Yr Wyddfa / Snowdon:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Before this walk, I had two questions: will I even find the Llanberis path (it’d be a bit embarrassing not to), and is my six-year-old really going to carry a pack to the summit and back? (He wanted to, I thought it would be too much for him.) So the day before the planned walk, we did a test run. We arrived at 2pm, when most walkers are coming down from the mountain, and followed the stream of tired looking people up to the Llanberis path, with Youngest carrying his pack.
Turns out the navigation is unmissable; the road out of the village curls up to a large stone plinth, where a rocky track branches eastwards onto the flank of the mountain, and from then on it’s a straight line to the Halfway House café. I also needn’t have worried about Youngest’s pack: after ten minutes, he’d handed it to me. All good.
Although this was just a test run, we ambled on up the mountain for a mile or so because I couldn’t believe how lucky we were to be here.
The sun was shining, the air was warm, and the exhilaration as Llyn Padarn fell away behind and Moel Cynghorion grew in the southwest was intoxicating. We were sweating in the humidity (and stung by flying ants) but spellbound. After two miles, with the Halfway house in sight, I felt we should turn back for the day (I didn’t want a late walk and evening descent). Instead we headed over to to Beddgelert for 15-inch pizzas, ice cream, and a walk around Gelert’s grave, before heading to Porthmadog for an early night. (Where the kids wrestled and giggled for hours, before passing out, grey-faced from exhaustion; the best laid plans.)
23 August – Squee!
At 6am I woke up proper excited. Let’s go! If we leave at 6:30am we could be at the foot of the mountain by 7am and eat breakfast on the slopes.
And a voice in my head said, “Gonna take three exhausted kids up a mountain? Pahahaa!” I reminded myself that this was their day, then sat and drank coffee, thick with sugar, and ate plums while they slept. The mountain would wait for them. I felt nervous, I really hoped I’d judged this right, that the kids would enjoy today.
They woke about 7am and we reached Llanberis at 8am by which time the car park was half full. I fed them breakfast cereal in the shadow of the mountain, and the children started to blink and look excited.
The excitement carried them up to the stone plinth, which is great because like most walks, the little road bit at the beginning isn’t the best bit, although this one was helped by chatting to the other walkers – three or four other families, mostly with tweens and teens.
By the time the kids’ legs were tingling a bit, we’d got onto the path and Youngest had found a stone dagger, which he carried all day. He also found a dinosaur tooth, a little round flat stone that he liked, and then we found the rock parrot, which was about the size of a real parrot, with a little beaky face.
“Mum, can you carry Rock Parrot to the top, please?”
“Yes, of course.” Rock Parrot felt like a totem from the start.
The path was brilliant.
Once you get off-road, the first two miles of the Llanberis path are really easy and sweet. It was sunny with a light breeze, and yesterday’s flying ants had abated a bit in the cool of the morning, so no one was bitten. We just had beautiful air and immense views. (The air is similar to Cornwall but smells of less salt and more earth.)
The valley opened up to the west of us as we walked due southeast, just above the little railway track. We watched a series of tiny steam trains take visitors up to the summit and whenever one came by, the boys would try to race it.
Click on the photos to enlarge.
After a couple of gates, we entered the sheep pastures, where walkers have to leash their dogs. The boys enjoyed seeing the lambs, now as big as their shorn mothers. (When you first approach a flock of sheep, if you can do a passable “Baaaa!”, quite often one will reply.)
The path follows a gentle incline, then at two miles cuts under the railway a few hundred yards before the Halfway House café. By now, Youngest’s late night (rolls eyes) was catching up with him so a hot chocolate was very welcome.
We sat on the rocks overlooking the valley and ate cupcakes and brownies. Eldest found the scenery stunning, and talked of adventures. He will make stories out of this.
Middlest daydreamed, my little hill runner who loped along on the rocks beside the path, pausing to wait for us now and again. He runs mountains like they were made for his feet.
Youngest perked up after a rest and was happy to examine the rocks beneath our feet over the next mile or so, calling out dinosaurs, eagles, and dragons. I wanted to tell him not to zigzag, to walk straight and shorten the journey to be less tired, but I didn’t; I brought them here to find their own way, as much as is safe.
Up here, they’ll learn a lot about themselves.
That’s one of the reasons I brought them.
After the Halfway House café, the path winds around to the east and just beneath Clogwyn Station it cuts under the railway again, where you are faced with a steep drop-off as the path veers around to the southeast up Allt Moses.
This is where the walk switches from a valley amble to a proper hill walk, and the views open out. It’s also the point where my children started to gasp at the panoramic views, and I started to sweat at their proximity to the drop-off. Did I say, I don’t like heights? Well, I came to terms with heights for myself a long time ago, but not for my children.
We swapped cameras with another couple and took group photos, then I hustled my kids away from the edge and into the spine of the ridge.
The upper reaches of Allt Moses are steep and slippy with scree, climbing between the rail tracks and the drop-off. We stopped for a pork pie picnic snack, litres of water, and to take photos of what would be the best panoramic views of the day, watching the sunshine and cloud shadows passing over the hills and valleys to the north, and Glyderau to the east.
