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Escape London: The Snowdon Effect

24 Aug

This is a post delivered in the least conventional of forms, describing adventures in the least conventional of ways and depicting an ascent of Snowdon by the least conventional of groups.

Firstly, I’ll give you the bare essentials:

  • Drive time from London to Snowdonia (Llanberis) takes around 4hr 30min on a good day.
  • Accomodation is varied in Llanberis, we stayed in the famous Pete’s Eats Bunkhouse It’s uber basic but uber welcoming and offers the biggest mugs of tea with a great breakfast in the morning.
  • Due to weather conditions we were forced to take the Pyg Track to the summit of Snowdon.  This route is fairly achievable for all fitness level with very few hairy moments to speak of.
  • The alternative route (which I completed a few years ago) is the Crib Goch Ridge, this should not be attempted unless you have a good head for heights, a decent level of fitness and are walking with somebody experienced.  Don’t just take my word for it though read for further info.
  • We were up and down the mountain in about 5hr, despite taking a huge detour and climbing in gale force winds.  On a Summer’s day you should be able to knock at least an hour off this time.

Right, back to the story, when I say group, there were 3 of us:

Firstly myself, Dan Layton.  I love the outdoors and always have done.  Give me a chance to escape the city into the hills, down to the coast or up a mountain and I’ll race you along every path until we get there.  I’d take a tent over a Travelodge every time.  A steaming early morning brew, heated over an open fire beneath the stars vs a Mocha Chocca Whatta from Starbucks?  There’s no contest.  So I arrange hiking expeditions as often as life permits.  On this occasion there were a number of reasons behind the trip.  I work in recruitment; it’s intense, fast-paced and at times demoralizing.  I work hard, throwing myself into each and every day and I need these breaks.  I yearned for a release and the chance to feel enriched by good people and wild surrounds.  Another trail steering me towardsSnowdoncame in the unlikely form of a pitiful moustache slowly taking root on my upper lip.  The whiskers clung there perilously, as if not sure they were in the right place.  They gave the impression that the slightest gust of wind would cause a hairy avalanche of pathetic proportions.  The pre-pubescent-like growth was in the name of charity and this trip toNorth Waleswould see me almost double my thus far meager sponsorship.  Part of the deal was that I had to dress in attire ‘befitting a man with a moustache’.  I went with a 1920’s explorer theme.

Then there was William aka ‘Sarg’.

He had deemed walking boots surplus to requirements, instead opting for the slightly less conventional approach of carrier bags, worn over his socks with a pair of trainers.  His blood has a high Irish content, that’s the only way in can possibly justify his thought process.  An amateur racing driver and a massive advocator of whiskey, Sarg was primarily excited by the drinking and driving (not at the same time) elements of the trip.

Last but not least; Jack, who when fully kitted up resembled a Polish train driver (I’d never seen one before either, yet the description fits perfectly).  He had brought a set of Nordic walking poles, a hip flask and very little else.  Suffice to say, his motivations also centered largely around finding places to drink.  Jack was to be sadly disappointed upon discovering that the ‘Pub at the top’ was entirely fictitious. 

We arrived late on the Friday evening having driven through some of the heaviest rain fall we had ever experienced.  Snowdonia no longer had roads, only brown, curdling rivers along which we slowly negotiated our way through the dark.  By the end of our first night in Llanberis the 3 of us had been warned away from the mountain by just about every local in every pub we came across.  Contemplating an attempt at the summit was apparently, ‘ridiculous’.  There were severe weather warnings issued across the region and wide spread flooding was rife, yet we felt it our duty to at least try.  It’s not as if we were attempting Everest, was it?  Friendly landlords looked at us despairingly, as if this were the last time anyone would set eyes on us alive.  They even offered us free bottles of water, trinkets to take with us to the grave, on our departure.  People seem to care more in these parts.  They appear to have a genuine concern for outsiders and share their local knowledge and wisdom openly.  I guess this is an attempt to assist us with avoiding death.  A couple of hours later, around 1am and whilst dancing drunkenly to ‘Firestarter’ on the jukebox of a deserted pub, this made me feel warm inside.

Stood in the car park at the foot of Snowdon the following morning, we groggily cast a vote on whether or not to tackle the Crib Goch Ridge.  Based on the advice from our new friends in the pub, the gale-forced gusts attempting to force rain through our very flesh, and the fact Sarg felt perhaps his trainer/carrier bag combo may not be as sturdy as first thought, the vote was unanimous:  Pyg Trail to the top.  Easy.  It took just over 10min before Sarg and the Polish Train driver had been forced into a concentrated silence by the treacherously slippery conditions and physical exertions that ensued from taking a ‘short cut’ around the first lake we came to.

The lull in conversation was interrupted by a tirade of expletives from Sarg.  The ‘short-cut’ was proving to be a ridiculous idea.  Each of us continuously found our boots wedged in the sodden, muddy grass and the wind was doing its utmost to bludgeon us to the ground in submission.  What should have been a 20min journey around the picturesque lake, turned into a 2hr struggle of epic proportions.  Sarg and his carrier-boots weren’t faring particularly well.  He kept stumbling over the surplus bagging and ended up crawling for long stretches at a time.  Jack was holding himself together marginally better yet sweat poured from his forehead in torrents rivalling the surging river cascading down the mountain.  Yet he could only muster an occasional sigh to reveal is discomfort, words were beyond him, the profanities that Sarg so readily threw into the mountain air were simply out of Jack’s reach.  And it pained him enormously.

We finally made it to the main trail and collapsed for a while to recuperate.  We encountered other walkers for the first time that day.  I’d become used to Sarg and Jack’s eccentric appearance yet they seemed to be creating pure fear in the hikers.  Sarg looked like a rabid homeless man who had been dragged to this spot, on his knees the whole way fromLondon.  Jack wasn’t even able to make eye contact with the poor people, he was still doubled over, either dry-heaving or gasping for breath, it was difficult to tell the difference.  I attempted to deflect attention from the two of them by striking up a conversation.  30seconds later they were making their excuses and beating a hasty retreat.  This was confusing.  I’m usually pretty good at striking up a rapport with new people, it’s a strength of mine. I put it down to my disgraceful friends, until I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the puddle below me, suddenly it all made sense.  It was probably best to get this hike over with as fast as possible before we were arrested or taken into care.

The remainder of the ascent went in much the same fashion, a slow yet deliberate journey interspersed with stunning views and bouts of nature’s fury.  The Polish Train Driver and I even managed to race the final 100m of the ascent.  Sarg joined us there, amongst the mist about 10min later.  There was no happiness in his expression, not even a trace of relief, he wanted off and after slapping the summit stone, he promptly turned 180 degrees and began shuffling his shredded carrier bags back down the path.

After Jack had overcome the shock of there being nowhere to obtain a beer we sat and enjoyed a well earned Rich Tea biscuit.  The cloud broke, allowing us a beautiful, uninterrupted view over Snowdon’s Horseshoe and the surrounding valleys.  This is what we had travelled here for, we both sat in silence, a Polish Train Driver and 1920’s gentleman, united by the tranquil beauty that stretched into the distance before us.  This really would be my dream job.

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