SNOWDON (2019)

Introduction

I almost gave this the grandiose subtitle “An Epic Family Saga”. Originally booked it for a solo walk on the weekend of 22nd/23rd June. When I told my parents, my mother announced that it was a long-held ambition of hers to climb Snowdon (I never knew this). They couldn’t get a B&B the same weekend as me, so I changed my booking to a week later and they joined me at the same place: Glyn Peris Guest House, on the main road into Llanberis. A few weeks later, my mum informed me that two of her former work colleagues wanted to join us, one of them with her bloke. So it was that a solo walk became a five-person quest. Five because my stepdad had a bad foot and didn’t want to climb the mountain.

In fact the change of date was fortunate. May in the Lakes had been lovely, but the British weather in June 2019 was atrocious almost throughout. The weekend of 22nd/23rd June was wet, but Friday 29th (travel day) was the warmest of the summer thus far. I left my workplace at around 1pm with temperatures around the mid 20s C: when I stopped at services five miles from Llanberis it was 32 degrees. The traffic on the A55 had been pretty poor and I didn’t reach Glyn Peris until 5:30pm. After checking in, I joined my stepdad, mum and her friend Rose in The Heights for an evening meal and a few drinks outdoors. I think I got through three half-litre bottles of Budvar: perhaps not ideal preparation for my highest mountain climb yet, but everyone was desperate to enjoy a proper summer evening’s drinking after such a miserable last few weeks.

The walk: Saturday 29th June

Map used: OS Explorer OL17 Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa

Weather: Actually nowhere near as nice as Friday: very warm morning but soon overcast and cloudy throughout the day. Almost no rain though.

[LEJoG progress at the start of this sidetrack:  Day 47, Hawes]

Snowdon is new to me but there are of course plenty of guides and blogs out there. Here’s one I used to plan today’s walk. Had I been alone, I might have tried one of the more difficult routes up (certainly not Crib Goch for a first attempt though). But with five of us, it seemed appropriate to go for the easiest, the Llanberis Path. I wouldn’t describe it as “easy” per se: after all it’s still a 975m climb, which is almost exactly the height of my previous record holder, Scafell Pike. And it’s the longest too.

We picked Rose up from her B&B and drove to the road at the foot of the Llanberis path, where my mum’s other friend Lisa and her partner John met up with us. Already it was clear that this would be a very different sort of walk for me: there were dozens of people starting the same path at around the same time (8:30am). On my busiest days in the Lakes a month or so earlier, the greatest numbers were around Haystacks on the Saturday and Coniston Old Man on the Tuesday. There were still far short of a hundred. On Snowdon today there were hundreds of people. From the point where the Llanberis Path meets the Snowdon Ranger Path, Pyg and Miner’s Tracks, a few minutes short of the summit, there were probably over a thousand. Not all at the same time, but during the hour or so you’re above that height before heading back down, you could easily see a thousand people. It really is a huge communal effort. Many of these will be completing the National Three Peaks Challenge (a possible Sidetrack for another weekend), or similar charity walks. One of these groups would strike a deep chord with us: read on for more.

The first part of the Llanberis Path is on a steep, narrow road. Already the different paces in our group were becoming obvious. Everyone was determined to reach the summit, though after Loughrigg Fell I had doubts about my mum. Spoiler alert: they turned out to be unfounded. After leaving the road for the path proper, heading SE, the three evenly-spaced stations make for convenient stopping points. First was Hebron Station. By this time John, Lisa and I were several minutes ahead of Mum and Rose.

1 Snowdon railway

Observing a train from stopping point overlooking Hebron Station

Between Hebron and Halfway Stations, John and Lisa held back for the others and I decided to pick up the pace, overtaking almost everyone I saw before stopping for a snack next to Halfway House. This was the busiest stopping point by far, and a brief shower meant that the café itself was so crammed as to be all but inaccessible. Fortunately I had plenty in my backpack. Waited about 10 minutes for John and Lisa and a further 5 for Mum and Rose. Halfway in terms of height, albeit not time.

The gradient had so far been manageable for all. Not gentle, but never particularly steep. The next section, however, sees a sharp climb to the rail bridge at Clogwyn Station, enough to create a 25-minute gap between me as first arrival and Mum/Rose bringing up the rear.

