Part II: The Llanberis Path to The Summit
We got together with the guides, Jonny, Keith, Alex and Ian, plus the 40+ other walkers in our group, we all had our head torches on, a yellow glow stick attached to each backpack, and at 12:30am we set off!
Llanberis Path is the longest and most gradual of the six main paths to the summit of Snowdon and offers fantastic views. Originally, tourists were carried up this path on ponies and mules, and to this day it continues to be a pony path.
Distance: 9 miles (there and back)
Total Climb: 975m (3,199ft)
Time: Approx 6 hours (there and back)
The lead set a fairly quick pace as we headed along the road past the Snowdon Mountain Railway Station, along a side street and then over a cattle grid, at which point the road began to climb, getting steadily steeper.
We’d only been walking about 10 or 15 minutes and I was trying to keep up with the pace, but struggling to catch my breath. I was panicking, seeing stars and felt as though I was going to pass out. I knew, at that point, that I was completely unprepared and there was no way I was ever going to make it to the summit. Zoe kept me going by slowing our pace and talking to me until we reached a less steep part. The shallower incline gave me time to get my breathing under control and although I still didn’t think I’d reach the top, I made the decision to continue as far as I could.
That was just the beginning!
The tarmac gave way to gravel and rocks, and the incline varied between ‘not too bad’ and horrendous. Thankfully, we stopped for our first break and were split into smaller groups, with Zoe and I in the small final group. Our guide was missing at the time, as he’d had to take one of the walkers back down, so I was given the job of ‘backstop’ and told not to let anyone fall behind me. (I could easily walk slower than everyone else, so that was fine by me 😉 ) And then we were off again.
Our guide, Alex, caught up with us during the next leg of the journey, which consisted of more stony paths strewn with rocks. Even with our head torches, we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us. At least now I could breathe… well most of the time! But by now my legs were aching, and once again I thought it was nearly time for me to call it a day.
Our next stop was at the Halfway House, which I found out later is a small cafe, but at that time of night was deserted. It was here that I took a complete, albeit unfair, dislike to one of the guides. Our slow group, or #Teamshit as we had aptly named ourselves, needed encouragement and hope. What we got from this particular guide was honesty…
“So far the climb has been gentle, but after the steps it’s going to get worse.” I can’t say those were his exact words, but that was the gist of it. I do remember telling him that his interpretation of gentle was hugely different to mine. We were the last to arrive and our break was much shorter than those who got there first, as we all set off again at the same time.
We gradually fell further and further behind the lead groups. To start with we could see a line of white and yellow lights stretching away from us up the mountainside. I was much happier when they disappeared from view and could no longer see how steep the climb was going to be.
Alex was a great guide, he was young and enthusiastic, and kept us all going with encouragement and advice. The other girls in our group were friendly and we had a good laugh with them… when we were capable of laughing!
Let me take a moment here to talk about those ‘steps’ the guide mentioned. They were NOT steps, they were large, uneven rocks, in a vaguely step-like formation. The steps varied from a few inches high to over a foot in height. We called these higher one cliff steps!
I struggled on up that bloody mountain on legs that felt like jelly, at a speed a tortoise would have been ashamed of.
Zoe and I got into a rhythm, we would walk for a while at a slightly quicker pace than the rest of the group, find a good sized rock to sit on and wait for the others to catch up, then do it all again. These mini-breaks gave my legs time to work in short bursts until my next rest stop. Watching me sit at each stop gave the rest of the group a laugh, as I could only lower myself down so far, after which I landed with a bump. I called it a controlled descent, but in reality every time I went to sit down I fell on my butt! I wouldn’t advise this method of sitting to thin people, but it worked for me ‘cos I have padding on my bum. There was one time when I missed the rock I was aiming for and ended up sitting on the grass between two rocks!
It was starting to get lighter as we passed under the railway bridge and as we took off our head torches, we were able to take in the spectacular views for the first time. By 4am, with sunrise only 40 minutes, it looked unlikely that we would reach the summit before sunrise. Alex certainly didn’t seem hopeful when Zoe asked him whether we would get there in time. By then I didn’t really care about the sunrise, I just wanted to make it to the top, but I knew Zoe would be disappointed if she didn’t make it, so I was determined to try my hardest.
It wasn’t long after, that we got our first glimpse of the summit, and I don’t know how, whether it was the awe-inspiring views or just sheer bloody-mindedness but we made it up that last part of the mountain to the steps leading up to the summit a lot quicker than I ever thought possible, and we were suddenly at the bottom of a stone built pillar with steps leading up each side of it. This for me was the scariest part of the climb… I really don’t like heights and these steps were exposed, no railings, nothing. I’m not ashamed to admit I went up those steps on my hands and knees, but I got to the top.
The climb up Snowdon (*Yr Wyddfa) has got to be one of the hardest things I have ever done, but…
We did it!! I did it!!
To be continued…