This is the story of James (45), Stephen (11) and Caitlin (8 and 7 days), and how they went up a mountain to see what they could see, and all that they could see was nothing. Or, how I took my children to the top of Snowdon in a blustery rainstorm.
I had decided to spend some of my time off work with my children in Snowdonia, although, as it turned out, that time amounted to less than 36 hours. So, after arriving on the Wednesday afternoon and setting up our tent at the very pleasant Llwyn Onn Guest House campsite near Betws-y-Coed before going to Bethesda
via Swallow Falls
and the Ugly House,
we woke up early on the Thursday morning and set off to climb Snowdon. The plan was that we would follow part of the suggestion in the July 2013 edition of Trail magazine by parking at the Snowdon Ranger station with a view to getting the Sherpa bus down to Rhyd-Ddu. We would then walk up the Rhyd-Ddu Path and down Snowdon Ranger, and in that way come back to where we had parked the car. That would give me two more routes up Snowdon after I walked the Pyg Track and the Miners’ Track in May 2012, which you can read about here. But we had camped about 50 minutes’ drive away from Snowdon Ranger and when I saw we would not make it in time to catch the bus we just stopped and parked at Rhyd-Ddu station instead. Parking costs £4 for the day, which is more than reasonable. I had not been able to fit everything I would possibly need for the children in my usual daypack, so I was using my Berghaus Cyclops Crusader bergen again, and it felt heavy. In fact, I found out later that it weighed over 35 pounds, so that made the walk into a good training session. I got the children into their walking boots and their fleeces, as it already felt cold, and we set off along the Rhyd-Ddu Path at 0830.
It was a steady climb past the spoil tips and ruined dwellings from the slate mining industry, and Stephen was already enjoying the ‘scenery’. In fact, he seemed to be in his element, carrying the map and pushing off ahead of us. We hardly walked with him all day, and seemed to be in his wake the whole time. Caitlin was a lot more interested in the sheep, although she insisted they were mountain goats, because they had horns. The weather was pleasant enough and we waited for the sun we had driven through that morning to shine through. Caitlin even took off her fleece because she had got too warm. She did find something to moan about every step of the way, but could not have been that troubled because every time we spotted another sheep she was instantly distracted from her latest woe. We reached Pen ar Lon at 0900 and turned left (north east) to climb the open flanks of Rhos Boeth
to gain the high, truncated spur of Llechog. This was a big old climb, steep at times, and required a few rest breaks for the children, which I was happy enough to accommodate what with carrying the loaded bergen. It was along an obvious path made up of rocks and other debris, so it was never too taxing. Taking a rest at one point also allowed me an opportunity to suggest that a rock wall in the distance was a disguised dragon, so that was fun.
It was along this stretch, at 0955, that we encountered our first other person of the day, a man coming down off the mountain. I had read the reports of queues at the summit over the August Bank Holiday, and here we were, some three days later, with a well-known route all to ourselves. As we continued our climb I told Caitlin there was a café at the summit, which she took to mean the top of this stretch, and that perked her up.
We came to Llechog at 1105 and took a look over the crest to peer down into Cwm Clogwyn, but that was as much as we could see from there as the clouds remained low.
This did not bother Caitlin, who had said from the beginning she wanted to walk in the clouds so she could taste them. Cotton candy was the flavour she was after. The weather was beginning to come in now so she put her fleece back on and we continued along, following Stephen, who himself was following the path, which was pretty much all we could see. Very soon we came to a section of steep zigzags, with a wire fence to one side of us, and at this point the rain began to fall so we all put on our waterproof jackets. This was also the next time we encountered other humans, at around 1120, with another two walkers coming down off the mountain. Still no-one else was going up on our route. We reached Bwlch Main, and while Stephen fearlessly continued on, Caitlin was a little more concerned about the route, until I pointed out that falling down the drop on either side would be the equivalent of falling off the pavement while walking alongside a road.
She was happy enough again after hearing that.
Now we started to meet groups of younger walkers coming down off the mountain, but at least that confirmed we were still following the correct route, because we had no other visible landmarks to guide us. The mist had come in with a cold rain and it was all we could do to see in front of us. For some reason Stephen took a path which was leading down and back the way we had come, so I called him back and he slipped as he turned and landed on his knee, which upset him. He was perfectly all right, and that was the only wrong step he took all day. He really was in his element, and I must get him up more mountains. We were in amongst Snowdon’s scree-scattered summit slopes now, and following a few others up to the top, to see where it would bring us out. It was a bit of a push, especially in the cold, wet, windy weather, but Caitlin had not forgotten the café, was clearly determined to reach it, and suddenly she saw it through the mist and before we knew it we were beside it. We could see nothing else. We had reached the top of the Rhyd-Ddu Path at 1210 and went inside the café to eat our food and have something to drink, and to warm up and bit and rest. We came back out into the wind and the rain and made our way up to the summit cairn and trig point. We could see nothing of the view, but I did want to get a photograph of Stephen and Caitlin at the trig point at this was their first time scaling Snowdon.
I did not think it too much to want that photo to not include anyone else, but it seems that others have no qualms about appearing in whichever photos are being taken, even though there was hardly a queue leading up to the trig point today. Some people need to learn about patience and manners. I hurriedly took what I could and we came away.
We started our descent at 1250 and followed the Snowdon Mountain Railway until we reached Bwlch Glas, at which point we crossed the line and took the bridleway to the left, the Snowdon Ranger Path. A good friend of mine, John Dexter Jones (lead vocalist with the rock band Jump) had suggested an alternative descent, but given the state of the weather I decided to stick with the known path this time, and will save his for another time. We could still see very little, and Caitlin felt it was too steep going downhill as her walking very quickly became a jog and she said she was out of control. We were making very good and quick progress, and soon came to the top of Clogwyn Coch, although we still had no visibility of any stunning views. We followed the rounded ridge above the cliffs of Clogwyn Du’r Arddu and finally the mist cleared so that we could see Cwm Clogwyn and back where we had been on Rhyd-Ddu.
Caitlin also thought she heard a frog, and I did too, although we both think it was probably Stephen. We passed over Llyn Ffynnon-y-gwas as the path flattened out, and from there it was just a matter of keeping walking until a series of long zigzags took us down to the Snowdon Ranger station and Youth Hostel.
We got down off the mountain at 1505, so it had taken us 6 hours and 35 minutes, with a 40 minute stop at the top, which is not bad considering Trail magazine suggested a time of 6 hours and Caitlin only has little legs. We had walked 7 and a quarter miles and ascended 920 metres. There was a little twist, though, because we had just missed the Sherpa bus and the next bus and train were some time off, so we (and by that I mean I) decided we would walk back to Rhyd-Ddu, a little matter of just over another mile. We did stop for an ice cream on the way, though, which cheered us all up, and we got to the car at 1615, just before the bus passed us, so the extra mile had obviously been worth it. We may not have seen anything from the top of the mountain, but our walk up to the top of Snowdon at 1085 metres and back down again had been a lot of fun for all of us, and we celebrated with pizza back at our tent.
You can see more photographs from our day here.