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The Snowdon Push - a completely unique charity event (part 1)

No-one was entirely sure what we had set out to do when we signed up for the Snowdon Push earlier this year. It wasn’t until the July 2018 challenge got closer that the team began to fully appreciate what we would be required to do: push, pull, lift and carry our team’s wheelchair up to the top of Mount Snowdon, and then back down all with one aim: to raise money for the Back-Up Trust.

Early on, we got some big transfer news – Dan Wilson, Snowdon Push champion 2017, had agreed to sign for Team JMW. Although it meant that we had an experienced team leader, it did also heighten the pressure as no-one wanted to be responsible for Dan losing his title.

The day before the challenge, the team set off from Manchester and met in Caernarfon, where we spent the night sampling the local bars and tucking into a Chinese whilst trying to work out the logistics of getting Dan and his wheelchair to the top of Snowdon, and back down.

The next morning featured an early start. We collected our bright orange t-shirts and arrived at Electric Mountain, a hydroelectric power station and the official start point, with more than a degree of apprehension for what we were about to do. Dan had already arrived, and quickly set about briefing the team on how to operate the specially designed wheelchair provided by Rhys, a former champion of the Snowdon Push and current record holder. At this point, Mount Snowdon was nowhere to be seen, hidden behind a set of equally intimidating peaks.

The wheelchair had been ruthlessly adapted. At the front were ropes to attach to four team members who would be harnessed up like huskies and used to haul the chair and provide forward momentum. There were also two handles at the front of the chair to be used for steering and guiding it over the rocky ground. Dan sat in the middle of the setup, ready to shout out commands and offer what we came to appreciate as much needed motivation. He was also able to provide additional power using his arms. At the back of the chair were two larger handles to allow willing volunteers to push and lift Dan over rocks that were too big to simply ride over.

After a quick footwear check, the clock started and we set off at a steady pace out of the carpark and headed in the general direction of Mount Snowdon. After approximately a kilometre, we came to the bottom of the Llanberis Path; an incredibly steep hill which firmly tested the team’s capabilities. Coupled with a temperature already in the early 20s, it was an extremely tough start. Once we reached the top of the first hill, the team switched positions on the chair and we came to learn that this was a valuable benefit of having a larger team; if one person became tired, another could quickly sub in.

We continued to press on, stopping occasionally for just enough time to have a swig of water and switch positions. After about an hour of hard grafting, a small house loomed in the distance, which we learned was aptly named ‘Halfway House’ (half way in distance, not time!) And just behind it? The ominous peak of Mount Snowdon; encased in cloud and seemingly impossibly far away.

After overtaking a team and pushing, pulling, lifting and scrambling for what seemed like an age, we finally made it to the Halfway House. We took a five-minute break, a few pictures with a man dressed in an inflatable dinosaur costume, and continued the trek. The heat was now becoming almost unbearable. The constant reassurance of our hill marshal that “the steepest bit is yet to come” didn’t help keep spirits up either.

We then came face-to-face with the most difficult bit of the climb. When we had started our climb, although the paths were steep they were comparably flat, meaning that we could build some momentum and keep a steady pace. However, the section we were now faced with was exceptionally steep and featured mixed terrain. Some sections were laced with huge rocks, steps and drop-offs, whilst others were covered in a thick layer of smaller broken stones. The rocks moved underfoot and we struggled to get a decent foothold. This was, without doubt, the toughest bit of the climb. We were covering metres, and then having to stop and recover. The only saving grace was that we now had some cloud cover, which shielded us from the sun and brought the temperature down a little.

This carried on for what seemed like hours. The constant cries of “only 20 minutes to the top” had grown thin by this point, and many members of the team were habitually remarking that the challenge was by far the toughest physical challenge they had ever undertaken.

In the middle of everything though was Dan – despite being visibly in pain with his shoulders, he kept pushing with his arms. He was also constantly having to think about the best route forwards, giving directions to the team and making sure everyone stayed on course. He constantly reassured us that we were firmly on course for a great time and were due to finish in time for the England v Sweden game later that day. At the time, we considered that Dan was ‘just being nice’, much like the people who reminded us that we were “only 20 minutes from the top”, but we pushed on regardless.

As we entered the clouds, the other teams and non-charity walkers stopped to take photos and cheer us on. Gasps of “that’s amazing” and “I can’t believe anyone would do that” filtered through the air. This gave the whole team such a boost, and, coupled with the cooler temperatures near the top of the mountain, we motored towards the top. The summit was reached in a time of 2 hours 50 minutes. No-one, Dan said, was beating that time.

Please go to my colleague Lucy’s bloghere to read about the journey back down…

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