This November, the team at Mayfly took the challenge of walking to the summit of Snowdon, the highest point in the British Isles (except for Scotland – curse you Ben Nevis!)
John: Leaving the car park, we bump into a group of experienced looking hikers about to begin their journey up the Ranger Trail. They’ve stopped just ahead of a railway line and are gathered around a large, rectangular object made of paper. It’s a map – and it’s not something we thought of bringing – jokes are made at their expense, as we all silently contemplate witty lines for our epitaphs.
Jenny: This’ll be easy, right? I mean, sure it’s a mountain but there’s a girl in a penguin hat doing the walk, so it’s obviously not *that* serious. Signs warn us that we should have brought a compass and map, but that would require at least one of to have sense. Right now it feels like Braveheart, but soon it’ll be pure Lord of the Rings.
Half-Way To The Top
John: Although it’s a cold misty day at the beginning of the low-season, there are a surprising amount of children and older walkers attempting the climb. We follow their steady progress until they quickly disappear over the ever steepening horizon. A break is called to gorge on snacks and discuss the possibility that we may have bitten off more than we can chew – more food is eaten in response to this latter thought.
Jenny: Legs are starting to hurt, but I can do this. Fight the pain, Mugridge! I’m being outstripped by children and tiny dogs, but I have a cold and I’ll cling to that excuse.
The Snowdon Railway passes in front of us and disappears eerily into the mist. Why didn’t we get the train?
Bugger, I’ve forgotten my hat and the misty mountain air is getting right up in my grill. Liam lets me borrow his “favourite” hat and I march on in tank top and wooly hat, simultaneously freezing cold and boiling hot. At least the view when the mist periodically clears is impressive.
When They Were Up, They Were Up
John: As we slowly reach the summit – incorrectly marked around 10 minutes before the journey is actually complete – we catch our breaths and gaze around at the panoramic view that 1,805m offers you…mist. Nothing but endlessly milky mist. As other hikers collect at the steps of the (currently closed) multi-million pound visitor centre, we share out our rations and consider climbing down the (currently invisible) path in the pea-soup fog. After consulting a friendly, map-bearing hiker we begin down the Rhyd-Ddu Path.
Jenny: We made it, hallelujah! Two and a half hours isn’t too bad at all. The summit is decorated with a pumpkin, which is a nice touch, but we can’t see a thing beyond a few metres – so much for that glorious view we were expecting. Within minutes I go from steaming hot to stuck-in-a-walk-in-freezer cold and don ALL of my clothes, clutching the vital flask of tea close.
We thought there’d be a sign pointing us the way down we wanted to go. We were wrong. Thank god a more-prepared traveler could point us in the right direction, and despite the route not really looking like a path, we’re on our way across and down the mountain.
John: Within minutes of leaving the summit, a strong breeze begins blowing the fog off the hills, clearing the valley of the Dickensian atmosphere that had so cruelly blocked our view. The view is truly breathtaking – we had not been given a chance to truly appreciate the height that we’d ascended at the summit, but now the path had significantly narrowed and the mist had cleared, the steep, unforgiving drops had become all too real.
Jenny: I’m covered in mud. “I don’t need to step around the mud,” I say. “I’ve got boots on!” My foot goes right in, mud lapping up over the top of my boots. “It could be worse!” I joke just before I fall flat on my arse in the mud. Things I’m thankful for – waterproof army jackets, having already taken off my gloves, and that it wasn’t on rock.
It doesn’t matter though because we can now actually see the beauty of the valley (and sheep). We get as many pictures as we can and I try not to slip down the loose shale path.
Will finds he’s not the sprightly mountain goat he once was as he slips, but bounces back as if nothing ever happened. Mr T would be proud.
Sweet, Sweet Ground
John: As the rocky descent gives way to a smoother paved path, we’re finally offered a clear view of the grand valley that we’ve been climbing through for the entire day. Rich auburn grasses contrast with lush green meadows, as the waters of Llyn Cwellyn glitter in the distance – a far-off marker signifying the fast approaching end of our journey. Only another 4 or 5 miles left to go!
Jenny: We’ve got a mile and a half left to walk, but it’s on flat ground. FLAT. It’s like a luxury after using my entire range of leg muscles going up and down the mountain. The sun’s come out and we look up at the summit, knowing in our hearts that the view from up there now would be spectacular. God damn you Snowdon.
Later That Evening…
John: There are a variety of emotions that run through the mind, in the aftermath of a 9-mile hike up a mountain and back – the chief of these being utter exhaustion. My weight in pasta is consumed and this sends me into a dreamless coma, that is only brought to a halt by the dull ache of my confused knees. Snowdon proved a challenge that I was more than willing to take on – but might well be haunting me for the next few days to come.
Jenny: Things I need – takeaway Chinese, a beer and a cuddle. Getting up the stairs is a struggle but I’ve also got that wonderful weary aching from exercise, and I’m pleased with myself for doing it – with a cold and everything! I’ll be milking this for a little while, although I don’t expect to get much sympathy from my fellow travellers.
As I recount the day it becomes less of an ordeal and more of a fantastic adventure, although I’m troubled by the thought that if we were the Hobbits taking the Ring to Mordor, I was probably Sam.