SnowdoniaFrom The Field
Words: Kev Merrey // Photos: Chris Mayers
My friend Chris Mayers and I are self-confessed snow geeks. We have never grown out of that obsession with the thought of our great countryside, or even the garden, being covered in a magical, soft layer of snow.
We’re both a fraction over 40, and have been on many a hiking, trail running, wild camping and mountain climbing trip together, always on the lookout for snow. Chris has trekked to Everest base camp and climbed Kilimanjaro, both partly to get his snow fix. In addition to numerous ski trips, I even got a dose of snow this April in the West Highlands of Scotland during three days of climbing around Glen Coe, where I was at times waist deep in the white stuff. Perfect.
Residing in sunny Essex, we have to make long trips to get to any place of a mountainous nature, such as North Wales, the Lake District or Scotland. So we decided to book a three-day hiking and climbing trip to Snowdonia early this December to what should surely have guaranteed us some snow, at least on high ground.
As the weeks drew nearer to our planned adventure, the first snow of this winter finally fell on the peaks in various places across the country, including North Wales, dusting the mountain tops in a pristine white coating. All was looking good… Or so it seemed! The day before we left, a warmer weather front and a change of wind direction, pretty much overnight, melted the snow. Our wintery plans had been dashed at the final hurdle. We were even going to hire ice axes and crampons, banking on some Alpine-esque climbing, but it was not to be.
On our trip we were subjected to nearly every other meteorological event possible – other than snow – over the course of the three days. But we were not deflated in our excitement. The beauty is that each type of weather brings its own set of challenges, and creates a constantly shifting mood to the mountains that ebbs and flows with the weather.
We spent our first day grappling with the North Ridge of Tryfan in the mist and drizzle. With its steep slopes and hard-to-find routes, strewn with rhyolite boulders, we had one of the most technically challenging climbs we’d ever done. The rock became very slick in such wet conditions and we had to calculate each foot and handhold carefully for fear of slipping at the places of greatest exposure. It was a tough climb. After hours of high-concentration scrambling and physical exertion, we made it to the summit where we rested and ate hot food next to the two summit rocks, known as Adam and Eve. After a nip of whisky we were soon heading back down – a challenging enough route in its own right through a mass of huge boulders and slippery scree. Tryfan’s not for the faint hearted, but so very rewarding.
On the second day we climbed a peak new to both of us: the stunning Moel Hebog, just outside the beautiful little village of Beddgelert. The hike to the summit was much more gentle than the technically challenging Tryfan, freeing up more time for us to appreciate the views back across Snowdonia and to breathe in the fresh mountain air. The descent led us down through Beddgelert Forest: a truly magical, Tolkienesque woodland, criss-crossed with babbling streams and dense moss on the forest floor, like a soft green carpet. The trail eventually led out of the forest and back to the village.
We picked Glyder Fach for the last day, part of the Glyderau range, one valley over from the Snowdon Horseshoe. This was to be a test of our fitness, navigational skills and at times our bravery. We blazed a trail from the lake behind the YHA at Pen-Y-Pass – where Everest pioneer George Mallory often stayed decades earlier – across boggy lowlands, full of streams and boulders. The approach was in itself tough going, taking an hour and a half just to get to the foot of the mountain. Very soon Glyder Fach rose sharply in front of us. Grass and heather gave way to boulder fields and scree, giving the climb an instant hands-on, scrambling approach.
As we climbed, we were well aware that the predicted Storm Caroline was starting to make its presence known, slamming into the side of the hills with ever-increasing ferocity. Gust in excess of 70mph were starting to make conditions ever more challenging. We eventually made it to the saddle between the summit, strewn with rhyolite boulders, some the size of cars, and Bristly Ridge. At times we found it difficult to find our way, as we were now up in the clouds and the visibility was very poor. Seeing Bristly Ridge loom out of the mist and murk, with its huge dragon-like rock spikes, was a sight that will stay with me for a very long time. We passed the famous Cantilever Stone – which looks exactly as you’d expect – and eventually found the path that led us back down the mountain to the safety of Pen-Y-Pass.
This was a trip that proved to me and Chris that with every adventure you go on, even if it is climbing a mountain that you have been to before, there is a completely different feel, different atmosphere and challenges. Every time creates amazing memories and experiences that will be ingrained in our soul forever. Long live the mountains.
Kev Merrey is a filmmaker and outdoor enthusiast. You will often find him trail running, cycling, or hiking up a mountain, either for the sheer joy of it, or making adventure films for the likes of Sean Conway, Alastair Humphreys, Ian Finch and Phoebe Smith. Kev’s buddy Chris Mayers is a professional photographer and filmmaker, equally obsessed with the great outdoors.
Photography by Chris Mayers // @chrismayers100