A dull rumble shatters my already broken sleep, my ears prick up to full alert mode before I can say I’m awake. I lay there in my 1 man tunnel tent, like a translucent coffin, listening to the heavy rain starting to bang against the outer sheet, no pitter patter nonsense, each drop makes its own heavy thud.
2 days ago, I was on the Gribin ridge with my group, enjoying the role of hopping between each pair on a rope work day, ensuring that they were safe… keeping it simple. There were overhand knots going on left right and center, the sun was blazing, wind howling, the surroundings of Cwm Idwal giving a real mountain milieu, these guys are training to lead their own groups in the mountains, eager to learn, and a strong group. The day finished with with an ice cream, Magnum white. My ice cream being too sickly was the only objective danger of the day. I felt in control and on top of my game, totally comfortable in that environment.
A flash lights up my tent, alerting my eyes to the same sensitivity levels as my ears, before I realise what the sensation is, thunder cracks all around the tent, like a boomerang whooping 360 around you in a state of the art surround sound cinema. It’s close.
The day previous we set off with bags weighing in the region of 12-18 kilos, mine was at the lighter end, the guys with pyjamas and deodorant at the other. After some paperwork and organisation my group took turns to navigate from the Pen y Gwryd, over the horns, down to the lakes in the amphitheatre of the Snowdon horseshoe, up the other side and over the rocky ridge line of Y Lliwedd. My team, slightly different from yesterday were again strong, a few climbers, a few outdoor ed staff, and some more than adequately switched on learners. Finding a flat campsite at 6PM in cwm Tregalan in the shadow of the Snowdon – Lliwedd bwlch, was no drama.
Will’s team camped in the same spot making 14 of us, with about 11 tents forming a hamlet (of aluminium poles) at 450m altitude, surrounded by mountains in their June alpenglow. We readied for night-navigation with an excited anticipation of being out until 02:30, the weather was ideal, a waxing quarter moon shone down.
Quickly getting dressed, opening the tent, peering out at a dark dark sky, this time it is not a flash, but a intracloud luminosity. Lightning above us. The clouds are not far above our heads and the mountains to the sides are fully engulfed. Thoughts extremely rapidly change from how the clouds are earthing their charge separation to; we’re in a tricky situation here… Time to turn on the autocratic tone of voice that the trainees have not yet heard.
Before reaching their tents, which are just 20m away, Will is already bellowing at the top of his voice, “Get out of your tents, now” “Get up”, “….ing move”. I join in to deliver the same message in much the same way, like commanding officers in a war zone coming into contact, concise, accurate, directive information. The tents are wriggling as bodies battle slumber with adrenaline. Will and myself leave the hillock we’re shouting from, it’s been about a minute since the last bolt landed a few hundred meters away, we’re due another. Running low to the middle of a large flat area we all spread out, crouch down, and I think about how it’s impossible for me to directly and actively be in control of protecting my group from the sky. [info on what to do in a electrical storm]
As I tie up my boots holding sockless feet, zip up my jacket, and watch my open tent and sleeping bag fill with the torrents, another bolt lands very close indeed. The thunder is simultaneous. The lightning stays alight for more than a flash, maybe 0.3 sec, then the scarring on my eyes stays for longer. I look around the group, Will and I unable to communicate with all of them, but just leading by example in what to do. Everyone copies us, our posture and patience.
The sky over Moel Siabod is now looking brighter, just 10 minutes after the first burst of electricity. Another flash goes off, with thunder less than a second or two after, but clearly it’s moved on top of Snowdon and out of our home for the night. As the brighter sky creeps towards us, I can see a smile of relief on Will’s face, I return it with nervous laughter. Still the storm carries on, but always moving North, the lightning to thunder time differential growing.
After a fair while, we pack down our tents with a sense of urgency, and navigate the best way down the hillside. A great course with excellent feedback, and a glitch in the weather on the final day! We head through the old quarry workings. I wonder how many storms the miner’s confronted. T