Snowdon: An Epic Journey

There is a scene towards the end of Man in the Iron Mask (the newer one, not the Richard Chamberlain 70s version) where the Four Musketeers (and Phillipe) decide to make one final charge on the younger musketeers and the King Louis. The young musketeers fire everything they have at our heroes, shots go everywhere and the smoke from the muskets clouds everything. As it clears, through the white smog come our Musketeers. They’re limping and stumbling, holding onto each other just to stay upright, but they’re there and they’re still alive.

That’s about how Da and I feel right now. We’re limping and stumbling and holding onto things just to keep moving, but we did it and we’re still alive.

The weather on Friday was too bad for us to consider doing the climb, which was a good thing because my ‘temporary allergy’ thing turned out to be a roaring cold on Thursday. If I’d been working that day, I would have called in sick because I felt so bad. Instead I climbed into the car and drove to North Wales with my father (aided by lots of cold cure and Sinex) 🙂

By Friday I knew that I was starting to get better, but I definitely wasn’t right yet and I would have really struggled. So we played tourist for a day and went on steam train rides instead, vowing to do the climb on Saturday (yesterday).

The weather was supposed to be nasty in the morning and clear up later in the day. So rather than setting off at first light, we set off mid-morning and drove to Pen-y-Pass. The car park was full so we decided to drive on to Llanberis and take the bus back to start out climb, which turned out to be an excellent decision in retrospect.

I was doubtful about whether I would manage the climb back down, so we had made the decision to take the Miners’ Track up (for the views) and then try to take the train back down. The Miners’ Track was beautiful. I am so glad that we made the decision to do it that way, even though everyone told us to do the climb the other way around, because I would have hated to miss the views. We started the ascent in fog, rain and wind, but thankfully the weather kept improving as we went up. By the time we started the scramble up to the Pyg Track, the rain had stopped though the summit was still in cloud.

Scramble? It was definitely closer to actual rock climbing in places requiring hands and feet and clinging above sheer drops. A lot of the time my walking poles were needed to help me up particularly steep bits but for the climbing I had to just let the poles hang from my wrists and haul my way up. There was a section where Da and I both got stuck and I spent a couple of minutes just holding on, trying to work out how to get my leg high enough to make the hoist up to the next shelf while so terrified that I was almost (almost!) totally petrified. But I did it.

Da had a slightly selective memory so he had blocked out his memories of just how tough some sections were the last time he climbed Snowdon. We were debating afterwards whether we’d have done it if we’d known just how difficult some of it was and we can’t decide. Both of us have fairly severe problems with heights so it wasn’t just the hard work of getting up there, it was the hard work of getting past our fear to move a foot or a hand to the next bit.

When we got up to the Pyg Track, we thought it would all be fine because Da remembered that it wasn’t too bad up there. Sadly his selective memory struck again because there were a couple more sheer climb sections before we finally made it to the top. As soon as we came over the ridge we were hit by wind like sledge-hammer and it was only the walking poles that kept me from being tumbled back over the side of the mountain. Scary! The final few hundred yards were done against incredible winds with sheer drops on either sides. There is a little cairn up a flight of perhaps twenty steps to mark the absolute summit and, though the winds were at their worst, I was determined that if I had come this far then I would bloody well get to that summit. I’m afraid that I got knocked over by the wind with six steps to go, crawled up the final steps and sat on the summit because I just couldn’t cope with the terror of standing up there. So Da took a photo of me on that top step and I will post it as soon as we’ve unpacked his camera.

The wonderful part was that the clouds lifted just as we reached the head of the Pyg Track so we were on the summit in perfectly clear weather. It was absolutely beautiful and the views alone made it worth all that work. There will be lots of photos posted later 🙂

The climb up took us much longer than we had planned so the final train had gone by the time we started our descent. We took the Llanberis route back down, even though it’s much longer, because neither of us could face the scramble back down the Pyg Track. It was just about doable when we were going up, but going down you have to look where you are going and for both of us that would have meant looking down the sheer drops. A lot of that climb down was just me reciting to myself that I’d never move again if I stopped, so we did it straight down until we finally caught sight of Llanberis and took a two minute break before tackling the very final part. When we came out next to the train station and saw my car in the car park, I don’t think that either of us had seen anything so welcome in a long time. It was such a relief to know that it was done, finished, and there was our chariot waiting for us.

In many ways, I am strangely glad that I was forced to do the descent as well because it feels like a more complete triumph. I climbed Snowdon, I descended it and I did it all on my own two feet. A year ago there would have been no way that I would have even considered doing something like that so, for me, this is one of those moments when you feel real pride and pleasure in your own achievements.

It didn’t turn out the way that either of us had expected but, as Da said last night, it turned into an epic journey that we’ll both treasure for a long, long time.

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