hit the summit. There was a TV programme on recently, in which out of 100 walks around the UK, Helvellyn was voted number 1 with the best views. I was looking forward to those amazing views being my reward for the hard work, but because of the torrential weather, there was no view and I was standing there with my hand on top of the trig point, getting smashed by hail. I felt pretty emotional at the fact that I had got up there which felt great, but I just couldn’t see anything. We didn’t hang around. There was no cuppa. It was impossible. The decision was made to change the route down simply by looking at the sky and thinking it looks brighter over there. We started to head down quickly. We all looked at each other as the rain seemed to be easing off and we all wanted to get out of our waterproofs as the rain was that hard that even underneath the waterproofs we were still wet through. We found a decent rock to sit on to change but the midges had an army out and attacked so much so that Jem said she had never seen me irritated like that before. You could feel them everywhere and my legs looked like a dot to dot. I didn’t lose it with everyone but I did say “right I’m going I can’t stand this.” Because of the bloody midges it make it so difficult coming down as I felt I just couldn’t stop or they would in my ears mouth the lot. Team work came in to play as Jem didn’t leave my side because this wasn’t just a simple walk down, this was watching each step to see where we could place our feet, holding on to rocks but at least the sun was back and we had the slow process of trying to down and get dry….poor Jem was soaked to the bone. The further down we got the midges did finally disappear and we came across a bridge and a waterfall where we could get a drink and take some nice pictures and pose next to a signpost saying Helvellyn 2 Miles. TWO BLOODY MILES? It felt more like 10 to me! Under foot it was pretty slippery, as you can see from one of the videos….while Jem is supporting me she loses her footing showing just how hard it is. When we saw the car park my eyes lit up thinking we are at he point where we left the car but I was quickly told that it wasn’t our car park after all, but it is the finishing line for me!
Back at the hotel we learned from previous Everish challenges that’s it’s got to be straight into a hot shower, massage and then cake the legs in pain killing gel along with pain killers and I relax.
This is the day I’d really been dreading. I knew I’d get up Helvellyn failure on that peak just wasn’t an option for me, but getting up the next day and walking again? This is something I’ve never done before, never mind attempting to get up another mountain! I’d looked on the net and I couldn’t find anyone with a spinal cord injury climb these two mountains consecutively . I woke up at 5am thinking about how my legs felt. “Can I make it? What am I going to say and feel if I don’t make it? Shall I even not attempt it to save myself from it? Also it’s 5am I need so more sleep so if I do try it I’ve got the energy.” Over breakfast Darren tells me he can’t make it which I’m gutted about but completely agree with why he can’t, he made the right decision. He said to me, “you’ve got to attempt it Al, you won’t forgive yourself if you don’t.” My right thigh was so tight but I felt I had a decent stride on me that morning. Normally when I’m hurting, my stride gets a lot smaller and it takes me longer to get from A to B. We go to pick my dad up and I can tell he doesn’t want me to go up. He isn’t just someone whose started doing a few walks, my dad has 30 plus years of mountain experience and knows what he’s talking about and I respect that massively but I know I can be stubborn and I’m trying to listen but I’ve got it in my head that I’m doing it and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. We’d been told this climb is so hard mentally as the views aren’t great and the climb is steep and boring but then when you get to the top it’s so worth it. So with that in mind, I thought, well bring that on….let’s see how hard it is mentally AND physically. When we get parked, the heat from the sun is going to make this hard. We haven’t got our boots on yet and are already taking on liquids. You can see the path from the car park and it’s steep but it doesn’t seem to change a lot. Lots of fell runners were coming up and down it so seemed like it was a great training ground for them. We get going and it’s really steep and pretty skiddy under foot as the gravel moves but everything seems ok. We end up stopping for a cuppa and the view seems pretty bloody good to me drinking Yorkshire tea and looking over that I felt lucky and glad that I’m doing this. I could feel my thigh getting tighter so I spray it with deep freeze, (another smell that reminds me of a football dressing room an odd smell to like I admit but when you stop playing trust me you miss it). I managed to walk about another half an hour and then we can see the summit. It plays mind