In 1995 our mountain explorations started in the Lake District. Tim and I returned many many times, venturing further and becoming quite confident explorers in this beautiful part of this country.
We then started to take trips to the mountains of north Wales with our mountain bikes, to Snowdonia. The mountains here are magnificent, all jagged and formidable. As we cycled around the valleys we stared up at them in awe. Little did we know that one day we would be standing on these summits too.
Mount Snowdon and The Snowdon Horseshoe
Snowdon – at 3,560 feet (1085m) it’s the highest point in Wales and England. It has numerous walking routes and one railway track leading right to the top! It’s very very popular. Tim and I have been to the top five times now. We’ve enjoyed days when the sun shone warmly, walked through snow as well as rain and cloud. Always on foot and always starting from a car park on the mountain pass called the Pen y Pass.
The Snowdon Horseshoe – this is a challenging route with just under 4,000 feet of ascent with lots of exposure on narrow ridges. Guide books suggest you need at least 8 hours to complete it. The route is considered to be alpine climb in winter conditions which means using rope and other technical equipment, at other times its a scramble which means using hands. It should definitely be avoided by walkers in icy or wet weather and best enjoyed if you have a bit of mountain walking experience.
Note : ‘Horseshoes’ in walking terms usually involve a high level route which, when looked down at from the skies above, is horseshoe shaped!
I’m travelling back in time for this one, almost 8 years, and with the help of a few photos, this is my recollection of the day.
3rd May 2009 – 8:15am at the Pen y Pass car park
We parked the car right behind the small cafe and paid for our ‘all day’ ticket. With some slight anxiety we then tipped all of our extra layers, hats, gloves, etc out of our back packs and put them on. The wind felt a bit cool but we were optimistic.
For this challenge we were accompanied by our good friend Duncan. With Duncan, and his wife Chrissi, we had shared several walking holidays all four of us having the same love of the great outdoors. Chrissi didn’t join us this time and I think she was really quite relieved when she looked through our photos afterwards!
The first photo we took at the start of the Pyg Track – about 20 steps away from the car. Me and Duncan trying to say ‘cheese’ and having a nervous giggle. Tim was being the sensible one, he was the parent on this trip and was probably still going through a checklist in his head – map, drinks, lunch, first aid kit, whistle, survival blanket, etc.
The Pyg Track is a good path with views down to the road as it disappears to Llanberis. As expected it gets steeper with a few boulders as obstacles in places, but generally its easy enough and, after our shivery start, we began to warm up.
We reached a point called Bwlch Moch. Its a junction – time to decide whether to carry on or turn right onto the shoulder of the ridge. The three of us paused. ‘Is that wind too strong?’. ‘I didn’t think it would be this windy’. ‘Is that wind going to get worse?’
Pulling ourselves together we turned right and posed for another photo right next to the finger post confirming the route.
Shortly afterwards we reached a wall of rock. We were joined by a small group of friends (all men) who went ahead of us scrambling and heaving themselves onto the shoulder of the ridge. We followed them.
The section that followed was a bit like going up a rocky, uneven, ever steepening staircase. It was actually quite enjoyable. The sun started to break through the cloud and every now and then we stopped to admire the views below. Tim and Duncan always seemed to be ahead of me – Duncan leading the way, Tim taking the photos and me just having fun recording the whole event on my camcorder. The photos below show cairns (small piles of rock) that can help show the way to go.
The higher we got so did my woolly hat. I had no idea that I looked like a cross between a Smurf and one of the seven dwarfs. Obviously the boys didn’t say anything and let me continue for the whole day with a silly hat.
Once the group of friends ‘disappeared’ out of sight we knew the ridge of Crib Goch would be within view. Sure enough it was. We had read and researched and knew what was coming next but nothing, absolutely nothing, prepares you for the awesome (and I use that word rarely) sight. This is a photo of me looking at the view ahead. Spot the couple behind me who look like they are crouching in fear! It was now 10:30am.
Directly ahead the ridge narrowed. So much that, to feel comfortable on this knife edge, you should drop down a bit on the left and hang onto the top as you shuffle along. The photos below show Duncan catching the group who had passed us earlier. They were moving quite slowly and a couple of the faster friends were coming back to check on the slower ones….
With the cloud opening up the views and then closing them there was a certain air about the whole scene. I loved it and my hat was having a wild time too – as you can see from the summit photo Duncan took of me and Tim.
It was now 11:20am – three hours from the start.
From here we dropped down slightly to make our way round The Pinnacles. There are three and generally everyone passes the first two then climb the third.
The final pinnacle is really was quite exposed on one side where a gully opens up on the north. Even I was slightly apprehensive – take a few deep breaths. Duncan went first, followed by me and then, once we shouted down to say it was fine, Tim joined us. Wow, what a thrill.
The photo below shows the Pinnacles and Crib Goch – all behind us now with just one more scramble up onto Crib y Ddysgl just ahead and then Snowdon.
It’s funny how photographs flatten the image sometimes – what you can’t see here is the whole magnificent scene dropping away behind me and to my left the dark pyramid of Snowdon. Once I had scrambled up (climbed up!) we decided it was time to eat lunch. It was 12:05pm.
Crib y Ddysgl is also a rocky ridge but relatively easy compared to Crib Goch. Still, we had to use our hands and scramble across in places. The summit, at 3,493 feet, was flat and broad – how strange it was to get up and walk ‘normally’ again. Then all of a sudden we turned left and joined the stream of humanity who were making their way up the easy ‘tourist path’ from Llanberis on foot or by train.
Mount Snowdon – it’s like joining a huge party at the top. All ages, all nationalities, with dogs and cameras and, in some cases, totally inappropriate clothing, all enjoying the moment. We walked on – almost without stopping. Maybe it was just a bit too busy for us. Maybe we had one eye on the slightly darker clouds that were heading our way from the west.
At the summit the cafe was closed. In June 2009 a new cafe was opened and, though I’m not keen on the whole idea of having a cafe at all, I was very impressed with the design when we visited in 2011. Even if you don’t walk up – visit the cafe, it’s worth it for the views.
Descending south from Snowdon summit, on a rough track, we then made our way up onto our final peak – Y Lliwedd. A big rocky staircase of a walk up – we lost the crowds and were on our own again. Strangely the noise of the train chugging it’s way up Snowdon was louder here (louder even than my heavy breathing!) than at any other place. We stopped for a breather at the summit and glanced back – Snowdon was disappearing into the cloud and we were grateful for having had a view all the way round (so far). Tim was warning us not to get too close to the edge of the ridge at the top – the drop on the northern side was sudden.
It’s a bit of a blur now but I’m sure it started to snow or sleet or hail, only briefly, but with that we said good bye to the ridge and made for lower ground. It was 4:15pm as we we started to go downhill – only 2 miles to go! It all levels out once you reach The Miners Track. From here the route is easy and eventually (with a cheer) you reach the car park.
From memory it took us 8 hours in total – we had had an epic day.
We didn’t take as many photos as we would have liked crossing the ridge and promised ourselves a return trip to try and capture the grandeur of the place. In September 2011 we did just that. Retracing our steps and getting up and across before the crowds on a wonderfully warm clear day – here are a couple of photos.
I accidently cut my finger on Crib Goch summit (on this second trip), just a small cut, but it makes it somehow good to know that way up there on a sharp piece of rock a little bit of me has been left behind.