The Llanberis Path – Snowdon
Snowdon. Standing at 1085m, the tallest mountain in Wales and what a mountain. With its many routes up, from the leisurely stroll up the Llanberis Path to the more nerve jangling Crib Goch. There is something for everyone. For me though the mountain offers solitude, time for reflection and time to look within. There is something so spiritual about mountains. I haven’t put my finger on exactly what it is yet, maybe its the rugged landscape, maybe its the sound of the flowing streams, maybe it the constantly changing weather conditions. Maybe I will never know, but I can assure you I will never stop trying to find out. The mountains are my home, I was born to walk, explore and wild camp on these majestic slabs of rock, created millions of years ago.
It always starts earlier in the week with the pre planning. Checking the weather forecast for the weekend is a must. Taking a look at the map to work out a route. Checking and packing all the kit required. Loading the camper van so that I’m ready to roll the moment the clock strikes 4pm and the weekend officially begins. This is now my time and I want to get away, the mountains are calling.
Living in Oxfordshire makes for a long drive to Snowdon, but it’s always worth it. The weather forecast is for rain and wind all weekend, lets hope they get it wrong eh. I’m heading to a little car park in Llanberis, I can sleep in the camper van tonight and head out in the morning. After a good nights sleep, I put the kettle on the gas ring and make a strong cup of coffee. The curtains on the van are open and I watch, as the cars pull in and the occupants lace up their boots and tighten the straps on their rucksacks. Walking poles extended and they head off for their own adventure.
Watching them inspires me to get up and get my own gear sorted. My rucksack is fully loaded with kit for my wild camping weekend and my photographic equipment. The views can be so breath-taking that one just has to stop and capture the moment. Fifteen minutes later and I am crossing the cattle grid on the steep road out of Llanberis. It leads up past the tea rooms and to the gate at the start of the Llanberis Path, from here on it’s all off-road. The Llanberis Path is the longest, but easiest, path to the summit of Snowdon.
The sun has made an appearance and even though it is the beginning of March, there is a good amount of warmth from it. It’s a little surreal to be so warm whilst the caps of the surrounding summits are all covered in snow. A kilometre or so passes and I come to a style over a dry stone wall. The mountain is in the background and it makes a great composition for a photo. Rucksack off, tripod out and set up for the shot….. just as the heavens open and the rain starts to pour. Don’t you just hate it when the weather men are actually right!!
Waterproofs on, camera equipment away and I’m heading into the wind. Rain blowing straight into my face, why is it that the rain always blows into your face? Being early March the trail is quiet, I almost have it to myself. In the summer months this route is known as the motorway, you certainly do not have it to yourself. The path follows the railway line, there is a train that runs from Llanberis to the summit and back from April to September. It’s not long before a building comes into view, the famous halfway house, called that for obvious reasons. A small cafe that serves hot and cold drinks and the odd snack, but not in the winter months. The rain is pouring and a quick coffee would have gone down well, it’s not to be though.
As I climb higher, the rain turns to sleet, the wind is getting stronger and I am beginning to feel alive!! Most people would probably think of turning around, not me!! This is when I come into my own. This is my territory, my domain, my kind of adventure. The mountain is talking to me, its saying welcome to hell, are you ready Alister. Oh I’m ready alright, bring it on, make me feel alive, show me what you have. Well the mountain shows me alright, the sleet turns to snow and the wind gets even stronger. The rocks under foot are now covered in ice and snow. The path is getting slippery and the snow deeper.
I stop and talk to a couple heading back down. They say that the path is treacherous further up. As I don’t have crampons or an ice axe with me, I decide that on this occasion, I will give the climb to the summit a miss and just head to my wild camping spot beside the lake, Llyn Du’r Arddu. It is only a short way from the path, through the carpet of snow that is now covering the grass and small boulders. As I draw closer the boulders get bigger and more frequent, its like a scene from The Planet Of The Apes. Climbing through, round and over I’m soon at the flat ground beside the lake. Flat, yes, but by no means dry. Water just oozes from the soft grass under my feet, its like standing on a sponge. Not ideal for pitching my tent, that’s for sure! I hunt around and find a little plateau right beside the lake, fantastic. The sheer rock face rises out of the far side of the lake, high into the sky, like the devils mouth about to swallow me. What a back drop!
Well, it’s like the mountain was furious with me for finding a spot to pitch my tent, it decided to howl a gale and drop a deluge of sleet onto me. This of course made the task of putting my tent up extremely hard work. The fight was most definitely on. Six minutes and the tent is up and me inside. This seemed to make the mountain even angrier, the tent was being battered from all directions. Getting out of my wet gear and into dry, warm thermals, made me feel a whole lot better about the situation I find myself in. I love wild camping, but it’s normally sunny, quiet, idyllic, a pleasure. This was none of these, but for some sadistic reason I was loving it!!
I cooked up my standard issue, boil in the bag, dinner and made myself a cup of coffee. I would normally sit outside, beside the lake and take in the views. A little meditation and relaxation. Today was not the day for any of these activities. Even penguins would have found it tough out there today. I lay in my warm sleeping bag, praying that the tent would make it through the night. It did and so did I. Not that I got much sleep, as the weather didn’t let up one bit.
The morning always brings a sense of achievement, another night completed on a mountain. More often than not, I would unzip the vestibule of the tent and lay there taking in the sunrise. However the weather hadn’t let up. It truly was a miserable weekend weather wise. A morning coffee and I thought I might as well get packed away and head back down to the camper van.
Who ever invented the dry bag deserves a medal. They enabled me to pack all my dry clothes and kit away, knowing that my wet tent was just going to be stuffed into the top of the rucksack and sorted out when I get home. Wet waterproofs on and its back out into the elements. The worry about taking your tent down next to a lake in the howling wind is that it may end up in the lake!! Thankfully it didn’t.
The walk down is always easier. The wind was behind me and the further down the mountain I walked, the brighter it became. The walkers heading towards me, all nodding or saying good morning, had a surprise in stall. I had climbed (well three quarters climbed) and conquered the beast, they still had that challenge ahead of them. Good luck I thought, as they passed me.
Back at the camper van and out of my wet clothes, I reflect on the weekend. I like to re-live the experience in my mind. It always amazes me, as to what we as humans, can deal with. Many people would have given up and walked back to the van yesterday. I however feel free, feel at home, feel good when I’m up there. For me its spiritual. Thank you Snowdon, it was a real pleasure to have been with you this weekend. Until the next time.
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Enjoy the walking and stay safe.