Travel writer Lily Haugh shares her experiences of climbing Mount Snowdon with her family
The wind hits us in sideways gusts, spitting needles of rain. My jeans are soaked, at least double my weight. Deciding to climb the highest mountain in Wales wearing Mango mom jeans is questionable even in the best of weather: apparently, Snowdon does not appreciate fashion; quickly, I am realising that this trek is no catwalk.
My miserable expression strikes quite the contrast with my sunshine yellow anorak. In vain, I squint into the clouds, attempting to comprehend the distance of the rugged slate path extending skywards towards the summit.
Three hours earlier, my parents and I are sat good-humouredly on the Snowdonia bus, the prospect of a brisk climb and a rewarding view planted optimistically, albeit naively, in our minds. I choose to ignore the high-tech, insanely expensive gear sported by the other climbers, dismissing them as over-prepared and showing off. Not for a moment does it cross my mind that perhaps these individuals have experience and good sense and that there is no such thing as being over-prepared when it comes to mountaineering.
Stepping off the bus at the base car park, it begins to drizzle, a bad omen that I, again, choose not to recognize. We take to the ‘pig track’, the steeper, but presumably shorter, of the two routes. I begin the ascent chattily, unconcerned that I should be conserving energy for the mountain ahead.
Rolo, our miniature schnauzer, has a similar approach to energy conservation, bounding ahead like a mountain goat. On the way, Rolo meets another dog: they do not strike up a friendship, growling as they scrabble across the craggy path, indifferent to the lethal precipice lying beyond. After straying too close to the edge, my Dad puts riled up Rolo on the lead. The thought of having our miniature schnauzer airlifted off the mountainside is both devastating and, well, plain humiliating.
I, riskily, query how close we are: my Dad off-handedly responds ‘Oh, at least three quarters of the way.’ In reality, we have trekked a meagre eighth of the distance, if that. Clearly, climbing Snowdon four times and having a long, prosperous military career does not ensure a reliable internal satnav. Either that, or he felt it necessary to protect me from the ugly truth.
In a state of exhausted delirium, with the fog closing in, we lose the path. Most of the climbers that we have been trudging behind have disappeared, with the exception of a few blokes scrambling up what looks like a minor rock fall to our right. At this point, any option seems a legitimate one, and we follow.
My Mum is ahead of me, slate sliding from beneath her hands and feet: she is, literally, clinging to the edge of the mountain. She freezes, breathing deeply and repeating a high pitched “I think we’ve gone the wrong way”: as if we haven’t realized that. When she does move, her progress is comparable to that of a turtle manoeuvring itself up a sandy beach. But it’s progress.
Once the peril passes, we see the group who led us to potential doom standing casually with cigarettes in hand, as though outside a pub on a street corner. After a brief chat, we find out that these men are teachers. Let’s hope they never take their students mountain climbing.
Upon reaching the summit, my chief concern is reaching the bottom again. Soon I find out that the train has a waiting list, as well as being extortionately priced. Instead, I commit to the trek down, purchasing a pair of waterproof trousers: they are wide-legged, purple and patent. I know what I will be reaching for in the event of a University seventies night.
After a pathetic cry in the toilets, I rejoin my parents in the summit café. Other climbers sip hot chocolate, maintaining jovial, fresh expressions; how they can still tell a joke not steeped in sarcasm and bitterness is beyond me.
So, hoping to inspire the next cover of Vogue with my yellow anorak and purple trouser combination, I head down the mountain. With irritating buoyancy, my Dad leads the expedition.
About halfway down, a man with the same wretched expression that mine read two hours before passes us by on his way up. My Dad speaks cheerily and assuredly: ‘Almost there!’ Poor man: he is another victim of my Dad’s well-intentioned lies, and his eyes shine with momentary hope and thanks. When, an hour later, the summit is still disguised in thick cloud, my Dad will be only the object of curses.
A couple walk past, the woman wearing Primark-esque knock-off Doc Martens. Honestly, she is better off climbing barefoot, hobbit-style. Finally, a person less prepared than me. Maybe they sell patent purple climbing boots at the summit too. I missed a trick there.
Sat, finally, in the back of the car on the way back to the holiday cottage, I scoff most of a share bag of nuts, desperately replenishing my depleted muscles with the protein. I will need plenty of recovery time before I face another mountain, I tell you.
I may not have heroically conquered Mt Snowdon, but I certainly survived it.