Climbing Mount Snowdon was my idea. Once we had decided to include northern Wales as one of the stops on our UK road trip, it made perfect sense. Reaching the summit is Part One of our three-part Dust-Farm-Pail List goal: Climb the highest peak in each country of Great Britain: Mount Snowdon (Wales), Ben Nevis (Scotland), and Scafell Pike (England). Also, I needed to inject some hiking into a trip that, without intervention, would otherwise become an all-out cycle fest.
That being said, all we needed to do was summit. It’s a 3560-ft (1085 m) mountain that has six main routes from which to choose. I just wanted to get to the top. I didn’t need to do it in some fancy, Aren’t-I-daring?! fashion. The husband, though, had different ideas. After doing some pre-trip research (though not enough, it turns out), he decided we should take a route called Crib Goch, generally accepted as the hardest route up Snowdon. “Hard” is a vague term, though, and I took it to mean “cardiovascularly challenging.” That is, until we were on the crowded Sherpa Bus heading toward Pen-y-Pass, the drop-off point for many of the routes up the mountain. It was on this bus that I overheard the husband boasting to fellow hikers about his intended route, adding smugly that it is the most dangerous and exposed route up the mountain. Uh… what? Dangerous and exposed? Think again, dude.
We started out on a route called the Pyg Track. I kept trying to dissuade him from his plan, but he dug his heels in, and I didn’t want to have a heated argument among the throng of people hiking up the trail with us. Eventually we came to the moment of truth: the turn-off to the Crib Goch route. One man who had been walking near us said he did it once. His takeaway? “Never. Again.” I asked him if he was afraid of heights. The “yes” answer I was expecting was going to help me rationalize going on this “dangerous and exposed” path. It won’t be that bad – this guy’s just afraid of heights is all. But no, fear of heights wasn’t what made him fear Crib Goch. Climbing Crib Goch made him fearful of Crib Goch.
In the end, I foolishly let myself be persuaded. I said goodbye to all the sensible hikers and followed the husband up the path, over the fence ladder, and on toward our destinies.
Now, Crib Goch is described as a “knife-edged arête,” but you first have to get up to the knife-edge. Minutes after leaving the ease and safety of the Pyg Track things changed considerably. We were no longer hiking. We were climbing. Actually, people who know about these things call it scrambling. Class 1 Scrambling, to be exact. This is a classification and rating I have come to loath, however, since it sounds like a fun walk in the park. (Hey! Wanna go scrambling? Class 1 scrambling? It’s EASY! It’s only class 1!) In no way was this a walk in the park. (Actually, it was. It was a form of walking in Snowdonia National Park, but I digress…)
Lord Wikipedia tells us:
Scrambling (also known as alpine scrambling) is a walk up steep terrain involving the use of one’s hands. It is an ambiguous term that lies somewhere between hiking, hillwalking, mountaineering, and rock climbing.
Ah, yes. Rock climbing. It very much felt like rock climbing. Without a rope. Or a harness. Or a belayer.
Anyway, Lord Wikipedia goes on to say:
... unroped scrambling in exposed situations is potentially one of the most dangerous of mountaineering activities.
Good to know. Too bad I found this out much, much later.
Speaking of ropes, right around the time things started to get gnarly, a man and his pre-teen son passed us. Upon discovering the man had done this route before, we asked him if it was dangerous. “No,” he said… “not if you know what you’re doing.” Hmmm…
(Interestingly, later on in the scramble, we saw this man and his son again. They were now wearing helmets. And harnesses. And the son was roped into his dad.) Hmmm…
Anyway, we continued hoisting ourselves up until we came to a particularly nasty spot. I believe they call this a “bad step.” Bad, indeed.
Lord Wikipedia informs us that “many… routes include a “bad step,” where the scrambling suddenly becomes much more serious. The bad step on Crib Goch, for example, involves only (only?!) 20 feet or so of climbing, but the position is exposed.”
