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.

Wales - Snowdon (3)
Oh Pyg Track… how I pined for you

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.

Wales - Snowdon (4)
Bye-bye sensible hikers!
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A happy moment before the shit hit the fan

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…)

The knife-edged arête .  An “easy class 1 scramble” my ass!  Source: Wikipedia

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…

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Doesn’t look that bad?  Don’t worry… it gets worse.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Did I mention it was very windy?

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.

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Did I mention it was very foggy?

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.

Crib Goch Scramble up Snowdon from Pen y Pass
The inexorable undulations of terror.  Source: http://www.walkupsnowdon.co.uk

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.

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A queue to bag the summit.  Good grief.

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.

North Wales coroner Nicola Jones said Jared Maillet was likely to have made a 'navigational error' taking him on to Clogwyn y Person rather than Crib Goch
It’s a long freakin’ way from Crib Goch to Snowdon peak.  Can you see the horseshoe shape?  The middle path on the slope is the Pyg Track and the lower one by the lake is the Miner’s Track.  Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

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.

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Don’t let my summit smile fool you.  I’m plotting homicide here.

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.

 

31 thoughts

  1. O my goodness, I don’t think I would be able to manage that scary looking edge, even on all fours. Well done for reaching the summit, despite the challenges of the route it looks quite crowded! Thanks for sharing and safe travels 😀

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  2. Alpine scrambling, then? I don’t know whether to congratulate you on getting to the top or chastise you for taking so many risks to get there. What an adventure. Thanks for sharing it here so I never, ever have to even for a minute consider doing something like this. Still, way cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for expanding our vocabularies: Bad Step (gotta love that understatement) and Elvis Leg. Although… the other trigger for that condition that shows up FIRST in a Google search leads me to suggest that you must have left out some significant details of that hike.

    Let me repay the favor with an additional bit of advice if you’re going to persist on those scrambles over severely annoying terrain: have two sets of car keys with you, one for each spouse. It greatly improves the chance of somebody making it back to the B&B. -T.

    Feistycat asks: Why can’t you just enjoy a vacation like normal people?!?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It says you and the husband may be a good match. Do you want him? I’m still contemplating getting rid of him after the whole Crib Goch thing. He comes with a head for science and a nice British accent. I can throw in his truck if that sweetens the deal.

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  4. Great post!!! I love how you tell stories as its almost like we are there with you when we are reading your posts.

    Also, I am guessing that this story would remind my wife of more than a few of the “adventures” I have taken her on. 😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you thought so! It was fun to write. Not so fun to experience, though that’s probably what made you laugh. This post could almost have gone under my “When Bad Things Happen to Good Travelers” category, but those don’t really have any silver linings (i.e., losing my wedding ring on my honeymoon, etc.), and I guess the silver lining here is that we survived “hiking” something pretty cool. P.S. I’m right there with you on the husband and planning! 🙂

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  5. Well this chapter on the Travel Architect saga brings to light some new elements. The Architect, while articulate and descriptive, has a bit of a potty mouth! You are risking the loss of your massive Evangelical fan base with such language! There are many euphemisms that work equally well- “my husband is an idiotic fork” is just one example. In the world of mountaineering, there are three groups of people. Those who should not be there at all, those who want to embrace the challenge and live to tell about it, and those who wonder what it’s like to fall 1000 feet. Your crazed looking spouse is obviously a card carrying member of group 3. Your best judgment in an event replete with misjudgment was in not roping yourself to him. The best thing about living through insanely risky ventures in the mountains is the “living through” part. The objective reader would have to conclude that this is not the last time you will look your husband and imminent death on the face in your travels. You should feel free to say “I’m not free-climbing Everest with no oxygen” and stay in camp four. If necessary, a simple and dignified memorial service can be arranged and a coffee can is a great ash storage vehicle. The Big Lebowski offers a brilliant example of how to celebrate a worthy life’s end. Or you can tell your hubby “Let’s take the goat track and enjoy the hike.” You will both be happier as will the goats. Cheers!

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  6. Oh HELL NO! Haha. Love your storytelling in this, but I was scared for you the whole way through!! You must be proud that you did it… in a way! Still, I’m hoping to conquer Snowdon at some point, and this post has been very useful in telling me what route NOT to take. 😀

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    1. Thank you – both for the compliment and for your concern for my safety. I’m thrilled to know that I have successfully dissuaded you from the Crib Goch route. I never realized I could save a life through my blogging, but there you go. 🙂

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