Usually at Five in the evening we would be heading down from a summit to find some pleasant hostelry to relax and recount tales of adventure and close escapes, or rain, the normal weather to be encountered on any given day in the mountains of Wales. Today I found myself going the wrong way, uphill after lunch, never a good state of affairs.
The Llanberis Path is four and a half miles long, and winds its way up the mountain, crossing the railway track on a slow scenic climb that most can make. It provides a gentle warm up with about 1000m of ascent. You get great views all around of the surrounding mountains as you rise above the valleys. Once on the summit and with a camp selected we settled back to watch the sun set, well worth the walk in itself. And after nightfall, I lay in my bivvy-bag watching the glorious stars wheel about my head, Ursa Major showing the way to the North Star and Ursa Minor. Stars are our companions in traveling and I always try to find time to watch them. This night was clear and crisp, an ideal night.
Snowdon is one of the busiest mountains in the UK I think, and throughout the night there are comings and goings, you are rarely alone here. More so when the weather forecast has been good and all around there were other groups settling down for the night, ready to start various challenges at first light.
I was with Pete 1 and Pete 2, the preparation kings. Louise, Kath and the two lads of Pete 2 and Louise providing the support team for all of us walkers. As we left at first light they broke camp and departed via Llanberis again to drive round to Nant Peris and arrange breakfast. The Petes and I touched the Snowdon Trig point and headed towards Crib Y Ddysgl before scrambling down to the Crib Goch ridge. A short airy ridge that is a joy to clamber across. Sunrise in the East gave us fantastic colours and lifted our spirits on the first steps of the day. Standing on Crib Goch, and looking along the North Ridge lets you see why you come up here, a spine of rock leading away to drop into the valley, breathtaking. It is the best you’ll get in Wales in my opinion.
This is the first time I’ve been out onto the North Ridge, and it is another grapple with space before you head down the scree to Cwm Uchaf and Llyn Glas, a lovely little lake. Someone was camped on the island, a great idea I think I’ll try sometime. To get to the valley and Nant Peris you meander around cliffs and waterfalls with the sound of water jumping over rocks, splashing down drops to fill hollows, you can’t fail to enjoy these moments. The crows and skylarks shouted complaints while the backdrop of the mountain makes the whole image wildly dramatic.
The two Petes’ had left me by now so I enjoyed taking the time to smell the air and examine the views ahead, they had a mission. Different to mine, they wanted a time under twenty-four hours for all fifteen peaks. I was looking for a good walk and as far as possible. Next for me was Elider Fawr, and I do it a disservice since I have nothing good to say about the climb up there, I have found it hard work each time I’ve climbed its inexorable slope. A path that crosses mud and marsh for eight hundred metres, and only when you get above the lower valley walls do you see the splendour of where you are going, and a reminder of what is to come. The summit is a rocky pile with wide views, a place to stop for some lunch and a break before traipsing onwards, from here you can follow the line of the path around the head of the valley and onwards to the Glyder Plateau.
Skirt Foel-Goch peeking over the edge of the col into the depths, where the wind rushes upwards to make you step back, you climb again to Y Garn summit. Views back across to the West show the mornings start, Snowdon and Crib Goch, and here you look down into the Devils Kitchen. Twll Du, The Black Hole in Welsh, The Devils Kitchen because of the vapour that rises from a cut in side of the cliff when warm air meets the cold rock.
Down in the Devils Kitchen is a small pond, Llyn Y Cwn, a meeting point of paths and landmark on cloud covered days. Today I was greeted by a family of bathers and groups lolling about in the sun, taking their ease before choosing which way to wander. It is an idyllic place, and I nearly stayed to spend the night, perhaps I chose wrongly in the end but I carried on and climbed up to Glyder Fawr. Like so many places on this island, the volume of people seeking solitude in the mountains has taken its toll on the landscape, the amount of rock, dropped by park authorities to stop the erosion by so many boots, has changed the nature of the climb. Loose and scrabbly it does not make for pleasant travelling, with a constant shifting and twisting underfoot to contend with as well as the steep slope to overcome. Once on the top you are met with a blasted landscape of broken and shattered boulders laying about the area, you must negotiate all this to find the true summit, another sideways pile of debris, littering the plateau.
From here, you look on towards Castell Y Gwynt, the Castle of the Winds. Where even a small breeze drags sound from the rocky crevices and the howling might send you mad in a strong wind. Here the plateau narrows and you scramble among the rocks, tipping and moving at times to find the top of Glyder Fach. Where a giant pebble balances for you to heave yourself up and over to reach, and touch the top. Then to slide down again looking for the way out of the maze you have entered.
In front, the whaleback hump of Tryfan, hiding behind the Bristly Ridge. More loose rock, sliding and drifting down the scree again, being pelted with rocks from less than careful walkers behind and until I reached the protection of Bwlch Tryfan. Here the day caught up with me, I started up the North side, aiming to slide under the south peak before the scramble to the top, but after about fifty metres I decided my slow progress was going to mean a dodgy return. It was getting late and there was still an hour or more walking to reach the campsite for the night. Clambering up and down mountains, tired and in failing light on your own can be precarious and I chose to walk away from Tryfan this time. I turned my back and started down to near civilisation, fresh water and a place to rest till morning.
I had slept overnight on the summit of Snowdon, made seven of the fifteen peaks, walked fourteen miles, climbed over 1600m and descended over 2400m, the weather was amazing, everyone I met or who passed me (more often than I like to admit) was cheerful in the sun. The two Petes, they did the full set in an amazing time of sixteen and a quarter hours. It was Pete 2’s third try so he was justifiably elated. The Ladies and youth contingent met them on the summit of Foel-fras to celebrate and walk them down as darkness fell.
Maybe next time I’ll train a bit more, stay of the beer. More likely though I think I’ll spend more time, stay out a little longer, and take a bit more time to enjoy the views, the people and the wide, high places of Snowdonia.
This challenge has confirmed for me something I have been pondering, I don’t want to travel so fast I miss the world in the rush. Pushing yourself and finding the limits of what you do can be good. A spur to be fitter, leaner, to work hard and achieve the goals. In the end though, the mountains aren’t going anywhere soon, I will go back and do this trip again, perhaps Pete or some other bunch will come along with me, but for them, it will mean taking the time to enjoy the views, spending nights under the stars to watch them circle overhead all while listening to the waterfalls echoing around the hills. For now, bloody well done Pete and Pete.
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Take the time to listen, you might hear something you didn’t expect.