3 Clogwyn 2

View from Clogwyn rail bridge, looking NE towards the A4086 and Nant Peris

There was another reason why Rose was slow: she’d got talking to a group who were carrying a full keg of beer to the summit and raising money for Mind. We’d noticed them as far back as Hebron Station. The man who seemed to be taking the lead was huge of shoulder and back. Rose confessed some primal attraction to this and I think it was him she started talking to. There were maybe four men (all well-built) doing the carrying, a couple of women on point and rear and a few teenagers. We’d speculated earlier that perhaps they’d lost a relative or friend to suicide. Sadly this turned out to be the case: a friend of theirs had taken his own life. As their friend had been a veteran of many fundraising treks up Snowdon, they were carrying the keg of beer to the summit to honour his memory. It was simple, heroic and profoundly touching. I am 99.99% certain this was their Just Giving page, should you be interested in donating.

Right after the rail bridge is the steepest couple of hundred metres of the entire climb. Again I left everyone behind and made my way directly to Bwlch Glas, the aforementioned point just below the summit where four paths meet. It’s here that the header image, and the photos below, were taken:

4 Pyg and Miners Tracks from above

Pyg Track (left) and Miners’ Track (right, by the water) from Bwlch Glas

The bodies of water are Glaslyn (foreground) and Llyn Llydaw (lower, background)

5 Crib Goch

The fearsome Crib Goch, from Bwlch Glas

This time my wait was about 20 minutes for John and Lisa and over half an hour for Mum and Rose. At what was probably peak time, the summit looked overcrowded and Mum – for the first time – said she’d be happy going no further. Obviously everyone worked to dispel the ridiculous notion of coming this close and not reaching the top, and she joined us for the final stretch. Here I did not pull ahead, as it was single file walking most of the time anyway, and I wanted to ensure no-one dropped out. The Mind beer keg crew, roughly level with Rose for most of the walk after Halfway House, even passed me at one stage.

So finally we reached the summit, which looked like this close-up.

7 Summit 2

This doesn’t really convey how many people were milling around. To the right, out of shot, is the summit station for the mountain railway and a huge café/refreshment/toilet complex. Dozens, possibly hundreds, were queuing, eating or resting there. The summit cairn itself is in the background on the right of the picture, and was constantly occupied and surrounded by people. We had a group photo by the cairn, but I was the only one who insisted on joining the throng and touching the definitive summit. This involves finding your way to the back of the queue on the cairn and gradually moving up the steps until you stand on top. And this, rather anti-climactically, is what awaits you at 1085 metres above sea level:

6 Summit 1

Not much opportunity to examine the toposcope, eh?

Still, a summit is a summit, and all of them might be your last chance. 1080m is not enough for a purist.

The above photo was taken at 1:35pm, almost 1½ hours after those overlooking the other tracks. This suggests either that the wait at Bwlch Glas was longer than I remembered, or that we queued for the facilities before approaching the cairn. Whatever the case, afterwards we sat down for lunch and then joined the Mind crew. True to their word, they’d opened the keg and were giving away beer for free. We all had a drink (maybe 2/3 of a pint of IPA). Mum, Rose and I each donated £20: the big guy was quite overwhelmed and said we’d been “the most generous group”. Obviously the charity means a lot to me and I hope to use my LEJoG walk to raise money for Mind myself. My mum said that it meant a great deal to her as well after “four years of hell with this one [me]”.

It still cuts me to hear things like this – if anything it understates the case, because four years was just the time I was off work, and you have to add the longer-term effects, loss of friendships, fitness, confidence, faith in your own values of hard work and treating people fairly. And it was complete and utter hell, for the first two years especially. It hurts intensely that this is a memory my mother has forever, instead of things like marriage and grandchildren. But you have to remind yourself that you’re still here and healthy, and this weekend is now a new and happy memory you share.

