I’m starting to learn that if you don’t write up your adventures as soon as you’ve done them weeks and months can pass before you get around to it. I have a list of excuses as long as some of my challenges as to why I haven’t put fingers to keyboard, most of them very weak! So, no more procrastinating, I’m going to catch up and write up some of the things I’ve attempted in the past few months…..
A rare window of opportunity opened up over the Easter period ( I told you it has been a while since I last wrote one of these!) It afforded us a chance to head back to Wales and attempt a Summit of Snowdon via a route we had never taken. We also surmised that the chosen path would be less populated and therefore more enjoyable. Given that there was quite a covering of snow above 700mts we also knew there was an element of the unknown.
We parked in a quiet lay-by at the bottom of the valley near Nant Gwynant. We took stock of our equipment and provisions for the day ahead, taking care to ensure everything went into the rucksacks. The forecast was for strong winds but no rain. We could see that the visibility towards the summit would be limited. Bearing this in mind we packed extra clothing, extra food and water. I generally go overboard with the amount of kit I carry on trips like this and although it sounds cliched I would always rather have too much than too little. This is what I carried in my 20 litre Osprey rucksack:
First aid kit (including painkillers, sun cream, energy gels and insect repellent)
Emergency shelter for 2
Headtorch x 2
Spare clothing (waterproof jacket, trousers, hat and gloves) in separate dry sac.
Ice/snow over-boot grippers
Food (Sandwiches, flap-jack, apples) and most importantly a flask of coffee…..
Water, 2 litres
This is the minimum I would carry on a day in the mountains and can’t think of any item I would leave behind. I am happy to carry the weight in the knowledge that I would; (a) be prepared for most situations, in particular getting lost or dealing with an adverse change in the weather and (b) if I did need rescuing I wouldn’t be the idiot who had headed out in flip-flops with just a can of coke, a mars bar and only a vague idea of where I was going! With all these items duly packed we grabbed our poles (another item I wouldn’t now want to be without) and set off up the Watkin Path.
Named after Sir Edward Watkin, a Liberal MP and railway entrepreneur who retired to a chalet in Cwm Llan, this path snakes its way from the bottom of the valley to the very top of Snowdon. The initial section is easy going, you meander through woods, passing lots of long-since abandoned relics of industry and mine workings. The path established in 1892 by Sir Watkin was the first designated footpath in Britain and was opened by 83 year old Prime Minister William Gladstone. On the day of the opening he had made his way some distance up the path to a large rock from where he delivered his address to some 2,000 onlookers.
The only audience we could muster as we passed Gladstone Rock as it is now known were a couple of ragged looking sheep and noisy crow. I wasn’t moved to address them but as the temperature was dropping we were moved to continue up the path. Given that the trail starts at virtually sea-level it is regarded as one of the more difficult routes to the top of Snowdon. Being over 8 miles in distance and 1,015 mts in ascent it is little surprise that is graded as a hard mountain walk.
Continuing up the path the views become ever more impressive. At Bwlch Ciliau we followed the route to the left. From the ridge you can see right down into the basin of Snowdon horseshoe. At the bottom of the basin we could just make out LLyn Glaslyn Lake and the intersection of two of the more popular routes, the Miners and the Pyg tracks.
It was at this point the weather began to change, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and the visibility became limited. We also faced the added difficulty of snow underfoot. Fortunately, the snow was not deep and the path was still discernible. Pausing for a coffee and a snack we drew breath and marvelled at the landscape surrounding us. The shifting patterns in the snow were mesmerising and, the tantalising far-reaching views were quickly snatched away by passing clouds. The over whelming grandeur and magnificence of the mountains was making the effort all worthwhile. Apologies for sounding a little romantic about it but when you are in the moment you can be awed at the bleak beauty of it all; it must be why we make the effort to do it. Unless you have experienced it I would suppose it is difficult to understand but it moves me in a way that nothing else does. Crikey, I will be writing poetry next!
From this point the path rises steeply. When not covered in snow it can be loose and requires care, when covered it requires a different kind of attention. Taking the lead I took my time continually looking up the mountain to ensure we were on the correct path. There are cairns marking the way but in the limited visibility and the white conditions they were often tricky to spot. Helen followed using her poles to test the snow and to help steady herself on some of the trickier sections. We had brought some over-boot ice/snow grips but given the dryness of the snow and the steady nature of the ascent we felt they would be more of a hinderance than a help. We set our sights on the next cairn and continued to plod our way up the slope to the point where it joined the Rhyd Dhu path.
The view was limited due to the whiteness of the snow immediately beneath us and the cloud we found ourselves sitting in above and around us. Turning right towards the summit we were quite quickly aware of the presence of other walkers. During our entire ascent we had not seen another soul, suddenly near the summit we surrounded by a multitude of ascenders who had in the main come up via the more accessible Pyg Track.
Making our way up the ice covered steps to the summit proper we paused only briefly for a selfie before seeking some shelter in a quiet spot to eat our much needed lunch.
Whilst enjoying our sandwiches we noted more and more people were making there way to the top. My desire for isolation and solitude overwhelmed me so we quickly packed up and made our way back down the path. Once again we headed towards the junction of the two paths, this time continuing along the Rhyd Dhu path which whilst a little more circuitous was less steep and easier underfoot. As this is a more popular path the snow had been worn smooth and in some places we noted it was icy. We made the sensible decision to use the ice grips we had been carrying. It was with relief that we dropped out of the cloud line, the view which greeted us stopped us in our tracks.
Taking time to enjoy the view is something I have had to consciously discipline myself to do. All too often when engaged in physical exertions either on bike or foot I have been guilty of dropping my head and only concentrating on the 10 metres in front of me. With the beauty of Wales and the views to the coast, the sea and beyond laid out in front of us it was not a day to be rushed and we were determined to make the most of it.
Having removed our ice grips we continued down the trail which linked back up with the Watkin path. Re-tracing familiar ground enabled us to quicken our pace and before long we were back at the camper van. With kettle on, boots off and summit bagged we reflected on a great walk full of adventure which allowed us to stretch ourselves physically and stimulate our senses fully.