Mr Bufo Has a Go at Mountaineering by Mark Payne

Two old friends, Peter Bufo and David Arvic, climb Snowdonia in Wales, hoping to escape into nature and friendship.

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The Flat


There was a pause.


The second "Fuck" was louder.


The third "Fuck" was louder, desperate and pleading.

"What - the bloody hell - are you doing - in there?"

The Michael Caine voice was in play. It usually had the desired effect.

It had no effect...

"You could offer to help!"

The voice came from behind a grubby, once-white, four-panel door, covered in the remains of a decade of inspirational stickers: CND, Anarchy, Save the Whale. A shrine to clichéd living, the whole place had the air of a 1980s student flat share.

The occupant was 57.

"There'll be no point in going if we don't go soon."

"Faaark... orf!"

Delivered with stretched vowels, it terminated the conversation.

David Arvic had driven two hundred and fifty miles for this shit. Through driving rain, twenty miles of smart motorway upgrade and an embarrassing service station altercation with a family from Leeds.

"Never again..." he mumbled under his breath. Slumped in the nearest threadbare armchair, he tried to imagine how they would get through the next two days. He was exhausted, his mind was blank, and he began to nod off.

Ten minutes passed.

"Ta da!"

The crappy door burst open to reveal a chubby, stubbly, middle-aged man wearing ancient leather walking boots, faded brown corduroy trousers and a tweed jacket two sizes too small.

Peter Bufo grinned at his startled, long-time friend with a wide-eyed expectance; looking for approval.

David Arvic gave a deep sigh.

It was going to be a long weekend. Time to get out of South London...

The Car

"Where did you get those clothes?"

David's new Audi A4 was clean, shiny and smelt factory fresh. Peter's outfit appeared to be disintegrating rapidly and melding into the passenger seat, releasing a malevolent odour of neglect as it did so.

"Trudi in the Costume Department said I could borrow them for the weekend, as long as I don't get them muddy."

"We're going hillwalking, in Wales, in March."


"And..." a stressed 'and' followed by a pause for effect, "you don't want to get your clothes muddy?"

"She'll kill me if I do. I mean, actually kill me."

David sighed, silently. He'd known Peter for over forty years and watched him go from ambitious Shakespearian Scholar to desperate Jobbing Wannabe in a steady downward trajectory. All the while maintaining an irrepressible Pollyanna-ish optimism that he reluctantly envied. Of course, Peter didn't know he was desperate, but the Pollyanna veneer sometimes wore thin and David saw a different look in his eyes. Haunted. By his own expectations.

"Why are you looking at me like that? Keep your eyes on the road please."

Silence fell, and Peter fell back to sleep, while David checked the Sat Nav (three and a half hours to go - another internal sigh), and checked the radio for something other than "P.M." to listen to. The light was fading, his eyelids were already feeling heavy and yet another bank of demonic red brake lights was looming ahead. Like a demented pack of wolves waiting to pounce every five miles, they choreographed the stop-start-stop-start ballet every Friday evening with ruthless efficiency.

He should have taken the M4.

The Hotel

Breakfast was sumptuous, extravagant and copious. They had a bay window seat looking across the valley to forested hills beyond, and the sun was filling the dining room with an amber glow. They were full and content. The rooms had been generous (David was paying), and comfortable. The stress of the previous night's journey was forgotten in the casual catchup-chat that accompanied the meal.

Peter was still teaching at the Parkside Academy. "Fabulous!"

David was now managing seven teams of software developers across three continents. "Wow!"

Peter was waiting to hear about an audition for a murder mystery weekend job. "Sounds good."

David was thinking of having an extension put on his house. "Lovely!" Peter's insincerity was not well hidden.

Peter was thinking of auditioning for cruise ship work. "That sounds nice." He's really getting desperate.

David was thinking of going on a cruise. "You'll love it!" He'll hate it.

Peter had taken up fencing.

"What did you say?" David couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"I've taken up fencing."

"You mean swords? Not creosoted wood panels."

"Épée David. Épée! The sport of gentlemen! The sword of choice for duellists like d'Artagnan, Romeo... Me!" Peter was grinning wildly; his eyes were popping out. David had seen this before. He was worried for his friend.

"Isn't it a bit, er dangerous?"

"No. Quite safe. I have all the safety gear."

"Are you any good?"

