We arrived up at the hills again and this time, hurled ourselves straight into Llyn Idwal for a 1km stressbuster splash – so far so brilliant. The next step was to head straight back up the Rhyd Ddu path, to blow away the ghosts of our last tortured trip when my boot fell apart just before the ridge.
I hate to leave anything unfinished, so up we stomped.
And it was horrible.
The first bit was as pretty as ever and the day started well as we skipped over the tufts and rocks of the lower path, meeting on the way a volunteer warden, Ray (Dimmock?), who shared stories of his time in the Dolomites and Himalayas, and who passed on various tips for some good walks around Snowdonia. We heard about the purple saxifrage and the Snowdon lilies that hide away in the steeper clefts. I asked about the Rhyd Ddu ridge, and he said it was good to go up today — and regaled us with the story of a woman he’d helped up there, who had been afraid to cross the ridge, so her husband went ahead with their children, and Ray had followed, leading her across to join them at the summit.
This is a lovely story. It’s always reassuring as a mother to hear of other families safely traversing where you’re about to go. As we chatted, other families hiked past in the bright sunshine and gentle breeze. Perfect, right?
As Ray settled with a flask of coffee in the halfway tea-house ruins, we hiked up past the wagon-wheel rock, up to the fenced zig-zag, and over to the start of Bwlch Main — all good. We met the hideous spiky path that had felt so wobbly last time, with my then-broken boots — this time, I managed to swallow my nerves and we picked our way safely to the grassy area before the main narrow ridge starts.
And then we saw the drop-off – at which point, my throat closed over, my eyes crossed, and my breathing stopped. The drop off is steep, very high, and two feet away from our feet — but my children are now capable hikers, agile, careful and fit. It was beautiful weather and none of us was tired. A thirty-something couple with two tiny children, maybe 2 and 4, hiked past (youngest in a rucksack), and a stumbling group of hefty men barged through, laughing. Perhaps this is not a daunting path, unless you’re me?
I sat down, legs like jelly. I said, ‘I’m scared of heights,’ to the people sitting on the other side. They nodded, they weren’t going any further, either.
I looked at the little narrow path and the drop-off, and thought, damn, can’t be that hard – and walked along it. I could feel the blood sinking through me, and my eyes blurred. I pictured turning around with my bulky pack and knocking my youngest child off the ridge by accident, but he was fine, still standing behind me. A knob of rock loomed ahead – we were going to have to climb over it, with the precipice yawning beneath. I sat down. I sat on the sharpest rock possible but still could not bring myself to stand back up. I wanted to melt into the granite, to be absorbed into the rock and slide back down underground, and seep out at the foot of the mountain. My heart was hollow, my breath barely possible. Closing my eyes was not possible.
My elder children were oblivious, happy to press on to the summit, but my youngest shared my sensations, rigid with fear, and begged to go back down. I draw the line at terrifying young children, so I said yes and we had to navigate heading back across the horrible spiky path with the western drop-off. (I don’t have a photo of the steeper drop-off to the north because I couldn’t bear to take one.)
By the time we were halfway down we were running. My vision had cleared, my body functioned normally again, and we leaped down the hill, jogging full pace down waterfalls and over scree — why, I wondered, am I so worried about one narrow path, when my body can do this? Other people were finding it hard to walk upright over terrain that I took at a running jump.
Why does Rhyd Ddu tear me up so much?
In part it goes back to Ray’s story: Rhyd Ddu reminds me that I’m alone. A mother with her children. My partner is not able-bodied and can’t guide our children across the ridge, or to reach out to me, hold out a hand and say, ‘Come on, I’ll help you over.’
If I want to conquer the Rhyd Ddu path, I’ll need to do it alone – unaided, and initially maybe not in the process of also looking after my children. I’d go up, down, up, down, and back up that one piece of terrifying narrow rock until I knew it inside out, before leading my family across. So Rhyd Ddu hurts because it makes me realise my limitations.
Perhaps I’m meant to do this alone, and when I embrace that, I’ll walk the Rhyd Ddu path.
Here’s the path in its full glory. We got to 4:30, and then I turned around and buggered right off back down the mountain at top speed until I got all the way back to my car.
And our map:
Same walk 1 Aug 2020, a year ago to the day by coincidence:
Here’s someone else’s experience of walking up the Rhyd Ddu path with their children. They made it — two parents — but went down the Ranger path afterwards, because of the scary parts. That is what we would have done, too.