How Forgetting to ‘Be Prepared’ Nearly Ended in Disaster

A true-life story of what happens when you’re not prepared

I pulled my phone out, cursing at the stupidity I had created.

I looked around praying that the other walkers we had lost sight of would suddenly reappear, then I could recover a situation which was rapidly getting out of hand.

There was no sign of them anywhere, god knows where they had gone. I couldn’t see them anywhere, they were gone. I headed into the long grass and walked straight into a marshy area. It was no good, I had to accept it. We were lost.

We had fallen in love with North Wales as a result of a holiday in North Wales back in 2009. The landscapes we found were stunning, autumnal colours just adding to the majesty of the place.

One village in particular hooked us, Beddgelert.

Taken by Author — Beddgelert -16/10/18

We found it one evening, driving back from Caernarfon as I had wanted to see a bit more of Snowdonia. Twilight was upon us, the orange glow from the streetlights illuminated the bridge the crossed a river. Shop windows teased delights that beckoned us to enter.

We parked up, curiosity getting the better of us.

We were back the next day, and whilst exploring we found a footpath that followed the river down. Along the path, we found Gelert’s grave, as well as some fast-moving rapids, with stoppers created from the boulders and rocks under the water. At the end of the main footpath was a bridge to cross the river, which met the point a train line crossed the river too.

That year we hadn’t ventured further than the bridge, but others were walking that way. Thinking back, we had stopped on the way into the village and taken some photos of the river from a wooded area next to it. We had seen the footpath has followed the river bank down on the other side. Where did it lead to…

I got back to my family, “I’m sorry but we are lost. It’s getting late, the cloud is coming down and I don’t know where we are or how to get us out of this. I’m going to call the police.”

The police passed the call through to the local mountain rescue team. With an ever diminishing light, I tried my best to explain our location. We were told not to move and wait for mountain rescue to find us. We just weren’t prepared for this, the cloud had come down, drizzling with fine rain and we had just one waterproof coat between us.

We stood and waited, getting colder and colder. “We can’t just sit here, it’s freezing!” argued my wife. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was feeling the cold as well. Looking around we had come to stop in a little valley with small hills blocking the views to us. The mountain rescue guide had been quite specific in his instruction. “Stay where you are, we’ll find you”.

It was time to prepare for our traditional October holiday to North Wales. I wanted us to explore the scenery more, there was so much of the countryside we were missing.

So I started searching the internet for walks to do in the area, avoiding Snowdon as I knew it would be too much for us. But, on the lower levels of Snowdonia, I thought we would be okay and found the details to a circular path that started in Beddgelert. The walk took in the Aberglaslyn pass, Llyn Dinas and Cwm Bychan.

Aberglaslyn, Llyn Dinas and Cwm Bychan walk- National Trust

There was quite a detailed description, and the route wasn’t that long. Less than 6 miles, we could do that. We weren’t the fittest, but from what I was reading it didn’t suggest it was too hard going. It would be fun and it would allow us to follow the path down the river and then cross the hills at the back of the river back to Beddgelert.

That evening I broached the idea of the walk with my family. “What do you think?” We agreed to give it a go.

We were on the move.

I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do, but we were getting cold and wet and even worse, it was starting to get dark. We worked our way back out of the small valley we had been in and moved forward as best we could. The grass was long and now wet from the rain, and with each step our jeans got wet making walking even harder.

“Hang on a minute. We walked past this point earlier, when we were walking up the hill.” declared my daughter.

“You’re right, yes I remember this” joined in my son.

Our spirits lifted, we now recognised a point where we had been — which meant that we could retrace our journey. We could walk back to the car, waiting for us in Beddgelert.

Being where we were, the phone signal was useless so we couldn’t share the news with the mountain rescue team.

The start of our walk had begun well.

We had left our car in the village of Beddgelert and made our way to the river, joining the footpath as it followed the river down towards the gorge. We had some food, not a lot, but we had promised ourselves a fine meal back in one of the little cafes in the village.

From the lower bridge, the walk took on another challenge, as the easy-going tarmac path turned into a path of large stones. It was challenging in places, and we had to support each other as we hopped and slipped along the path.

As we progressed down the path the views of the river got more and more beautiful. It was stunning and just made us love it even more. With it being late October, autumn was in full swing with leaves falling and dazzling us with various colours on show.

Aberglaslyn River — taken by the author

At the end of the pass, the path took us away from the river and up through some woods to a car park. We took a breather and discussed the next part of our walk. I knew it was going to mean walking uphill, so we had a quick snack and set off.

We could now see the long path we had earlier climbed descending before us.

