In Snowdon, high up in Wales, a little way up a hiking trail, there is a fork overlooking a deep blue lake where two paths diverge. Some weeks ago, I was stood there with my friend Tom contemplating what to do.
One of these leads up Crib Goch, or the Knife’s Edge, as it is also known. It gets this name from a sharp, narrow strip of jagged rock, a little over a mile long, the sides of which greet those who attempt it with views of a near vertical drop from the highest mountain in the country. On pleasant days it is an exciting challenge for many a mountaineer. Today, however, is the day of a thunderstorm.
Today the rocks jag a bit more as the rain streams off their surfaces. Gales of wind also blow, at over fifty miles an hour. Crib Goch sneers at us, most unwelcoming. Tom, an adventurer, smirks right back at it, the glint in his eye quite apparent. The other path leads up the Pyg track. There the rocks also jag, but much less so, and the challenge is suitable enough for over-eager beginners. It is the one I settle on.
This is not meant to be a story of two people choosing different paths. That would be doing Tom and I a disservice; this is the second day of our hike, and on the previous day, in still rainy but not quite as thundery conditions, we had both climbed this same mountain, both on the same track (the Pyg, naturally), very much working together. But it is also true that as we were stood there at that fork, Tom and I contemplated a little differently. And after a quick embrace and wishing each other luck, we chose different paths. The story becomes such.
I walked a short distance up the Pyg track, up to a point along the path where the storm hadn’t yet scared off the sun. There I sat down and had lunch, an awful turkey sandwich prepared by the hotel staff. It was there, next to rocks which then didn’t seem to be as jagged, that I saw a dove – solitary, floating in the wind. It was there that I decided that I was happy.
I came back, and after a while started to get a bit worried for Tom, so I decided that I would not go look for him but wait a little bit closer to where he must be. But I hadn’t yet reached the base of the mountain when I saw him running up the road waving his arms at me, beaming.
It was only after, following a hot shower and chamomile tea, that he told me the tale of the knife’s edge, where the wind had nearly flung him off the rocks, and how he had sought shelter in a cave high above, certain that he would die. He told me how he had been desperate to turn back, and also how he had been desperate to go on, and that he had.
He told me how he had made it to the peak, and how it was the hardest thing he had ever done.
But all this while, as Tom was recounting his story, I was thinking of how I had seen him running up that road. I remembered how he had beamed and motored his arms like a helicopter, yelling in my direction. I remembered that he too had looked happy.
Perhaps then, strange as it may seem, we had needed to choose two different paths to reach the same place.