Embedded in every human being is an instinctual terror of spaces that fail to stimulate our senses. When the woods go quiet. When we can’t place what we are tasting. Or can’t quite register what is crawling across our skin. But the greatest fear of all bubbles to the surface when we lack sight. As a curtain of clouds swallowed the view atop the Snub I marvelled at how suppressed that fear seemed inside of me. Was it experience or lack of it, which was generating this quiet confidence?
Last year I read an article about a woman who almost died from winter exposure on a Scottish mountain. She was on a mountain-biking tour when she decided to climb Ben Nevis on a spur of the moment. She started climbing – armed with a selfie stick of course – in shorts and when blizzard conditions descended on her she became disoriented and began developing hypothermia. She might have died had she not been discovered and led down the mountain by some climbers.
I decided then and there I never wanted to be “that person”, but – a year later – it is evident by the condition of my boots that I am still an idiot.
As I lugged myself up the steep, direct path to the top of the Snub I wondered if I would be a dead or living idiot before the next hour was up. The path was so degraded I could only find a spot to rest about two-thirds of the way. A man, whom I’d noted for his classy yellow rain coat as he passed me on the way up, came hopping down the cruel incline. He’d taken the gentler path up (going right instead of left at Loch Brandy) and was descending here for a reason I couldn’t fathom! He stopped for a chat before shouting a cheerful Auf Wiedersehen (goodbye in German) and bobbing down the worn steps of the path.
Waving to his back I stood up with a sigh and continued upward. A wall of cloud was beginning to smash against the peak. I suppose it was feeling especially generous, because it was scattering sleet across the landscape as energetically as candy-throwers at small-town parades. Only this candy wasn’t exactly attracting smiles.
Thankfully we’d all layered up. Toques were donned, hoods were raised, zippers zipped and hands found their way into pockets or gloves. We sheltered for a moment to snap a group photo and hide from the initial force of the oncoming blizzard. The wall turned out to be a thin sheet of bad weather, which continued its race across the hills without pause. Blue once more painted the sky as we emerged from our wind-shelter and trudged along the plateau crowning the Snub. The storm wasn’t through with us yet though.
The calvary arrived with another dusting of sleet. It began to cake against our sides, leaving a coat of white armour. The light smell of grass vanished beneath the carpet of snow. The view once again retreated, taking with it the specks of other hikers’ lively coats. It suddenly felt like we were alone.
Tragedy whispered on the wind. The peak had been reached and an easy stroll was ahead. But in an instant the sense of place had been wiped out. The unknown had raced in from the blue and erased the landscape. Here was the realisation that the dreams you were chasing might never become reality. Here was adaptation leading to indecisiveness—all directions looking the same, achievable and unobtainable all at once. The future is terrifyingly blank.
I shuddered before its awesome physical manifestation as the wave of sleet rolled over us. To my right Loch Brandy came into view below. Cradled in the arms of the Snub its distant surface gently pulsed under the wind at my back. A glimpse of happy blue caught the edge of my view.
Braced as well as I could against the might of the engine driving the behemoth before me I watched the tale-end of the glacier of weather march into the next valley. The way was clear once more.
Far up the path my companions were also observing their reborn clarity.
What would later be referred to as our 20 Minutes of Adventure had come to a close. From here the main challenge would be our descent.
Marshy hillside is no friend to wobbly ankles. With small indistinguishable stubs of dirt twisting my feet into odd angles my knees began to quiver from the strain of my marionette dance. Sheep dotted the hillside in a reflection of the lazy nimbus clouds drifting across the sky. It would have been idyllic from a porch chair with a beer cooling my fingers, but the sweet moments of rest would have to do.
To be fair we’d become lost. Maybe. We’re not entirely sure. The only thing that could be certain was the challenge we faced. At times I wondered if perhaps rolling down the hill would be more effective, but treacherous stones waited in the tall grass.
One stone though, a natural way-station due to its height and level top, was a gratifying sight. Everyone gathered on its solid structure and from its tip beheld the valley as vividly as Simba surveying the African plains from the knobbly arms of Rafiki.
In the less-distant distance the village where we’d parked was starting to come into focus. The feeling of accomplished cheer we’d found deep within our emotional pockets lasted us right up till we bumped into a fence at the bottom of the hill.
Now as a prairie girl, you block my direction with my a barbed-wire fence—no problem. But a massive deer fence? I haven’t the faintest clue of what trick you could use to bypass them. Neither did anyone else in the group. And no one was willing to try pole-vaulting.
So all we could do is follow it in the direction of a town. A faint sheep trail meandering through the trees made the going easy. We weren’t positive we were on the right side of the fence, but luck was on our side (maybe it was the bunny tail I picked up on the way?). The path spit us out right by the road into town and arriving was as straightforward as landing on a runway. We just followed it to the end.
Stumbling into the village as energetically as zombies we shuffled into the hotel for a celebratory pint of cola, tea and coffee. In the dim, cozy bar a waiter directed us to a table where his inquiry into our hiking experience was met with good-natured groans. With a little bragging knit through our voices we told him it’d taken a full 6 hours to complete our journey.
Now, there’s nothing quite as funny as a tale ending with some perspective-altering occurrence showing the protagonist just how mindbogglingly common or simple their grand adventure was, and boy did our waiter deliver it.
“Ah, the snub. I dash up there every morning and evening. I’m trying to break the local record of an hour and 15 minutes. At the moment I’m at an hour 30.”
Surviving the Snub
Budget: It’s free! But you’ll need a car.
Age group: 7+ or so. Unless you have a particularly tough child.
Clothes: Waterproof layers, hats, gloves and good shoes. Especially good shoes.
Culture: Respect the landscape. Anything you bring you take away.
Food: There is a hotel in the valley you can grab food and a drink from. Nothing on the hike though so bring snacks!
Transport: You have no choice but to drive. We’ve joined a local carclub called Cowheels which lends us electric cars for cheap!
Time: 6 hours if you climb up to the Snub and then descend to Loch Wharral. You can see our exact walking specs.