Climbing Yr Wyddfa and Y Lliwedd
A couple of years ago, I stepped outside of my front door, slipped on a rock, and ended up in the emergency room with a sprained ankle and several stitches on the other foot: bilateral injury in an instant. For some reason, this and other such incidents have not impacted my confidence in my agility at all.
Yr Wyddfa, or Mount Snowdon, can be summited by several routes. Though all have a lot of elevation gain, only one is described as a "knife edge" route. I like heights. I'm attracted to them. Crib Goch is described variously as "stunning," "absolutely terrifying," and by the experienced, as "possibly the most thrilling scramble in the whole of the UK."
I want to do it. I could do it. But after watching some videos (you should look it up), I decide I'd better not attempt the route solo- and Eileen, it's fair to say, is not attracted to heights. I don't want to become somebody else's problem. So though last night we talked about splitting up where Crib Goch forks off, we'll both take the more pedestrian Pyg Track to the top.
Despite a weather forecast that claimed rain all week, the morning dawns clear and lovely. We bring our full raingear just in case, but also pat sunscreen onto our cheeks. This is a nice benefit of a hostel so close to the summit path: instead of trusting a forecast, we can just look out the window.
The path climbs fairly gently, and there are no bad views. In the guides, we've heard many times that there are crowds clogging the whole trail, but it's not so bad; it's easy to pass, and everyone is congenial. I'm having fun; I run a little, just because it feels good. Just above, a seagull rides a thermal from our stone path, skating sideways in the wind.
Snowdonia has a casual, confident beauty: it surrounds, striking and self evident in every direction. The sky grows clearer as we walk, cloudbreaks playing sunlight over the miles of open hillsides.
Near at hand, there is fluttering and chirping, petals opening in cracks. It makes me want to learn the names of birds and rocks and plants so I can tell you. But though I don't know, I think these columns on the cliff are basalt with hexagonal pillars. The slipping scree above might be slate. The little brown bird that cheeps insistently as it passes us might be a thrush.
This mountain is a pilgrimage most visitors to the area undertake, whether or not they would typically choose to climb a mountain. It is considered a difficult climb, and I can see it in the faces of my fellow hikers. But all that I am feeling is the pleasure of the muscles in my thighs, the sunshine on my back, a slightly sheepish smile on my face as I pass.
I've skipped Crib Goch, but I have too much energy left to simply turn around and head back. The further ridge, a horseshoe around the top of the lake, is calling. So I part ways with Eileen at the mountain's crowded top to seek out the ribbon of trail I've glimpsed that crosses Y Lliwedd.
There are six routes to the top of Snowdon, so it's a sort of crossroads at the top. When you come down, the trail you choose could lead northwest to Llanberis, west to Rhyd Du, southeast to Bethania. My route will start southeast along the Watkin path, but ascend straight onward instead of descending southward with the route, then curve north along the ridge to meet up with the Miners' Route, where Eileen will wait for me.
The Watkin descent is fairly brutal. There's little purchase on the muddy trail, and the slope is severe. The other hikers also taking this descent all comment to one another: "was it like this when we came up?" We watch each other's choices of handholds and routes around particular rocks. One man has to carry his little dog and navigate the slope one-handed.
Past the steep downhill, there's a beautiful saddle between the hills, and the trail is paved with big flat stones, characteristic of Welsh paths. I run again, leapfrogging with some of the people who passed me on my careful descent.
Then, the Watkin trail splits off, and I am alone in climbing up to the ridge.
What starts as a trail devolves quickly to a scramble. I think the route is too steep to support the wearing of a path: it's just rocks. But the route is fairly simple: go up, don't die. The front face of the ridge is a sheer cliff about 1,600 feet above the lake. The back is a slightly more sloped drop to a valley a bit further below- though most of that height is sloped grass. Only the part I'm on is shale scree.
I wouldn't have done this route solo if I'd known it would be this sketchy, but I'm here now. I'm conscious to be extra cautious. I tug on stones before I use them as handholds, and if they slide, I find different ones. There are sizeable cairns every once in a while to reassure me that I'm on the "path," and I try to keep to them. If a route looks a bit too close to one edge or the other, I double back and find a safer way.
It's slow enough going that eventually, one of the couples I passed back on the saddle ridge pops out from behind a boulder. We met them briefly in the hostel kitchen last night, so I know we share an ultimate destination.
"Hey," I call out. "Solo doesn't feel like a good practice for this route. Do you mind if I stick with you?"
They're friendly, and gracious, and a good speed for me as we explore routes together. We chat about science careers, our other sports, and vacation plans.
When we reach the summit of Y Lliwedd, we pause to look around at the lakes and lands laid out below. They offer to take my picture, and I take theirs. From the cairn at the top, there is a clear trail leading down.
We skip and scramble down the far side of the ridge, chatting and choosing this way or that around a boulder. Down at the bottom, Eileen is lying in the grass at our meeting point, feet up in rest.
She's had a full day, and I've had the adventure I was looking for. We say bye to my new friends, and Eileen and I walk back to the hostel together.
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