I don’t know what the experts will tell you, but to me this was just the first of many a “bad step.” The first, and the worst, in my opinion. This is where I started dropping f-bombs. Well, not dropping so much as hurling with herculean force at the husband. Suddenly, I didn’t give a shit who heard our marital altercation. Hand-holds and foot-holds were suddenly much scarcer, and a fall would lead to serious injury, at the very least. Sweating, shaking, and grunting, I managed to simultaneously lob expletives at the husband while desperately grasping onto whatever tiny holds I could find, finally making it past Serious Obstacle 1 of 379.
We continued to scramble up. With ragged breath and pounding heart, I loudly expressed my murderous intent toward the husband every few feet. Eventually he pulled me aside for a “talk.” He admitted that he’d gotten us in way deeper than he’d intended… that he’d had no idea it would be this bad… but that since we both agreed trying to descend would be even more dangerous than continuing on, we should probably table the death threats and continue on in a more supportive manner. Recognizing his plea as the first sensible thing to come out of his mouth all day, I duly rearranged my attitude and started being outwardly supportive, though I was constantly weighing up in my mind how to end his life once we were back down… IF we got back down.
What I should probably mention here, though you may have noticed already, is that there were other people on this route with us. In no way was it as crowded as the Pyg Track (Crib Goch’s only saving grace), but though we initially started out alone, we shortly joined (and were joined by) others. This is one of the things we were very grateful for – not just for moral support, but also for route-finding. To summarize some things I have read since our hairy ascent, one thing that can get people into trouble while scrambling (besides the long, deadly fall to the pointy rocks below) is the urge to look right in front of you at all times (for hand-and-foot-holds) when one should be looking ahead to ascertain the best/correct route. Trying to get back down after heading up an incorrect route can be a recipe for disaster.
So up we climbed until we were actually at the knife-edge. The husband’s pre-trip research revealed that we should stay just left of the edge for maximum safety, though there were a handful of daredevils verily skipping across the top. Very occasionally we’d come to a spot with an actual dirt path and wide shoulders on either side, but the feeling of relief was short-lived. Ahead of us would lie yet another “bad step” followed by more butt-clenching knife-edge scrambling. I actually got “Elvis leg” in my forearms – a new sensation for me. And of course, there were several false summits.
I don’t currently have video capability on my blog, but if you click here you can see what it’s like to skip across the top like a crazy person. The video is 18 minutes long, but you can get a sense of it in just 30 seconds. Heck, I had to stop watching it after just a minute due to flashbacks and other symptoms of PTSD.
If the Pyg Track part of the our journey took 30 minutes or so, the scary scrambling stuff – both upward and along the arête – was well over two hours, followed by an easy 20-minute walk that met up with the hordes from other routes lining up to bag the summit.
Originally, the husband had wanted to complete the “horseshoe.” This would have meant doing another couple of hours on Crib Goch-like terrain on the opposite side of the valley from Crib Goch. Fortunately, it didn’t take an angry quarrel to convince him otherwise. We descended via a saner route called the Miner’s Track, though because it had started sprinkling, it was still pretty treacherous since the rock steps we were descending on were becoming slick. On that note, I should mention that we were adventuring in one of the wettest areas of Great Britain. We were incredibly lucky that our ascent occurred in dry conditions. Largely socked in, but dry.
Speaking of luck, we didn’t die. After we were safely back at our B&B, I tried to find some data on deaths, injuries, and rescues for that particular route, but neat and tidy statistics were hard to come by. Instead, I got a Google results page that looks something like this:
- Man, 47, falls and dies on Crib Goch
- Welder falls to death while attempting notorious Crib Goch ridge
- Climber dies from fall on Crib Goch
And on and on… It is a dangerous place, and even if you avoid death, there is also the possibility of serious injury, as well as freezing in fear and needing to be rescued by helicopter, a most humiliating way to descend, I’m sure.
In the end, the husband was doubly lucky. He not only escaped death on Crib Goch, but also death by spousicide. The truth is, I was freaked out about driving on the opposite side of the road, on the opposite side of the car, with a stick shift requiring my left hand, so I needed him to drive the rest of the trip. The husband has his uses, and in this case one of them saved his life.
I’ll end with two things. First, another dissuasive video – short this time and without all the dramatic, enticing music – of a nut job running across the top. Second, a valuable piece of advice, should you choose to attempt this craziness yourself, despite my cautionary tale: Double-knot your shoelaces. You’re welcome.