My family loves mountains. Most weekends we spend in Lake District hiking, mountain biking, off roading or simply spending time admiring the landscape. During every holiday we usually tick off a mountain or two. There is something about them that keeps us attracted. But we also respect them. Most times our attempts to conquer the chosen mountain are successful and we come back home safely with a lot of pictures to share. But not always. Even though we always come prepared, do a lot of research and planning, there were few days when we had to retreat with a tail between our legs…
Slovenia, Autumn of 2013. Climbing the country’s highest mountain, Triglav (elevation 2863 metres), was supposed to be a highlight of our holiday. 5 am wake up. 6 am at the trail head. Weather good. Rucksack in my back and… child in a child carrier on my husband’s back. Yep. 2.5-year-old was pulled out of bed at 5 am so his parents could chase their dreams. Half an hour into the hike and the boy is already cranky. Milk in a bottle doesn’t help. Blanket does. And another. And one more. Child finally goes back to sleep wrapped in 3 fluffy blankets. Let’s try to make up the lost time. Not easy. Path is steep, rucksack heavy, child constantly moves about. Getting warmer, then hot. Child wakes up. Wants milk. And water. And a snack. Then needs a nappy change. Time is ticking, making no progress. After 5 painful hours we reach the mountain hut. Food, drink, rest, time for pictures. And decision time. Looking at the path ahead and everything is clear – we’re not gonna make it. Not enough time, too much weight to carry (hikers leave their bags in the hut for final ascent) and path too difficult to attempt with a child on the back (most people wear helmets, as it’s a steep scramble up ahead). Damn it! Haven’t done our homework properly! Retreat. Days are shorter at the end of September so we have to hurry to get back to the car before dark. Views are amazing, weather is perfect but we are not smiling. Feeling gutted, disappointed, incomplete. Final kilometres are a torture. Legs are killing us. 11 hours hike up and down a steep mountain with a load takes its toll. Exhausted, we reach the car. Head back to the hotel for a well-deserved rest. Can’t walk the next morning – takes us 20 minutes to walk down the stairs for breakfast. Things would have been different without a child on tow. Now we have to come back to Slovenia in future – but so far Triglav – 1, Labus – 0.
Poland, October 2016. Week just for ourselves, no child to look after. Destination: Tatras. Big plans – Rysy (Poland’s highest mountain) and Orla Perc (Eagle’s Path), one of the most dangerous trails in Europe. After a hot day in Krakow we arrive in Zakopane with big smile on our faces and even bigger expectations. The same night we arrive at Murowaniec mountain hut, ready for next day’s challenge.
And a challenge it was! Woke up to cloudy sky, poor visibility and… sleet and snow! We couldn’t believe our eyes. Thinking “let’s see how we get on”, we put our waterproofs on and head into the mountains. Rain and snow don’t stop as we carry on. Navigation is extremely difficult as visibility is terrible and all trail markings are covered in snow – hubby is forced to use GPS app on his phone most of the time. Some time later, half way up Zawrat Pass we decide “enough is enough”. First of all, we can’t see a thing. Beautiful views are one of the reasons why we love mountains so much. No chance for any today. Secondly, it’s too dangerous. Orla Perc has claimed dozens of lives over the years, even in perfect weather conditions. So, we return to the hut. To our surprise, Varsovian couple we met last night, had returned too. They were heading up Krzyzne Pass at the other end of Orla Perc and the weather ruined their plans too. But it’s not the end of bad news – my hubby’s waterproof jacket failed and his phone got water damaged…
Next couple of days brought us beautiful, sunny weather and we could admire stunning views of Tatras covered in fresh snow, doing our “plan B” hikes at lower altitudes. But mother nature won again – we came back in one piece and gained some winter mountaineering experience, but the result was clear: Tatras -1, Labus – 0.
England, February 2019. Encouraged by my husband’s successful winter summits all over Europe, I decided to try my luck and attempt to reach the top of Scafell Pike in winter. Popular route from Seathwaite, not too far from civilisation, good weather forecast and all kit prepared and approved by my husband – what can possibly go wrong? It turns out, quite a lot.
I’ve climbed Scafell Pike before, in the summer. But everything looks different covered in snow. The path I’ve walked before could not be seen because of fresh snowfall the night before so I relied on GPS app on my phone. Struggling with knee-deep snow, faffing too much taking pictures and talking to fellow hikers resulted in me being well behind schedule. It was February and the days are really short, so I quickly realised that I’m not going to make it to the top before dark. Snow was everywhere, not many footprints to follow… Retreat, again! I didn’t want all this effort to go to waste, so I decided to go back different route and “tick off” Glaramara in the process
All was going well, until my app froze and I missed my turn off back towards car park. Instead of restarting my phone and rebooting the app, I followed some visible footprints… going in completely different direction! After a while, I realised that I’m going the wrong way. Because it was getting dark and I roughly knew where I need to be heading (seeing Seathwaite down in the valley), I decided to go back down in a straight line. That included going over fields, climbing over walls and barbed wire with my faithful border collie. But I made it down before it went completely dark. Sat in the car warming up and unwinding for a while, then started driving back home.
But I wasn’t aware what was going on in the background! Last time I spoke to my husband was at the top of Glaramara, where I had some patchy network coverage, few hours earlier. He suggested me a route down that should take no more than 2 hours. 4 hours later he started getting worried and began investigating my whereabouts from home. Rang the Seathwaite Campsite and asked the owner if our car was still parked there. It was, so he thought something went completely wrong and called the Police. Explained everything and they contacted Mountain Rescue Team. In the meantime, I got back to the car safely and rang home as soon as I could. When my husband found out I’m safe and sound, he rand the Police again to let them know so the Search & Rescue Team can be called off.
What a day! But it wasn’t completely lost. I gained some experience on my first solo trip in difficult, winter conditions. Realised that I’ve still got a lot to learn. But I’m ready to try it again next winter, hopefully with a better result. Score: Scafell Pike – 1; Labus – 0.
As you can see, things don’t always go to the plan. Mountains are beautiful but unforgiving. You can plan and get ready as much as you like, but the last word always belongs to the mountain. Or Mother Nature. We we’re lucky and everything ended up safely, only with our pride being hurt. But it could have been a lot worse. Stay safe, people!