games with you, you think “it doesn’t look too far” yet really you’re also thinking “I’ve got another hour or so of walking here.” We get talking to an American couple about the challenge and with that I feel my right thigh tighten so much I need to lay down. Jem works her magic with the gel again and I also take some more pain killers. I’m trying not to let my mind play tricks with me. I think, “Come on! Crack on lad! The summit is there!” When we reach the summit it flattens out but it becomes rocky, making it pretty tricky to tread and as my concentration levels go up because I do not want to trip over at this stage I can see the trig point. I’m up. I’ve climbed two massive peaks in two days. For one or the first times on these walks, the weather is on our side. The wind is up, which isn’t a surprise as we’re 3050ft up, but we have a 360 degree views of the lakes and wow what treat! I was gutted for Darren as I would have loved him to have seen this but I’d done it now, I’m not daft, I know I’ve not completely done a challenge till I’m down safe of the mountain but I definitely had a sense of pride. A few more pain killers again and I want to get down. Now I know at some point my legs are going to go, and I can feel them getting weaker I needed more stops. Stopping every 50 yards or so is now down to every 10 yards so I’m getting frustrated with myself at just how long this is taking. With the steepness on a downward incline my toes are smashing down into the front of my boot, and then I catch my foot on a rock and I instantly think I’ve done something, yelping out and an explicit few words uttered. I need to get this boot off so I end up laying in a ditch. I’m lying there with my hands over my face and as Jem takes my boot and sock off, my leg is going mad spasming and my big toe sticking up like it’s had one of those little blue tablets! For the next 20-30 minutes I hobble down each footstep getting worse. I thinking, “This it Al, you’ve hit that breaking point you wanted to find.” I wanted to find my breaking point, but I’m also very disappointed as I don’t want to be beaten. I want to be the first person with a S.C.I to do something like this. My dad then instead of asking me, tells me to just give him my bag to carry. I listen as I can tell from the tone of his voice he just wants to get me down safely. There was a different route down on some grass which was a bit steeper but shorter and I felt if I got on there and took my boots off I could manage it. My dad and Gill stuck to path and Jem came with me. She took my boots off as I couldn’t lift my legs up. I hear my dad shout something about being careful walking in socks because it’s like walking on ice, and then wallop……my feet go from underneath me I hit the deck smashing my neck and back. My first thoughts are, “I can move my legs and my neck is ok.” I roll over as I really want to cry because I’m in absolute bits. I don’t like to moan or admit things but this was so painful. I don’t know how Jem did it but she managed to turn the situation around by making me laugh and she took my socks off. I wanted to get down I was embarrassed that I fell and I was taking so long to get down but I can see the car I want to finish this I want to be that first person. I make it down and for some reason I don’t feel what I thought I would. I don’t feel like a sense of achievement at all. I think it was due to the fact I really did struggle, my dad took my bag from me and carried it down to the end, but like Jem said, the challenge isn’t ‘one man and his bag’ is it? I get help getting in the car we drop my dad and Gill off but I’m that physically tired I can’t get out the car to give them a cuddle and to say thank you. After a long drive back we home. There are three steps down the path and up two up into the house. I normally rely on my left and stronger side to pull me through things but it just won’t take the weight. I need help getting in the house from Jem and again somehow we end up smiling at the fact I can’t do it. This is the other side people don’t see as I obviously don’t film or take pictures of this but Jem had to undress me and help me sit on the edge of the bath and wash me. Now this is something I was used to in hospital but now I’m 36 and I like to think I can do most things but I’d just done the biggest achievement and now I was paying the price. Was it worth it? The pain, having your loved ones seeing you struggle and having to do things for you? I was thinking, “she’s my girlfriend not my carer.” I didn’t go to bed with a sense of pride or anything. I just felt flat. I felt nothing in that way.
Fast forward 10 hours sleep and a quick post on social media along with looking through the pictures and putting the videos together and it’s a different feeling, my God did it challenge me? Yes. Did it nearly break me? Yes. Am I proud? Yes! Yes I am proud.
I can’t wait to go again it’s given me an insight to the even bigger ones I need to take on and conference that I will climb the Ben!