Tom Kahler: Sleepless in Snowdonia
Tom and his friend Elliot spent an intrepid night atop Glyder Fawr during the ‘Beast from the East’ to catch the sunrise. His experience – and resulting pictures – proving the sanguine nature of the outdoors.
Endurance takes many forms, and is typically affiliated with the physical, involving a vast amount of physical pain and discomfort. This notion can easily be thought of as animalistic attrition; is the finite amount of determination you have to keep going greater than the finite time left to experience the finite volume of pain possible to feel? It invariably becomes an overly emotional image of gritted teeth and violence.
More often than not, however, in order to really ENDURE requires the total opposite. Indeed true resilience requires a stoic calm. Accepting what is out of your control allows you to focus on what you can or need to do. Sometimes this means just waiting.
This was a notion I one hundred percent wasn’t thinking about as we drove towards the snow-capped peaks of Snowdonia in Elliot’s camper van. In fact, I was far more engaged with watching the scenery gradually crescendo as we gained altitude. The freshly fallen snow had been increasing incrementally as we drove deeper into the landscape, dusting the ancient and barren rock, and pooling in their leighs. Despite this, my thoughts were mostly concerned with food. A not entirely unusual state of affairs.
We parked at Llyn Ogwen and, after a quick kit-check (traveling light means you have to be extra-diligent) and the long-awaited meal, we set off into the darkening evening towards our goal – Glyder Fawr. The snow was already a few inches thick and deepened as we ascended. The slope’s gradient was also increasing, and it wasn’t long before our crampons and headtorches were donned. Fully kitted up, we worked our way up the mountain. As darkness fell, the snow became around a foot deep, making progress slow. After 4.5hrs, it was pitch black and, worried about getting lost, began using our cameras – taking long exposure shots to gather enough light to see distant features – to help orientate ourselves.
We soldiered on until just past midnight, when we began to set up camp. Elliot had brought what by every possible definition must have been the smallest two-man tent in existence. Not ideal for two big burly blokes such as ourselves. We managed to wedge ourselves into our matchbox tent just before the weather closed in with the unpredictable ferocity you are always wary of when in the outdoors. We were subjected to thunder and lighting, and irrepressible snowfall – a phenomenon i later learned is called ‘Thundersnow’. By far the worst was the ferocious winds which buffeted our tiny tent and reduced the temperature to -19*C, freezing our clothes and water and making sleep near impossible.
It was during these sleepless hours, with the noise of the wind snapping around our little tent, interjected only by intermittent cracks of lightning and booming thunder, that I began reflecting on what it is that allows people to willingly undergo such things. There was a serenity to be found within the gigantism of the event we were at the mercy of. Had I refused to accept my place amongst it, and adopted a more ‘tooth and claw’ stance against something so absolute, the only result would be in me losing. At the least this would mean more stress and frustration for us both, at the worst we could have put ourselves in danger.
However, our stoicism was rewarded and, having endured nature’s punishment all night, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise, the hills languishing in the air’s new-found stillness. An added bonus of getting no sleep was that we did not run the risk of sleeping through it. All that was left was to dig ourselves out of our tent (which was now half-submerged in fresh powder) and enjoy it.