Mountain 5 – Snowdon

Ok – so mountain number 5.  If you remember, back at Easter we’d set off for Wales and  scrambled up two brilliant mountains – Cadair Idris and Moel Elio – peaks 3 and 4.  Our final walk of the trip was going to be Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at 1085m or 3,560 feet. Issie had already climbed it once before with her school (camping on the way up) but hadn’t done the ascent in one day.  I’d been up only once before, as part of the Three Peaks Challenge when we marched up and down with scarcely a minute to take in the views (admittedly of thick cloud) at the top.  So we were both looking forward to it.

We made the drive up to Snowdonia and checked into the most heavenly hotel – the Pen-Y-Gwryd in Nant Gwynant.  Hillary and Tenzing trained for their first successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 while staying there and the hotel is heaving with Everest memorabilia which is fascinating.  If you are ever planning to climb Snowdon – stay at this hotel!

They also have the most brilliant staff who don’t bat an eyelid at muddy puppies and slightly feral children tumbling out of rooms left, right and centre.  Thank God!

Issie’s grandparents arrived in time for tea, having made the long journey up from Surrey with a car full of waterproofs, nearly-house-trained puppies and Issie’s 5 year old brother Raffy.   It was truly wonderful to see them and I think they were pretty relieved to see us after quite a journey!

With a day to spare, we  took the opportunity to climb Snowdon the easy way – via the Snowdon mountain railway.

It didn’t quite get us right to the top, only as far as Clogwyn station which is at 779m, but far enough for Issie’s grandparents…it was mighty cold up there!

Soon we were back down and carb-loading for the day ahead in the wonderful dining room at the hotel as we waited for our friends (the Normans) who had rather bravely volunteered to accompany us up Snowdon, along with one of Issie’s oldest friends Isabella.

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After a wet and windy slog up from London they didn’t arrive until very late but were looking remarkably sprightly at breakfast the next morning .  Outside the wind howled and the dark clouds looked threatening.

But the children were already squealing at the forecast of snow at the top of the mountain ….as it turned out they wouldn’t be disappointed and a bit sooner than we all thought!

The plan was to take the PYG route up and back.  The starting point wasn’t far from our hotel (see map below), it was just over 5.5km each way and promised to be a little more interesting than the (most often used) route up from Llanberis, the nearest town.

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Our Routes

We met up with our guide Rusty at the start of the path and we had an additional member of our team for the first time – Lottie our working cocker spaniel.  I’m not sure she knew what she was in for!

Setting off on the PYG track

We didn’t have to wait long for the snow, we’d only been going about 10 minutes before the cloud descended and we were all soon covered in fluffy white snowflakes. Lottie looked a little confused, but the children just giggled and squealed.  A lot!

The walk was wonderful and the children took the snow in their stride.  Even better, as we ascended the cloud began to lift and we saw more of the breathtaking Welsh landscape.

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Issie and Lottie leading the way

Views of the knife-edged ridge of Crib Goch (one of the best scrambles in the area) opened up and we wondered with awe about the brave souls that took that path. But we had our own challenge and after another hour we had made it as far as the beautiful tarn below Garnedd Ugain.

We took the chance to sit down for lunch before the final push to the top.  Sandwiches  and large amounts of chocolate were inhaled as the weak sun came out to gently warm us up.

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The most challenging part of the ascent was to come with the infamous steep zig-zag climb up to the final ridge.  Normally not too tricky, we faced two difficulties – not only was the route packed with people on an incredibly busy Saturday for Snowdon, but the path now consisted of packed down snow and ice that was becoming increasingly treacherous.

Rusty briefed us on the best route up and warned us not to stray from the path.  However we all grew a little frustrated as we faced walkers scrambling down the same path, with little care for the conditions.  There were a few tense moments for all of us as we manoeuvred our way up the switchbacks trying desperately to keep our footing and not to look over the edge and down to the tarn.  Huge relief all round when we made it up to the ridge, for the final walk up to the summit, following the railway tracks.

img_7456-1But yet again, the sheer numbers of people and the challenging, slippery conditions made this far from easy.  Huge hugs and cheers all round when we saw the final steps up to the cairn on the summit!   We’d made it – peak number 5 and the highest mountain in Wales!

With selfies taken and Lottie tucked into a fleece coat as she was starting to shiver, we climbed back down from the top and stopped for a briefing from Rusty.  He was concerned about the conditions on the PYG route that we had just clambered up and reluctantly advised that we needed to take the Llanberis (aka “motorway”) route back down.  It was a bit further (over 7km) but to be honest we were all quite relieved not to be heading back down the same way as more and more people poured up from below.  Things were looking pretty dangerous on that route by now.

So off we set for Llanberis – thrilled we’d made it up – but of course aware we’d only done half our challenge so far.  The snow stretched out either side of us and the cloud was pretty low now as we trudged on.

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Lots of chocolate and Haribos helped with the aching knees.  The only one that seemed not to bat an eyelid as we stumbled and slipped our way down was Lottie, who skipped around our feet and wagged her tail furiously.

After a good two to three hours down, the snow began to peter out and we even saw a glimpse of the sun again as Llanberis appeared in the distance.  Hurray!  What a day – we’d made it up (and crucially down) the highest mountain in Wales – big smiles all round! What a wonderful trip!

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