I love hills. I grew up on a hill overlooking the Cheshire plains and Welsh mountains, and have happy childhood memories of walking in Wales. As a teenager I chaired the college “outdoor pursuits” (hiking) club, exploring the Lake District and Brecon Beacons, and by my twenties, I’d head up hills wherever I was — until I met my husband.
He liked the sea, and since an old back injury restricted his climbing, our next twenty years were filled with diving, sailing, swimming, kayaking, and body-boarding instead. I collected a few watery qualifications (SCUBA diver, Day Skipper, VHF radio, etc), while mountains faded into my history. But then this summer, following a series of operations, I was told not to swim for a few weeks, while my children sat looking dejected.
No one told me not to climb mountains, though. I turned to Wales.
It was over twenty years since I’d planned a proper, organised hiking expedition, and if I’m really honest, some of the things I did in the era before I had kids (or brains, or nerve-endings) were pretty stupid. The last Welsh mountain I climbed was Tryfan. In 2000, I broke all my usual sensible rules and raced with a friend to the summit in bare feet, just for a laugh. (This is NOT how to climb a mountain safely; don’t do it. Well planned, kitted walks are just as much fun and a lot safer). By sheer dumb luck we had a lovely day, but as memories go, this is useless in terms of parenting.
Meanwhile, googling “children Tryfan”, brings up a list of head injuries and families being air-lifted off, while hiking discussion forums talk of terrified children. Cringe. I love Tryfan, but it’s not the place for three very young, novice hikers. My aim is to give my kids a safe, easy, magical, inspiring introduction to the mountains, and one of the first things I’ll teach them is to respect them.
So I tried googling “kids mountains Wales”, which brought up Yr Wyddfa – Snowdon. Over and over.
“That’ll do,” I said, “Boys, we’re going up Snowdon.” It felt totally right for about three minutes, then I started to panic.
I’ve not been up a mountain for 17 years.
My kids have never been up a mountain.
It will just be post-op-me with three kids, the youngest just six years old.
I have no qualifications and no guide (the guides I found weren’t going that week).
I’ve never been up Yr Wyddfa. I don’t even remember seeing it, and it’s bigger than Tryfan (1085m vs. 918m)?
I’m scared of heights. Yes, I am actually terrified of heights, sometimes even standing on chairs.
These are all good reasons to stall, seek advice, or not go. These mountains are popular and have easy routes, but even so experienced hikers have died on both Yr Wyddfa and Tryfan.
But… there’s a spirituality in the peaks that I can’t leave behind, that I want my children to know, that is life affirming and wonderful and anyway, mountains are no more dangerous than the sea (less likely to run out of air, for example). Not to mention driving. Despite the dangers, I am happy in the mountains and I think my children could be too. I tried to balance some counter-arguments…
I’ve been up a lot of mountains. (Fear of heights notwithstanding. Note: I’m also scared of the sea, moving traffic, and childbirth. You’d be stupid not to be.)
I’m good with maps. That’s a great thing to teach kids.
We’ll only go in perfect weather (ref 4).
Underneath my current injuries, I’m still fit.
My kids are fit and they like hill running (little Cornish bump hills).
If I take them up mountains, I can teach them how to do it safely. Otherwise they might face their first mountain with a bunch of novices. I want their first mountain to be with me.
It’s 9 miles; 4.5 miles each way. They can all do that.
They’ll love it. (I hope they’ll love it.) I’ll love it (if they love it).
If it looks difficult, we can stop and come back.
I read a LOT about Yr Wyddfa (refs 1, 2, 3). If you’re new to walking, OS Maps are, in all ways, your new best friend. Hug your OS maps to you, day and night – both electronic and paper copies. And your compass.
- The Llanberis Path. Easy in summer (but lethal in winter due to “Killer Convex”*). A wide, gravelly path to the summit, next to the railway – 4.5 miles each way. Cafés half way and at the top. Also known as the motorway as lots of people use it (a plus, for us this time).
- Snowdon Ranger Track. Easy and pretty, less travelled than Llanberis path. Sounds nice but I don’t know much about it.
- Rhyd-Ddu Path. A ridge walk. Good scenery, but “might scare the kids”. (Cough, me.)
- The Pyg Track / Miners’ Track. These two join; lots of people like to go up Pyg and down Miners’. Either way, a zig-zag scramble. This looks like it would be fun for the older children, but might scare/tire the youngest.
- The Snowdon Horseshoe. Starts with the Pyg, then veers right over Crib Goch, a scary hell-nest rock ridge that can make you sweat just watching on Youtube (Watch “youtube stuck on Crib Goch” for an empathetic laugh). Pahahahaaaa… and breathe.
- The Watkin Path. Hard, loose scree, narrow bits and boulders, looks scary in a nice, tingly, adult way but not for us this time.
(*Killer Convex — check the details on the Walk up Snowdon website but basically, up at the top of the Llanberis path, just south of the Clogwyn station and Allt Moses incline, there’s a slope nicknamed the “Killer Convex” . It’s insidious: the easy, wide path here gently follows the contours, but can be hidden by ice or snow in winter. If a hiker slips, due to the convex incline they can find it hard to stop without ice picks or crampons, and may accelerate towards the 500 foot Clogwyn Coch cliffs. The dangerous section runs from Allt Moses to where the Pyg track joins Llanberis path at Bwlch Glas. For most hikers, Llanberis path is a summer walk to be enjoyed in warm, clear weather.)
Once I’d checked out the routes, I asked two of my more sensible, trusted hiking friends, and both had taken their children up Snowdon by the age of six. A couple of people on Twitter agreed and several suggested either Llanberis path or Pyg/Miners’.
I chose the Llanberis path for various reasons
- it’s summer;
- the path will make navigation very simple (and we can watch the little train go up and down);
- there will be lots of people there – a safety bonus, plus I reckon there will be other kids on this route;
- two cafés – the more treats and hot chocolates I can squish into this walk, the more my youngest will find it fun. Also if he finds it too much, we can go halfway, have a treat, and come back;
- my friends told me it was a good idea.
And finally, I asked the kids, “Do you want to go up Snowdon?”
“Yes!” they said. All of them.
(1) Ordnance survey site https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/getoutside/guides/snowdon-routes-to-the-top/
(2) Snowdonia National Park – Llanberis path http://www.eryri-npa.gov.uk/visiting/walking/mountain-walks/llanberis-path
(4) Llanberis weather http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/2644172