There had been something on my little Bucket List for a while; I had thought it was possible for me to achieve whilst a bicycle was my only means of transport, but I kept putting off the idea. Now I am once again with car and needing places to drive to I set off last week on my excursion.
Just an hour’s drive away (if you time it right) from where I live in Wales (or what would have been a good two and a half hour’s ride) is the village of Rhyd-Ddu, and from here one can hike up mount Snowdon, and this is what I decided to do.
There are various routes up the mountain but from the list I had looked at over a year ago I had chosen this one, to be my first at least.
The Rhyd Ddu path, also called the Beddgelert Path, leads from the village of Rhyd Ddu, west of Snowdon, gently up on to Llechog, a broad ridge dropping west from the summit. It is considered one of the easier routes to the summit, with the advantage that the summit is visible from the start [more on that in a moment], but is one of the least used routes [which is partly why I chose it – relatively easy but not too busy]. It climbs at a shallow gradient to Bwlch Main, shortly southwest of the summit, from where it climbs more steeply, meeting up with the Watkin Path at a site marked with a large standing stone a few hundred metres from the summit. The total ascent from the bottom of the path to the top of the mountain is 896 meters.
There is an information board at the car park that informs visitors that they should expect the walk up and down to take around 6 hours in total.
The board also provides a list of recommendations which I read and mentally ticked off or skipped over accordingly:
You will need
- Strong and ankle-supporting walking boots – no, walking trainers for me, they saw me round Scotland, and my ankles are tough enough…
- Waterproof coat and trousers – umm, the coat was waterproof, it then wasn’t, it was then re-waterproofed, and now it isn’t, ho-hum… waterproof trousers – check…
- Gloves, hat and extra warm clothing – no, my coat has a hood, and… we’ll see…
- Map, compass, torch and whistle – check, check, no, and, I can wolf-whistle…
- Ice axe and crampons – I honestly think someone was going OTT with this one, for this time of year at least, so no…
- Fully charged mobile phone – yes, but is there even a signal up there?…
- Plenty of food and drink – a banana, a small flask of coffee, and a bottle of water…
- Small first aid kit – no.
I’ve heard tales of people wearing trainers or even sandals heading off up the mountain and then ending up being airlifted off for whatever reason; I wasn’t going to be one of those frowned-upon people, I was partly well equipped (yet would likely be scoffed at by those meeting all of the above criteria), but I like to think I know my own capabilities by now and I wasn’t heading off up the mountain on an un-planned drunken jaunt (people have done that apparently and not survived to tell the tale).
So off I went.
The first hour of walking was all fine and dandy, meeting some residents along the way.
Then however I ascended into cloud and that was it, nothing more could be seen. So much for being able to see the summit, I had no idea how far away the top was, I could only guess by what the sign board had told me that it was another two hours walk away, although I honestly thought I would climb it slightly quicker than that estimate.
I met with another walker who had stopped by a gate post and behind a stone wall out of the now descending rain.
I had set off with my coat on but at this point I pulled on my waterproof trousers too; they are not only good for keeping the rain off my legs but they provide a warm layer from wind. The downside is that the rain would run down my legs and into my ankle-less footwear, something that would prove to be more of an issue on the way down.
The first part of the climb up to this point had been easy enough, in fact, too easy I thought since, due to the volume of climbers using this path, stone had been laid down to provide an actual path – I felt this ruined the experience somewhat. But things became more involved further up.
Gradually the wind and the rain got worse and worse and I had by now un-buttoned my fold-away hood from the collar of my soggy coat and pulled it over my cap which had been keeping my hair out of my face but was threatening to fly off at any moment. The hood also kept the wind off my left ear and the sharp rain off my face on that side too, as I was being buffeted from that side.
I met with a group of fellow walkers, these ones climbing as part of some event or other but were presently taking a breather behind a cliff-face, out of the wind. I took some swigs from my flask of coffee, which was nice and warming, and plodded on behind the others as they set off. They had a brief discussion amongst themselves about how much further the summit might be and one of them, by means of a smart phone or other gadget, revealed it was another 100m above us; I had thought it would be further – I was indeed climbing at a greater rate than the sign at the start had suggested.
Some distance on, still being pummelled by the delightful weather I had a momentary twinge of foot cramp which I am prone to and took that as a signal to consume my banana; the potassium in it would cure the cramp, I reasoned. It seemed to do the trick, either that or the moment had passed on its own.
The team had ventured on out of sight through the mist now but as I rounded a corner, trying to plot my own route to the top, I saw the solid shapes of man-made structures ahead in the mist. At the top of Snowdon is the monstrosity that is a visitor’s centre, complete with toilets, hot beverages, and gift shop, it also forms the final stop for the railway line that brings visitors up the easy way; on this day one couldn’t even see the full extent of the building since the cloud was so thick.
There are a few final steps to the very summit itself and here the group I had met on the way up were taking photos of their success with cheers of joy. Other people who had clearly just stepped of a train and hadn’t been battling through wind and rain themselves were also taking selfies; I looked on, feeling like this cheapened things somewhat and tainted the efforts I and others had made to get there on foot. I avoided those final steps and the “podium”; it was too crowded for me.
I have been up Snowdon once before. During childhood summer holidays we too went up on the train, but from what I remember it only went half way up then, either because that’s how far it went back then, or because the weather was too bad further up, or maybe it cost more to go the full way and my parents couldn’t afford it – I remember it being somewhat dull going all that way up on the train to just step off, take a look around (perhaps the views weren’t so great on that day either) and then going all the way back down again; I can hardly understand now why people would bother paying to go up on the train knowing they’re not going to have stunning views once they get to the top – the café isn’t all that thrilling for sitting around in, since there are only wooden benches, that is unless you’ve gone up on foot and are glad of the sit down.
While I felt like the visitor’s centre seemed to turn the top of the mountain into some sort of theme park, I was thankful for the shelter it provided – my coat had indeed proven itself to no longer be waterproof, and my sweatshirt under wasn’t warm enough either. I had taken my own coffee up there in a flask so I had no reason to buy any from a café I didn’t want to see there – I was particularly bothered to see that drinks were supplied in take-away cups complete with single use plastic lids – sure there were various bins provided to cater for different materials but this is still a waste of resources in my opinion; why not serve drinks in proper mugs? All the things this establishment must need to cart up the mountain by train each day to keep it stocked, and all the rubbish it then has to take back down. I still had banana skin in my bag from my previously consumed banana, and I had a think for a moment if I could justify throwing it in the bin there. I couldn’t.
I downed my own coffee from my reusable flask as I pondered these things and gave myself time to warm up a bit. I did however look round the small gift shop and was quite surprised that the prices of things were reasonable and not overly inflated as I had expected; I bought myself a mug and a couple of postcards as souvenirs.
Before I knew it, the team I had met on the way up had left already so I set off to catch them up. Once below the layer of cloud I had ascended into I could now see the views that had been behind me at the start, and the skies teased me by gradually clearing away some cloud, but at first blowing some more across my field of view by the time I got my camera out; it finally let off with this playful game and let me take some pictures.
I needed something to keep me amused and distracted since my somewhat ill-chosen footwear, and soaked through as my feet now were, my right heel had managed to rub itself raw. Ho-hum.
I hobbled back to my car, and headed for home, cheerful enough that I had finally climbed Snowdon.
Ascent time: 2hrs 10 minutes.
Descent time: 1hr 45 minutes.
Now I need to decided what to do on my next excursion by car; a different route up Snowdon or to venture to some of the hills I could see in the distance…