"What I lack in technique, I make up for in style." Peter's arms started flailing about like a conductor trying to control an unruly orchestra. "All that training in stage fighting has given me a rather dramatic approach, but that confuses my opponents. Well, initially, anyway." He finished his conducting with an extravagant parry, a seated lunge and a thrust through the heart of his imaginary opponent. Errol Flynn would have been proud, but the breakfast table shook violently and other breakfasters were staring.

"I thought you were going to devote the rest of your life to the 'noble art of magic'. You were going to 'perfect the top ten classic close up magic tricks'. What happened?"

"Too hard."

"That's what you said about tap dancing."

"Yes, I know."

"And juggling."

"All right!"

"And skateboarding!" Through gritted teeth, David's voice expressed a supressed anger.

The memory of six hours on a Sunday evening in a busy South London A&E was etched on his mind. Peter was not an easy patient to be with. He could still see the withering look on the harassed nurse's face. Wasn't his friend a bit old to learn skateboarding? Why didn't he try to stop his friend? Didn't he know that they had better things to do than spend valuable NHS resources patching up middle-aged men, like his friend, who should know better? It was as if Peter was an innocent victim and David had led him astray. It was an unpleasant memory and he was annoyed at having to recall it.

Parking the Car

Peter was waiting by the car, in front of the hotel, casually duelling with an imaginary opponent. It seems walking poles make good epee substitutes.

"Why are we starting so early? I was hoping for a post-breakfast stroll around the grounds."

"Parking." David's face was grim.

These days, any attempt on a popular mountain was preceded by the epic challenge of finding a parking space before the hordes of Guardian reading bucket-listers arrived. They'd done the top ten places to "wild" swim; they'd done most of the twenty best places to "wild" camp your camper van; and now they were working through the one-hundred-and-one best adventurous days out, in the hope that it wouldn't be as disappointing as floating in suspiciously malodourous water or falling asleep in a layby laced with the scent of human piss. Peter may have had a worrying addiction to new pastimes, but at least his ideas were wholesome, and were his own.

They got there in time. They found a space.

The Mountains

Standing by the open boot of David's car they stared up at the mountains. David usually paused at this point in a hill walking day, taking in the mountain air and taking in the scene. Peter stood: dumbstruck, overawed and worried in equal measure.

"Which one are we going up?" Was that a slight tremor in his voice?

"That one to the right; the triangular one. It's called Y Garn." Relaxed, with a light-hearted air of authority and competence, he hoped to re-assure his friend.

"Looks steep." More tremors in the voice; he was not re-assuring his friend. One more try.

"There's an easy path on the ridge, but we're not going up that way. We're going via the Devil's Kitchen."

"The Devil's Fucking What?" Panic in his eyes. David had failed.

David was chuckling internally. Peter was glaring at him.

David had packed spare boots and waterproofs. Peter reluctantly stepped into the correct attire, the condemned man making no attempt to conceal the dread in his stomach.

They followed the path up behind the café. Giant grey rock slabs, paved a dry route through the boggy peat. It was a reassuring start. Peter was relaxing a little. He was getting used to the walking poles; they gave him the stability his anxiety had taken away but he still couldn't resist the opportunity to duel with imaginary pirates and slay any incoming dragons daring to enter his air space. He went from infuriating to adorable and back in moments. David was chuckling internally again.

The path was levelling out as they came closer to the small lake (Llyn Idwal). Again, they stood in silence, this time taking in the great, dark, 180-degree arc of mountain in front of them.

It began on the left with massive reclining rock slabs nearly 200 metres high, already dotted with tiny figures strung together, like coloured beads on a necklace. They could just make out the climbers' hands and feet, feeling for the best holds while juggling a huge rack of chocs and wedges, ready to provide safe anchor points in the cracks for their ropes.

"Maniacs," Peter said quietly.

"They've got all the safety gear." David instantly regretted his reassuring comment.

There was a pause. There was some thinking.

"Hmm - all that kit looks cool." Peter turned to David with a huge grin and mischievous, glaring eyes.

"No - fucking - way." David said quietly. Deploying the Michael Caine voice again

"You're so easy to wind up." Peter was chuckling now.

"Bastard." David chuckling also.

To the right, a huge vertical gash in the top of the 700-metre cliff marked the Devil's Kitchen, 'Twll Du' in Welsh. A wisp of mist was rising up from the giant crack like steam from a stove. The Devil was cooking. A tumble of large boulders was spewing down the mountain below the Kitchen; paused, but precarious. Further right lay the great pyramid that was Y Garn; 947 metres above sea level, and their destination. They could hear water falling in streams and falls. Where the water wasn't falling, it was seeping, clinging, hanging and dripping on moss-covered crags and impossibly steep grassy slopes. There was no obvious way up for any human. It was a defensive battlement on an epic scale. The sound of falling rock echoed from the cliff walls around them and Ravens were cawing malevolently. This was Middle Earth made real in North Wales - Bilbo wanted to turn back but Gandalf had the look of a man who knew they had to go on to the Lonely Mountain, whatever lay ahead.


