“This is a lot harder than I was expecting it to be,” my father calls out to me.
My altimeter tells me we’re about 200 metres from the summit but the fog refuses to show me the top. My watch says it’s 8:42am. We’ve been climbing for around two hours. We don’t have much further, if we can just navigate through this section of rubble.
When I first broached the idea of climbing Mount Snowdon with my father to celebrate his 60th birthday, I thought he’d say no. He didn’t. And that’s why we’ve found ourselves on the side of a rocky outcrop, overlooking a cascade of fresh Welsh water and picking our way up a dubious looking scree field, cheese sandwiches in tow.
THE LOWDOWN ON SNOWDON
Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales and the second highest in the UK, reaching over 1085 metres into the sky, is pipped only by Ben Nevis in Scotland. The region attracts over four million visitors a year and it’s thought over 360,000 people take on one of a handful of routes to the top annually. This year, we add another two to that list.
There are six recommended tracks to the top of Snowdon, each with varying levels of difficulty. The easiest, offering the most comfortable route, is The Llanberis Path. Our route, the Pyg Track (the fourth hardest), is seven kilometres long and offers a 723-metre ascent, taking in the nearby narrow Crib Goch ridge. We chose this route under recommendation from George, owner of Tyn-y-Coed Hotel, our guesthouse for the two-day trip.
He also suggested getting out early. Snowdon is a huge drawcard, especially during the summer, and if you want the mountain to yourself and a car parking space at the bottom, then you ought to get up to nearby Pen y Pass early before the crowds. With this in mind we took our first steps onto a stony track slick with dew at 6:15am, just as the sun decided to peek above the valley hillsides.
MORE TO WALES THAN RED DRAGONS
Wales isn’t on the top of every Australian’s must-visit list but it is fast becoming a beacon for intrepid explorers looking to get off the more beaten UK paths and experience a land both majestic and authentic. In recent years Wales has placed an increased onus on maintaining its own Welshness, acknowledging that its traditions, culture and distinctive language are not only a drawcard for tourists but a part of their national identity, and one worth preserving.
There’s much to be proud of. There are fantastic local ales, lauded regional produce, golf courses, fishing lakes, cycle tracks and diverse landscapes that run from rugged coastline to snow covered mountain tops. Wales offers both plush rolling hills and villages time forgot – as well as excitement, adventure and terrain that invites challenge and discovery.
For us The Gwydyr Hotel, Ty Gywn Hotel and the Royal Oak Hotel have offered a sanctum of tranquillity, where we can plan and then debrief after our climb. During our stay in the area of Betws-y-Coed, we’ve found that much of the produce, no matter where you eat or stay, is proudly local. Traditionally full English breakfasts are relabelled as Welsh breakfasts and locally made beer and wine is recommended over the stocked Dutch and French competitors.
“Where are the sausages from?” I asked one morning. “…up road,” came a reply laden thick with Welsh lilt.
WALES WILL STOKE THE FIRE WITHIN YOU
7:45am. With walking poles in hand and a breeze coming from the east, we largely have the mountain to ourselves. Sheep hop and skip across the mountainside, playing hide and seek with rock formations, our only other company. The track climbs over Bwlch y Moch on the eastern flanks of Crib Goch, before traversing that ridge's lower slopes.
You encounter a variety of different terrain when climbing Snowdon. Being such a big attraction, all of the pathways are maintained by the local authorities to ensure safety where possible. The lower tracks and pathways are clearly marked, to prevent people wandering off into dangerous areas by accident. The higher paths are less groomed and require more navigation. We notice large bags of marble and limestone peppering the tracks, almost all the way to the top – airlifted into position by helicopters to fight winter erosion, we find out later.
From the ankle-snapping scree fields you get a clear view of the Afon Nant Peris, a small mountain stream that runs down the Llanberis valley situated on the north-eastern flank of Snowdon. If you’re keen-eyed you may even spot a Snowdon Lily, a flower rarely found anywhere else in Britain.
“Good job we bought these walking poles,” my father laughs as we navigate a particularly steep section of rock that tapers to a sheer drop. “You can see why people die up here,” he adds, nervously.
RELATIONSHIPS NEED NURTURING
With the climb not so challenging as to require 100 per cent of our attention 100 per cent of the time, my father and I are able to find, on the way up, some much needed time to reconnect. As a traveller and a writer, I’ve largely spent the past five years on the road. This Snowdon climb is an orchestrated attempt to find space and to feel like we’ve accomplished something together. It’s about creating memories we will look back on fondly.
Yet, I inadvertently discover other things about my father too. It’s amazing how, free from distractions, we suddenly open up. We swap stories of vulnerability and tales of sorrow. We connect in a way that I’m not sure we ever have. For the first time, perhaps in our lives, we find ourselves climbing (sometimes crawling) side by side as men, as equals.
CONQUERING IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL
8:17am. In our connected lives, getting outside and connecting with someone through nature offers more than just a sense of accomplishment for your physical body – it affects your spirit too.
100 metres before the top of Snowdon, the air significantly thins. It’s summer so there is no snow on the ground, but it is chilly, around 10 degrees. For those used to climbing at altitude, it’s not severe, but for my father who rarely exerts such effort for a view, it’s tough.
“I think we need to stop for a water break.”
These words are said more than once in the final 30 minutes of ascent. Snowdon isn’t Everest, but nor is it easy. Reaching the top, wind slapping our faces, some 12 degrees colder than our starting point and wet through from foggy precipitation, we are conquerors. Traipsing up the last few steps, we feel, for the briefest of moments, like Scott of the Antarctic.
When we reach the top of Snowdon at 9am, there is no fanfare. There’s nothing there to greet us but a thick blanket of fog and a whipping wind that immediately sets our faces a plush shade of pink. And that’s all that we need. Conquering something in good company is an experience to savour.
KEEP LOOKING FOR THE NEXT MOUNTAIN
Eating squashed cheese sandwiches and drinking Lucozade on the way down, I think about how important this trip will become for us. There will be another mountain in another country for sure, another feat to achieve, some more time to spend together.
With poles click-clacking against rocks, the odd scrap from the slip of a boot and the air temperature rising on the way down, the sun fully breaks over the lake Glaslyn, sending streaks of light bouncing over the water. We stop to appreciate the scene, in silence. It will never happen in the same way again. This isn’t a tangible thought, more an imperceptible feeling; we experience the urge to pause, and do so.
A few moments pass and the sun sneaks behind a cloud, turning the water back to a greyish blue. We pick up our pace and set our sights on the pub at the bottom of the mountain and the end of the road.
“Eang yw'r byd i bawb,” as they say in Wales. The world is wide to everyone.