This is the first installment in in the story of my obsession with the mountains of North Wales. At the time, I didn’t think that it would lead to multipitch climbing, crampon envy and more recently, completing a vegan ultra-marathon. This article breaks the usual thingswhatihavedone rules in that these photos aren’t taken with a phone, this story takes place in the Nokia-Age. These photos were taken with a wind-on disposable camera.
In the year 2005 I called up some lads on their parent’s landlines and told them that they were coming to Snowdonia to climb the biggest mountain in Wales. Having never seen a mountain before, I had no idea what to expect, although I had heard that there was a cafe and tourist train station at the top. I suppose I was hoping for something like a cross between Stallone’s Cliffhanger and half term at Skegness.
We crammed straight into my 1989 Nissan Micra and drove straight to a campsite that I’d seen on the road map. One lad actually brought his things in a Tesco carrier bag. Another assured us that he had a tent that was “huge the last time he was in it” and another had made us a selection of sandwiches, and secured a bottle of whisky. We had some pot noodles and no way to add hot water, a set of cards from Trivial Pursuit and a flowery wash bag full of toiletries that would never be used. At least we had some compilation CDs from the library.
It turned out that the last time our tent provider had actually slept in that tent he was about nine years old and that only one of the five lanky teenagers could actually lie down in it and even then only by lying diagonally. And the sandwich selection consisted of a choice between “cheese” and “plain”. The campsite was not much more than a large field at the head of a glacial lake dividing two great ranges. The sun always sets after caressing the bold silhouette of the hills that plunge into the lake. We talked about the girls in our sixth form classes. It was a beautiful evening which we had to ourselves, we were drunk way before last orders in the pub and swung home singing along to the self promoted bands of 2005 (remember myspace?), looking forward to starting a campfire and continuing the merriment until it was time to turn in. Obviously the fire ended up being no more than a pile of smoldering damp sticks decorated with the charred remains of my road map and bed time consisted of two lads stacked up diagonally in the tent and three lads folded into the Nissan Micra. I think everyone slept well, I don’t really remember.
The next day we took the straightforward Snowdon Ranger path up to the summit. It took quite a long time and didn’t feel like a mountain until we got closer to the top. My old Dunlop trainers were falling apart before we even set off and my woolly jumper had absorbed a lot of the weather. We’d been lone adventurers most of the morning, but after joining the main path, it became disappointingly busy. It was, to our surprise, much colder up there and with no clothes to put on, we took a quick photo before heading back.
Standing with my back to crowds, I remember distinctly looking out over the other bleak summits. I wondered if anyone had been to the top of these pathless unknowns. They looked deserted, jagged and treacherous, the sort of place you could have a more committing adventure. I knew so little about this place that I wondered if these mountains even had names.
Driving home I felt two contrasting things. Largely, I felt like like a smug git, having ‘ticked off Snowdonia’. But there was also a feeling that was barely there, but definitely there, a feeling that didn’t let me forget about those other mountains.
This trip to Snowdon had been more uncomfortable, more simple, and much more fun than I had imagined it could be. I didn’t know at the time that this was my first taste of the Welsh 3000’s. Climbing up and down one mountain was tiring enough. Another 14 in the same day? Humanly impossible.
We drove in my car, I think I charged each of the lads a tenner in petrol. Petrol was around 80p a litre back then.
We stayed in the campsite belonging to the CWELLYN ARMS. Back then it was a fiver a night, and was very basic. I went back recently for a romantic weekend. It was much better equipped and still well priced. The food at the pub was excellent – have the lamb.
We took the Snowdon Ranger path. It’s one of the quietest paths, perfect for a group of lads. It’s really easy to follow and never exposed. I’d recommend it for a first time group. I even once climbed it in the middle of the night with one wank torch between three lads, but that’s one for another post.
We actually nailed the ‘fast and light’ approach. That was because we didn’t own anything we thought it might be useful to carry. We literally took nothing up there other than one bottle of water between us and a camera. I’ve since spent years moving closer to travelling faster and lighter and have nearly got to the same level as my 2005 setup! I think that this approach contributed more to the enjoyment than we knew at the time.
It’s about as cheap as a weekend could be and is guaranteed to be one to remember.