When I mentioned in my 2015 Travel Plans post earlier in the year that I was super excited about going to Snowdonia and climbing Mt Snowdon with friends in May this year, what I might have failed to realize is that Mt Snowdon is, um, a mountain. Clue’s in the name, I know, bear with me here! In my misguided naivety it didn’t really occur to me that any mountain in the UK would be tall enough to actually pose much of a struggle, or you know, be freezing cold at the top even on sunny day down at sea level. Oh the lessons I have learned.
First of all, Mt Snowdon is over 1000m high. Okay, in comparison to Mt Everest that’s roughly the same ratio as me standing next to three giraffes stood on each other’s heads (bad analogy) but anyway – high enough for me to not really be prepared. And when I say not really prepared, I mean that before the beginning of this year when I started doing regular Pilates I never exercised. Ever. If I’m honest if it weren’t for all those quad strengthening exercises I did in class – I doubt I would have made it to the top at all!
The much bigger issue however was the fact that on the day we chose to climb Snowdon in early May, the top of the Mountain was what I can only describe as a treacherous blizzard. I’d seen some friends on Facebook a few weeks earlier who had also climbed Snowdon, posting pictures in T shirts from the top. I got the firm impression that this was really just a glorified hill and that on a warmish day like the one we set off on, I wouldn’t be needing frivolities like a hat or gloves! This my friends is further evidence of how Facebook can be terrible for your physical and mental wellbeing.
We set off at what we thought to be relatively early in the day, around 10am, feeling positive. However on our way up we already began to pass others who were already on their way back down, and I heard at least one group make comments along the line of ‘I can’t believe people are only just starting the ascent now, they must be mad!’. We naturally assumed that these early risers were just bragging. Little did we know that conditions higher up were deteriorating quite rapidly.
It started snowing fairly early on, and as we went on the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. Soon enough there was snow on the path, and soon after that there was ice. I can tell you now from my first hand experience that climbing up steep rocky slopes that are covered in ice in powerful winds and without gloves is… unpleasant. I wasn’t the only person in our group who didn’t have gloves with them, and soon enough about four of us were sharing around a single sodden and freezing tea towel that someone had packed in their bag. This was the only protection our eight combined hands had against the freezing cold and icy rocks which we were pulling ourselves up with. Potentially the most tragic moment of my life to date. Wait no, not as tragic as when I spent an entire Friday night in A&E for the rock and roll injury of getting bleach in my eye in a hardcore bathroom cleaning incident. Still pretty tragic though.
I have to say that my friends were incredible. It really was a slog, and after a certain point we found ourselves in such bad weather conditions that we all agreed the only reason we weren’t turning round to go back down was that the descent in the ice and wind would have been much more dangerous than carrying on to the top, from where we could take the train line or a much safer alternative path back down the mountain. At some point almost every one of us had a moment of panic, frustration or fear (I had several of each), and every time someone was there to be wonderfully supportive and get you through. When we took a wrong turn and ended up ascending an extremely steep rock face only to realize that we weren’t on the track any more and it wasn’t safe to carry on, and that worse still we had to lower ourselves back down the way we had come, I seriously considered how it might be possible to call Mountain Rescue from where we were. Going up, at least you can’t see where it is you could fall down. Also, should you slip, you can fall forward against the rock face. Going down I could suddenly see how high we were, how steep it was, and see that a slip would involve a long fall and a lot of hitting rocks, and I suddenly decided I didn’t much fancy doing it! The sentence ‘I don’t want to be one of those news stories about a twenty something dying in tragic circumstances!’ may have passed my lips multiple times… Thankfully my lovely and much less hysterical friend Ruth (who by the way has a mouth wateringly good food blog which you should check out!) helped me step by step down the slope and soon we were back on track. When we were virtually at the summit and were hit with winds so hard they could knock you over if you didn’t have a firm footing (which you didn’t because the now concrete path had turned into an ice rink) and I thought I was about to be thrown off the mountain entirely, my friend Andrew appeared out of nowhere to stop me from blowing away! It was a real team effort and if any of you are reading this; thank you!
We were all elated to finally reach the top and I felt immensely proud of myself, and of all of us. We weren’t so elated however to find out that due to the terrible conditions, the railway up the mountain and the summit café were both closed, and that we were going to have to walk back down. Our hopes of being able to have a hot chocolate, regain the feeling to our limbs and take a leisurely train journey back to the non-blizzard world below crushed, we stayed at the summit for all of about 10 seconds for a victory picture before heading back down.
On the way down we walked the railway tracks as the quickest and easiest way to get back down. This is a definite ‘do not try this at home’ (or on Mt Snowdon, rather) disclaimer because something we couldn’t see in the blizzard until we got to the bottom and looked back up at where we had been walking, was that the train tracks are on a cliff edge where we could have fairly easily fallen to our certain deaths in the high winds (there are warning signs about this that we were only too happy to overlook in our desperately cold conditions). It also hopefully goes without saying that on a day with good weather, there are frequent trains running along these tracks, so I repeat, please do not do as we did!
We finally got past the snow, back to the beautiful sweeping green hills of Wales and back to civilization. I got multiple assurances from my friends that I in fact wasn’t going to lose my hands to frostbite as I’d assumed, and later that evening I even got the feeling back in my fingers whilst we had a much needed pub dinner, and wine. And so is the story of how I nearly (but not really) called Mountain Rescue on Mt Snowdon.
As horrifying as I’ve made it all sound (I am a drama queen), I am so glad that I climbed Mt Snowdon! Had I known what was in store, I would never have thought I had it in me to reach the top and I wouldn’t have even tried. I guess ignorance is bliss sometimes! I believe the next day when my friends asked if I wanted to walk another mountain before leaving Snowdonia my response was something along the lines of ‘hell no’ but I thoroughly enjoyed pushing myself and also quite importantly; not losing my life at the age of 24.
We took the Pyg Track, which I can highly recommend in good weather, as the views (while we still had enough visibility to see anything) were beautiful and the climb really wasn’t so bad considering a group of mixed ability were able to do it even in such bad conditions.
Have you ever climbed Snowdon or any other mountain? Let me know how you found it!