3 Peaks Paul

Snowdon (Wales), Scafell Pike (England), Ben Nevis (Scotland).... 24 hours. Eek!

Sunday, 15 March 2009


Last night, I was having second thoughts about going today. I was reading other people who have gone up Snowdon as recently as Wednesday, and they said it was Winter conditions. Other people said it was OK. I'm no expert hillwalker, I can read a map, use a compass, and walk, that's about it, I certainly don't have the winter skills I need to deal with slippery surfaces such as ice and snow, and don't have the equipment I need for such conditions, crampons and an ice axe. Still, I wanted to go, so I decided to at least drive up to Snowdon, and walk some of the foothills.

I set my alarm for 5am, I wanted to be out the house by 6, so I had a shout at being there for 8am. I've heard then Pen y pass, the place I was setting off from, was usually quite full early on. My alarm went of, and so I snoozed it, really not wanting to claw myself out of bed, 10 minutes later, off it went again, so I snoozed it again, finally I got up and got ready.

I did a final kit check, although I'd put it together last night, but better safe than sorry. I put my dog, Mysti, in the car and left at about 6:10, so not too bad. It was a pretty dull drive up, until I saw Snowdonia. My heart sank. The peaks were enormous! There was no way I could actually get up - but that's OK, I had a good excuse, the conditions. And looking at the mountain ranges, it looked like they were carrying at least a bit of snow. So I carried on, set on just doing some smaller walks around the foot hills.

Arriving at just after 8, I had no problem getting parked, fed the ticket machine pound coins. Around me were some pretty hard core walkers.

I decided rather than take the Pyg trail, like I had planned to yesterday, I'd actually go to the Miners trail instead. This allowed me to bumble around in my comfort zone, that is, where I can see, and not slide about! I still didn't believe I was physically capable of getting to the top, the peaks towers above me - but they were there for climbing, if I felt up to it.

Mysti (my Border Collie) and I set off down the Miners path. It was nice, a big, wide path, practically no incline, but still Snowdon was there in the distance, dark and intimidating, and had its summit shrowded in cloud. The path wandered loosely across the moors, with enormous peaks on both sides. To the left was a pretty steep slope, so whenever Mysti got anywhere near, I'd be frantically calling her back. In truth, she was perfectly at home there.

I checked the map a few times, not because I was lost, but mainly because I wanted to know how far there was to go, until I either had to turn around or start climbing. We passed by a small lake, and then about half a mile further down the path, another. This one we had to cross over, but there was a causeway which was simple to cross. On the other side, the path started to steepen, and the lake began to disappear down beneath us as we picked up some height. To my right, was Crib Goch, an enormous mountain, with comical size ant people walking over it. At this point they were still several hundred metres above me. Personally, I thought they were a little bit mad.

The path steepened quite sharply, but nothing too excessive, it took us up past a small waterfall to our left, and around another smallish, but very very blue lake. Towering above us was now Snowdon, poking into the cloud. Above me to my right was the Pyg trail, which I had intented to go up, before deciding to use the Miners Path instead. The map indicated we needed to join up with that, before starting a 'zig zag' path which is a rapid climb onto the summit. I decided to give it a shot, since the weather was relatively well behaved at this height. I could always return via the Pyg trail if I wanted to.

To join with the Pyg track, there was essentially a scree slope, occassionally with some slab stones which have been places to create a makeshift set of steps. This was unbelievably steep, and I had to be very careful where I put my feet so not to slip while scrambling up there. And this was a scramble, I had to hold on to rocks to pull myself up onto ledges. In truth, it was actually a little bit scary, because after a few minutes, we were very high up off the floor, and no safety netting :) Coming down from the Pyg trail to join the Miners track I had been on were a couple of blokes, who naturally gave Mysti a quick stroke, and carried on. By this point there was almost no path to follow, I was completely winging it, but I could see people on the Pyg track now quite clearly, and they were reassuringly big... and noisy, so they can't have been too much left to go. I eventually finished the climb onto the Pyg track, where a South African couple asked "is there a proper path to get down there?", to which I replied something along the lines of "No, it's bloody horrible, what about yours?" They told me it wasn't too bad. Typical! So I'd be going back that way then, rather than trying that scamble in reverse. By this point, my legs were feeling quite tired, having just heaved my enormous weight up a cliff, but it wasn't so bad. I quick drink from my tube, and I was OK again. Mysti had a drink from a fresh spring, and she too was happy enough.

The Pyg track followed along the, it was reassuringly easy for the first few minutes. I checked my phone, and for the first time, I had a signal, so I checked in that everything was OK so far, and told my intentions to carry on to the top. I could see the top, still far above me, but now to my left, and still covered in cloud, but in fairness, it looked much less forbidding than it had done. Looking up the path, I could see that there was snow on the path, but I also saw dozens of other people making there way over it.

After 5 minutes, the path turned from being very clearly marked to pretty terrible. I constantly had to be thinking about where things were, because I didn't want to lose the track, fall 1000ft and die. Mysti was having no problem at all, negotiating her way up the rocks like a pro. I managed to lose the track a couple of times, but quickly rejoined it. The track reformed into something I could follow again, so I did. My legs were feeling very tired, each time I had to climb any ledge was a small victory for me. But it did make me think that I was suprised how well my body was holding up. The running must have been helping. The only muscles that were tiring were the ones I was using to pull my weight up, my breathing was fine, and I didn't feel like I was low on energy. All in all, I felt in pretty good shape.