As we continued our ascent, I made them walk in a new order: Youngest first with me on the outside holding his hand, then Middlest, then Eldest, all of us clustered together. In this way, the children were tucked into the safer parts of the path and every child could see forwards with elder ones looking over younger ones’ heads (rather than having a taller child’s rucksack in their face).
This made for a pretty interesting departure from the usual formation, in which Eldest usually leads, followed by his brothers. Aside from affording all the kids a better view, it tweaked the dynamic a bit, and made each child more aware of themselves. Youngest gained energy from being the leader. The elder children knew they had to look after their brother; that he was pushing himself to give them a good day. That if we didn’t work together, we might have to return home before the summit.
As we moved to complete the climb, a sharp wind whistled around the corner and we were faced with a thick wall of cloud. Youngest, who had been flagging a bit, perked up.
“Mum, can I touch a cloud?”
“An actual cloud?!”
“Yep. You can touch it with your hands, walk right into it, and kiss it.”
I wrapped them in fleeces and warm coats and we stomped into the cloud, which closed around behind us. As we circled the contours onto the Killer Convex (this area’s winter name) we could still see the path and a few other walkers but the panorama disappeared and patches of denser cloud rolled past us like tumbleweed.
“Wow! Is this it?”
“Yup. You’re in a cloud.”
So we stuck out our lips and kissed the clouds.
This was the point where I brought out the mobile with the OS maps on it. I was able to connect so that the map showed us exactly where we were (to the point where the arrow swivels as you move the phone). The elder kids were happy to see how much progress we’d made and how close we were to the summit.
Then about 400 yards from the summit, Youngest decided he wanted to go home. His legs were starting to feel tired and he felt he’d seen the cloud, thank you, so why not head back to the sunshine? I explained that we were now literally a few minutes from the top, which again didn’t really impress him, so I pulled out the magic potion. (This is a gross, gooey liquid that they sell in our local sweet shop, that I’d never let him have before. Basically, this is six-year-old forbidden fruit, and it looks like a magic potion.)
“That’ll give me extra strength,” he said, and beamed. I said, if he got tired after this, I’d carry him up, but he didn’t mention it again.
Charting progress on the OS maps
The rest of the path looked like it would command beautiful (and possibly scary) views over Snowdonia — I could sense the heights and the drops off to the sides — but we were not destined to feel either the enjoyment or the fear, as the cloud density increased until we could only see a few feet ahead. We clung to the path. At Bwlch Glas, other tracks (Pyg, Horseshoe, Ranger) met up with the Llanberis path and there was a steady stream of walkers heading up from then on. The four of us trekked on in silence, leg muscles starting to feel the pull a bit but basically OK.
I held onto Youngest’s hand and said, “Take me up.” He smiled and pulled.
And then we were at the summit.
“You guys made it up!” a friendly voice – one of the other walkers from the bottom of the hill, all those hours ago.
“We did!” Lots of smiles, camera swapping, and crowds of wet children grinning tiredly and peering into the mist.
“Well done!” I put my arms around my kids. [Mum moment.]
After the summit, we plodded down to Hafod Eryri*, the summit café, for some refreshment and a chance to sit and rest. I think I’m right in thinking Hafod is a Welsh term meaning a summer pasture in the mountains — a place you can go to feed in good weather, basically.
Eryri is Welsh for Snowdonia.
*Hafod (havod) Eryri (err-uh-ree).
We ate oggies — basically massive Cornish pasties. MASSIVE. Awesome! Then I fuelled the kids up with sugary pop and we set off to walk back down.
Just a couple of minutes later, Eldest asked, “Which way is the way back?” and it was a good question. All routes up lead to the summit, so the summit’s easy to find. On the way down in fog, though, it’s really not too obvious which way to go.
Good question. It matters.
The Ranger path to the NNW would take us miles out of our way. The Llanberis path was in the middle heading north, but right beside it (slightly NNE) was the path to the terrifying Crib Goch, while the Pyg track led off to the East. And if we really went wrong, there could be no path, just a big rocky drop.
We were fine: I knew the way (from studying the map), the phone knew the way, and there was a plinth signpost with arrows on it. You’d have to miss all the signs to get lost, but still, we naturally look to our own eyesight and memory for these things and in this place, they aren’t enough.
We took the Llanberis path.
It was lovely to break out into the sunshine again, and wander home slowly, just trickling down the mountain, taking off coats and fleeces, making it back onto the easy path, ambling. Daydreaming. Enjoying the view. Mulling over the weird world of fog and height that we’d enjoyed for just a few short moments no time ago and yet which already felt like a dream.
I let Youngest change into shorts. They phoned their father to tell him what they’d done. We lay on the grass and felt the warmth seep back in. All three of them were moving with the relaxation of people who had done what they set out to do.
As we walked down the mountain, I promised them a trip on a little train before we left Wales. I said to all of them, if you like this mountain, I know others. I wondered if they’d fancy a swim in a mountain lake tomorrow.
But mostly, I just felt like we’d come home. And that this, perhaps, was happiness.