A lot can happen climbing a mountain. A lot does happen when climbing a mountain. On Saturday, March the 15th in the year of our Lord 2014, my companions and I decided to summit the highest mountain in Wales and England, Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). Accompanying me on this adventure was a good friend Nathan, whom I have grown to love and respect over these past months in Wales; the Bowersox sisters, Emily and Anna, who were visiting from Ohio; and Staci. We arrived at the Pen-y-pass car park around 10:00am. The weather was quite fine that day at the trailhead, so the car park was already at capacity with the vehicles of early climbers. After a short chat with the parking lot attendant we found ourselves about a mile away from the car park (and a 100 meters lower in elevation) than we had originally intended. However, our spirits were not dampened by this extra uphill mile, we just chalked it up to the fact that it would make the summit more satisfying since we had come from a lower altitude. Once we had hiked back up to the car park I addressed the car park attendant we had previously spoken with by saying "Sut mae'r tywydd ar y top?(how is the weather at the top)"; to which he responded "excuse me?" At first I thought perhaps I had mis spoken but once I repeated myself, he responded "Wnes i glywed di, ond dwi'n synnu ti'n siarad Cymraeg" (I heard you but I am surprised you speak Welsh) of course this was because our previous interaction at the car park the first time was in English, and this American accent is difficult to hide. In any case we continued to chat about the weather, how busy the mountain was, and about life in general for a few seconds. As the conversation progressed I told him that Staci and I were living in Caernarfon and working to shape stories from the Bible into colloquial Welsh. It was at this point that the attendant brought up the fact that he knew another friend of ours Will, who works with us. I had two thoughts at this point. First, I was once again reminded of how powerful learning someone's heart language is. The attendant was pleasant to all of the tourists/climbers that day and we were no exception, but when I spoke his language with him, it was like a door was opened and we could talk more about life in Wales that went beyond the typical "Where's a good place to eat?" tourist questions. Secondly, I was reminded of the importance of the "relationship web." In the "relationship web" there is always somebody who knows somebody who knows you when you live around here. This was just a sobering reminder to always treat people with respect and love because undoubtedly you are somehow in the same web. After we finally cleared the car park and made our way to trail head of The Miners Track it was approaching 10:45am. Most of the suggestions for safety are to allow between 6-7 hours for the round trip journey. This allowed enough time for us to summit and return before sunset at 6:16pm. So the fellowship set off for the top. The first three miles of the journey were quiet flat with only slight grade on a tarmac path.
However, after passing the second lake, Llyn Llydaw, the grade increased sharply and the path changed from smooth tarmac/gravel to large uneven stones.
Shortly after reaching the waterfall above the Llyn Llydaw, we stopped for a picnic lunch on the mountainside. At this point the weather was still quite sunny with temperatures around 50ºF. It was at this point that Staci decided to abandon her summit attempt. Above us we could see the clouds swirling up over the mountain tops and quickly descending into the valley to our left, but with the sun still shining we decided to push on.
As we cleared the third lake Glaslyn, we again decided to rest before attempting the "zig zags." By this point we had reached the remaining snow line on the mountain and still had about 1.5 miles left to the summit. After a quick glimpse behind us at the darkening valley we began our ascent of the "zig zags."
Progressing through the zig zags was a slow and laborious process. The zig zags are basically large boulders and exposed rock face that you have to scramble up. At this point you have left hiking behind and begun what I would refer to as "easy" scrambling, meaning there are points on the zig zags where your hands are needed for climbing and you often have steps up that are above knee height. After about an hour of the zig zags we were sitting just below the summit ridge. Hikers descending warned us of high winds on the summit so prepared ourselves as much as we could. We then faced a challenging part of the trail that was still snow covered and very slippery. At one point Anna and I were forced to free climb a 10ft ledge that was a true climb (albeit a short one). Now 10 feet may not seem like much, but when you have no ropes, about 10 yards of visibility, snow under your feet, and and a 3,000 foot drop on the side, 10 feet is a long way. In any case, Anna and I prevailed and joined Nathan and Emily who were ahead of us waiting on the summit ridge. On the ridge the temperature was drastically lower due in large part to the 60-70mph winds. After some discussion about which path was correct, we then proceeded onward to the summit. Although the views were disappointing because of the incredibly low visibility, the satisfaction of summiting this early in the season was nice.
Our final and greatest challenge was the descent. The most harrowing part of the entire journey was descending the snow covered path just below the summit ridge. The most frightening thought was that if you went into an uncontrollable slide, you would careen right off the mountain into the valley 3000 feet below. We finished our descent after about 2 hours and arrived safely back at the car park just as the sun was creeping below the mountains. We began that day's journey as companions but finished it as close friends. A lot happens when you climb a mountain.
Here is a link to the route we took if you are interested: