As I set off on the initial stage, memories of previous climbs come flooding back, and with every corner I turn a new view, each bringing back its own set of distinct memories. But as the path begins to steepen and the steps get larger, I can feel how my initial desire to stave of the cold has caught up with me, and god’s most uncomfortable microclimate is developing beneath my shell. If you’ve never heard of it before there are two types of people that exercise, the hot and the cold runners. Cold runners like warm climates; they’re drawn to them. Being nature’s natural iceboxes, they are forever dammed to a life of multiple jumpers, cold feet and hot beverages. We hot runners however live a life of polar opposites, being able to keep warm in the coldest of environments. They can normally be spotted in marathons or other sporting events wearing nothing more than a pair of short shorts, dripping sweat and staving of the cold with our natural ability to radiate heat (not to be mistaken for ego runners).
I am of the later party, and whilst this is fantastic for keeping out the elements, if I overcompensate it catches up with me very quickly. Jumping behind a large rock I dropped my pack and quickly pulled of the fleece, INSTANT relief! Cramming it into the top of my pack, I watched at how the steam rose of it, instantly evaporating into nothing. If it’s this cold at the base heaven knows what it going to be like at the top. Pushing on things where so much nicer, in my new found comfort I made good time getting up and over the first small crest, thus easing me nicely round onto the main trail. For the last few steps up this initial stage you can see how with every footstep the view opens up, and the Snowdon horseshoe presents itself in all its Glory. When the weather holds on a good day, straight ahead you can see the waves of the Irish sea lapping onto shore, and as your eyes follow right, cresting up above are the east and west summits of Y Lliwedd. Then with a shallow and low curve separating them, your eye is drawn to the central summit, Snowdon itself. No time to sit and admire the view though, its cold, light is short and I have a mountain to climb.
The Main Event
As it twists and turns up and under Crib Goch, the Pyg track slowly climb’s up the right flank of Snowdon, and along its rocky and wet path, it slowly reveals some of the best views available in the horseshoe. With each pause take to gain my breath and recover my legs, I can see the final destination edging its way forever closer, every now and again peering through the cloud breaks calling me on. Moving quickly over the terrain I’m actually making goodtime. One of the greatest fears about being up in the mountains is being caught out in the dark, especially when you aren’t prepared for it, and this Is a mistake I can guarantee you will only make once. With this fear in mind I make it a priority to start and summit early, taking my time to enjoy the scenery on the way back down. Hitting the snowline about an hour and a half after I started, I can feel the excitement building in me, after all this is the whole reason I’m here!
As those first footsteps connect with the snow, those rising feelings of pain and ache are instantly replaced with joy and excitement. The childishly joyful feelings of leaving fresh footprints and my own trail have never left me, even as a grown adult. The downside to snow however is that things start to become that little bit more dangerous. Ask any mountain rescuer or local climbers and they will all tell you that the most dangerous part of Snowdon is the final zigzag up the Pyg track. The path reaches a point where it can no longer follow its steady climb, and so for the final few hundred meters, the path sharply backtracks itself steeply up the mountainside.
At the top of the zigzag standing proudly on the ridge of the mountain, a huge 3 metre slate pillar presents itself, a reassuring marker in these conditions. With no shelter or windbreaks and immersed in the clouds, the temperature now drops to -15. Sheet ice crystals 5cm long have formed over every available surface and I can feel the freeze run through my jacket. I know from here on there is no decent shelter, and the higher I go it will only get worse. Throwing on my fleece and fresh gloves, I wrap up tightly to keep in the remaining warmth as I orientate my compass for Garnedd Ugain. It can be a very intimidating experience when your visibility drops to 10ft, and when there is no one else to be found it only exaggerates that feeling. Trusting and understating your equipment is one of the most vital and crucial elements to mountaineering, getting it wrong is a very real risk of death
I made my first and last error in these moments. Even though I had orientated my compass and new the direction, I still trusted and believed in my eyesight. I began to follow what I thought was a clear and defined trail up to the peak, grave mistake. After around ten minutes of hiking, the path faded into nothing, and with the snow and ice building up all over it only made conditions even worse. Fortunately in these situations you can still use logic, after all I’m climbing a peak so if I’m heading up, I have to be going in the right direction! Turning back and heading up the mound I had been traversing, I realized I had taken a wider route than was necessary and within a few minutes I could see the summit I was searching for. A cracked and heavily weathered trig point, I could see damage years of exposure to these elements have caused, but no time to admire Snowdon still calls. Descending back down I head south keeping the ridge and the slate pillar to my left as a I pass. On a clear day can watch how the gulls silently rise from the valley below up over your heads, riding on the thermals.
Connecting up with the Railway line it’s a straight run from here up to the summit. Stepping in the tracks of others, I keep my head down to shut out the wind and push on. For this trip I had been wearing my soft-shell (semi breathable and showerproof jacket) and now having been on the summit for an extended period, I could see how my sweat evaporation was beginning to freeze to the outside of my clothing. At the top of Snowdon sits a quaint little café, connected to a railway line, thus allowing the less abled and exhausted a comfortable and relaxing experience of getting up, and enjoying the views. Closed in winter, the café had long been boarded up and buried in ice and snow, another reminder at how powerful the elements are up here. Overall I probably only spent 10 minutes up on the summit, an obligatory selfie and quick snack, I could feel the warmth slipping away from me. From the summit heading down is just as straightforward as heading up. Follow the railway down until you reach the slate pillar, and its time to turn.
The constant roar of wind up on the ridge to the peace and tranquility of the sheltered horseshoe is such a stark difference. The sigh of relief as I finally drop down out of the wind, that feeling of such warmth and peace. Heading back down the zigzag I used my ice axe to cut out deeper steps to stand in. One mistake here and it’s a 500ft drop to realize how badly I fucked up. Taking it steady I made good time getting down, dropping down out of the cloud line I could instantly feel the warmth as I leave the snow and ice behind me. Retracing my steps I followed the track about halfway, stopping just as it splits into two. Still frozen and covered in thick ice, I laid down my pack and pulled of my shell. I judged it would be another hour before I got back to the car and I wanted to be as comfortable as possible. A quick bite on a (now frozen) Cliff bar and cramming my fleece and spare kit into my rucksack I set of for the final leg of my journey back down to the car.