With only four months to go (yikes) until my Atlas Mountain trek, I decided to head for the hills this May bank holiday weekend to do my first ever mountain climb. Equipped with compeed plasters, gloves, scarves and a mountain of cereal bars, I left my desk at lunchtime on Friday to join thirteen other intrepid Londoners destined for Mount Snowdon in the Welsh outback.
Hurtling along queasily winding roads, we finally arrive at PlasCurig, our five-star deluxe hostel, just as the Welsh mist is descending. Nestled beneath Moel Siabold (the Little Mattherhorn of Snowdonia), the hostel is a ten minute drive from the picturesque village of Betws-y-Coed and a twenty minute bus ride from the Pen-Y-Pass gateway to Mount Snowdon.
Not a fan of communal living, I was nevertheless intrigued by the concept of a “deluxe” hostel. Could this mean king-size beds equipped with 300 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets? Sadly not. But our posh wooden bunks did have their very own curtains – providing a much-needed modicum of privacy in a small room shared with seven others.
There are six routes up to the top of Mount Snowdon and we opt for the Pyg Track which has a moderate degree of difficulty. Rocks rock right from the start, as the trail zig-zags into the mist. As Britain’s most popular mountain walk, Snowdon’s trails have a steady, stream of traffic – from sprightly fell runners to charity walkers and family tribes with dogs whose short limbs have to be hefted up the rocks – much to the disdain of the local sheep. For a novice like me, the traffic is helpful in ensuring that I don’t go too fast and end up running out of puff early on. With so many following the same path, it’s also reassuring to know that it’s impossible to get lost.
Navigating my feet round the rocks proves to be a great form of mindfulness and I find myself switching off from work dilemmas completely. A third of the way along the trail, the path offers the opportunity to climb the hair-raising Crib Goch or continue on the same lower path to the summit.
Having no head for heights, the prospect of inching along a knife-edge precipice with sheer drops on either side is about as appealing as sticking pins in my eyeballs – particularly having gorged on near-death Crib Goch YouTube videos the night before. The roar of propellers above our heads serves as an uncomfortable reminder of the fatalities which occur on the Crib Goch ridgeway every year.
Continuing along the lower path, mesmerising visions of sheet glass lakes come into view as we inch our way into the heavens. Passing the auspicious money post milestone – I press my twenty pence into the bark and make a wish to make it to the summit in one piece.
As we near the summit, the rocks become more challenging and at times I resort to crawling on hands and knees. Bearing up well so far, I realise that the trick is to keep going even if you feel exhausted. Taking baby steps forward is psychologically easier than stopping and starting again.
By 2.30pm, we’ve made it one piece to a grassy verge just below the summit where we settle down to enjoy jaw-dropping views across endless peaks stretching as far as the eye can see – a complete contrast to the concrete skyline of London.
Alerted by a sudden tooting, the Mount Snowdon train flashes past and provides a tempting option for the descent.
Revived after our sandwiches, we clamber up the last few metres. Mobbed with day-trekkers and swarms of flies, the summit is hell. Feeling like a typical morning commute on the Central Line, we skip the café and we beat a hasty retreat from the fly-ridden precipice.
On our painstaking descent, an epiphany strikes. With knees trembling, I suddenly get what the “ridiculous” walking poles are all about. Being able to take the weight off your knees is crucial and something I hadn’t realised until taking on the mountains. (Invest in a pair of poles before you come.)
The descent turns out to be far harder than the ascent, with a never-ending series of boulders to be negotiated for what seems like miles on end. Finally descending to the level of the lake, we blissfully take off our walking boots and hobble into the icy water. The first few moments are utter bliss but as our feet quickly start to tingle, we beat a rapid retreat back to our boots.
Opting for the Miners’ Track to take us back to Pen-y-Pass, it’s a huge relief to be back walking on a proper road. Finally off the rocky terrain, we now have the luxury to take in the bleak, beautiful views of the hills and crumbled miners’ cottages which line the route.
A couple of hours later, the Pen-Y-Pass greasy spoon is within striking distance and we quicken our pace in anticipation of a reviving cup of tea. As we hurtle back along the queasy Welsh roads to London moments later, I leave with a feeling of elation at having conquered my first mountain summit. With another trip planned to the Lake District in July, the Atlas Mountains don’t seem quite so formidable now.
Have you climbed Mount Snowdon? How did you find it?