Climbing Snowdon the Hard Way

View of mountains. Title reads 'climbing Snowdon the hard way'

A few weeks ago, I ventured off on a camping holiday with my family to Snowdonia, North Wales. As the unorganised blogger I am, I’m only just getting round to sitting down and writing about the experience of climbing Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain. For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip as it proved to be quite an emotional experience, so I thought instead of doing a whole series of travel posts like with Amsterdam, I’d focus on climbing the mountain. 🙂

Now it’s hard to imagine just how big a mountain is until you’ve seen one and even whilst driving through Snowdonia on the way to our campsite, I just couldn’t believe the sheer size of the mountains there, let alone get my head around the fact that I would be climbing one!

Snowdon itself is 1088 m high – or 3568 ft, if you prefer. This wasn’t my first experience of mountain climbing though. In 2011 I went to Austria with my Scout group and we descended a Tyrolean mountain (can’t remember which one) after taking the ski lift. However, the prospect of climbing up a mountain was more daunting as I wasn’t sure if I’d be physically fit enough to do it.

We chose to climb Snowdon on the third day of our holiday to give us time to settle in to life at the campsite and also give the drizzly weather a chance to pass us by. We didn’t want it to be swelteringly hot like back home (we did go away in the height of the heat wave but it was cooler in North Wales than at home in Somerset) but we also didn’t want to hike in the rain. Luckily, the weather on the day we went wasn’t too bad. It was very cloudy though, so much so that we couldn’t actually see the summit from the ground, but it was cool and dry so we were happy.

Lake in foreground with mountain in background, covered in cloud

I was a little apprehensive about hiking in the fog/mist/clouds (??) because I know how dangerous it can be if you get lost in the fog, however as we were walking one of the more moderate and well-traversed paths, my parents reassured me that we would be fine and wouldn’t lose our way.

One of the hardest parts of the climb turned out to be the very beginning when we were ascending the foothills before actually setting foot on the mountain. There was a very steep zig-zagging path through a sheep farm that was very hard going on your legs and lungs – I struggled to catch my breath and had to rest many times!

I did wonder at this point if I would be able to complete the 8 mile trip up and down the mountain if I was struggling on the first bit, but my determination to reach the summit made me persevere and I’m so glad I did.

The next part of the route was fairly flat as we walked along the foothills towards Snowdon. The mountain itself is sort of nestled between other, smaller mountains and hills so you have to cross these hills before you actually reach Snowdon.

Twisting path up a mountainside covered in cloud

Starting the ascent of Snowdon was required some climbing and scrambling the terrain was very rocky and the path zig-zagged between large rocks jutting from the mountainside. It actually felt like we were walking through the set of Doctor Who or something, it wasn’t like anyone I’ve ever walked before and the Austrian mountains were certainly very different! The looming cloud made it feel slightly eerie too.

Rocks pertruding from mountainside
The rocky mountainside surrounded by cloud.

The higher we ascended up this steep section of the mountain, the further into the cloud we plunged. At some points it seemed as if the clouds were moving up the mountain with us but then the wind would force the down again, surrounding us. Walking through clouds is a strange experience – in some places our field of vision was restricted to a two metre radius, and by the time we’d reached the top, we were quite wet as if we’d been in a rain shower due to the water vapour that forms the clouds and clings to your body.

Once we’d reached the top of the first ‘peak’, there was a flat area of ground where – if the cloud cleared – you could see the nearby town of Llanberis, where many walkers choose to start their ascent from. At this point, we had no idea how far we’d walk and even less idea of how far we had left to go. We still couldn’t see the summit and the path ahead disappeared into the cloud so it was sort of a guessing game really.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
The path ahead!

The next section felt like it lasted forever as if time had stood still. The path wasn’t particularly steep, more like a gradual slope, but it was at this point in the climb that we began to feel the temperature dropping and as we were even further into the cloud, the fog became much thicker, even distorting the sound of jet planes flying over the mountain. It was really quite disorientating not being able to see the planes over head. They felt a lot closer than they probably were.

Since we’d started climbing the mountain, we’d barely passed any other walkers. I don’t know if it was because the weather put people off, but we probably encountered only about 3 or 4 other groups of people. Their shadows would emerge in the fog, they’d pass us by and encourage us to keep going and then disappear back into the fog. At some points, we were very relieved when this happened as it really didn’t feel like we were anywhere on Earth.

The cloud also was disorientating in the sense that it distorted images too. I remember debating with my family many times whether a vague lump in the distance was a sheep (as there were many sheep on the mountain) or a rock. Some of the sheep just looked huge! I even mistook a seagull for a llama, which sounds rather stupid, but I saw a long neck emerging through the fog which looked much bigger than any seagull I’ve ever seen, so I just presumed it was a llama!

Even though passers-by kept reassuring us we were nearly at the top, it really didn’t mean anything when you can’t see where you’re heading anyway. The summit still felt miles away.

It wasn’t until we heard – and saw – the Snowdon mountain train emerge through the cloud, heading down the mountain, that we really felt we were almost there, as at this point the route we were following joined with another path so we encountered many more people, both going up and down the mountain.

