September 2015: I was tidying some travel books, which being employed as a Librarian was nothing out of the ordinary, when I got distracted by flicking through a LonelyPlanet guide to a far-away and most exotic land… Wales.
I’d been to Wales a couple of times (both visits within 2 weeks of each other) to visit a friend at Cardiff University. I’d love to say they were cultural visits which taught me a lot and widened my horizons. I can’t say that I’m afraid, although I did learn that getting a coach to Wales from Victoria station was cheaper than a single peak journey on the London Underground. The occasion for my visit to Cymru was a vodka-fuelled pity party for a recently dumped and tremendously teary twenty-something girl. That girl may have been me. Somehow, I don’t think that constituted a real visit to the land of daffodils and leeks, and well, I couldn’t remember it without a fuzzy haze anyway. I was due another visit.
Reading about Snowdon and having a scorned-by-a-Welsh-ex colleague exclaim to me “Oh, you don’t wanna go there!” cemented it in my mind that it would be an excellent idea to go! Plus I’ve always had a talent for doing exactly what people tell me I shouldn’t do.
So, I booked travel to Llanberis for that weekend and packed my 30l rucksack. Mainly with cereal bars and gummy bears, which I hoped would keep me alive in case I became stranded or lost. I ate most of those on the journey from London to Snowdonia.. Oops! I’m a growing girl! Perhaps not in the right direction anymore, but a growing girl all the same!
I stayed overnight in a quirky hotel (quirky meaning the owners greeted me in pyjamas when I arrived in the early afternoon) and set off to conquer Snowdon the next morning. I’d dressed reasonably warmly – thermal leggings, base layer, hoody, pink windproof jacket, hat, walking socks and my trusty nike trail shoes.
I don’t personally believe you need to commit to buying walking boots or shoes with ankle support for hiking, but they may work better for you – definitely don’t attempt a long walk with footwear you’ve never worn before though. Unless you enjoy blisters, pain and discomfort.
I took the Llanberis Path route up to reach the peak of Snowdon, which is according to many a guidebook, the easiest way up. Apart from the train of course, opened in 1896! You may not notice it until you’re starting to tire and wish there was an easier way; choochoo you hear it steam past, going oh so slowly, yet still quicker than you… I’m not bitter, I swear!
There were quite a few groups hiking up the mountain alongside me, some for charity, some for recreation. There were plenty of families and groups of men and quite a few couples too – the couples seemed to be the most leisurely of the demographics, slowed immensely by loved up selfies taken every 78th step. And then there were the solo’s, like me. The route is well trodden and there’s no need for a map or internet connection. In September there were plenty of hikers for me to follow. This was a hike I did on my own, but I was never actually alone. It was a perfect first solo mountain hike, and although the elevation did get steep occasionally it was a relatively easy walk. You know how the phrase goes, if I can do it….
It took me about 3 hours to climb Snowdon, and it was quite a foggy day. However when the clouds did occasionally clear, the views were spectacular and reached for miles. According to my guidebook (which I had read on the journey over and never removed from my backpack once actually in Snowdonia) you can see Ireland from high enough altitude on a clear enough day. I’m very doubtful I did see Ireland, but whatever I did see, it was incredible. I tried not to stop for too long to admire though, because stopping meant I’d cool down and all the sweat on my back would freeze which ruined the moments of awe. I know, I’m incredibly sexy, but don’t act like you don’t sweat either!
The summit was absolutely freezing, but it would have been rude not to join the queue for a photograph at the direction dial. I got to the front of the queue and posed for a photo. Which a stranger took for me, and unfortunately it was far too busy and cold to explain the rules of a good photograph (hold the camera at an angle and take more than one photo, it’s on burst mode for a reason!). No instagram filter could fix that mess, trust me, I tried.
A cafe resides at the summit which is pretty surreal to say the least. In fact, I also passed a cafe about half-way up, which was quite reassuring as I hadn’t become confident yet in the art of being Ray Mears. So, at the summit cafe, which at first I thought was a mirage, I peelled off my layers and finally went for a long awaited wee. I treated myself to a quilt-free (I’m taking calories, not price mind you!) sausage roll, pot of pasta and hot choc. Everyone inside was super friendly and there’s a community spirit which is pretty convenient as you’re likely to share a picnic-table for 6 with 15 others. There’s toilets, bins and of course, even on the peak of Snowdon, you can exit via the gift shop! Where I purchased a “I climbed Snowdon -1085M” pink pencil which is now MIA, probably lying at the bottom of a draw somewhere.
If you’re really tired and can’t face the walk down there may be some return trips on the railway avaliable. However don’t count on it – they’re very often booked up in advance, and if the weather takes a turn then they won’t run at all.
The walk back down starts with a shock as you’re thrown back into the freezer after a nice commercial thawing, but it’s not too strenuous and the view was less foggy by the time I was returning. On my way down I began to relax much more and take in my surroundings. I took a few more pictures, and even tried my hand at wildlife photography. I took a picture of some sheep and they ran away. I took a picture of a horse and then I ran away!
This was one of my first ventures in the UK as a solo female, and any anxiety I had about that was quickly waved away by people greeting me along the route (see what I did there!) and the gentleness of the very obvious route. Maybe it would have been more-than-nice to have shared the experience with someone else, but maybe it was better to do something for myself, by myself.
I climbed a mountain. And made it back down. Alone. Which is not only an achievement, but I’m pretty sure it’s also one of those important inspirational metaphors which applies to life. One of those ‘you can do anything because you did this’ accomplishments. And even if it’s not, I’m going to believe it is.