The art of camping is in keeping as many things as possible of off the ground, which, if you are in a tent (for that is proper ‘camping’ – don’t get me going on that one…) is usually grass or mud. I’m not sure I’ve ever made that point in the books but every time I camp I have the same thought. I’m delighted I’ve now been able to state it publicly. Adhere to this mantra next time you are camping and your experience will be transformed.
The second thing I feel that I should divulge before we get on with the story of Snowdonia is just how marvellous the combination of a new pair of prescription glasses and a hiking-camping head torch can be. Tonight, in this tent, I am seeing levels of detail in the world that have escaped me for most of my existence on this planet Earth. It’s astonishing. Try it.
There’s a deep irony, perhaps hypocrisy even, in what I am about to write and I am the first to admit it. The summit of Mount Snowdon has been ruined by the great number of tourists who frequent it. The irony / hypocrisy is, of course, that at lunchtime today when I arrived at 1,085 metres (although I’ll come back to that in a second) I was just as much a tourist as anyone else. I had contributed to the miserable orgy of honeypot tourism just as much as anyone else up there. I was nevertheless a bit shocked at just how busy it was; just how out of place I felt in my expensive trade-marked Captain Oakes-esque outdoor gear. At least half of the 200+(?) people at the summit clearly hadn’t factored in to their day that wearing Gortex-protected equipment might have been a good idea. Perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps I’ve just bought into the marketing hype that says a Berghaus jacket costing £100 is a better option than a Primark one for 20. I sat down for a few minutes and sulked. It was awful. There was even a queue to access the point at 1,085 metres but I refused to join the line and settled with my only personal summit of about 1,075 metres. The highest point – symmetrical and pointed with a flight of stone steps on either side – appeared to these eyes to be suspiciously perfect. It’s usually the case that when climbing a big hill, the high point – both physically and spiritually – is the summit. Mount Snowdon will go down in my mind as only the former. The latter was elsewhere, on the slopes, away from the trainers, the kitsch t-shirts, the selfies and that damned train. I suspect it has Victorian origins. Why, in country of trains that rarely seem to work as we would like, do we have one that appears to run like clockwork to the top of a mountain? Why can’t Chris Grayling screw this one up too?
Am I ranting? Probably. The rest of the day – 98% of the day – was great but not without its challenges. One of the greatest challenges in climbing Mount Snowdon is in deciding which of the six paths to take. After the usual procrastinated mulling over in my mind, I decided to ascend using the Watkin Path and descend using either the Pyg or Miners’ Path both of which would take me to Pen-y-Pass from where I could catch the bus to the campsite a couple of miles down the road in the valley bottom beside Llyn (Lake) Gwynant. And that’s exactly what transpired.
This journey of perhaps 15 km had, however, a missing link; the bit between the campsite and the start of the Watkin Path. The campsite receptionist pointed me in the direction of the path beside the lake but this wasn’t signposted with anything like the clarity it needed and, after retracting my steps on several occasions as the path crossed the contours at an alarming rate, I did begin to wonder if I would ever start ascending Wales’ tallest peak at all.
I did, eventually, and started to make vertical progress through the low-lying cloud. The forecast had predicted better weather in the afternoon – a mixture of sunshine and cloud with only a 1% chance of rain – so I remained hopeful of views at some point along the Watkin Path but it wasn’t to be. I was walking too early in the day…
Enjoy the film.