Single carriage train in mist
The train surrounded by fog.

Although we still couldn’t see much, we knew we were walking along the top ‘edge’ of the mountain, on our way to it’s peak, as the path had flattened out and it was considerably colder. We were later informed that it was actually 10 degrees at the top, compared to 24 at the bottom. We were glad we’d brought extra layers with us as we’d walked the majority in just shorts and t-shirts!

This was one of my favourite parts of the climb as as we were heading towards the summit, the path was lined by large pointed rocks sticking vertically out of the ground, and as we couldn’t see much more than a metre either side of us, we had no idea how high up we were or how close we were to the edge. It was thrilling, in a way, knowing whether was a large descent but not knowing how close we were to danger. If it was a clear day, however, I probably wouldn’t have like it as much as I’m not a big fan of heights.

Eventually the rocky path gave way to steps heading upwards and we could see the vague shape of the summit itself in the distance, people swarming round to take photos.

Rocky path towards small mound of rocks (summit) in the distance
The summit, still shrouded by mist!

To reach the summit itself, you had to walk up some large spiral stone steps. At this point, our legs were so tired we ended up crawling up the steps. Also this was out of fear because we couldn’t see either side of the steps so we had no idea how close the land below was if we fell. (We probably looked like right idiots haha).

Spiral stone steps
The steps!

My mum almost didn’t make it to the summit as she has problems with her knees but we persuaded her to do it as she’d made it so far, she couldn’t let a few steps defeat her!

Me stood behind trig point wearing a blue rain coat and looking rather soggy
Hello, this is me at the summit, looking rather a mess but happy!!

The trig point on the summit itself told you how far it was to other places in Wales and around the world, but I didn’t want to hang around up there too long to read things because I was starting to feel a little be wary of how high we were!

It was an exhilarating feeling to reach the summit though, knowing that I’d overcome physical challenges in the three hours it took us to ascend, but also mental challenges in motivating myself to carry on. It sounds strange but I’ve never felt more alive than I did on that mountain. I was tired yet so energised and my mind felt so refreshed. In a funny way I couldn’t help feeling that the climb had been a bit of a metaphor for life because once I’d overcome the challenge of climbing the mountain, I felt like I could overcome any obstacle that life threw at me. I felt strong. And even though we were wading through fog for most of the hike, we knew we had to keep going and trust that our feet would lead us where we needed to go, even if we couldn’t see the path ahead. That made me feel that even when things feel foggy in life, I’ve got to keep going, keep fighting. I think I needed that revelation, more than anything else about the experience. It really helped me to regain my perspective on life again after a difficult few months mental health-wise.

Anyway, let me get back on track. After reaching the summit and taking a few photos, we went into the visitor centre. It felt strange that somewhere so natural and far from modern life had been commercialised – with train and now the visitor centre. Either way, I was happy to have somewhere warm to rest my feet, eat and buy a few souvenirs (now I can say I’ve been there, done that and (literally) got the t-shirt!).

I think people who had taken the train up that day were a little disappointed that they couldn’t admire the view from the top because the cloud was so thick but we were happy that we’d made it, and climbing the mountain proved to be more about completing the challenge rather than admiring the view for my family and I.

After about an hours rest, we headed back down the mountain with a new-found spring in our step. The paths that we had traversed earlier which felt like they were never-ending we now descended with ease and we walked down about twice as quickly as we’d gone up.

Railway track to the left, people descending in the centre and roc
Descending the mountain and disappearing into the clouds.

The cloud still hadn’t really cleared, but when we’d reached the sort of viewpoint again where you could look over Llanberis, the cloud did clear for a few minutes so we could get a glimpse of the view (from about a third of the way up the mountainside).

View of town with mountains either side
Looking out at the view of Llanberis.

We stopped again at the top of the second zig-zag section we’d walked up, where I took a few photos of the view across from Snowdon.

Lake in the foreground, mountains in the background
We started our walk over the hill on the right.

It turns out walking down the very first zig-zag section through the sheep farm was just has hard as walking up had been. it really does take a toll on your knees, walking down a steep slope.

Eventually, we got back to the car and our time on the mountainside was over. It was a bit sad, in a way, as we had to go back to reality now, but I was still very proud that we’d all managed to it.

In an amusing turn of events, as we were driving away from the mountain, the cloud around the top completely cleared! It was so ironic we had to stop to take a photo of the whole mountain. If only the cloud had cleared just a few hours earlier when we were at the summit we would have been able to witness the stunning views!

Mountain through the trees
The summit is the pointy bit in the middle, we climbed up from the left hand side!

All in all though, climbing Snowdon the hard way was everything I expected it to be and more. I’m so grateful that my parents were willing to drive almost 6 hours to take us to the beautiful place that is Snowdonia. By the end of our long week away, I had grown quite attached to the scenery and didn’t want to leave.

I know someday I want to return and climb Snowdon again, to feel the emotions I felt up on the mountainside again. But for now all I can do is plan my next adventure and keep hold of these memories. 🙂

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