The light level reduced noticably, when I looked up, I realised the cloud had dropped quite drastically, but again, nothing that really concerned me. After a few more paces, and I just got hit by a strong wing, Mysti's ears were flapping around like something from a cartoon, but it was so cute I had to smile. The smile didn't last long though. I was making my way up the 'zig zags', which lead to the main ridge for the summit, and the wind was getting up, visibility was very very poor. Worse, my track started to have snow on it, but it was only off to one side, and there was still solid rock I could use to walk on. Occassionally this spilt out across the whole path, and I had to negotiate the snow, and try not to slip. It was just a sheer drop for hundreds of feet, so falling down it was the last thing I wanted to do. Suddenly, the path for maybe a hundred meters was just covered in snow. I was looking to see if other people had been using crampons, but the footprints just looked like normal walking boots. So I thought if they can do it, so can I. I was so close to the summit ridge, I'd carry on.

When about half way over this, I realised I was actually in trouble. My boots had no traction at all, and I could feel them slip on the refrozen snow. I was trying to restep other people footprints, but still managed to slip and slide. I was fairly concerned by this point. It crossed my mind it to high tail and go back down. But I assessed this would be even harder and more dangerous, 50meters or so behind me we a group of other walkers, the path was so narrow, and so slippy, I didn't want to pass them. I decided to just push on, being very careful. Mysti, of course, didn't give a rats ass about the snow, she was negotiating her way without any fear at all.

I made it off the zig zag path, and my god. I couldn't see a bloody thing. The track was nice however wide well maintained path, leading to the summit. Finally, I could relax a little after the previous 15 minutes of being very alert and tense. The wind was absolutely howling. I was still only wearing my base layer and a fleece, so the cold just hit me. I pulled to one side of the path and got my jacket out of my backpack, put my balaclava on, and pulled the hood over. I was pretty toasty. Apart from my hands, I forgot my gloves, dammit. I was worried about Mysti though, she didn't have anything other than bare paws and a fur coat, so I wanted to take some pictures and get off the ridge as quickly as I could.

The final walk up to the summat was actually quite difficult. My legs were tiring, my hands were cold, and I couldn't really see anything to make it all worth the effort. My pace had slowed, but I noted so had other peoples, I wasn't getting caught up, but all the same I felt pretty exhausted. I think rather than the physical exhaustion, it was more from being so wired about climbing up the snow track, the aderenlin that kicked out had started to wear off, I felt.

I got up to the cairn on the summit, with the trig point, took Mysti's picture, amused that she was the highest dog in England and Wales, had a few words with some others up there, then headed away to find shelter off the ridge.

I had already decided that I was going to take the tourist route down, rather than risk life and limb on the snow track again. The tourist route is a much better quality path than the zig zags. Unfortunately, the tourist route goes back into a village, miles away from Pen y pass where I was parked. That didn't matter though - I would rather have got down alive in the wrong place, than injuring myself. The visibility was still terrible, there are a number of paths leading from the top and the visibility was down to pretty much zero. For the first time in my life, I actually had to use my map and compass in anger, rather than just for fun. I quickly got a bearing on the direction I needed to go, and followed that path.

I started my decent down, and within 10 or 15 minutes, I had broken out of the bottom of the clouds. The view was pretty amazing too. I just started walking down the hill, and sadly, nothing evenful happened, other than stopping for some lunch. Bizarrely, when I'd stopped for lunch and sat down, Mysti STILL wanted me to throw her a stick!! Unbelievable!!! She's so cute that dog.

Off the mountain, it was actually a very nice day. Maybe this is because it was now getting on for early afternoon, after all it had taken me a long time to get down. The people I saw now were all wearing tshirts. What seemed like a blink of an eye earlier, I was fighting the howling wind and cold of the summit.

Eventually I got to the bottom, into the town. Although, I did make note of how tired people were looking. I figured the closer I was to the town, the fresher people would look. There was a small pub as well, advertising "real welsh ale". Well, I wasn't about to pass that up, so I stopped for a cheeky pint. Also got chatting briefly with a couple of guys on mountain bikes who I'd met near the top when they were still **riding** up (but they went up the tourist route so I don't feel too bad!)

Since I was now no where near where I needed to be, because my car was miles away, I called 118 118 and got a taxi back to Pen y pass. Gave Mysti some more water, headed off back to Telford.

So that was my day. I do have pics, but they're on my phone. I need to buy a lead to get them off. I'll do that tomorrow and post them here! All in all, I'm really pleased, I got to the top with very little physical difficulty,although I've proven to myself going walking alone is a bit dim, and walking on the snow and ice without the correct equipment is also a bit daft. Lesson leart. But hey, I did it!!

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At 16 March 2009 at 04:53 , Blogger Kelly said...

Go you!! What an amazing experience that must be. Glad you made it through safely and didn't give up. How are you feeling the day after? Mysti is probably up for another go hehe Sorry I'm late with that "warmer" by the way ;) Can't wait to see the photos.

At 16 March 2009 at 16:00 , Anonymous Ali said...

That sounds soo scary, you definately deserved the pint when you got to the bottom!

At 17 March 2009 at 21:37 , Blogger Suzi said...

Go Mysti! Sounds like she found it a bit easier than Cheviot, where she got to the top and promptly sat down and refused to move! lol.

Well done you for doing this. You should be very very proud of yourself :) Keep it up!



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