Earlier this week, I wrestled with a post-op thumb, a systemic infection and antibiotics, and shingles, and emerged a sad, torn heap of wrinkles. Meanwhile, I’d promised to take my kids to the mountains and they were Very Excited. As I wobbled across the house trying to make it to the bathroom and back without a sit down, I wondered how this was going to play out.
Rule: you shouldn’t go up mountains if you’re not fit because the mountains don’t care. So don’t. But the mountains are also where I keep my soul and they heal me, so up I went.
Our first walk was supposed to be Rhyd Ddu but since I was unusually wobbly, an exposed ridge walk was clearly a stupid idea; we opted for baby steps to Llyn Idwal instead: a 3km wander on flat ground and a swim. I could, I figured, manage this, because I wouldn’t use my thumb.
Mountains have two other rules. (Not just two — there are more — but these are two specifically relevant to being injured. I knew them both.)
- There is no such thing as a body part that you will not use. “I’ll just use my other hand” is not a real thing: you will use both. You will use your whole body unless something has dropped off or stopped moving, in which case, you’ll sub in something else. But you will end up using whatever body you have.
- Whatever pain you have in the beginning will be amplified a million times by the first ascent and will turn into a burning fury by the end. If you have a tiny blister from the offset, then left untreated this will be a pulsating pink monster after a couple of hours and the blackened gates of red-edged hell by the end. If you have a “sore thumb”, imagine a festering, agonising lava stick stuck to your hand by the time you’ve bashed it on a few rocks, grabbed a few handholds with your full, lardy bodyweight, ripped a stitch or two, and accidentally plonked the whole, burning, screaming thing into a stinking mountain lake and had to unpick and re-dress it using just your other hand.
My thumb was so painful before setting off that I yelped out loud when I picked up my breakfast coffee in the cushy surrounds of our hotel. By the end of a day in the hills, I was a silent, staring, muddy, sweaty, bug-eyed mass of monosyllables.
‘Are you OK, Mum?’
‘You look a bit…’
The kids had a lovely time swimming, though (no, I can’t swim with one hand held up out of the water, so yes, my thumb became a soggy mess, and yes, of course it was a stupid idea) but my soul is in these mountains and I needed it, and I don’t regret it. (I’m going to look a complete tit if my thumb falls off.)
So anyway, this is why I carry a really good first aid kit.
We’re all fine.
Also, there are baby fish in Llyn Idwal, and if you stand still in the shallows, they nibble your feet and make your children scream with horror and joy, because they tickle, and it’s scary, eerie fun, and because mountains are magical.