The beer picture was glorious and couldn’t have been more perfect.
A bottle of Snowdon craft lager in the foreground. In the distance under a blue sky and a cloud halo, the tallest mountain in Wales appears like a giant laying stretched out compared to the virile peak displayed on the beer label.
It would be nice if I could tell you that just after taking this picture, I climbed to the top and stood at the peak under a magnificent sky. But the reality behind this picture is at that moment Mount Snowdon was like a beautiful woman who had just rejected all of my charming attempts at wooing her but now was smiling and waving at me. A couple hours earlier, it was an entirely different picture.
The week leading up to this trip was almost an hourly cycle of checking the weather forecast. No place on Earth has frustrated me more with the weather than Great Britain and Ireland. I was introduced to the art of making hiking plans around the British weather for my Ben Nevis hike. It was at Ben Nevis that I learned about the Big Three and the Big Three Challenge to hike the tallest mountains in Wales, England, and Scotland in a 24 hour period. Mount Snowdon, Scafell Pike, and Ben Nevis. While I was never going to do them in 24 hrs, I wanted to at least make sure it didn’t take 24 months. With one down last October, at the top of my bucket list for 2018 were the other two.
But it looked a helluva lot like the weather was not going to cooperate. A gloomy miserable weather forecast hung over the targeted hike date the entire week before. My friend and I were planning the hike the day after we arrived in Wales, but it was looking more and more likely that if we wanted any chance of decent weather, we’d have to fly to Manchester (from Cologne, Germany), drive all the way to our Airbnb in Wales, and then climb the mountain in the same day. And ultimately that is precisely what we did.
The planned hike was a loop starting and ending at the Snowdon Ranger parking lot. We would hike up the Snowdon Ranger path, come down the Rhyd Ddu path then make our way back to the car.
When we started the hike, the skies were completely grey, there was a fine drizzle and the entire mountain was shrouded in fog. We were already in the well-we-came-all-this-way-let’s-just-do-it mode. I begin to think about everything I’ve read and learned about positivity.
As we made our way up the mountain, layers of gear came on and the drizzle turned into piercing semi-frozen needles blown into the face with gusts of strong wind. Waterproof shoes eventually gave way to the rain, gloves became soggy hand weights, and the fear of spending hours soaking wet when we were checking the weather forecast the days before became reality.
At the top, it was quite an ordeal removing the gloves to take the beer picture. Wringing them out and putting them back on with frozen fingers was even more difficult. Visibility was absolutely zero just like the Ben Nevis summit and I was beginning to think I would do the entire Big Three while never seeing a single summit view. The beautiful woman was not just playing hard to get, she was in full cold shoulder mode.
On the summit of Mount Snowdon, there is a cafe. It is actually possible to take a train up and down the summit, but you need to book early. While we had no plans of using the train, it was a bit discouraging to see the messages on the TV screen that all trains down were fully booked.
To prevent our body temperatures from cooling down too much, we didn’t stay too long at the cafe. We went back out into the fog, but at least at this point the rain had stopped.
For much of the way down we would joke about what the view would look like if we could see past ten meters. Little by little the clouds went from being a wet blanket to a modest dome giving us space to see our surroundings but not letting our vision thru to the valleys below.
Body temperature started to overtake the upper body wetness and the mood picked up. At a certain moment as we were coming down thru a gully, a magical thing started to happen.
A view…. ANY view at that point was a moment of celebration and appreciation. We set down our backpacks and popped a couple beers. At that moment, I thought for sure this would be the best it get. But within about 30 minutes, the weather that had frustrated for 3 hours simply…. vanished. And thankfully, so did layers of wet but quickly drying gear.
By the time we reached the high part of the valley, the sky cleared. And by the time we reached a well-earned pub where I bought the Snowdon craft lager, all that was left was the halo cloud over the peak as if proclaiming the mountain’s innocence. As inviting as that beautiful woman now looked, my heart had already moved on to a new love. A beer in the pub I was about to enter.
As for the pub, the Cwellyn Arms, the warm fireplace was an inviting spot to sip a beer and to dry our soaking wet shoes and socks (despite signs asking kindly not to do so).
As for the final stretch, if I were you, take my advice and avoid the forest trail on the way back to the Snowdon Ranger parking lot. Just follow the road. That particular trail is covered with fallen, uprooted trees and several swampy, mosquito-ridden sections and there is only one amazing vantage point to reward the effort. Take the road and enjoy the memories of a fantastic hike, regardless of how the weather treated you.
Here are the final recorded hike specifications using the highly recommended Komoot App.
- Starting/Ending Point: Snowdon Ranger Parking Lot (point A)
- Eating Points: Mount Snowdon Summit Cafe,
- Distance: 16,2km
- Moving Time: 4:14
Where to Stay
I have to say that we hit the jackpot on our Airbnb. We found a cozy 200 year old cottage which is situated behind some terrace houses in the cute village of Beddgelert. It was way more than we needed but it provided us with a comfortable living room, a well-equipped kitchen, a sun room, two bathrooms with their own showers, and three bedrooms. The place drips with character and is the type of place that immerses you into the whole experience. This is the first place I will look up if I ever return.
As we relaxed in our Airbnb after the hike, aside from feeling tired and a little buzzed, we also felt wiser. The worst part of checking the weather forecasts is not being sure of how much you could suffer during the hike. How is it really going to feel to be out in the cold windy rain for four hours? There is always that doubt up until the point you start heading up the mountain. I learned what my equipment could endure and how much it could protect me from the worst of the elements. Even had the sun not come out, we would have successfully finished the hike and enjoyed it. I did find out where my equipment needed to improve. But that equipment still needed to withstand the third peak of the Big Three left on my list, Scafell Pike, which was the next stop on the trip. However, that was for the day after next. First, a couple more beers in the 200 year old cottage and soaking up the atmosphere of this quaint little Welsh village in the middle of nowhere that I was lucky enough for two nights to call home.