PLACE NO 9: SNOWDONIA, WALES
We could see the cloud from the bottom of the hill tumbling over the sharp escarpment like a cavalry plunging into the fray; their beating hooves stirring up a nebulous brume. The cool air pressed lightly upon my skin, emphasising the wriggling of the veins in my hot skin - like a hundred maggots just waiting to burst through the hard skin of an apple. My heat quickly disbursed into the air; bringing a sense of relief to my sweating body, and making me feel uncomfortable in the cold.
The car park at the base of the Snowdon Ranger Trail was a kerfuffle of optimistic chirpings, slamming doors, and mild voices grumbling peevishly over the temperamentality of the ticket machine's printing capabilities. Two moderately elderly women in trainers and t-shirts raced our group up to the front gate and overtook.
'Meet you at the top,' they cooed. From the looks of their supplies, they were inviting catastrophe. Luckily as the path disappeared vertically into Valhalla they disappeared behind. 'I didn't think to bring my inhaler,' one complained, apparently baffled.
Others we passed making a start, as we descended, climbing into the light with dress shoes, clean pressed shirts and a blackberry - woefully unequipped for any modern interaction it seemed. These are the people that have mountain rescue pulling out their hair. Please don't be that person.
And then there are those possessed of so much self-control that they run like mountain goats adhering to the falling scree. Seemily adjusting the laws of gravity as they went. We bumped into a troupe of these six-foot-tall monsters, thin, lithe and hard - careening downward as we were still drudging up. Bastards.
I had awoken that morning with a neck so stiff I had to turn my entire body to see anything to the left of me. I couldn’t tell if it was the whiplash injury re-emerging its head from a few weeks ago, or whether I had slept wrong. Never-the-less, being able to barely move wasn’t going to stop me sauntering up a hill they built a bloody train line up. I resented that train and everything it represented. It suggests the mountain is easy - that it was conquered and in chains. That is was bound and broken. That humanity had conquered it, and my feeble ascent meant nothing to its now acorn-sized ego.
The hike was good five to six hours. The weather was muggy and any hopes of a summit view were quickly dashed due to the low lying cloud which left droplets of water clinging to our eyelashes like the sugar frosting on a cocktail glass.
At points up the hill, we sat and watched as a thin membrane of mist billowed like sheet music rippling in the breeze. Or else bulged and rolled like the flutter of a gigantic flag caught in a storm. Back and forth, it swept in eddying curtains up and over the edge of the cliff upon which we sat. The waves of moisture bore down upon us like wraiths - embracing hikers in their spectral arms.
Snowdon appears from Llyn Cwellyn as a horseshoe of granite, at once intimidating and exacting; it is sobering and rightly so. The path starts as a gentle slope, climbs up an initial hill in long zig-zagging ramps and then it peters out across the scrubby moorland. Ambling on either side are long-tailed sheep, until out of the cloud, the base of the mountain makes itself known.
Yet somehow, this didn’t feel the same as the other mountains I’d climbed. With them I’d always been surprised that I’d made it - always felt in awe that my lumbering frame had somehow hauled itself skyward. But with Snowdon it felt like a trudging inevitability. No longer did I feel like Frodo on my way to Mordor. I felt more like I was ticking a box - being there for the very sake of being there.
At the top, the train having recently pulled into the station with the smell of hot oil, I waited in line for the summit. Here I was cajoled into taking a photograph of myself and my fellow climbers. I love taking photos, but I am still working on the sort that documents a journey, and my face, and other people. Sadly, I am not publishing this picture due to witness protection issues. But can we just get back to that queuing to reach the summit part? Perhaps it's a sign that escaping the seven billion inhabitance of the planet is just no longer achievable. We all seem to live in ants nests, on top of each other, and to escape we all run in the same direction. Alternatively, is it just our perception of the world that causes this phenomenon? All Googling the same places; all invigorated by the same tales and all wanting to walk in the footsteps of those before us. All wanting to feel well travelled, well climbed and well informed.
I watched an Asian woman decked out in a bright yellow rain-mac and a pair of red converses - she was immaculately beautiful. She clutched a Gucci handbag and a Nikon wielding husband. They posed for quite a while. Why had I come here again?
We didn’t stay for a summit lunch even though we’d carried such staples all the way up there. The cold you see had leached into our bones, and everything was saturated in water. It was 8C. Back home we blistered under 30C heat.
Reversing our path downwards, we eventually found some boulders slightly out of the wind, beside which to pour, with our numb fingers, a cup of hot coffee. And after throwing a stone in the general direction of a nasty seagull, I took out my tuna sandwich and a Snickers bar. Those of you wanting to glean some helpful hints on climbing Snowdon - take note: tuna sandwiches and Snickers bars are the absolute quintessential mountain climbing food.
As an ending note, Google asked me to review this mountain, and I started my review with two words: 'adequate mountain' and then realised that I've summed up the whole of Snowdon with more eloquence than a hundred words could produce. And it is indeed wholly adequate, for hikers, for artists, for wandering minstrels, but I cannot truly put hand on heart and say it is my favourite.
PS: Sorry if you were looking for helpful tips on climbing the mountain, but there is a ton of other websites that will give you that information and they are all articulate and charming.
PPS: Did not take a bivvy-bag but totally would have done, if I had owned one, because Bear Grylls is my home-boy.
Links: All about the routes up Snowdon.