I wake up early to a loud drumming noise against the tin roof outside the window. September rain, and it’s pouring. The weather forecast has already indicated that this might not be the best day to hike up Snowdon, but it’s the only day that I’ve got and I’ve been trying to ignore the predictions. Reality is harder to dismiss however. I might as well get another hour of sleep. At least I’m not camping.
Luckily the rain has stopped and the sky is almost clear as I make my way down to the breakfast table to enjoy some toast and ham and the stunning view of the Menai Strait through the large panorama windows.
I booked the trip with less than a week’s notice, realizing that I could add a week-end side trip to a work visit to England. Consequently my hotel, one of the last rooms available in all of Northern Wales, is located more than an hour’s bus ride away from the trailhead at Pen-y-Pas.
As the green hills full of sheep are rolling past the bus window I still debate with myself whether I should hike the route I initially intended or not. In reality I already know the answer. The rock is still wet and there is more rain, possibly thunder, forecasted for the afternoon, I am hiking alone and it is already late in the morning. The Snowdon Horse Shoe will have to wait until another day.
I opt for Miner’s Track instead as it appears to be the least crowded alternative. The route starts out as a flat gravel road and I am making quick progress, stopping occasionally for some photos. The air is crisp and I am filled with a sense of freedom and anticipation.
The track passes next to a small lake, and soon the larger Llyn Llydaw comes into view. A causeway was built across this lake in the mid-1800s to aid transportation to the copper mine. Today it is part of the hiking route. I can’t resist dipping my hand into the water. It is cold but not freezing. Remains of the old crushing mill are still standing at the shore of the lake. It’s tempting to explore the ruins, but the signs are clear, no entry permitted.
The gravel path ends at the third and last lake. I take a short snack break before heading uphill on a smaller trail that eventually connects to the Pyg track just below the final saddle. There is now plenty of people. Fortunately it is easy to scramble around the worst congestion on the rocks. Thank you, approach shoes!
Where the Pyg track joins the Llanberis path there is a medic stationed. I briefly wonder if there has been an accident until I realize that there are people wearing starting numbers all around me. Later, I find out that this is also the reason for the lack of accommodation. There is apparently a yearly Ironman competition that includes a run up Snowdon. Impressive!
The small concrete platform on the summit is over-crowded with people taking selfies and groupies. I feel obliged to join in. It’s somebody’s birthday. The views are spectacular.
But they are equally spectacular a few meters away. I contemplate the absurdity and the attraction of peak bagging whilst having lunch sheltered by a small outcrop just below the summit. It’s decision time again. The second half of the Horse Shoe looks appealingly rocky and deserted. The Pyg track appears short and fun, but still full of people going up. If I take the Miners track back the same way that I came I could possibly stop for a really cold swim in one of the lakes. The Llanberis path will save me a bus ticket.
I’m still munching on digestive biscuits and eying the alternatives as the view starts to change. Thick white clouds are rolling in. I’ve never experienced the visibility change so quickly before and I’m happy that I brought a compass. A few raindrops land on my backpack. Llanberis path it is! As it’s almost straight, wider and less steep than the alternatives I figure it will be easier to follow and less slippery in the deteriorating weather.
I can hardly see the path in front of me at all as I start walking downhill, but the contours of the people I’m meeting help me stay on track. They look like ghosts in the mist. The path crosses under the train tracks. I still haven’t seen the train moving, but from time to time I can hear it. I gradually descend out of the clouds and Llanberis comes into view in the valley below. It looks very far away compared to the length of the ascent route, but the path is easy and I’m in no hurry.
After a stop at the Halfway House for a rather uninspiring coffee and the world’s slowest toilet queue I try to blend in among the locals by excitedly photographing some sheep. Neither seem impressed.
Five hours from the start I reach Llanberis just in time to seek shelter from the next rain inside a climbing shop and celebrate a successful ascent with a minted lamb burger and tea. A culinary destination Snowdonia is not, but it makes up for it with striking mountain scenery.
What I’ve learnt:
- The public transport system in Northern Wales is extremely complex with different companies operating different lines, requiring different tickets. The drivers will do their best to help you, but even they don’t always know the best ticket option.
- Credit cards are not as widely accepted as in Sweden or the US. Make sure to always carry some extra cash.
- Snowdon is a very popular mountain. Do not go there on a sunny week-end with the expectation of finding solitude.
Next time I’ll:
- Book a stay in Llanberris and arrange my own means of transportation to Pen-y-Pas. Starting early lets you avoid most of the crowds and allows more time to complete a long hike.
- Bring a rock climbing partner and check out some of the trad climbing in the area.
- Stay a few days extra, in case the weather does not want to cooperate.