12 February 2012
I am not sure how I really arrived there. Something inside of me should have set off an alarm before we started across the ledge. It can be dangerous at the best of times, with a 600 metre drop to our left and perilous winds that change direction in an instant. However, the snow and ice should have been enough for me to call a halt to the exercise.
It might have been something about not wanting to give up; everyone had tried so hard to get this far and I was determined to help them to the top. I have climbed Snowdon hundreds of times and I have never seen the ground ice over to such extent where even the gravel was an ice rink the moment we stepped on to the mountain. We’d made it two thirds of the way up, having to stay on the grass at all times. When the grass ran out, we dug our feet into the snow. We’d done the hard climb and just across the ridge was the prize, that feeling of achievement that is worth all the effort. I love leading groups to the top of the mountains. Sharing the experience leaves lasting memories and creates great bonds between everyone involved.
I’d gone ahead early on to check the path, leaving 2 experienced leaders Joe and JB at the point and rear of the group. The ground was difficult but passable.
For the final stage of the climb, I took 3 close colleagues and my 2 dogs Indie and Lara, and headed up what we call the zig zags.
The cloud was coming in and by the time we reached the top it was difficult to assess whether it was just markedly colder, which I’d expect as you reach the ridge because you are more exposed, or whether the weather was actually changing.
It turned out that the weather was actually changing and, as I dug my fingers into the snow in front of me, I realised that the mountain was icing over.
I took the immediate decision to turn back. There were no objections. It was clear that I was not the only one who had sensed the danger. Behind me, the track was icing too, the beautiful snow was rapidly becoming treacherous. Only minutes earlier we’d been smiling and joking, and now we were on a ledge in shocking weather with certain death to our left if we lost our footing.
I only had one thing on my mind: get everyone to safety as quickly as possible.
Every footstep was pronounced and deliberate and was preceded by me checking with my hands to help keep my balance.
It was game over for the day as far as the mountain was concerned. However, the lucky new recruits who had battled so hard were treated to a dunk in the glacial waters of our lake (Llyn Cwellyn) at the house in a game of raft-building.
You can tell a lot about a person in these conditions. Within minutes, you know every aspect of their personality. The weather is so extreme that people can’t keep up a pretence for any length of time.
I found out a great deal about my 3 colleagues as well, who thought I knew very well. Apart from the fact that they are a little daft following me on to the ridge without questioning my decision to tackle the mountain in these elements, I realised that they are fiercely loyal and incredibly brave. I have taken hundreds of people across the same mountain ridge and, even in the most perfect weather conditions, have had to hold the hands of grown men.
I also realised that somewhere along the way, since getting to know these 3, they have not only developed massively as individuals but at some point I have also earned their trust, and that is priceless.
I was questioned at the bottom by someone hoping to join the senior management team. She’d come on the trip so we could learn a little bit more about each other. I wanted to see her outside the safety of the office where anyone can function and put up a pretence and I wanted her to learn something about our culture, people and processes.
“Is this not an expensive way to find new people?” I was asked. Well, it is if you have a crystal ball and you only pick winners every time you recruit. However, life rarely works like that. At least it hasn’t in my experience. The Snowdonia National Park is our crystal ball and if you calculate every penny that makes up all the details of the trip and the money it costs to run the estate then yes, as a straight forward cost, it’s extravagant.
It doesn’t guarantee that you will pick out the people who are wrong for the business but, if you look at the ones we’ve not recruited and calculate their impact if they’d stayed or joined, it actually looks like a really sound investment. We must have saved millions. Not only that, the experience people have with each other is priceless. We’ve all shared tremendous memories at The Snowdon Lakehouse and, just like the weather and scenery, each trip and group is very different.
I also like the fact that even if it doesn’t work out, they leave knowing we have had a real go at helping them settle in and whilst it didn’t work out for them, they have an understanding of UKFast and all we are trying to do.
It’s amazing that 12 years later we are still hiring on the same principals and whilst the methods of measuring and assessing have evolved, fundamentally we are looking for like minded people.
I learnt a bit about myself too that day. If I’d been on my own or with JB or Joe, I’d have more than likely carried on. Male bravado is a terrible thing and I have been on the receiving end of a number of tumbles falling for this one. I must be growing up. It felt good to have other people in my care that I was responsible for and whilst we didn’t reach the summit this time, we had a great fun and we get to tackle it next week (with crampons).
In a funny sort of way, not making the summit is quite nice too as it reminds me that nothing in life can be taken for granted, especially the individuals in the team I was leading that day. The only thing you can take for a given is that we will try again and again and we will keep climbing mountains, because walking on the flat is just too easy!