“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
Today is my birthday, and I am spending it doing the thing I love most, with the two people that I love the most, Ray and Ted. Aren’t I lucky?
Ray is my husband. We have been married for over three years, and although I know that hiking in the mountains is not his passion, as it is for me, he is certainly prepared to help make sure that my birthday becomes a wonderful memory, by accompanying Ted and I out into Snowdonia for the day.
I always feel very safe with Ted. He is my older brother and a very experienced mountaineer. He has taken part in some challenging expeditions over the years, and still dreams of topping the big one, Everest, while he is still young enough. I am very careful not to dishearten him by talking about his injury from two years ago. A boulder came down from above, loosened by another climber. It only glanced of Ted’s kneecap, but has left him with a limp ever since. He seems to be in denial that his knee may prohibit him from an Everest expedition, although since his accident he has become much more careful when out in the mountains.
But enough of this. Today is my birthday and I will not spend it on unpleasant thoughts.
We will be on the way by eight o’clock.
I hate days like this. Those two are acting as though it is a lovely day for a walk. All I see is dark cloud and drizzle. We will probably all get soaked. Personally, I can’t see what Janine sees in all of this ‘adventure’ but at least it shouldn’t last much longer. As soon as she becomes pregnant it will eventually have to stop.
I did toy with the idea of leaving her to go alone with Ted, but as it is her birthday it wouldn’t be fair I suppose. Ted always makes me feel so weak and foolish, as he is fit and sporty. He doesn’t seem to understand that I spend my life in an office, whereas he works for the mountain rescue and is doing this kind of thing day in, day out.
I just hope we are back in time for the restaurant tonight, and not full of colds.
I can hardly believe that my little sister is thirty years old. Today I have planned something special for her. We have been up Tryfan, in Snowdonia, a few times together, but never up from the road at Llyn Ogwen. It can be a bit tricky, but safe enough for the three of us, even Ray.
I will never know why she married Ray. He seems a decent enough fellow, but moans a lot and hates the great outdoors. For him, sport is murder, whereas Janine was always more like me, forever searching action and adventure. He is also clumsy. I would feel a lot happier if he would stay at home.
Therefore, because of Ray I will take extra precautions, which I know wouldn’t be necessary if it were just Janine and I together. I need to plan at least half as much extra time, as he is so slow, and as well I will take a rope as an extra measure.
And so, as arranged, Ted pulled up outside Janine’s in his Land Rover at eight o’clock. Rucksacks and boots were quickly loaded into the back. Janine climbed into the front passenger seat, kissed her brother affectionately.
“Happy birthday, Nini. If it’s alright with you we will do presents and stuff when we get home tonight.”
Janine smiled. “This trip is the only present I need. I’m so glad you have been able to take us out for the day.”
“Where is Ray,” asked Ted.
Janine rolled her eyes. “You know Ray. He is still fussing about, making sure he has everything he might need. I left him searching for his blister plasters in case he gets blisters again, like last time.”
She looked around into the back of the Land Rover and said, “I see you have packed ropes. You know that Ray won’t be able to manage a climb? He has never used carabiners, ropes or such.”
Ted laughed, “Of course. I haven’t planned anything treacherous, but you can never be too sure, especially where Ray is concerned. He could even trip over his own feet.”
Janine frowned. “Don’t be horrible Ted. You know this is not really his thing. I am really pleased that he is prepared to come along on my birthday, even when we all know he hates hiking.”
“You are right. I’m sorry.”
They smiled at each other knowingly, with that look that only siblings have, unconditional love.
“Sorry? Sorry about what?” Ray asked as he clambered into the rear seat.
“Oh, nothing”, they both said in unison.
They pulled up into the roadside car park two hours later. Tryfan is quite a daunting sight from the road on the North side. Ted was expecting the outburst of reluctance from Ray.
“Surely you are not taking us up there? It looks far too dangerous.”
“Not at all”, replied Ted, “I have been up here many times, and even taken a group of schoolchildren up last year. There is a very clear path, although difficult to spot from here. We’ll be fine. Just watch your footing in a couple of places, when we are near the edge.”
Off they went. It was actually just as Ted had explained. Ray began to relax as he realised that he wasn’t overstretched and his feet weren’t hurting too much. Janine was in her element. The sky had cleared, although it was wet underfoot from last night’s rain. As their altitude increased the views became ever more impressive.
“That peak is one of the Carnedds, Llewelyn. You remember Janine? We were up there last year, looking across to where we are now.”
