Planning, Preparation and no Sleep!
Up until the 2nd of Sept I had never even seen a mountain let alone been up one. Don’t ask me why I decided to do this as I am not really sure how it came about other than I had a Mountain Trike (specialist off-road wheelchair) and it’s name just seemed to lead that way.
Initially it was just going to be me and a team of able bodied pullers, but I had a friend from work whose son, Ryan, had suffered a serious head injury from a biking accident so I thought it would be great to get him to the top as well. This added an awful lot of logistical issues as I was now trying to cater for two separate disabilities, physical sizes and the fact that Ryan did not have an off roader.
All the things I have done in my life I think the year I spent planning this was the most stressful thing I have ever done. If I was ever to suffer from panic attacks this was going to cause them. At one point I had enough pullers (minimum of 13 to 15 per team) to take 4 teams up and I had the interest from two other chair users. Again massive headache but not as much as when I started loosing able bodied pullers hand over fist. A couple of months to go and we had lost so many I had to tell the other two users that only Ryan and I could go up. Did not like having to do that. I had also made the decision that if we dropped below minimum for two teams then come what may Ryan was going up and I would drop out. For a long time it was going that way! The only people I had left on my team from the original volunteers on the day that were pullers were my husband (Mark), Ally and Kelly from work and two who could not pull Liz (work) and my eldest daughter (Tasha). Everyone else out of the 60 volunteers had dropped out. We even lost people the night before the event!
When we started to get so many drop outs I put out a call to Police colleagues via Facebook and the National Assoc of Retired Police Officers and I got four people who stepped up to the mark – serving Met officer Sandra who was pulling on Liz’s behalf; and retired officers from Norfolk Sean and Chris; and David from Yorkshire. Support Dogs Lauren stepped up to the mark with her dad, (Kenny), brother (Mick) and then in the 11th hour an RAF PTI Andy. With these brilliant people we now had 11 pullers. Below minimum numbers but still doable with determination!
Two days before the climb I went over to the East Coast to meet with Ryan to help with publicity for the Ryan Smith Foundation. We were having to do things separately for fundraising as Support Dogs is a registered charity and the Foundation was not which was another massive logistical challenge but we both supported each other throughout. I also used this as a chance to see how they were doing with the Mountain Trike that had been delivered the week before. Turns out Ryan did not have a seat-belt so I organised to give them mine as there was no way I could live with myself if anything happened to this young lad on the climb! I then explained the importance of Ryan trusting the Trike if it got tilted forward onto its front castors. That if they touch the floor just go with it and keep in the seated position. I must have had to do that talk for the cameras at least four times!! I then left them sunburnt and ready to do the last bit of coordination for the event.
The initial bit of the day did not go well which caused some foreboding. The initial idea was that Ryan was to go first with us with the Support Dog’s team following 10 minutes later. We were due to meet with Lauren and her chaps plus the Marshalling Company at 08:00. We were to have a safety briefing and then Team Ryan was to go up at 08:10. Throughout the planning the Marshalling Company had been very clear – we had to leave on time as otherwise the chairs would cause an issue to other climbers who would be coming in their masses shortly afterwards. Our aim was to arrive at 07:30, sort out ropes etc and do this in enough time. Unfortunately we landed at the car park late and we landed at the wrong car park. Turns out there are two similar named Car-parks and we had gone to the wrong one!
We ended up having to head to the meeting point in two different groups as I needed to get to the Marshall’s to have a word as we were now at risk that the whole event would have to be cancelled If delayed too much!! It was a 10 minute walk and when we spotted the Marshall my Mark went back to guide in the other team. As soon as the Support Dog team arrived the Marshall started the safety briefing and would not stop even though I explained we did not have everyone here yet. He made it quite clear that we needed to get a team started up the mountain without delay and that he was seriously unimpressed by our tardiness. Just as Ryan’s team arrived the Marshall finished the briefing and told us we had to start now and then he headed off to start briefing Team Ryan whilst they got their ropes, etc sorted.
The initial bit of Llanberis is a Tarmac path that is soooo steep it made it one of the hardest parts of the climb. My poor husband, Mark, was suddenly struck with LLS (Lincolnshire Leg Syndrome – turns out they don’t do hills) and he never fully recovered. He continued the hike to the finish (against my wishes as he was really suffering after that) but he was unable to assist with the pull at all and that dropped us down to a level which meant the remaining team had to pull nearly constantly! We no longer had enough people to switch out and rest them. Through out the day we kept monitor of the 15 man team of Ryan’s progress when I was not able to get through to them on the phone (apparently Llanberis has 4G – who’d have thought!!) via the Marshalling points, speaking with hikers coming up behind us and watching them for a distance when they came into view to get a feel for their pace.
My whole team were amazed by how agile and robust the Mountain Trike was. It was hard work for everyone but the Trike at times just skimmed over the surface. Don’t get me wrong it was not just plain sailing. I had to battle to keep the steering effective – at some points using both hands just to stabilise it. On one occasion the back wheel caught and it threw the Trike off course and towards the edge of the path. I slammed on the brakes and the Trike flipped forward and onto the front castors. Doing as I told Ryan, trust my Trike, I did not panic and held my position firmly in the seat. Looking down I began to seriously miss my seat-belt as I could not see any ground below me. My team reacted fast and got me back from the edge to safety. My main thought was I was so glad Ryan had my seat-belt. I got major points for not swearing or screaming apparently. Personally I think it was more I decided that breathing at that point might have been a small movement too much!!
