“A ewch chi adref heno?” That Welsh question ran through my mind more than once as I descended from the summit of Copa’r Wyddfa. Translated it asks “Will you go home tonight?” Five minutes after bagging England and Wales highest peak, Snowdon, I realized why Yr Wyddfa translates to “The tomb”.
North Wales is achingly beautiful country. This is where you find the area known as Snowdonia, a rugged range of several mountains, many over 3,000 feet. The north coast train ride to Bangor kept me thoroughly awestruck as the train chugged along sandwiched between rugged cliffs and the low tides of the Irish Sea. Bangor was the last stop before the train crossed over to the Isle of Anglesey and arrived at Llanfair, an abbreviation of the Welsh tongue twister Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllandysiliogogoch, the longest place name in Europe: (In case you’re curious, the longest place name in the world is the full name of the city of Bangkok: Krungthepmahanakornamornratanakosinmahintarayutthayamahadilokphopnopparatraja
thaniburiromudomrajaniwesmahasatharnamornphimarnavatarnsathitsakkattiyavisanukamprasit or simply Krung Thep).
I decided to start from the town of Llanberis where it’s a five mile climb to the summit of Snowdon. The weather was near perfect. It was sunny, very light wind and the thermometer read 79.6 degrees.
The path up the mountain is primarily slate and volcanic scree and it’s quite an exercise in mindful awareness dodging the ankle wrenching dangers. This potential for danger is what attracts me to hiking, climbing and trekking. It’s a form of meditation to avoid injury and it’s remarkably calming just like a sailor spending his day on the water negotiating sails to propel him forth.
I saw my colleagues in the search for tranquility far below on Llyn Padarn as I ascended higher on the mount. Slow moving partners in their canvas and wind dance, they cut their rug on an impossibly blue and frigid ballroom floor. It was Astaire and Rogers interpreted at a glacial pace.
It’s impossible to merely climb Snowdon and come back down. The scenery is so enchanting that you are forced to stop, sit and admire. Snowden is what I would desire in a woman: quiet and possessing a stature of breathtaking beauty that overwhelms you constantly with admiration.
Snowdon’s pitch grew steeper as I climbed higher on the trail now flanked by the famously beautiful and fragrant Scottish heather. The beautiful plants blast forth a supernova of vivid pink-violent and brilliant yellow and this made me wonder how nature manages to dress herself in such audacious colors and there’s never a clash. Off in the distance shadows of clouds were sliding down the green treeless mountainside like silken sheets slowly and smoothly. The wind started to pick up speed whipping my hair across my face like a Muslim woman’s hijab.
Climbing higher the pitch grew steeper and rockier. I briefly spoke with a climber descending and he confirmed what I already suspected: it was cold up there. “Real cold mate and the wind is pretty strong too” he added for further emphasis. I gave fleeting consideration to turning back, but giving up now meant defeat with 80% of Snowdon beneath me. Sometimes the siren’s song is too strong to resist.
The path became increasingly unreasonable and the cloud cover escalated to thicker and ominous levels at the summit. The temperature had dropped to 42 degrees and and worse, the wind blew even stronger making it feel much colder than that. Staring down at a small lake I noticed small waves from the wind that raked the surface with it’s icy fingers. Freezing in my convertible pants and rain jacket, I was in no way prepared for this.
Scrambling up a steep and rocky curve I came upon the narrow ridge leading to the summit. It felt as if I were on top of the world. Right beside me was an anxiety inducing sheer cliff that plunged at least 1,000 feet and above me, the fast moving cloud ceiling that I momentarily was concerned about bumping my head against. Behind me were the tracks belonging to the Snowden mountain railway. I had never seen such a strange convergence of nature in this way and my mind couldn’t process it all. I had to stop and take inventory of my surroundings and senses beginning with the cliff.
Walking slowly towards the edge I felt a twinge of nervousness staring down at the lake below. The clouds were starting to sink and the chasm would fill with fog one minute and the wind would blow it away the next. The velvety movement of the fog was positively euphoric and I understood how people fall to their deaths in these circumstances. You’re so entranced with the beauty of nature’s ballet that you take a short leave of your senses and forget some basic, and most crucially, infallible physics concepts as you let your guard down and loosen your stance. Unbeknown to you the Reaper has been looking for you and it’s right then that he mutters to himself “Ah there you are” and uses the gentle fingers of wind to push you into the overjoyed and tyrannical arms of gravity. Very shortly you learn all the answers to all of those questions that previously only existed in the realm of philosophy.
