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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Preamble to the Ramble (Taking on Snowdon)

Earlier this year five friends and I took temporary ownership of a cottage nestled at the foot of Mount Snowdon. There was a lot more to the trip than a fairly routine ascent and descent of Wales’s tallest rock formation and the following words are part of a much larger piece. However, for the sake of pertinence I’ve edited out all the in-jokes, cross references and vulgarity which leaves only the hiking in purest form.

Lessons learnt from this trip:
• Dry feet are worth more than gold
• Scotch atop a mountain is about as good as it gets
• Being over-equipped makes one look a fool

Tackling The Tomb:
The Pyg Track is one of three main routes to the summit of the mount; the first, The Miner's Trail is a long winding route, through the valley with a steep incline at the end, considered rather boring. The other option open to us was Cryb Goch, a path along a horseshoe ridge leading to the peak, the path is about 3 feet wide with enormous drops either side. In the forecasted windy conditions, it was agreed that this might be a bit beyond us. So we opted for the Pyg; somehow a path had been hewn into the rock and a giant's staircase of well placed rocks provided a steep and exhausting path straight up the side of the south face. Randall was lagging behind, probably due to his carrying a small reservoir in his pack. Adam marched on ahead looking distinctly like his father, wearing his new boots, thick woolly socks pulled high and, remarkably, shorts. Eventually the path levelled out and we saw the first of many lakes deep in the valley below us. What appeared to be a colourful ant trail winding along beneath us was a horde of the unambitious walking along the flat path of the Miner's Trail. Our path began to grow steeper and before long we needed to use our hands to clamber over rough steps too big for human legs.

Looking down on the Miner's Trail and reservoir

Walking into the clouds
We ate our brilliantly prepared packed lunch on a rocky outcrop looking over a blue-black pond and looked back at our progress - the landscape rolled away behind us. White snow on black granite to our right and yellow-green grass to the left, there was no hint of any civilisation as far as the eye could see and this was exactly what I'd hoped for when the idea of this trip first appeared. Tucking into my lunch of Spanish ham sandwiches, tracker bars and a Capri sun I was conscious of what a great moment I was living; the company was excellent, the air clean and my feet dry.

The gradient increased and we found ourselves venturing into the clouds. The temperature dropped considerably as we approached the 3500 foot mark. Snowdon has been described as the busiest mountain in the UK and we saw this first hand when we were trapped in a bottle neck.
Left to right: Luke, Adam, Randall, Hugh, Ryan and Marcos
Heavy winter snowfall hadn't been given a chance to melt in the year's first quarter and the single file track through it yielded rare passing places to allow us to get past those already descending from the mountain top. "What's it like up there?" I asked a weather beaten bloke with two ski-poles, "Cold” he said

“You don't want to up there long but..." his words trailed off in the wind as his marching took him beyond audible distance. Ski poles, I thought, they must be the trick to speed. Standing in the queue we witnessed one climber in a bright orange coat took an ice axe from his pack and attempted to make his own path. Quite why he brought such extreme equipment to an amateur’s mountain like this, I don't know. He stumbled about in deep snow for a bit, hacking at the ice like Trotsky's assassin before half walking half falling back into line, red face and hopefully embarrassed. Eventually we got passed the blockage and we didn't have to make fools of ourselves in doing so. The end was now in sight; we marched the last few sections and arrived.

For that brief moment we were the highest band of miscreants in all of Wales. We celebrated with the usual photos, some scotch which went some way to warm us up and the remains of our lunch. Mr Ski-Poles had been right, it was bitterly cold and we were soon on our way back into the shelter of the ridge for our descent.
Plaque at the summit
The idea of achieving the highest spot in a region and getting the top is as old as history, but taking a step back from the activity it is a bizarre concept. Perhaps human evolutionary progress means that for the lucky minority in the first world, survival is no longer a challenge so we seek to compete with nature in other ways. The idea of a chimpanzee climbing the highest tree in the jungle for no other reason than self-satisfaction and to be able to tell his pals is ridiculous - but it's not far removed from what the entire weekend had been planned around. That and an enormous (hopefully) dinner at the pub followed by lashings of locally brewed ale (and J2O for Marcos).

The descent was uneventful, and was taken at less of a charge. We stopped at a lake for Luke to take some stunning photographs and Ryan to prove himself as the worst skimmer of stones in the history of opposable thumbs. While Adam, Marcos and Randall boasted records in excess of 15 bounces Ryan managed 3, on one occasion.

The descent
Our return route was the Miner's Trail; the path winding gently through the valley vindicated our decision to ascend via the more challenging Pyg Track. We stepped back into basecamp after four or five hours walking and talking; a successful trek into the clouds. (Hugh - Rambler)

Snowdonia National Park
All photos provided courtesy of Luke Doyle

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