The Saga Continues: A Dramatic Descent

Dear oh dear, what a palaver. After a long time admiring those views (see header image), I wanted to head down to Pen-y-pass via the Miners’ Track or Pyg Track. Most of us were happy to go back down the Llanberis Path, but Rose wanted to join me. The two of us parted from Mum, John and Lisa at the junction and made a slow and steady descent towards Glaslyn. It soon became clear that Rose, in spite of having climbed Snowdon before (albeit many years ago) and being a regular walker, was a lot slower than I’d anticipated. She also started chatting to a guy who was completing the Three Peaks challenge but struggling with an injured leg, so this increased the gap between us even more. My first wait was at the junction between the Pyg and Miners’ Tracks – maybe 10 minutes. We had a brief discussion and decided to tackle the Miners’ Track, which meant two difficult descents to Glaslyn and then Llyn Llydaw, before what should be a fast couple of miles on the flat.

Even before Glaslyn I was having to stop to wait, and by the time I reached Llyn Llydaw the wait was something like 20 minutes. There was some rain on this second descent, which meant wet stone and even more careful, deliberate walking. My last wait was on the causeway across Llyn Llydaw: when I couldn’t see Rose after 15 minutes even on a much flatter section I decided to head to Pen-y-pass without stopping and to wait for her at the end. There were plenty of buses back to Llanberis so I didn’t expect any difficulties even if I had to wait for more than half an hour.

The rest of the track was quite fast. Pen-y-pass was busy but it should have been easy to spot Rose. I bought a cup of tea and used the facilities, then waited for her to emerge. And waited… And watched several buses come and go. And waited… And it passed half an hour… and then passed 5pm, which was my outer limit for concern about her safety. Logic told me that if she’d had an accident someone would have called the mountain rescue team, or one of the hundreds of finishers would have mentioned it on arrival. But after nearly an hour, and with (crucially) no mobile reception, I decided the honourable course of action would be to head back on to the mountain and look for her.

I walked for 25 minutes – stopped a couple of people to ask if they’d seen anyone matching her description but no. One said that it was too busy to remember, which was true, and also a reason why I was probably worrying over nothing. Turned around and walked back to Pen-y-pass in 20 minutes. By now it was well after 6pm, much quieter and the buses were a lot less frequent. There was a youth hostel opposite with a payphone. So, still with no reception, it was back to the 90s and a call to Mum to see if Rose had turned up. She answered, but almost immediately after she’d heard my voice, my stepdad took over the call. Yes, Rose was there with them and had been for over an hour. I’d obviously – somehow – missed her arrival at Pen-y-pass. To this day I don’t know how. The only time I wasn’t watching finishers was when I went for a cup of tea and used the toilet. And even if that 5-10 minutes was enough to miss her arrival, I should have seen her around waiting for a bus.

My stepdad picked me up. The real story turned out to be that, since Rose arrived without me, my mother had been worried sick about me having had an accident. She’d been in tears with Ceris, the proprietor of Glyn Peris, who’d been reassuring her that (stop me if this sounds familiar) it was such a busy day on the mountain that we’d have heard from a climber or the Snowdon Mountain Rescue Team if anything serious had happened. It all sounded terribly dramatic, but understandable in the total absence of any information. And an odd moment after I’d come off the phone at the hostel now made a perverse kind of sense. A member of staff had asked if I was called (let’s say, to preserve my anonymity) “Bryan Wayne”. My stepdad had already called the hostel to ask after me and this was a staff member mishearing my name…

After the walk

The soap opera finally over, the six of us reunited for a meal at The Heights, a load more Budvar and several references to “Bryan Wayne”. Wonderful atmosphere of pride and camaraderie: not just among us but the whole pub and village, full of people who’d achieved the same today. Definitely a place I’d love to come back to.

The following morning Ceris presented Mum and I with a certificate each to mark our summiting (horrible verb) of Mount Snowdon. The picture is similar to my header image.

 

This page is dedicated to the Mind beer keg fundraising crew (below). I hope life treats you all kindly. From someone who came close but survived.

8 Mind fundraising crew

Some everyday heroes

 

Header image (29 June 2019) shows Crib Goch (top), the Pyg Track (middle) and Miners’ Track (right, alongside Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw) as seen from Bwlch Glas, approximately 12:10pm, before our final assault on the summit of Snowdon.