Ever since Darren and I returned from our adventure hiking up Morocco’s Mt Toubkal in 2012, Asri had been fascinated with the idea of climbing a mountain. I was fairly confident — even back then with Asri about to turn 9 — that she could make it up Snowdon if we picked the right path. So I hatched a plan to make her dream come true.
But best laid plans and all that… 2015 arrived and she still hadn’t conquered that mountain.
So it was that on the first May bank holiday weekend of 2015 — with Eleni off being thoroughly spoilt by Nana and Grandad — I collected Asri from school and pointed the car towards North Wales for Asri’s 11th Birthday surprise. She had no idea what so ever where we were going and despite numerous guesses along the four hour journey, it wasn’t until we were in sight of Wales’ stunning mountain ranges that the penny finally dropped!
I must admit I had been somewhat worried that after three years the mountain climbing dream may have faded, but I needn’t have been. She was so excited!
I had booked us a private room at a Youth Hostel in Llanberis, which we found without too much trouble, despite it being tucked away up a windy lane lined with little cottages. After checking in, we made our way upstairs to our bijoux but warm bunk room and tucked in to the tasty packed lunch my Mum had prepared for us.
It was raining quite hard outside, which was slightly worrying. I knew I couldn’t risk the climb with Asri if the weather was too bad, but if we didn’t make it up the mountain this weekend who knew how long we’d have to wait for another opportunity. I just had to hope it would clear over night. Knowing we had a big day ahead of us and an early start, we climbed into our bunks (Asri on top — of course!) at 10pm and did our best to get some sleep.
Saturday dawned and it was still raining. Oh no! I had kept an eye on the weather forecast all week, and at last check before leaving on Friday it was supposed to be a cloudy day with the odd bit of drizzle. Still I text Darren to double check the forecast (mobile data signal being non existent in Llanberis!). He confirmed that all that stood between us and the summit of Snowdon was some drizzle and so we dressed for mountain walking and headed for breakfast.
At breakfast we got chatting to a group who were doing the three peaks challenge, starting with Snowdon. Asri and I agreed that it was definitely a case of rather them than us. We were looking forward to our one mountain, but one was enough!
Well fed on cooked breakfast and cereal, we grabbed our packs and headed for the bus stop and the bus that would take us to the foot of the Pyg Track. No sooner had we stepped out of the youth hostel than the rain started falling harder. Undeterred — which perhaps we shouldn’t have been — we pulled on our waterproof trousers and made a dash for the bus.
We were the first on the bus, but it soon got a lot busier with a whole host of people hoping to make it up Snowdon. Some were woefully underprepared wearing anything from slip on shoes to fashion trainers, jeans (terrible for walking in the rain because they soon soak up everything and get very heavy) and the smallest jackets. Others looked very professional and were clearly serious hill walkers. I think we fell somewhere in the middle. But little did we know how hard this climb would become.
The bus dropped us off at the start of the Pyg and Miners Tracks (both popular tracks for day walkers). I had chosen the Pyg for me and Asri on the way up because it offered some stunning views (or at least it would have done if the weather was clearer) and was a more interesting climb without being overly difficult (or at least it should have been…). With rain hammering down we set off up the track. We chatted as we walked, enjoying our time together and excited about the adventure despite the weather. As we clambered over the rocks the rain even seemed to ease off a little and we were able to lower our hoods and actually take in some of the scenery.
Rounding the corner where the Pyg and Miners Tracks meet, we stood transfixed for a new minutes by fantastic views over the lakes below. So far so good! It was at this point, as the path started climbing far more steeply upwards, that we found ourselves walking behind a guided party… what luck! But then it started to sleet and as we climbed higher the sleet turned to snow, with the views disappearing into an all encompassing whiteout. So much for the weather forecast! A few times along the way the group in front stopped, and each time the guide encouraged them on. I was starting to get a little nervous, knowing full well that if I’d known the weather would be this bad today we may never have started the journey, but as the guided group in front included two fairly young boys, I rationalised that we were okay to continue on up too.
I’m not sure at what point the snow started getting thick on the ground, or when I realised that we were trying to get our boots to grip on ice. But somewhere around the same time the group in front came to a stand still with one of the young boys refusing to go any further. Asri was getting tired by this point, and we were both suffering from freezing hands since our gloves had long ago given up any pretence of waterproofness. I must admit it crossed my mind more than once to turn around and head back down — and we even did a little downward experiment — but with all the snow (and now ice) the path we were following actually looked more dangerous to climb down than up. And we were surrounded by people battling their way up so at least we weren’t alone.
I made Asri eat a chocolate bar to keep her energy levels up, gave her a cuddle and on we went. Up until now Asri had been following me, standing in my footsteps, but with visibility so poor and the pathway so slippy, I moved her in front of me so I could keep a better eye on her. On several occasions I had to push her upwards as her shorter legs failed to find enough purchase to pull her upwards on the icy ground. There were points where she looked genuinely scared, but bless her heart she kept moving forward.
During a short break to rest our legs we got talking to a young guy who was on a stag weekend of all things! He was the best man but had long ago lost sight of his groom. I hope he found him again before the wedding, or he could’ve been in serious trouble! As the path was very steep now and finding footing wasn’t easy, I asked him if he’d mind us walking with him so he could help haul Asri up the harder bits. He was kind enough to agree and so it was that we made our final push.
I can’t tell you what a relief it was when we finally scrambled over the top of the Pyg Track and onto flat ground crowned by a stone pillar that marked the meeting point of the main pathways. The summit was another 10 minutes ahead but with visibility practically zero, snow falling hard and wind side swiping us, we took the decision to go no further. This picture was taken for us at our “summit”. As you can see, the snow was so hard, the camera couldn’t even focus on us!
We decided to follow the tracks from the Snowdon railway on their gentle descent back down the mountain. Again we were helped out by a group of ladies (and one gentleman) who gave us both a hot drink, lent me a dry pair of gloves and gave Asri some hand warmers. They also helped me hold on to Asri when the wind threatened to knock her off her feet.
The first part of the descent was made most unpleasant by the wind blowing hail hard into our faces. Asri stopped on a number of occasions saying she couldn’t go on, and I have to admit, it did hurt! But bit by bit, together we made it through the worst of the weather, stumbling through snow drifts and gritting our teeth against the biting hail as we followed the tracks ever downward.
And then just as suddenly as the snow started, it was gone. Fields became green again and we were able to find our way onto the Llanberis Track, an easy to tread gravel pathway that would lead us back to the Youth Hostel. We bid farewell to our kind helpers and made our way down to a little cafe. Desperate for some warmth and a hot drink, we stopped here (along with LOTS of other people!). I managed to find a seat for Asri by the fire and we enjoyed a steaming mug of hot chocolate with the packed lunches we’d been unable to eat on the mountain side. Heaven!
A little while later we took the short walk back to the youth hostel, where we enjoyed a warm shower, a hot meal and an evening of board games in the hostel’s lounge.
Proud of our achievement? Most definitely. My biggest girl showed such spirit, grit and determination making it up and down that mountain in the most unexpectedly awful conditions. She really is made of sterner stuff. And whilst we may not have made it all the way to the actual summit, we will. And that will be another adventure!