I learned the appropriate usage for a relatively rarely spoken word this weekend while attempting to climb Snowdonia, a mountain so fierce that the first hikers to master Everest hiked it during training:
Scrambly (adj): Irregular, haphazard. Aka, the presence of loose rocks, steep elevation and uneven terrain, which may cause one to quickly hustle using any means necessary.
i.e. “Oh, it’s not too bad, but there are a few scrambly bits.”
Until I came upon them, I didn’t really understand the severity of said scrambly bits; didn’t understand that I’d be on my hands and knees, holding onto sharp slabs of slate with mossy patches (slush on the side), wondering whether I’d ever see my friends and family again.
As I grit my teeth for photos, forcing a smile, all I could think was: “This is going to be the photo they print in the papers with the headline: AMERICAN GIRL QUITS JOB TO TRAVEL & WRITE, THEN BITES IT ON FIRST ADVENTURE.”
Dramatically morbid, I know. But for several parts of the ascent I was seriously scared. Going up was tough, but I knew going down would be worse. I’d inevitably be on my bum the entire time, causing a backlog of climbers to roll their eyes and laugh at the American chick who couldn’t stand upright lest her wobbly knees give out causing a domino effect of hikers to somersault down the summit. It didn’t help that the three friends I was climbing with had completed marathons and hiked other “scrambly” mountains before, including Ben Nevis in Scotland.
While I was fairly physically fit to partake in such a feat (“fairly” being the operative word here, since I’d been hanging out with Scotch eggs and Victoria sponge cakes for the past three months), it was the mental fear I was worried about, as this was the first time I ever attempted to scale a summit.
At least, I thought it was…?
See, I kept saying aloud, “I’ve never done anything like this before” as a sorta-disclaimer to my climbing partners lest they take it somewhat easy on me and understand my hesitation and anxiety. (They did, by the way. Amazingly.) But as I was making my way up the Miner’s Track – an 8.5 mile trail of varied terrain that our hostel owners said was “relatively easy” – I started to recall all the other feats I’d partaken in over the years, many of which caused a similar sense of fear.
It’s funny how you can forget something that seemed so traumatic at the time. Like when you stub your toe or walk into the edge of your bed and think to yourself, “Damn that’s going to leave a mark” and then days later you have no idea how that bruise got there.
But as we rounded the edges of the clear, mineral-filled green lakes at the start of the trail, I remembered climbing through King’s Canyon in the outback of Australia back in 2001. It was well over 110-degrees and the red rocks and boulders were smooth, leaving very little to grip onto. We had a limited (and unquenchingly warm) supply of water, which was only drinkable after adding lemon-powder supplements. And yet we managed to escape dehydration and scorpions, take a dip in natural swimming holes and even catch a glimpse of the “other,” more popular big rock – Uluru – as the sun set behind it.
As I ascended up the wide Welsh stone steps, I remembered having to get off my bike to push it up a New Jersey hill during the 50-mile MS bike ride that I decided to do on a whim two years ago, with little more than a Kind Bar in my basket. And yet I managed to make it through the Lincoln Tunnel and over the GW Bridge, all the way back to the finish line with enough time to have some stranger rub ice-y hot onto my thighs.
As I peeled off layers, I recalled all the sweat dripping from my forehead while trekking through Cinque Terre in Italy this summer, the clear blue waters thousands of feet below the cliff to my left, crushed figs in the rocky ground at my feet, bits of stones slipping off the edge like checker pieces shuffling squares. Just as I thought the half-bottle of wine I had during my “rest stop” in Corniglia might cause me to check mate off the edge, I rounded the corner to see Vernazza, my destination. Upon reaching its shore, I immediately dropped trou and waded into the water for a dip more refreshing than the lemonia gelato I’d had the night before. (It was heaven in a cone, I tell you.)
As we descended the other side of Snowdonia on a slush-free, less steep trail (which we discovered thanks to my “being all American” and asking three older guys for a better option than the Death Descent of the trail we came up), I saw dozens of sheep, which reminded me of skydiving from 12,000-feet in New Zealand on that same backpacking trip in 2001. As the wind jellied my cheeks and I pulled for the ‘chute, I remained focused on the little white fluffy things dotting the rolling green pastures below, with the snowy tip of Franz Josef glacier in the background. All of that after hiking up said glacier, losing my grip and scraping my shin with the talons I was strapped into. (Still have the scar to prove it!)
Miraculously, there were other outdoorsy feats, too. While they didn’t necessarily feature too much “scrambling,” as I huffed and puffed up this magic dragon of a mountain, the ways in which my senses were affected by these other natural wonders got me through:
The touch of cool mist from the waterfalls in Iguazu, Argentina…
The taste of actual Alaskan salmon, which had been caught just hours earlier by my brother…
The scent of sulfur up at the top of Volcano Pacaya in Guatemala…
The sound of Howler monkey’s in the trees from atop the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal in Mexico…
The sight of all those Joshua trees while driving through their namesake national park in Cali…
And so maybe I hadn’t reached a “summit” before, but I have peaked among nature and lived to tell the tale. Thankfully, having made it up and down alive, I’m now able to add this scary feat to the dare-if-you-will-again list of strenuous activities I will inevitably scramble to conquer and attempt to remember while doing so.