A Snowdon Adventure, by Sid Lymburn
7 celcius and sunny at the foot of the mountain, -1 celcius and snowing at the top... How best to dress the children for both? Do they need 2 layers or 3? The day before our planned walk up Mount Snowdon these are the details I'm focused on.
Snowdonia, Wales. It's a place where our family feel happy and free, a natural wilderness of mountains, valleys, waterfalls and wildlife. We don't live in Snowdonia (we live on the border between England and Wales), but we make a day of the mountains as often as we can. Preparation for these days is key to a fun time, especially when children are along for the hike. It's also key to staying safe, again, especially when you're taking children with you.
We've walked Snowdon before, in July of this year, but we've never tackled it in Winter. In summer preparation is focused on hydration and sun safety, the exposed sides of a mountain don't offer much shelter from the sun, but in winter that exposure changes from sun to wind, rain and hail. A mountain that appears calm at the foot can be completely different at the top, just as Sunday's forecast was promising.
So here we were, sitting in the boot of our car in a llanberis car park, pulling on fleece trousers, walking boots, snoods and hats. We were already starting over an hour later than we had planned, just before midday in November when the sun sets at 4pm. We wanted to see a sunset, but on our way back down, we didn't plan to make the whole journey back in darkness.
We stopped at the train station for a quick wee before starting the trail, the Llanberis path up Snowdon is the 'easiest' of the 6 main routes, no scrambling or climbing required, it's a reasonably well maintained wide path, the 'motorway' of Snowdon. In June we jumped straight into it with the Watkins path, a much more difficult route with a dangerous section near the summit, the Llanberis path would be a piece of cake in comparison. So off we went, our 8 year old running off ahead, and our toddler (nearly 2) taking a more relaxed approach, perched on his Unirider.
'I thought you said this path was easy Mum', my 8 year old, Blake, moaned after 20 minutes. I'd researched the route beforehand, as I always do, so I had an idea of what was to come, 'there's 2 big uphills on this route, let's get up over this one and it should even out a bit'. I was right, and as we reached the crest of the hill we saw that we were now really in the mountains, far below us Llanberis now looked like a toy town, and ahead we could see the trail carved into the mountainside.
'Is that Snowdon!?' Blake shouted while pointing at the mountain ahead. 'I think so?' I replied, it's hard to know which is which when you're in the middle of a mountain range. By now Dexter, our toddler, was bored of being pushed along and had jumped off to jump in a puddle he found, so we stopped for a few minutes to grab some snacks and drinks from the pack, and take a few photos.
'Noooo! Not your hands!', Dexter had apparently had enough of splashing with his feet, and started swishing his gloved hands in the puddle instead. 'Come 'ere you little monkey' I said, scooping him up away from the puddle, his gloves were soaked, and it hadn't occured to me until now that a toddler may need more than one pair of gloves! I took the wet gloves off and stuffed them in my pocket.
'Let's keep moving' I said as Dexter ran ahead along the trail to catch his brother, well aware that the sun was already starting to look rather low in the sky. We walked a few paces behind the boys, discussing the gloves issue, we probably won't make it to the summit this time we decided, he won't last long with cold hands. But for now the boys were still having fun, so we pushed on.
We'd walked another half a mile when Dexter jumped back on his Unirider, at least if he wanted to ride we would make better time. A couple of minutes later it felt like it was getting more and more difficult to push him, but it wasn't the terrain causing the issues, we had a puncture!
'That's us done now I think'. My partner agreed, we weren't going to summit before sunset now, not with a completely flat tyre. It was also getting much colder, we were now fully exposed to the wind, and the hail that had just started, Dexter had no gloves and the sun was only just above the mountains to the west of us, it would be dip behind the mountains within the hour and the temperature would plummet.
There is no 'we overcame the obstacles and summited anyway' ending to this story, the easiest path on Snowdon defeated us, this time. But we all got back down and home in one piece, which is the only real goal of any mountain hike. Minus the boys we would have continued on without a second thought, being at the summit for sunrise or sunset and walking the mountain in the dark is on our bucket list, but not with the boys when there's potential ice.
We hope to pass on a love of the mountains and being out in nature to our children, and part of that is teaching them to recognise their limits and how to mitigate risk. No one is having fun when you've pushed them too far or got yourselves into a truly scary situation. Always research your route well before you go, check the weather, and know what time you need to turn back to get down safely, hope for the best but always be prepared for the worst!
We will try again before the winter is over, we've already got 2 extra pairs of magic gloves, plus proper ski gloves for both boys, and a small puncture repair kit now lives in our hiking pack, just in case.
“Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.”
- Hermann Buhl
“In the mountains, you are sometimes invited, sometimes tolerated, and sometimes told to go home.”
- Fred Beckey