With only about 300 feet left, I decided to charge right into the mist. It’s was all rocky and slick by this time and I occasionally had to lean forward and help my scrambling efforts along by grabbing the rocks in front of me. I was questioning my motives for the umpteenth time when I saw it, the monument that represented the pinnacle of Snowden.
It was a large, square block of rock with a brass round plate on top detailing the distances to various places with most placenames containing a double F or a double D as is common in the Welsh language. First and foremost, it was uncomfortably cold on the summit. The thermometer showed 34 degrees but the howling wind made it feel much colder than that. I pulled out my small tripod and attached my digicam to take footage but the wind was so strong that it was jostling the camera! My fingers and jaws were stiff by this time and I had a hard time untangling my lavalier microphone cable which I needed to use to get at least a semi-intelligible audio track recorded. I managed to get small amounts of footage shot, some containing unprintable expletives, and then I was off with every intention of getting back to the bottom as soon as possible.
That’s when the real fun began.
Five minutes into the descent and it began raining a fiercely cold deluge. Ped, my stuffed tiger companion, looked at me as if to say “I didn’t sign on for ANY of this mister!!!!” and sensing his imagined pains I shoved him into my waterproof chest pocket. Thankfully I had taken to always carrying my Sugoi rain jacket and a waterproof pack cover everywhere I went in the Isles. The combination protected everything magnificently, especially the rain jacket which is now an indispensable part of my gear and will be for years to come. I had this rain jacket protecting me when I was cycling through the remnants of Hurricane Dennis in Kentucky and it protected my gear when I was on the low floating boat from St Michael’s Mount in Marazion in Cornwall. The rain jacket has a pocket in front that can hold Ped in inclement weather, a longer back to cover more of your rear with a water proof pocket over that, vents under the arms to let in air, and rubberized zippers to keep everything nice and dry. Sugoi had donated this and two other rain jackets, leg warmers, socks and a full length padded cycling outfit to me before this trip and I cannot thank them enough for their kindness. You are going to hear much more about Sugoi throughout my travels and it still won’t be enough thanks as far as Ped and I are concerned.
Unfortunately all of the good intentions of the Sugoi folks would do me no good as round two began with a multi pronged stinging to my face as rain gave it’s domineering deference to hail! It stung tremendously and continued to do so for about a mile down the footpath. I glanced at my watch to reassure myself that it was late August and then my heart sank further as I realized something else: it was my stepdaughter Diana’s birthday. That’s the problem with traveling for any extended length of time, you lose track of the days. I immediately cheered up when I thought about previous birthdays with Diana and that made my descent of the mountain much easier. My pants were soaking wet and sticking to my legs as the wind kept up it’s relentless pace and yet I had a warmth in my heart as I was thinking of a dinner that 10 year old Diana and I had in a restaurant in Nice, France.
“I’ll try it if you try it” she dared pointing her finger to the half dozen escargot on the menu.
“I’ll try it! I’m not chicken!” I said. “Un escargot Garcon!”
The waiter brought the snails out in their shells, hot and bubbling in butter with a baguette of bread and we enjoyed them so much we ordered a dozen more. I love escargot and when I have them with my daughter they taste about a thousand times better.
As I descended further down the path I began to think about more of those special times like when we were in Paris and we walked into a cheese shop that smelled like overworked smelly feet. Diana bought a huge chunk of Brie that we ate while walking around admiring the other culinary delicacies in the windows of gourmet stores like Fauchon, Hediard and the chocolates of Madame Sevigne.
My happiness grew with each thought and the weather was getting much more agreeable as I descended. I was halfway down the mountain before I finally left the cloud bank. Looking off in the distance to Llyn Padarn it was becoming sunny again in the sky and in my mind. No, I was not going home tonight, but in my mind I was already there with my shoes off, smelling oddly reminiscent of a certain french cheese shop.
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