“How could I forget? It is so beautiful”, she replied, entranced by the panorama.
“How much further?” asked Ray. No one replied.
By midday they were on top.
“You see those two tall rocks? They are called Adam and Eve. Many people climb up and jump over from one to the other. It looks very daring, but is actually very easy,”
“No thanks”, said Ray. “I’ll take your word for it”.
They found a place, sheltered from the wind, where they could stop for lunch and eat their sandwiches.
“When we get going again, just over that ridge, there is the tricky bit I mentioned, where we will be walking quite close to the edge. Just remember to concentrate and leave the views across the valley, until we have gone past it,” Ted said, pointing over to where they were headed.
Sure enough, the path became quite narrow, with a long drop down on the right hand side. Ray became nervous. Don’t you think this is a bit dangerous, Ted?” he stuttered.
Janine jumped in first. “Don’t be such an old fusspot. Ted and I have done far worse than this together.”
Ray was thankful when they had passed the ridge. They stood on a wide grassy embankment, high up, looking out over the peaks of Snowdonia. Even Ray had to admit that it was quite breath-taking.
Janine stepped out, turned to the two men and asked for Ted to take a photo of her and Ray with the panorama in the background.
Ray blurted, “Don’t get too close to the edge.”
“Oh, here you are, fussing aga…….” As she spoke her foot caught on a small rock buried in the long grass, and she slipped backwards, sliding over the edge of the escarpment. From where Ray and Ted were standing, Janine appeared to have simply fell off the mountain and disappeared from view.
Ted dived to the edge, fearing the worst. To his relief Janine had fallen about five yards only, coming to rest on a small bush protruding from the rock face. He quickly removed his rucksack and took the rope, made a loop and dropped it down to Janine. “Loop this under both arms. NOW!! Do it quickly,” Ted shouted, trying to hide his nervousness.
Janine did as asked. “Thank goodness you brought the rope,” she shouted back, as she pulled the loop over her head and under her arms.
Ted gave immediate instructions. “Ray we can pull her up. You get behind me and we haul together when I say the word.”
Ted wrapped the rope twice around his wrist to ensure it couldn’t slip between his palms. Ray didn’t have the experience and just grabbed the rope with both hands. Ted gave the nod and they pulled. Even with their combined strength it was very difficult because the grassy floor was wet and their boots were sliding and scraping as they hauled on the rope.
Gradually they raised Janine up until she was within a yard of the top. “I’m almost there,” she shouted. “I can see the grassy bank.”
At this point Ray’s boots lost their grip and he slid along the floor. Having lost Ray’s help for a few moments, while he scrambled to try to regain his footing, Ted slid further and further towards the edge. They came once again to a halt as Janine hit the outgrowing bush for a second time.
She screamed, “Ted, this bush isn’t going to hold me much longer. The roots are coming out.”
What had seemed like a simple task to pull Janine to safety had very quickly turned into a life or death situation and Ted was fully aware of their predicament.
He yelled at Ray. “Take the rope. Use your heels to dig in and pull for all your life’s worth.”
Ray grabbed the rope again. Ted’s right hand was becoming very pale and numb, from the rope. They hauled again, just as the bush gave way completely, leaving Janine dangling in mid-air at the end of the rope. Now, there was no other option left, but to pull on the rope until Janine was in safety.
They heaved and felt their load becoming heavier and heavier, as their strength waned. The grass was even more greasy and slippery, due to their previous attempt.
“I can’t hold it. I can’t hold it,” screamed Ray. My hands are burning.
“Pull, just bloody pull,” demanded Ted.
They slipped and scrambled a second time. Ted was only two yards from the edge. His face was scarlet. His eyes were bulging with the effort. He was very quickly beginning to panic.
“It’s no good,” begged Ray. “We will all die if we don’t let go. My hands are bleeding.”
At that point he just let go.
It was all happening so fast. As Ray’s added strength was released from the rope, Ted knew that he couldn’t pull Janine up alone. His mind was a muddle of instant hate for this sorry excuse of a husband, his knowledge that he couldn’t save his sister, and that he could never live with the consequences of losing her this way. The one thing that never went through his mind was letting go. That was never an option.
He dug his heels in as hard as he could. Each time he pulled his right hand became more numb, yet more painful. He was losing the battle. His feet slid and slithered in the grass. Eventually he could see over the edge.
Janine finally realised what was happening. “Let me go Ted. Save yourself for God’s sake.”
