Snowdon (or to give the actual summit its correct name, Yr Wyddfa) is probably Britain’s most touristy mountain, but under the right conditions can also be a serious mountain on which people die or hurt themselves every year. This post is dedicated to the melting pot and mountain of contrasts that is Snowdon and the people you see up there.
I’ve now been on the mountain five times, of which only two occasions can I truly say I have summitted. My first visit was in 2002 on the train, because (a) this was 3 years before I got back into hillwalking and (b) we had small children of age 2 and 5 (not that that stops some people attempting to climb it with toddlers in tow). On that day we rode up alongside the Llanberis path and looking out of the window of the train could be forgiven for thinking the mountain was just like any other tourist attraction in North Wales. T-shirted and flip-flopped hordes slogged their way up the path beside the track and I’m sure we felt pretty smug about avoiding all that physical effort, through the cunning disbursement of a few pounds. We did, however, decide to walk down, and my wife and I pretty much carried our daughter for the whole five miles of knee-jarring descent. So my first visit could be said to be a fairly typical tourist one. Except for the lack of flip-flops that is.
My second visit was as part of the UK Three Peaks Challenge (hangs head in shame, although “technically” I’d pulled out by that point!). One of our team’s drivers and I decided to have a stroll up the hill for fun, while the rest of the team and the other driver went for the proper competitive walk. We actually got a decent way up (past halfway), but turned around just before the steeper climb up to Clogwyn so as to be ready to meet the others when they got down.
It wasn’t until my third visit that I could actually claim to have summitted the mountain that so many non-hillwalkers have. In September 2007, with my (outdoor) life-changing sabbatical behind me, I took a long weekend to do the Welsh 3000ers as part of a small group of 5, organised by an outfit called High Trek Snowdonia. Having knocked off the Carneddau and Glyders, on the third day we turned to Snowdon and the 3 tops that completed the set. Because of high winds, we didn’t climb up via Crib Goch, instead leaving that to later in the day when the winds had died down. So we slogged up the Pyg Track to the summit, and at last I could tick Snowdon off. We then descended via Crib y Ddysgl and Crib Goch. Apart from finally conquering the mountain, that day was also notable for the sight of a guy walking his tiny dog (some sort of small terrier) along the crest of Crib Goch on a lead. Having just come off the hairiest bit, we advised him accordingly and he promptly picked the dog up and walked along the crest of the ridge with it under his arm until he disappeared from sight (horizontally that is, not 1000ft downwards!).
My fourth visit was last year, on my week in Snowdonia, and on this occasion I climbed up via Gallt y Wenallt and Y Lliwedd. The wind and hail pelted down as I cowered in my storm shelter for lunch on Lliwedd Bach, becoming no less vigorous as I inched my way over Y Lliwedd’s twin summits. Cloud blew continuously across the summit of Yr Wyddfa, breaking only briefly as if to taunt me. I wasn’t making good time and on reaching Bwlch Ciliau I turned left and headed down the Watkin Path. I found this route down an utter joy, especially after the more character-building walking earlier in the day. So now 4 times on the mountain, and 1 successful summit.
And so, when it was suggested in the lead-up to our annual university friends reunion at Easter, that we go up Snowdon, I was quite happy to – my only stipulation being that we take an interesting route and certainly not the Llanberis Path. On the annointed day, blue skies and broken cloud greeted us as we left the cottage and drove towards the mountains. I dropped Amanda off in Betws-y-coed for her solo day out exploring Conwy and the 3 of us carried onto the hills to meet up with Andy, Cath and Ben
It was past midday when I drove up to Pen-y-pass and, as expected saw the car park full. I turned around and headed back down to Pen-y-Gwryd to park on the roadside. Halfway down I met Andy (yes, he had changed his over-ventilated trousers since Tuesday!) slogging his way up having just done the same, and so I dumped the children on him and carried on to the bottom. A twenty minute slog back up the road to Pen-y-pass warmed the legs up nicely, but I was slightly miffed to see the others already setting off on the Miners Track. I took my time, used the facilities, and then set off in pursuit, catching them easily as I didn’t have a five year old to slow me down, but did have the advantage of Pacerpoles. We climbed gently up with frequent pauses for Ben’s much shorter legs and it took nearly 50 minutes to reach Llyn Llydaw, where we had a short rest and took in the view of the summit ahead, Crib Goch on the right, Y Lliwedd on the left and Moel Siabod behind.
We crossed the reservoir by the causeway and headed up the next, steeper, section towards Glaslyn. By now the youngest member of the party was flagging, and we put our plan into acrtion. Andy returned to Pen-y-pass with Ben and my son, David, and would collect the car and meet us in Llanberis. Andy’s OH, Cath, my daughter Rebecca and me would form the summit party.
The three survivors set off and worked our way up to Glaslyn where we paused for lunch. Continuing, we passed a group of guys carrying an ironing board and Henry vacuum cleaner, (as you do!) for charity of course. Rebecca was starting to complain about being tired but miraculously perked up with the deteriorating path causing her to have to use her hands and engage mountain goat mode. That plus the application of chocolate and a bit of stretching the truth as to how far we had to go got us to the junction with the Pyg Track and then up to Bwlch Glas. We reached the monolith, pointed out the railway track and I explained how close to the top we were.
The cloud swirled around us as we climbed the last 300 ft to the top, the wind growing with every step. Up to the summit we went, posed for pictures, and headed straight down for the cafe and hot chocolate.
Finding out that the price of the train had risen sharply since the last time we used it in 2002, and that it would cost us £51 to descend that way, we decided to stick to the original plan and walk down. Setting off at 17:40 and getting a mobile phone signal I texted David with a 19:30 arrival time in Llanberis, and Amanda for 8pm in Betws. Both proved to be pretty accurate. Promises of chocolate and sherbert lemons helped Rebecca down the hill, and we steamed down the path cursing the luddite Andy for never having his phone on, and hoping David had passed on our arrival time (he’s a teenager, so we couldn’t be at all sure!). With relief, as the girls’ legs were giving out at this point, Andy met us in the street leading up to the Llanberis path. We hopped in and he drove us back to Pen-y-Gwryd to retrieve the other car.
And so my fifth visit to the mountain finished just as my first did – helping my daughter down the Llanberis Path – except that this time she’d genuinely climbed it herself, and indeed it is her first mountain. Today we also saw the guys doing their extreme housework, a blind person descending the hairiest part of the Miners’ Track, as well as the usual collection of first timers clad in trainers, and in one case Uggs. And with the new summit café, Hafod Eryri, there comes a gift shop and you can quite easily tell the people who’ve taken the train up – as they’re the ones buying the “I conquered Mount Snowdon” t-shirts, hats etc.
This trip has also been my best visit to Snowdonia for another reason – the views. A year ago, grey was very much the order of the
day week, and before that my knowledge of the layout of the National Park severely hindered my working out which mountain was which. This week, I’ve seen not just Snowdon, but also the Glyders and Carneddau from outside the park to the east, I’ve looked up from Portmadog, and been able to stop several times whilst driving to take in views. So I’m going to leave you with a selection of those views of Snowdon from the various angles.