It has become a family tradition to head out early on Boxing Day morning for a nail-biting adveture in the countryside. Previous years have seen us walking through fields knee-deep in snow, hanging off Goredale Scar by our fingertips and trying to convince my Dad that we're too tired to add 7 miles to the walk just to see a steam train. It's a day dreaded by my Mum, abhorred by my brother and usually directed by me; a job which gives me a little too much power for my liking.
This year we all slept way past the dawn light, and so the adventure was postponed to 27th December to allow for optimum daylight and energy. We were planning to do a 7 mile walk in Nidderdale, which would have taken in a few quaint villages, a pub stop and plenty of time to enjoy a chilly picnic, but when my Dad mentioned climbing Mount Skiddaw, I (rather sefishly) did all I could to push this idea - Skiddaw had been my 'Challenge for 2009', which I failed to fulfill, and so I was determined to take the opportunity to get up there in 2010, instead!
My Mum opted out for the first time since this tradition began, and my brother simply did not turn up to take part, but Daniel, my Dad and I set off early for what was a very unexpected adventure. I should have known when we had to jump-start the car in the driveway that it would be a day of challenges, but even so; what is a challenge if not another opportunity to grow?
We arrived in Keswick to a layer of snow and heavy skies. Luckily Dad had packed up the car with waterproofs and thermals, and so I pulled on my bodyweight in walking gear and we head off, upwards!
Skiddaw was heavily immersed in cloud. This is an important mountain for me: it has been the backdrop to all of our family holidays, and it was the first mountain that I learned to identify in the Lake District. It's not particularly high (just short of 1,000m) and there is no scrambling involved in the climb, but still I've left it far too long before climbing it, for whatever reason; it was so good to finally get my feet on that slope!
I only need one word to describe the whole thing: tough. For the first hour of climbing I had no idea how I'd ever get to the top. I was dragging a lot of extra body weight up that mountain (both in snow-gear and Christmas pudding!) and the snow was thigh-high in places. After only a short climb we were in the clouds and couldn't see the path ahead or the views behind; I had no idea how far we had to go, but even so it was too far!
After about two hours of trudging at a steep slant, we came accross another group of walkers, and one man called out "Two more minutes and you're there!". Apart from being overjoyed, I was amazed: we were actually going to make it! The slope gradually petered out to a large flat expanse, and after some blind wandering around on the mountain top we came to a cairn. The wind! The rain! The cold! I noticed for the first time that each of us was covered in ice, as the driving rain had frozen, turning us into ice-beings; every move we made was accompanied by a crunching sound as the ice on our clothes broke away!
Heading back was simply agony. The wind and ice was blasting into our faces, we could hardly see a few metres ahead, and the wind had blown over our footprints making it difficult to navigate the path back down. The snow was so deep that I was almost falling down the mountain, caught by the snow with every step. After a while this got easier, and with more confidence I was gliding down the mountainside - it became incredibly fun, and much easier on the knees than most descents!
Eventually we arrived underneath the cloud, to a view more stunning than any I have seen. The world was in sepia, and it was hard to believe that it wasn't simply a painting in front of us.
I arrived back to the car aching like crazy and absolutely chilled to the bone. It was so cold that none of us had eaten the whole time, so I swallowed a few flapjacks almost whole, suddenly amazed at how hungry I was. We stopped off at a pub to warm by the fire, admiring the wonderful decorations in Keswick for the first time.
We arrived back home late, to the traditional Boxing Day supper of broccoli and stilton soup with jacket potatoes. Another amazing adventure, and another challenge squeezed into the end of 2010 - a year which has been filled with some of the biggest challenges of my life!