She realised that she had a small penknife in her rucksack. With her arms free it was easy to reach. She got the knife out, took one deep breath and began to cut the rope.
Ted was at his end. There was nowhere else to go. As he was right at the edge the weight of Janine became more of a vertical pull, pulling him downwards into the ground, rather than horizontally along the grassy bank. He stood, almost vertically, holding the rope. He could see Janine hacking at the rope to free herself.
Ted knew this was the end. He was losing consciousness as the pain wracked through him. His last thought was the feeling of hopelessness as he felt his shoulder dislocate and his wrist snap like a twig. His head turned to see Ray on his knees, crying.
John Stubbs and Richard Keely knew every inch of the British mountains. Almost every weekend they were out hiking.
“Hey Dick, do you remember that day we did the thirteen peaks with the crowd from work. That was a hell of a day. We started out at three in the morning and went until…when was it?”
John looked across at his friend and then instantly looked in the direction Richard had been staring. Seconds later they were both running at full speed towards two people. It appeared that one was on his knees, praying and the other was about to jump off the edge of the mountain.
“Hey. Stop,” they shouted as they ran.
When they neared the two people the situation became clear. The intended suicide was not a suicide at all. He was holding a rope.
Richard was first, with John only seconds behind him. They took the rope, hauled and pulled with all their might. They didn’t even know if, or what was on the other end. Ted was pulled over backwards, falling onto his back, and then being dragged along by the rope wrapped tightly around his wrist. Janine was half way through cutting the rope when she felt herself being pulled upwards. She stopped cutting.
The two men didn’t stop until they saw Janine grasp a handful of turf and pull herself up and over into safety.
John ran to help her. Richard went to Ted, unfastened his wrist from the rope and took out his hip flask. Ted slowly came to his senses. It took some minutes before he could talk. In fact Ray was the first to speak.
“Janine, you are safe. Oh, thank goodness. We thought we had lost you.”
They all hugged each other, even the two strangers, who had suddenly become intimately involved with the little group.
It was not Ray, but Richard who insisted that they take all three of them to the hospital. Ted clearly needed treatment on his arm. Janine had only a few cuts and bruises, but it was better to be sure. Ray complained that his hands were sore.
It was eight o’clock in the evening before they were finished at the hospital. Ted had his dislocated shoulder set correctly and his wrist was in plaster. Janine had booked a hotel for the three of them, as they were too exhausted and it was far too late to drive back that night. She also invited Richard and John to dine with them at a nice Italian restaurant that she had googled. She said that it was the least she could do, after all, they had most certainly saved her life.
It was uncanny, but the thoughts about the accident had not really materialised into anyone’s mind until they were all in the restaurant, enjoying a glass of wine and beginning to relax. They all began talking and laughing, probably as a delayed reaction to the shock.
It was John who really set the ball rolling though, when he mentioned thinking that someone was praying while the other was about to jump off a cliff. He explained it and then laughed out loud. “I couldn’t have been more wrong,” he joked.
Suddenly all went quiet. Janine had finally begun to understand a few things. She looked at Ray, “What were you doing, Ray? You certainly weren’t praying.”
She looked across at Ted. He looked away to avoid her eyes. She looked at Richard and John. They did the same. Ray was sitting with his head drooped, facing the floor.
“Ray. No. Oh no. Please tell me no.” She stammered as she realised the full extent of what was happening.
She screamed at him. “Look at me. Ray, look at me. I’m talking to you.”
He raised his head. Tears were streaming down his face.
“I couldn’t. I just couldn’t hold on, but I’m not like Ted. I’m not strong like Ted.”
The rest of the meal continued in silence. Richard and John left immediately afterwards. Janine saw them off, giving them both a big hug and promising to keep in touch, maybe even do some trips together in the future.
She returned to the hotel with Ted and Ray. Luckily there was someone still at the reception. There was still a single room vacant. She booked herself in. She needed to be alone that night.
Janine drove them back the next morning. The journey was made in complete silence, although her mind was active. Her thoughts were racing. She had played the scenario over in her mind a thousand times during the night. Her husband had been prepared to save himself and let her die. She didn’t blame him. She didn’t feel any anger or hatred, only a feeling of deep, intense, heart wrenching sadness. By the time they arrived home she had made her decision. When Ray got out of the Land Rover, Janine remained in the driver’s seat.
“I won’t be coming home tonight,” she gently but decidedly said to him.