Having not walked up a mountain for a number of years, and never when a bit of scrambling is involved, it was fair to say I was both excited and a little nervous in the build up to a recent weekend in Snowdonia. And in throwing the fickle nature of April’s weather into the mix it was enough to leave me slightly on edge (no pun intended). Thankfully I needn’t have worried on any front as we – I’d been invited by friends Emma and Andy – enjoyed a spectacular couple of days in North Wales.
Snowdon is a mountain I’ve wanted to tick off for a good number of years. I enjoyed some beautiful Lakeland walks in my teens but the closest I’d previously come to Snowdon (in geographical terms at least) was Cadair Idris, many years previously. Since then walks of any magnitude have rather been confined to the ‘lowlands’ of the Southern Downs or the South West Coastal Path.
Our base for the weekend was the rather exceptional Plas Curig Hostel in Capel Curig. Marketed as a ‘five star’ hostel (or ‘poshtel’ – the only time I’ll agree with the Daily Mail), it lived up to the billing in every way with its modern colour scheme, excellent facilities and well thought out dorms – each bunk having a privacy curtain, reading light and personal power supply; more than enough to keep the most technologically enabled traveller happy.
After a long journey to Snowdonia, Friday’s activities were largely limited by our own weariness so settling into our new surroundings, getting our gear and food together for the next day and consuming a fantastic chilli (thanks Emma!) was as much as we could have hoped to achieve.
Saturday was an early start. After a swift breakfast and one last check over our rucksacks we set off for the Pen-y-Pass car park having heard it filled up early. Being April though we didn’t think it would be overly busy.
Oh, how wrong were we! Arriving around 8.20 we found the car park was already full and we were directed to the ‘park and ride’ a mile and a half down the road. This, in effect, was a lay-by with a regular bus-stop but we parked up, threw our gear on and joined the queue on the other side of the road. It was bitterly cold and the wind was ferocious. Just as I began to wonder if I’d brought enough kit with me the bus arrived and we jumped on in search of warmth. The hugely over crowded bus eventually made it to the top of the hill and back to where we had hoped to be some 40 minutes earlier. Thankfully there was at least one thing on our side – the weather. Wind aside, it was shaping up to be a beautiful day and the temperature was sure to keep rising.
Our route to the summit took in the Miner’s Track and the Pyg Track before the final push to the top. The Miner’s track, for the most part, is an easy, slightly undulating path. It gains in height gradually and it’s a good two miles in before there’s any noticeable effort required. Cresting this short ascent gives you views of the first real challenge ahead – the climb up to join the Pyg Track – and breath-taking views of Snowdon itself.
Taking a well-deserved rest out of the wind and at the side of one of the many lakes we encountered it quickly began to feel like summer. Barely a cloud in the sky, the crystal clear water and almost sand-like shingle on the shore could have put us on almost any tropical island in the world! Well, it certainly was a world away from the bus-stop an hour before.
Refuelled we set off to take in the steep rise to join the Pyg Track, zig-zagging up the craggy climb. Here we joined a throng of walkers coming along the Pyg Track and encountered more descending from the top which in turn checked our progress slightly to the top of the ridge. On the plus side it gave us time to savour the fantastic views to the south and take in what a beautiful day it had turned into.
At the ‘top’ we converged with the railway line and other routes to leave us with impressive views to the coast and further north to Anglesey and beyond. However the warmth we’d felt from our exertions was quickly countered by the bitterly cold wind again. A few photos and we were off again, pushing for the summit which was quickly coming into view. We were now left in no doubt as to why there were still patches of snow on the mountain and as we neared the summit steps large areas of thick frost adorned the grassy slopes. So strong was the wind that it was whipping the frost up into the air where it fell snow-like around us. At this point I was left wondering how the various people who’d walked up in shorts or hoodies, jeans and trainers must have been feeling.
The wind was so strong that it took considerable effort to simply walk up the steps to the trig point, clinging on to the stone column for fear of be whisked off to the sea. For a minute or so though it was fantastic to think that nothing was higher than us for hundreds of miles. That said, we didn’t need much encouragement to drop back down and seek out some shelter for lunch!