A linguist does not live on language alone

Three Lessons from Hiking

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Life in the big city can become overwhelming, even when you’re lucky enough to dodge the daily commute bullet and work from a home office. In my case, after a period of hard work with big urban parks as the only ‘escape’, the call of nature becomes too loud to be ignored.

Last July I visited Wales for the first time, more specifically Snowdonia National Park. I had read it was a gorgeous area, home to the highest peak in England and Wales, but as I got in the rental car in London I was still convinced there were no ‘big mountains’ in Britain. I couldn’t have been more wrong! From the moment the first views of the park appeared through the windscreen I was in awe. The sight of the first rocky mountains topped with green crowns flanking narrow valleys took me to memories of Northern Spain, my favourite area of my homeland.

We stayed in Harlech, a coastal town in the south of the park and Guinness Record holder for the world’s steepest street. We didn’t explore much of any town, though. We weren’t there to see bricks, we were there for the big rocks.

On the agenda for the first morning was the ascent to Snowdon, the above-mentioned highest peak. To our dismay, the weather was dreadful. Many northern and central Europeans would say that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. As a Spaniard and a sucker for blue, radiant skies, I must disagree. We had the right clothing, but it didn’t help stop frustration from building up as we ascended inside of a cloud, blasts of sideways rain hitting us in the face. To make things worse, the path was crowded (unsurprisingly, a Saturday in July proved to be an unwise choice), bringing back flashes of the hordes of people one would expect in a big city like… London! 

Snowdon summit on a pleasant summer day

Despite these drawbacks, we liked the hike; it was demanding at times, as to be expected when conquering a 1,085-metre mountain, and the views we could enjoy at the beginning were very pretty. The time we spent at the top was probably the worst part – the line to take a picture at the summit was incredibly long (the photo on the right shows the closest we got to it) and the café was uncomfortably packed.

We went up via Pyg Track and descended following the Miners’ Track, which was a bit easier and followed a path on a flat surface along different lakes. Also, the weather improved slightly on the way down, so that helped with the last push.

The day after, we explored Ogwen Valley, which welcomed us with wild ponies in the area that leads to the iconic peaks of Tryfan and Glyder Fach. We were sore after the previous day’s hike, but faced with better weather and promising piles of rocks that would require some climbing, we decided to start a new ascent towards the latter peak, leaving Tryfan on our left for a future visit. The potentially ambitious route we had mapped – the Glyder Traverse – turned out to be rather challenging because we couldn’t find the marked paths (I was surprised at the overall lack of signaling in some hiking areas). After a few failed attempts at finding anything that looked like a trail, we started climbing up.

Wild pony in Ogwen Valley

The type of hiking that requires some climbing is my favourite, when I really need to use my hands and visualise where I’m going before taking the next step. However, after the initial excitement, the adventure started to feel more like a threat – there was a point when I stopped for about five seconds and realised I was honestly scared. The fear vanished and I went up a few more metres. Then, there I was, perched on a rock, one foot in the air, completely stuck. It became clear we needed ropes and climbing equipment, not to mention climbing experience. The fact that the clouds were rolling in seemed to be yet another warning, so we made pseudo-peace with the subtle feeling of defeat that so furtively had overtaken us and started to climb down. 

View between Tryfan (to the right) and Glyder Fach (to the left).

Descending always feels much more difficult, I’m never as much in control as I am going up. As if walking on quicksand, we took it one rock at a time and landed at the base, safe and sound but drained from the mixture of physical effort and fear, feeling defeated but knowing we had done the right thing. This is a perk of growing older – you also grow wiser and more responsible. And that is very useful indeed.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t drag this feeling of defeat back to London, but instead of trying to get rid of it, I used it in my favour. How? I decided to turn it and twist it to squeeze a few lessons out of it, from the whole experience. Using outdoor activities where I had a scare or a dangerous few moments to put things in perspective is something I do often, and it works. It can be done with any type of situation you’ve overcome, but it’s important to extrapolate benefits from our experiences to other aspects of life, like work, otherwise they freeze in the past, and it’s a bit of a waste.

In nature, like in life, we’ll find obstacles along the way.

Lesson 1: Try your best to make it to the goal you’ve set for yourself. The ascent to Snowdon turned out to be more frustrating than anticipated. I was excited about the hike itself, but above all about the stunning views I would admire from the top. As it became clear that such views were not in the cards for that day, the idea of turning around crossed my mind for a brief second. But I decided to make it to the finish line, and I did it, building resilience and learning to manage my frustration on the way. The next time I have to plough through a complex text to be translated or deal with an unpleasant situation I might mentally go back to Snowdon and remember I just have to keep on heading forward.

Lesson 2: Embrace change and adapt when faced with unexpected circumstances. The route we had planned for the second day looked nothing like the one we recorded in our outdoor navigation app. We still had fun climbing rocks and enjoyed some nice lake views we found on the new route we improvised. Defeat? No. Flexibility and capability to reroute. This is a useful tip for freelancers, whose work comes and goes, and things can change suddenly.

Lesson 3: Be realistic – don’t embark on a project you don’t have the skills for. This holds true whether it’s hiking, translation or a four-tiered cake recipe. I always experiment with the bounds of my comfort zone and push the limits to create growth and expand my skills, but I try and remain sensible about what’s beyond it. Be it a medical translation or a climb for which I’m not prepared mentally or in terms of equipment. 

One thing is for sure: on my next visit to Snowdonia, I will stay as long as it takes for the weather to be kind and then, not only will I go up Snowdon again to admire the views, but I will also find the signalled trails to complete the Glyder Traverse. Life has taught me that the second time around can be much sweeter than the first! 

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