Three times I have walked Snowdon, and three times, thanks to the weather, the view has evaded me. Would it be fourth time lucky?
My friend Lorna and I had chosen Snowdon as one of our training routes for the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge later this year. I later discovered we were in good company – Edmund Hillary trained on Snowdon before conquering Everest. It is the highest mountain in Wales and England, and there are six possible routes to the summit, ranging from the easy-going, (Llanberis Path – a pony track which winds its way to the top relatively gently), to the extreme (Watkin Path – which should only be attempted by the most experienced walkers with specialist equipment). There is also the great Crib Goch Ridge for those seeking adrenaline adventures. It’s worth knowing that a shuttle bus service operates around the base of Snowdon, useful for those who choose to take one path and come down another.
We chose the Snowdon Ranger Path on the western side near Llyn Cwellyn, a large lake, which makes a useful landmark when the weather is clear enough. Parking is available at the Llyn Cwellyn Pay and Display just off the A4085, but because we were staying at the Snowdon Ranger Youth Hostel, we were able to take one of their free spaces directly opposite.
John Morton was the original self-proclaimed Ranger, guiding Victorian walkers to the summit on this 8-mile return route. Morton built an inn on the site where the youth hostel now stands, and about 50 metres further the road, the Ranger Path begins on a narrow track down the side of an old farm building. Here, we had a comedy false start when a sudden heavy downpour forced us to run back to shelter under the hostel’s porch whilst we scrambled into waterproofs.
Now appropriately kitted out, we set off again up the track, crossing the railway line and following the clearly marked Ranger Path. It was lambing season, and we took care to close several gates that punctuated the first mile.
Although it was misty and there were a few rain showers, it was clear enough to see the view all around us as we got higher up the winding path – a first for me! Llyn Cwellyn was still visible behind us, and despite the cloud looming over the summit, we could make out the route ahead.
From here, the 936m (3071ft) climb looked deceptively easy. We knew the weather would be worsening later – severe gales and snow showers were forecast – so we kept a good pace, aware that we needed to start our descent before it closed in. As if to illustrate this, we met a walker with two children who had turned back further ahead because he said the winds were too strong on the exposed ridge for them to carry on.
An hour after setting off, we spotted a U-shaped rocky outcrop that would shelter us from the wind and showers during lunch. We had a quick sandwich, overseen by three seagulls (from where had they appeared so suddenly?)
As we got going again, there was a distinct increase in gradient and we had to scramble up a few rocky sections – not helped by a hail shower blasting us face-on.
However, the hail was short-lived and the skies quickly cleared. Periodically, we could even make out Hafod Eryri (the visitor’s centre) looking very tiny and far away at the top. After a steep and stony switchback section, the path levelled slightly and we found ourselves at the top of a ridge from where we admired panoramic views across the valley towards Llanberis and the mountain railway; and the Llyn Peninsula jutting out to sea in the other direction.
From here, we plodded on slowly upwards. By now, the wind was very strong, but occasionally worked in our favour, pushing us from behind. The path comprised loose grey chips of slate and stone, and was very steep. We had to pause at least every hundred metres to ease the burning in our legs.
This was the toughest section for both of us, and there was a half hour period where we didn’t even have enough breath to keep up an encouraging conversation. It felt like we had been trudging this way, making little progress for ages, when eventually, we reached the stone marker where the Ranger Path crosses the railway line. We’d timed it well for a good photo opportunity – a train was approaching.
After crossing the track, a larger stone marker indicates the point where Rangers, Llanberis and Pyg Paths converge, and although the clouds were looming again, there was a stunning view of the sweeping valleys and mountain lakes over the edge of the steep rocky ridge – not one for the faint-hearted, and certainly a place where great care is needed in low visibility.
Now, it should only be another fifteen minutes to the top! It was going to be a race against the rapidly descending cloud, but with the wind blowing clouds so quickly across the sky, I was cautiously optimistic that this time I might glimpse the summit views. Progress was slowed due to increasing traffic from the convergence of the paths, and because passengers from the previous train were now making their way back down. However, our pace quickened with the excitement of knowing we were almost there.
Naturally, as soon as we started up the final stepped pathway to the summit marker, a dense fog closed in and all views were completely obscured.
I couldn’t help but laugh. I was so pleased we were finally there that I really didn’t care what I could or couldn’t see. With a great sense of achievement, we tagged the summit marker and hugged each other. Snowdon’s finest views had evaded me yet again, but we were still elated. There’s nothing like the feeling of standing on top of a mountain, even in thick fog.
It was lovely to get into the warmth of Hafod Eryri and have a sit down to rest our aching legs. There is a gift shop and café area, with plenty of seating in front of the large panoramic windows, which I can only imagine show stunning views on a clear day. It was busy, so we shared a table with a few other people. We also shared a beer, as one of us had carelessly left her purse in the car, so between us we only had enough money for one drink. Luckily for me, Lorna is a great pal and she didn’t mind at all.
Back outside and on our way down a short time later, we realised just how cold it really was, and how much body heat we must have generated on the way up. We quickened our pace to warm up, helped by a sudden gusty tailwind that swept away the clouds and afforded us beautiful blue-sky views across the whole valley. Without turning round I just knew that the clouds around Hafod Eryri had also cleared. If Snowdon were trying to take the mick, it had played an absolute blinder on us. Literally.
The online guide to the Ranger Path suggests a total of 6 hours for the walk, but we were back at the hostel an hour earlier than expected. Perfect – plenty of time for a long hot shower, change into comfy clothes, and a beer from the bar before dinner!
The other guests were a large teenage group and their leaders, and a few couples, who were already sitting down. The dining room was clean and spacious, with wooden chairs and tables all laid out for us complete with candles, giving the room a cosy glow. Sausage and mash followed by fruit salad or sponge pudding and custard were on the menu tonight for £10 per person. By now we were both very tired and hungry, and the generous portions hit the spot perfectly.
Afterwards, we sat in the lounge for a while listening to an owl hooting somewhere nearby as dusk descended. Out of the window, we could just about make out Snowdon in the distance; a bleak and uninviting silhouette, as darkness fell and the rain came in. There were plenty of books and board games in the lounge to entertain us, but we were so sleepy after all the fresh air that it wasn’t long before we headed to our attic room, and fell asleep to the sound of rain pattering intermittently on the window through the night.
Breakfast was included in the price of the night’s stay (£33 each) and it didn’t disappoint. We had a full English with toast and bottomless coffee. Cereal, croissants, fruit and yogurts were also available.
When we checked out, the man on reception helpfully gave us alternative suggestions for a more scenic route back up to Conwy. Our stay here had been lovely, and I would heartily recommend the Snowdon Ranger Youth Hostel for anyone planning a trip to the area. I began wishing we’d planned a longer visit. As we got in the car to go home, we had a final farewell glance up at my nemesis Snowdon, now lost once more in the clouds.