We knew it was rocky and with the rain now falling, it felt more like an ice skating rink. Given our lack of proper walking boots, this was going to be slow going. I held my wife’s hand as we gingerly moved from one slippy boulder to another. Darkness was upon us, and my wife’s nerves were shot to pieces, mine wasn’t much better either.

“What was that?” asked my son. “What was what?” I replied. “Shush, listen”. We all fell quiet. It was a shrill noise, short and sharp. There was no mistaking it, it was a whistle. Lots of them.

As we looked down the valley we could see torchlight, several bright beams piercing the night sky. The lights came from headlamps and the sounds of whistles grew louder as well. It must be our rescuers! Oh, the relief!

The kids rushed on down to meet them, showering them with thanks — thankful they had come to find us. We followed on still having to deal with the treacherous rocks that made up our pathway home.

This was a proper walk, the path we followed from the car park was only going one way, and that was up.

Fitness wasn’t an asset we possessed, and our pace slowed to that of a snail out slithering.

Not having a map, it was difficult to know if we were close to the highest point of the walk or not. Each time we thought we were ‘at the top’ it proved to just be another false summit, as another slope continued upwards.

Turning around, we were able to take in the views back down the valley, and the views opened up to the sea. It is was fantastic to see, and gave us a sense of achievement for having pushed ourselves to get this point.

Although the view was great, there was also something that I had rarely experienced, the sound of silence. The further we walked up the path the quieter it became. It was so silent it was unnerving.

By now we were getting very tired and we stopped a woman walking down the hill past us to ask how much further it was to the village. The news was not good.

At the top (yes, we were nearly there) we could turn left and ‘scramble’ down the hill to the village, which would take about an hour. Or we could continue along the path to the lake. This route was longer and would take about an hour and a half, she advised.

Given how we were feeling, it was a question that didn’t even need asking. At the top we turned left, happy with the fact some people in front of us appeared to be going the same way.

However they were walking much quicker than us, so it was difficult to keep up with them. At that moment we had just finished a hard section where we were scrambling and had stopped to catch our breath. We were discussing which way to go when suddenly one of them appeared and said to us “It’s this way.” “Thanks, we replied.” Getting up to follow their direction.

We kept following them, but they were moving much faster than we were. Suddenly they were gone. We had come to a point where the footpath had split three ways, left, right or straight on. Which way was the right the way to go? Looking back I can’t remember which way we went, but the people we were following were gone. They had just vanished from sight.

We kept walking but there was no sign as to which path they had taken. I tried to run on ahead of the others, in the hope, I might find them. At least then I could get them to slow down and walk with us. Off I went, but I couldn’t find them…

The mountain rescue guys were great.

“Right, here you go. Put these coats on. And take a torch each as well.” We quickly started to warm up. The torches were a godsend, as was the bottled water. We hadn’t had a drink for several hours.

Being away from street lights had meant that our eyes had become adapted to the darkness around us. Having the torches made us realise just how dark it was.

They explained that three rescue parties were out looking for us. There was another team coming up from the village, on the path we should have been on. And there was a third group, this one following the path from Llyn Dinas that we could have walked down to.

Using their radios they stood the other search parties down and set about preparing us for the descent. They had support at the car park where they would transport us back to the village. Two of the rescue party led the kids with the other two helping my wife and me.

We were still an hour away from the car park and it was raining, making the boulder-strewn footpath potentially lethal.

Step by step, we made our way down. The rescue guys saving us on many slippery stones on our way down to the car park.

Back in the comfort of the rescue vehicle, we were, at last, safe and also dry as the rain had continued falling making our decent very tricky.

The footpath becoming more like a river in certain places.

After we had passed on yet more thanks for finding us, the leader turned to us and asked what had gone wrong.

It was my turn to put my hands up. Humbly I explained that it was my fault, as a former scout leader and instructor I knew that we simply weren’t prepared. We didn’t have a map or compass. None of us had walking boots, waterproofs, torches, adequate water or food. Let alone a first aid kit or survival bag.

I was deeply ashamed and embarrassed.

I had checked the route online and felt we could manage it. Although it was a long walk for us, 5.7 miles wasn’t a long-distance at all. But it escaped my attention how high we would climb (exceeding 1000 ft. in around 2 miles) and how long it would take us to make that climb.

“Well,” said the friendly rescue leader, not judging us at all “I don’t think I need to add to that, mistakes happen. It’s how you learn. I’m sure you won’t do it again. Be prepared.”

I hope you found my story interesting. This took place on the 25th of October 2016. We were rescued by the Aberglaslyn Mountain Rescue Service and the details of the walk we attempted can be found here on the National Trust website.

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I’m curious about decisions, strategy, and how to live my best life. Follow me as I write to figure it out and share some wisdom along the way.

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