The Easy Part

They made it.

First a twisting path up to the base of the Kitchen.

"That was easy." Peter was gaining in confidence.

Then a left along the scree slope.

"What's 'scree'?"

"Loose boulders sliding down the mountain in a sort of slow motion rock-river."

"Don't like the sound of that."

Finally a right up on to level ground.

"That was great. How do we get down?"

"We've only just started. Look to your right."

Peter looked.

"You're fucking joking!"

The route so far was relatively simple, if you knew where you were going, but it was the easy part. Facing northwest they could now see the south east slope of Y Garn rising - rising into the cloud like a segment of parabolic dish waiting for a signal from a far distant civilisation.

"Where's it gone?"

"Just a bit of cloud coming in. It'll probably be clear by the time we get to the top." Wishful thinking on David's part. "Although, it looks like there's a front coming in later." David knew this was introducing too much uncertainty for Peter's liking.

"'Probably'? How are we going to find the bloody top if we can't see it?"

"Don't worry, I have all the safety gear." David was trying to be reassuring again.

"What? Parachutes? A rescue helicopter?"

"Maps, compasses and GPSs. I'll know where we are, all the way up."

Peter looked back up the slope. Who knew where it went? It could lead to the Gates of Valhalla or Lord Asriel's inter-world portal thingy for all he knew. Did David really know where he was going?

"A Stannah Stairlift would be nice. Are there any toilets here?"

The Pies

The slope was easy to start with. Peter had stopped flailing about with the walking poles and was actually using them to push himself up the hill. They settled into an easy rhythm and chatted about nothing in particular.

The "nothing in particular" included: the appalling state of British television, the appalling state of British newspapers, the appalling state of British music and the appalling state of British politics, all subjects on which they thankfully agreed. They'd known each other since school, and despite their frequent bouts of mutual irritation, usually over what one saw as the opportunities for happiness wasted by the other, they'd maintained a lasting mutual affection. Their bog-standard 1970s multi-cultural, multi-socioeconomic comprehensive had given them a strong set of shared values. They had travelled very different routes since school, but their buses were the same make and model. That is why they were together on this mountain, on this day, in this drizzly mist, eating these pies.

"These pies are great! Where did you get them from?" Pies were another subject of mutual interest. David's relatively slim figure was mostly due to leaving the gastronomic temptations of South London and moving to the North West.

"Broadway Deli in Tooting - muwa! - better than Real Foods Ltd. in Balham, but not as good as Fletchers - muwa! - in Morden." Peter would not waste valuable munching time in order to have a conversation. He was a 21st century Falstaff. Not so big, but he was definitely channelling something of the portly Knight. David, the young Henry, was simultaneously enchanted and appalled by his friend. "And - muwa! - it turns out, they are quite waterproof, which is handy."

They munched, in silence, in the rain.

The Summit

The 'summit' - not Everest, by any means, but still an achievement worthy of pride and praise.

"Well done, Peter! You worked hard for that. I told you it would clear up."

Peter had stopped panting and was silent.

"Are you okay?"

Still silent, he gave David a sideways glance as if to say 'shut the fuck up'. He had more important things to do than summit-chat. This was something new, something challenging his senses. He was not going to be hurried.

They were facing east, looking along the length of the valley with the two lakes, Llyn Idwal below and Llyn Ogwen ahead.

To their left, the U-shaped glacial valley, Nant Ffrancon, swept northwards toward Bethesda and the lowlands, down to the Menai Strait and the Isle of Anglesey beyond. The valley was every shade of green and grey, with bold patches of dark bracken and light rock, overlaid with menacing grey cloud-shadows moving at a running pace across the valley, hugging the contours and rippling like a flock of Dementors searching for innocent young wizards to devour.

Ahead, eastwards, the sharp grey bulk of Tryfan was growing, left to right, 917 metres out of the green mountainside like a cresting whale surfacing for air. It was a rising curved blade, covered in loose boulders improbably stuck to its side like scales on a fish. Two huge rock pillars were visible at the summit, and Peter could just about make out the silhouette of someone standing on one of them.

