Tuesday, 12 November 2013
Snakes & Ladders
Adventure is inside us all, some people choose to ignore it or don’t even realise they have it, its there lurking in us all, then every now and again they discover it, then not long after they soon realise that its an amazing place to visit. With me my mind is constantly on an adventure, Even the days I’m at home or sat in the office my mind is constantly dreaming up the next trip, can that route be climbed, can I climb it, is that mountain possible, what if? These are the questions that run through my head daily but sometimes dreams and thoughts are all they can be. Most of the time big adventure comes with a big price, trips to big mountains need the time, cost lots of money and needs lots of resources so it can be difficult to live out every dream you have. But not all adventures have to be cost thousands, Just a few weeks ago I was in North Wales on a climbing trip and due to bad weather we were at a loose end, I had in the past heard of an adventurous day out called “Snakes & Ladders”. This was an adventure that somebody went on in the slate quarry’s of Dinorwig some time ago and left a story and route description so others could follow there journey. The route consist of Caves, Rusty ladders, old chains and it makes its way into unknown areas throughout the mountain quarry. With Bad rain and heavy winds what perfect adventure to take on. We searched the Internet and found the topo, took some copies and decided to set of, we travelled with only the minimum essentials, waterproofs, harnesses, a few slings, belay plate, 50m rope and the urge to run the route and get out alive before nightfall. The guide recommends 5hrs to complete the full adventure. With conditions the way they were we needed to move fast and be quicker than that. We set off from the car, we decided to run the areas we could to speed the time up, the wind and rain was battering us both and after a few minutes we were both pretty soaked, this wasn’t going to stop us though, we pushed on before arriving at a large cave, we pushed through and out the other side, we seemed to be in a hole in the ground, there was a chain on the vertical rock face leading to opening halfway up the wall, the first Obstacle, this looked interesting, especially as water was running down the blank face, we climbed the chain for around 20 metres, this being difficult not having and traction from our feet on the wall, we eventually arrived at the cave, we pushed on through before coming to an abseil point. Before abseiling we checked on the description to ensure we were on the right track and what we needed to look for next. We needed to be 100% sure on where we were heading, up in the mountains and not having rescue equipment the a mistake of entering the wrong hole or cave could be non escapable and fatal. We needed to abseil the line then look for a tiny hole in the rock in which we needed to enter. We searched for what seemed an eternity for that hole, with the wind and rain battering us adventure was sinking, we were both getting cold and the thought of retreat seemed pleasant. But no! we wasn’t giving up that easy so continued to search, after around 45 minutes we eventually found something, we were both unsure though as the entrance was small, it was also very dark so we were concerned that maybe we were dropping into a bottomless void, the gap was barely big enough to fit through, we decided to look though, we squeezed through before dropping to the bottom, it was dark. So dark that although not showing I was scared I was, I guess I was worried that if there was a hole along the path we would fall. All we could see a long way a way was a tiny light. The end of the tunnel. We didn’t have head torches as we wanted an adventure. We made our way along the tunnel, my hands on Phil’s back, one step in front of the other slowly checking for firm ground to stand on as we moved closer to the light. We eventual made it to end and the beat of my heart slowed again. The next section looked dangerous and very unstable, we needed to climb the steep slate scree slope to a flat ledge half way up the mountain, climbing this was tough, with every two steps forward you would slide one back, we were crossing big slate boulders and thoughts were running through my head that this could avalanche at any time, at one point a rock I used to pull on dislodged and I fell back, luckily grabbing another, I gasped loudly, that was close, a realisation check on how things can go so wrong so quick, I thought for a few seconds on the reality of what had just happened and then continued up until arriving at the ledge and the section of ladders. The next section was a large rock face with a sequence of ledges up the face, there were ladders running up each face to the ledges, we both looked at each other and laughed, the words that were said to each other can’t be said here but you get the idea. The ladders were rusty, broken, hanging away from the wall, rungs missing and pretty much as old as they looked. We weren’t roped up and decided to go one at a time, Phil being the lightest I made him go first. These ladders are hard and scary to climb at the best of times but with the rain and strong winds it was a test. I could feel the ladders swaying in the wind, creaking with every step, then when the wind blew harder id stop and wait. I will be honest. I was scared; if the ladder broke or fell it would have been the end. Every now again I would hear Phil giggle and I guess he could here me doing the same, we both knew this was not a giggle of happiness, more of a scared shitless giggle and adrenaline. We eventually made it to the top to my relief and found some shelter. We took a little break to eat and read the next part of the adventure. The weather was getting worse, you could see the wind blowing the heavy rain around the mountain, the sky was just black, no outline of cloud or a hint of improvement, we need to push on. We had a little walk/run now to get to the next obstacle, the description was for a large hole described as the centre of the earth, at the bottom of this lay two caves, we needed to find them. We pushed on and eventually found the hole, it was huge and very deep, the only way into it was to abseil. I remember thinking if this is the wrong hole there is no way we are getting out of here, what if there is no cave at the bottom, we would be stuck. No phone reception and the only way out would be to climb featureless slate in the rain. After two 50m abseils we arrived at section of loose ladders that lead deeper down the hole, the ladder was only attached to the wall by a piece of old rope, I still couldn’t see the caves but wanted to continue, I headed down a number of ladders before arriving at the bottom, I looked around and could see a number of crystal clear pools of water, I scouted about before eventually seeing the entrance to the two small caves. I shouted up to Phil to come down. We were on route. We pushed through the cave into a void, as if we were on another planet, complete silence and sense of loneliness, I could see another section of ladders in the far corner leading upwards, this being the only way we pushed on. We climbed the ladders and eventually arrived at the top. We were safe. There was another section to complete which involved crossing an old railway line where the floor had gone, with the wind and rain bad we decided to walk around. Just over two and half hours of an amazing adventure and we were back on the footpath which lead back to the car. Of all the mountains I’ve climbed, adventures, epics I’ve been on this is up there with the best of them, the route gives adventure, team work and a sense of unknown. I’m not sure how much longer the ladders will last but I Hope I one day get to experience this again.