The different types of surfaces we had to deal with was immense, as were some of the climbs. On the whole it was dry, but as we got higher the mist and cold came in. At one point I was convinced I was having another stroke as I suddenly lost the vision out of my right eye. As I helped drive the chair forward over a difficult part I ran through the FAST test in my head checking my score. We stopped a couple of minutes later and I was able to take my glasses off. The lens was covered with a thick covering of condensation which had appeared within seconds totally blocking my sight. I was so relieved. I mean I would love to fly in a helicopter but I was currently quite busy and didn’t fancy it at that time.
My team slipped, tripped and rolled at times on the surfaces. How many times I clipped them with a wheel I do not know but none of them complained. They all drove on with silent unity and determination. They were making a good pace and had developed a routine that was working from them. At times the Trike got a real pounding, especially the foot plate which is now slightly misshapen as on a couple of occasions I could not give the team a heads up on an obstacle in time but it kept going. I had Kevlar coated tyres, slimed inner tubes and had tire weld on standby. We got no punctures and the rear wheel was a cause of great astonishment for the team as it just took what ever was thrown at it. Considering I hate being pushed we were in such a pattern on what we were doing that I was being lifted (relatively) smoothly over big boulders and sharp slates.
After about 3 hours and 25 minutes we reached the summit. This we have since been told is a very respectable time. I then saw the steps for the pinnacle and was looking forward to watching my team go up to the top so I could take a photo of them. Last thing I expected was them to pick me up and carry up very narrow stairway with a sheer drop on one side. I have to admit that was unnerving as I had visions of people falling off the side and due to the heavy fog I did not know what they would hit on the way down. Again this did not stop them. I have a brilliant video of this bit where we get to the pinnacle and the team is completely exhausted, every bit of energy drained from them. Then this huge look of satisfaction spreads across their faces in one unified movement. Hands were shook, backs patted and precarious photos taken of people with sudden red faces of pride at what they had done. There was then the slight matter of getting me back down those stairs and it was decided to take me down backwards which actually worked well (plus I didn’t have to see what was happening because I am petrified of heights so truly need my head testing doing this).
We then took a refreshment break for tea and a whiskey toast. Three of us had people we had lost recently so we raised a toast to them all. A fitting honour to great people and a chance to warm up at the same time. We had calculated that Team Ryan would be about 45 minutes behind us going by when we had seen them so when they didn’t arrive within that timescale Sandra went out scouting and chased an update with the Marshall’s. They told us that Team Ryan had dropped back quite substantially and there was now concern that they would not arrive at the summit by the 2pm cut off point. We were told to start heading back and that Team Ryan had stated they would be coming to the summit come what may – how ever long it took and that then they would get the train back. At this point we did not know how far back they were or what had happened so were quite surprised to see them just 20 minutes from the top powering forward like a well oiled machine. We cheered them on as they passed us.
The journey back was quicker, 2 and a half hours, but it was harder for me and at times even more frightening. My poor trike began to creak a bit and we figured I had blown the rear wheel bearings and possibly the gas suspension was giving up the ghost. On a couple of occasions I was being carried down a large step and I was propelled forward so the guys fashioned a makeshift seat-belt from a harness Sean had made for going up. This was very reassuring and I am still trying to find a photo of one of the times the team stopped my tipping over as I think that would be a fab profile pic 🙂
What a great feeling of achievement we had on reaching Llanberis again, seeing the Victoria hotel and knowing against all odds we had done it. Before we even stopped I was being asked about what our next challenge would be. To have done something like this with a team that was mainly strangers at the start of the event and finished with ones so well meshed and eager to do it again was just so brilliant. Have told them I need a breather before we discuss any other challenges but there will be another, just a case of what one for a team event for 2018 (2017 have a day chair application for the London Marathon!).
The whole thing was extremely hard from the planning phase to the completion. Would I do it again – the climb yes; would I plan one myself from scratch again – I don’t know. There were some glitches but on the whole it went really well and everyone has said it was one of the most exceptional experiences of their lives. As the organiser I could not fully appreciate that feeling till after the event as I had some many things else I was trying to sort all the way through to booking everyone out of Bangor Uni on the Saturday. I think on what we do next is a definite case of watch this space. Main priority now is to get my chair back to Mountain Trike for major TLC so I can just get out on it again because just two days after climbing a mountain in it I miss it!!
If you would like to support this great challenge and outstanding charity please go to: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Snowdonshove
Left to right – Back Row: Mick Sweeney , and Andy Collins; Second row: Chris Chambers, Sean Tearle, Liz Simon and Mark Davidson; Third row Kelly Li, Sandra Rutherford, Kenny Sweeney, Tasha Davidson; Front row: Allyson Connelly, David Gledhill, Amanda Davidson with mini Jupiter and Lauren Sweeney.
Amanda Davidson, September 2016
Thanks to Amanda for this incredibly detailed and honest account – as you can tell this is an extreme challenge and not something we would really recommend. Damage to the Mountain Trike is quite likely (which won’t be covered by the 3-year warranty). Please follow general mountain safety rules, be prepared and plan for a severe change in weather.