My alarm sounded at 3am on Saturday morning. On a normal day I’d have hit snooze at least twice, but not this time. I was up in minutes, buzzing with anticipation for the adventure of the day ahead. I grabbed my bags and and jumped in the car. First stop Peckham to pick up my brother. Next stop, Snowdonia. You can reach Snowdonia in 4 hours from London. That is about the same time it takes to watch one of the Lord of The Rings films, factoring in a few cups of tea.
We drove through the night, seemingly taking no time at all to reach Birmingham, where I nailed an espresso and noted the snow underfoot. I left Charlie asleep under a picnic blanket in the passenger seat. The deal was, after all, that we could only set off in the middle of the night if Charlie was allowed to sleep as I drove.
The scenery wasn’t much from the M1 or the M6, but as soon as we hit North Wales, we were in a different world. Castles perched on mountain sides, overlooking the sea. We drove through tunnels and felt like we had driven to Middle Earth. As we hit Middle Earth, some dark magic caused my GPS to blackout and we were lost. Soon we noticed signs for Holyhead and realised we had gone too far north, but seeing as we were on an adventure we went with it, to Anglesey and the very top of Wales.
Holyhead is bleak. The town feels similar to a number of rough around the edges Cornish seaside towns, and the northernmost point is lacking the drama you’d expect. There is a strange castle with a modern building attached, suffering from some serious neglect.
We got back in the car and headed straight back down, what I think is, the only road in North Wales, until we were in Snowdonia. The mountains came into view from the motorway, leaving us both speechless. Enormous, snow covered giants stretched out from east to west, filling the horizon. The adventure suddenly felt very real and I suddenly felt very unprepared, of course I didn’t mention that as we headed towards them.
It took us a while to get to Cadair Idris, in the south of Snowdonia National Park. We drove through valleys and forests until the memory of the M6 was long gone. Finally we reached it, although it remained hidden behind a sundrenched hill. We hastily threw some essentials in our rucksacks and hit the trail. It was quiet. There was a lone sheep guarding the car. We began our sweltering uphill climb through woodland and past miniature waterfalls.
As we crossed a stone bridge, the sun was feeling hot. Being surrounded by snowy mountains, we didn’t expect to be stripping off after five minutes of walking, although we’d need the layers later on. While Charlie stripped down to his t-shirt, I took the opportunity for a selfie, the first of the adventure.
Up we went, along a well kept path, until we came to a fork in the road. One path headed straight up towards the bowl like mountain, while the other forked to the right. We went right, crossing another river. This path led us up towards the Mynydd Moel summit. The sun was still hot, but this path was clear of any snow and relatively untaxing compared with what lay ahead. Charlie showed off by running up part of it. The higher we went, the more snow came into view, until Cadair Idris finally revealed herself.
We climbed the ladder at the top of the track, which marked the end of the snow free path. From here on it was hard going and we sure weren’t in Kansas anymore. The path grew steeper and the solid stones became loose rocks, moving freely under our feet. We scrambled up, through patchy snow until the full mountain came into view. I’ve never seen anything so spectacularly beautiful as Cadair Idris, other than my wife of course.
The first full view of the mountain marked the beginning of the deep snow. In places, my legs were sinking so deep that only my thighs were above the snowline. Charlie lead the way to the summit of Mynydd Moel at an alarming pace. He is always faster than me, but it’s not usually so apparent. I worked out that his footsteps were twice as far apart as mine. I was, however, slowly and surely ascending a snow covered mountain.
Until now, the summit of Penygader had been in the clouds. In the distance we could see a small group of people and could almost glimpse the stone marker that sits on top of the highest point. We headed, as the crow flies, across a buried pony path towards the summit. The snow up high was hard and icy, making it much easier to move. We were at the summit in what seemed like a few minutes. We struck a few poses and balanced precariously on the summit stone. There was no wind, otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it.
The views from the summit are incredible. A raven flew past, guiding me to some of the most sought after photograph locations. The sun hit the peaks around us, gilding the mountains below in light.
There is a shelter at the summit, with a legend attached. They say those who spend the night there either leave dead, a poet or a madman. Fancying it might give my poetry a boost, we went inside. We didn’t leave dead but Charlie did feel compelled to stand on his head, displaying the symptoms of mountain madness in its early stages. For the full effects you need to sleep there.
We ate lunch at the top and remembered it was St Piran’s day. Without a Cornish flag to fly from the summit, we settled on my water bottle, temporarily conquering the mountain for the Cornish.
Time to go down. We had made it to the top in around two hours. The descent was easy to begin with, and we practically skipped down towards the base of the second peak. Charlie actually ran up that one too, disappearing from view as I plodded up behind. I looked back to see the the summit, completely clear of cloud. Technically, Cadair Idris is not a mountain, as it isn’t quite 4000 feet high. Having climbed it, I can say it is a mountain and a decent one too.
We went close to the edge to look over at the lake below. The mountain is beautifully wild. There are no fences, rails or signs to tell you where to go or where to stand. The only things up high made by man are the walls to keep the hill sheep in order.
The snow became thinner and wetter as we dropped down, and the ground slippery with it. We followed a path until it seemed to vanish, leaving us stood on a cliff edge scouting our options. As we surveyed our perimeter, I recognised the view from a photograph I had seen. It was the one that made me decide to come here in there first place.
We decided to make our way down, in the direction of the carpark which we could just about see from our vantage point. The path we chose was well used by sheep and littered with their droppings. It was steep. It was not a path. It was wet and my feet absorbed enough to hydrate me if we got marooned there.
Lower down the snow had gone and melt water was cascading down the hill all around us. We reached a stone wall, reassuring us that a path must be near. I found two skulls laying side by side on the ground. I imagined two sheep had rolled down the hill I had just nearly rolled down myself, and done themselves in on the wall.
Finally we made it back to the path we had started on several hours earlier, relieved but soggy and slightly battered. We went to the pub, drank a few ales then wild camped before heading back to London at dawn.
It is easy to have an adventure if you want one. In 24 hours we travelled all the way to the top of Wales, the top of a mountain and back again in time for Sunday lunch.
I’ll forever have this view and the memories to go with it.
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For the full set of photographs visit my flickr