"What the hell are they doing up there?"

"That's Adam and Eve. You're supposed to jump from one to the other when you get to the top."

"Nutters..." Peter said quietly. He was slowly coming down from his awestruck, dumbstruck state. He was rebooting, but with a software upgrade. It would take some time.

They stood together, both of them absorbing some intangible energy. At once exhilarating and calming, the exertion, the clear air and hundred-mile distant views combined to rewire their brains and tune-in their senses.

"Is that the sea? Are those hills beyond it?" Now looking west, Peter was, again, incredulous.

"Yes and yes. It's Ireland."



They'd had other walkers near them on the same route for most of the climb. In the mist, they were not so noticeable, but on the clearing summit, there were six or eight fellow walkers pausing for butties, flasks of tea and photographs. It didn't matter. Nothing could diminish what they were feeling. More walkers came, paused, ate, drank, snapped and went. But David Arvic and Peter Bufo remained, mostly silent, mostly just looking, for 20 minutes.

"We need to make tracks."

The Descent

A few steps northwards, down from the summit, they found the ridge descending east towards the lake. The views towards Tryfan and beyond frequently stopped them in their tracks as they climbed down the rocky path. Peter's brain was still humming with joy, but he was also very troubled. His legs were beginning to shake and wobble on every step, and he was beginning to overheat, but there was something non-physical going on in his head too. He was missing that summit feeling. How could he be both exhilarated and depressed at the same time? Every step forward was a step back toward his South London life and away from this Land of the Gods.

He stopped suddenly and slumped onto a boulder.

"What's wrong mate?" David was concerned. Peter never slumped. Leapt or bounded, yes. But never slumped.

"Nothing." There was emotion in Peter's voice. "It's just..." The words were choked by supressed sobs. "This place..." A long pause. "It's on another level!" It was a whispering shout.

"Yes, it's very high."

"No." He gave David a withering look and a wry smile. "Everything I do. The work, the parties, the endless searching for the next happy fix. It's meaningless compared to this."

"I know." David was grinning uncontrollably.

"You never told me it was like this." Peter was grinning too.

A party of Scouts further down the ridge stopped and turned to look up the slope as the sound of two men, laughing loudly and hysterically, drifted down towards them.

"Are they okay, do you think?"

"Yeah. Just happy I guess."

The Message

David was home. A 500-mile round trip to London and back, but it was worth it just to get home to his own bed. He emptied a handful of small rocks from his coat pocket. Over 30 years of hill walking and he still couldn't resist the temptation to add to his "geology collection". There was nothing that would really interest a true geologist, unless they had a passion for elegant or unusually shaped pebbles.

He noticed a message on his phone.

"David - it's Peter!" The voice was booming, the phone visibly shaking on the kitchen worktop.

"That was awesome! Totally changed my life! Just looking at expeditions to Everest Base Camp in May! You should come! It'll be brilliant!"

David's heart sank. Peter had reverted to type. Back to looking for the next adventure, the next happy fix.

There was another message.

"Ha ha ha ha ha! Got you!"



  1. One can easily picture the disparate characters which are Peter and David, tromping up the hillsides in Wales. Mark painted fluent portraits of his MCs. The tale was effectively broken down into chapters about the various stages of their travail. There was an insouciant, other-worldly aspect to the story, as if around the next corner the cast of Monty Python would suddenly break into the “Lumberjack” song. Great fun, Mark. Thank you!

  2. This is one of my favorite lines: “ They had travelled very different routes since school, but their buses were the same make and model.” What a great metaphor. Both men, and their friendship, were endearing. I could see this as part of a comedy of larger scale. What a lovely piece of writing.

  3. It is impressive that Peter and David remain such good friends in adulthood given that the trajectories of their lives are in such radically different directions.

  4. Resembles many of my adventures in the Specific Northwest of the USA. Not doing a lot of them again, but glad I did them. Mt. St. Helens after the eruption discounted by thousands of feet. More trepidation than exaltation perhaps.

  5. Rozanne CharbonneauJune 7, 2024 at 6:29 PM

    I enjoyed reading about this “odd couple”. Some childhood friendships just last, despite the different paths taken. Well done!

  6. I enjoyed reading the voices of this quite anarchic pair of friends - reminded me of Bottom with Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson quite a bit. I think the choice of short sections for each stage of their trip is also a very nice touch. A good, fun read.

  7. Thanks everyone for all the feedback. This is my first attempt at creative writing and your comments inspire me to continue writing and sharing what I do. Best wishes. Mark