For a small country, Wales packs quite the punch. And there’s no doubt that the biggest punch comes when you follow the A5 from the Midlands, through Shropshire and up over the border as you cross the River Ceiriog. The brown signs constantly remind us that this is, in fact, a historic route, and once you get past the wonderfully named Froncysyllte, it’s one long winding, meandering road, all the way to Holyhead on the north-western tip. Without the A5, the unpronouncable town of Betws-y-Coed would just be another unsolveable Countdown conundrum; instead its a bustling tourist town full of outdoor wear shops (handy as it turns out when my waterproof jacket is hanging up at home, and not thrown in the boot of Mr Fletche’s VW Golf along with all our other outdoor clothes). It’s also our home for the weekend, in a B&B just outside of the town centre. The backdrop is hills, forest and sheep, and the River Llugwy babbles away out the front.
It’s a quick shopping trip in town for a new waterproof jacket. The rain that is falling heavily proves that this is a justified purchase. (When did shopping in outdoor clothing stores usurp my love of shopping for stationery? I now have Go Outdoors and Cotswold Outdoors discount cards nestling in my purse.) We try (and fail) to find the mythical “wibbly-wobbly” bridge, legend of which has passed through my family for years (North Wales being the go-to place for holidays when I was growing up). We give up (despite WhatsApp messages from Ma Lee giving us directions) and go to the pub instead. This is not the first time we will frequent The Stables at The Royal Oak Hotel this weekend. It’s not even the last time we will frequent it today as we find ourselves back there later for a spot of dinner (good value pub grub, lots of it) and to be entertained by the marvellous Moelwyn Male Voice Choir.
Any hope of me getting out of climbing Mount Snowdon fades when Mr Fletche pulls open the curtains and pronounces that it has finally stopped raining. I have spent the last couple of days barking on about terrible climbing conditions but now it looks about as good as it’s going to get on a wet weekend in early March. I layer up with my freshly purchased “walking” clothes. I always thought wicking was something to do with candles, but turns out its all about moisture, sweat and breathable materials. My Osprey backpack has the essentials. Two packs of Compeed, a bar of Galaxy chocolate, Jelly Babies and a lip balm. I am ready.
So how did this come about? Don’t you like cocktails and city breaks and places that don’t require any walking, I hear you ask? Six years ago, Mr Fletche and I did indeed climb to the very top of Mount Snowdon…albeit on the Snowdon Mountain Railway. As we congratulated ourselves on taking the less exhausting – if much more expensive – route, we looked around at the exhausted climbers around us. some of whom we’d passed on our not-so-arduous climb. And I knew that the look of achievement and exhilaration – and yes, pure exhaustion – was not one I’d ever obtain from a £30, hour-long train ride. So I vowed to be back again one day, and to be one of those exhilarated but exhausted walkers.
We have selected the Llanberis Path as our route to the summit. Mainly because a) we know where Llanberis is, and b) it’s the easiest route. Easy, meaning least likely to make me cry. The thing no-one told me about the Llanberis Path was the horrendous steep hill, right at the start. Which goes on forever. We have not technically even reached the start of the trail when I am filming my last will and testament on Instagram Stories and asking my family to contact Mountain Rescue. I look back over Llyn Padam, glistening below us, take a deep breath, adjust my backpack and open the gateway to hell.
And. It’s not too bad. There are regular stops at the point when I think I can’t go on – it’s amazing what a two minute break can do to get your breath back and get some movement back in your legs. I start to follow something of a pattern. An adrenaline-filled minute, when I bound confidently like a mountain goat. Two minutes of gradual slowing down culminating in another “I hate mountains” mini meltdown. Followed by two minutes of swigging water and “taking in the scenery”. Followed by another adrenaline-filled minute. Repeat until summit reached.
And then the weather throws a spanner in the works. This mornings clouds are now leaking a slight drizzle and its time to pop on the waterproofs. I sit on a rock and wrestle with the legs until Mr Fletche points out there’s a handy zip for exactly this purpose. My potential roll down the mountain is averted. Waterproof trousers are not flattering. My short legs look even shorter, and I look like I have wrapped myself in a bin bag; still, when the imminent driving rain starts i will be extremely grateful, even if I do look like an Oompa-Loompa in mourning.
It is not long until that driving rain starts. And the wind. And the hail. And the sleet. What started out as a pleasant morning could now be classed as “extreme conditions”. When even hardy hikers, who usually pop up Snowdon before breakfast, are passing you with ice picks, ropes and harnesses, then you start to think maybe you’re not quite as prepared as you thought you were. Plus I’m carrying a slight injury, which is getting sorer with every upwards step. And I have a stitch.
The halfway point is in sight. Mr Fletche gives me the “I’ll be proud of you for reaching that point” spiel and I soldier on. I look forward to a nice hot drink and a sit down. This keeps me going. I can no longer see anything through my rain-soaked glassed (pitfalls of being optically challenged and hating contact lenses) and I can’t even send a plea for help through Instagram as my phone is waterlogged. The halfway point (actually 4.5 km out of 7km) looms and even through my foggy specs I can see my chances of a nice hot drink and a sit-down are reducing rapidly, as the halfway cafe only opens during the summer. Oh yes, give shelter and salvation and sustenance when you need it least…
It’s time to assess our progress so far. I’m not sure the peanut bar I’m gnawing on is going to give me the requisite energy…and I’m not going to rip into the Jelly Babies just yet. I make the mistake of taking off my gloves. They are absolutely soaking; two seconds exposed to the fresh air and I’m convinced my fingers are going to drop off with frostbite. There is snow lining the trail from the next bend onwards, and reports are filtering through of ankle/knee/thigh deep snow closer to the summit. I am short, therefore this may be closer to waist deep on me. I’d love to be confident that I could continue, but between my injury, the driving rain and unknown conditions up ahead, I’m happy when Mr Fletche suggests we turn back. A little probing reveals that although he could have gone on a little further, Mr Fletche too is quite relieved to be starting our descent. And we see other people too, who have passed us earlier, and carried on past the halfway point, now starting to make their way back down.
It’s still not easy descending, especially when rocks are slippy and the ground is sometimes soft, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun. We pass those still ascending, wanting news of the conditions ahead. We tell them it’s pretty miserable halfway but we can’t tell them if it gets any worse or better past that. We reach the gateway to hell once more…this time its our exit point and we’re back on that horribly steep road down to Llanberis itself. We make a welcome detour to Penceunant Isaf Tea Rooms, where we are greeted with a roaring fire, the most wonderfully-tasting coffee, the chance to sit down, and a glasses cloth to help us see again. This is a little piece of heaven on a hillside. We’re tempted by a taxi, but we hoist our aching bones up and through Llanberis town (taking the long way round through a residential estate) before finally sinking back into Mr Fletche’s car, where we can finally shed our sodden clothing.
It’s a disappointment not to have got further, not to have reached the summit through our own sheer hard work, but even to get halfway, and to do this, without any prior training (two weeks of squats whilst waiting for the drinks machine at work to spit out tea is not adequate training) is a pretty good achievement. Especially for this city girl. And we will be back. Snowdon, you have beat me this time, but I will conquer you, and I will stand at that summit (again) with that look of achievement, exhilaration and exhaustion that I so envied last time.
Of course, if (like me) you’re not the mountain climbing type, there’s lots of other stuff you can do in Snowdonia.
Diolch i chi am ddarllen – thank you for reading!
Have you got any tips for next time I try and climb a mountain?
August 2017 Update: I did it! I actually climbed Snowdon!