The afternoon office home time chatter began as I washed my mug and started to pack my papers and laptop away.
“What’s everyone doing this evening?”
“I’m going to sleep up Snowdon.”
“Going to sleep on the summit of Snowdon.”
“What, you’re going there now?”
Cue a conversation involving everyone at our bank of desks, asking me if I had thought this through, and was it really a good idea? It was 4:30pm on a Thursday afternoon. It was a little bit grey and Septembery outside, but not too wet and not too windy. I’d been checking the summit weather forecast online for the last couple of weeks, and tonight was still looking okay. I had my bag packed and ready in the car. I had booked Friday off work. My friend, an outdoor instructor and generally an ‘up for anything’ sort of guy, was on adventure standby at his home near Wales. I jumped in the car to pick him up, and turned on to the motorway towards adventure.
We reached the Pen y Pass car park just after 9pm. As we got out of the car, all I could see was the lights in the windows of the Youth Hostel across the road. Everything else was consumed by darkness. Above us, the deep black sky was showered with layers of stars.
With our overnight gear on our backs, we made our way through a pair of red iron gates on to the Miners’ Track. I had been here only once before, at Easter weekend. The Miners’ Track, which snakes lazily around the lakes and then shoots upwards from the bank of Glaslyn to the summit, was a conveyor belt of day trippers and families out for a stroll. Now, as we made our way around the edges of Llyn Llydaw, the light from our head torches slipped off the path and disappeared. The beams put out by the LEDS didn’t quite make it to the surface of the water. Crossing the causeway through the lake felt like we were balancing on a beam, with an abyss tumbling away on either side.
The track began to climb, and the gravel paths gave way to large stone steps. We were only able to plan ahead as far as our globe of torch light let us, so we had to keep switching sides to keep to the easiest terrain. We swept upwards around the edge of Glaslyn, and I settled into a rhythm with my feet and my walking poles.
There was a great freedom to hiking in the dark; you could only tackle the part of the climb you were able to see. The path had looked very long and crowded when I was last here, and the incline was steep and intimidating. The summit had seemed huge and unreachable. Now, coming here at night and focussing only on putting one boot in front of the other, the scale of the mountain was less scary. Bit by bit, we moved our little shaft of light forwards.
At quarter to midnight, tiredness hit me. We perched on a smooth, cold bit of rock, and ate that most humble and glorious of adventure foods: the Tunnock wafer biscuit. Cloud began to swirl around us and the temperature dropped, chilling the caramel inside the Tunnocks. They were a mission to eat when they were like this, and I crunched and pulled at mine greedily.
Finally, inside a dark cloud at around half past midnight, we clambered up the last set of steps to the top of the mountain. I ran my hand over the worn brass compass set in to the trig point and stood for a minute, buffeted by the wind, clinging to the highest point in England and Wales. I looked out into the darkness. It felt deep, and empty.
We clambered back down to the rocky summit ground, looking for the softest bit of gravel on which to set up camp. All the most sheltered spots were full of water from the week’s rain fall. The wind cut across the summit and pushed chilly cloud vapour into our faces. Eventually, we ducked down behind the café wall.
Snuggled inside a bivvy bag, sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, down coat and thermals, I drifted in and out of sleep. Trains of thought merged in to strange dreams. I only knew I had slept when the rhythm of the wind changed and woke me with a jump. As I stared at the sky, willing myself to sleep, I watched the clouds slip past overhead. Sometimes they broke, and exposed the blanket of stars stretching across the sky. The cool glow from the moon came through for a second or two, and then our camp was plunged back into darkness.
Around 6:30am, I was brought back to consciousness as torch beams cut through the thick cloud, moving towards the trigpoint. A yellowish-grey morning light was beginning to seep through. The torches tracked up the curve of the hill in front of us. Over the wind I could hear, “One down! That’s the hardest one. Two to go!” The Three Peakers raced up to the brass compass, touched it, took a murky photo, and turned to head straight back down to the car park.
As the last torch disappeared, I sat up in my sleeping bag and looked around. There wasn’t much to see, and I felt like we had earned a view from the top. But that’s the thing about adventures: you can plan all you like but, ultimately, you are not in control. The mountain is responsible for deciding what kind of adventure you have, and you just get to choose how you take it. You are, in a way, free.
I had had about three hours of sleep. My hair was damp and my cold nose was dripping. I stretched, and the cold air whooshed, uninvited, into my sleeping bag. I was happy.
We packed away our damp sleeping bags and headed for the car park. Then we drove out of Pen y Pass and ordered the biggest cooked breakfasts you have ever seen.