The couple shuffled along in their running trainers. Their flimsy footwear providing scant grip on the slippery snow covered surface. The snow was deep. To the side of us there was no rail, no barrier to break our fall, nothing, just a sheer drop of hundreds of feet. I didn’t know it then, but this short stretch of the trail claims a small, yet significant, number of fatalities each year. If I had known this, I don’t think it would have helped. If the couple in front had known this, perhaps they wouldn’t be traversing an icy escarpment in gym shoes.
The UK isn’t well known for its mountains. It’s not well known for them, because the UK doesn’t really do mountains. I definitely think it would like it to, but there just isn’t the geology for it. This is perhaps why those mountains that the UK does have are so prized.
Snowdon is a big old mountain. It’s pretty sheer, but then again I would say that, not having grown up with anything bigger. I’ve lived in Italy and so can verify that their mountains are pretty mountainous, though, having never climbed them, it’s difficult to really make a comparison. One thing is for sure: climbing a UK mountain is not something the majority of the population take that seriously. The slopes of mount Snowdon have a pretty relaxed feel. There is a train that runs up to the summit, cafes, and lots of casually dressed walkers. It’s not the sort of crowd you would imagine negotiating their way along a Scandinavian mountain range, or trying for an Alpine peak. These were blinking office workers on a day trip from the city.
All this can lull walkers into a false sense of security. Crampons are clearly advised at the trail’s begin, but how could it really be that serious? Clearly the trainer wearing couple took a similar, if not extremely lax, view of the situation. The seasonal train was off due to the heavy snow that covers Snowdon’s summit in the winter. As we rose to the snowy heights, the unpreparedness of many walkers became apparent. Lacking the correct footwear, some walkers decided to slide down the mountain on their backsides. Children in light jeans and jackets were guided down by equally ill-equipped parents, before the mountain patrol were called to guide them down. The pathway to the mountain summit had a kind of Disneyland fantastical element to it, as walkers met with something approaching the reality of high altitude climbing with bemusement and intrigue. The seasoned trekkers looked on in horror, as they picked their way past in thermal jackets and heavy crampon-strapped walking boots.
Snowdon is very much a thing to do, a box to tick; been able to say, “I climbed mount Snowdon,” carries some sense of achievement. Get your photos at the summit, your t-shirts at the base. In this atmosphere of Instagramable accomplishment, it is difficult to perceive the realities of an actual climb. I have climbed mountains before, but nowhere have I encountered such a complete lack of preparedness. It was almost amusing to watch people wonder out of their cars from the allocated Snowdon car park and begin the assent upwards, soon to be met with icy trails and snowdrifts, and with all the equipment required for an afternoon at Madame Tussauds.
Snowdon is a remarkable place. It’s an unspoiled, raw, Middle Earthian wonder just five hours drive from London. It’s accessibility comes at the potential cost of been dragged off a mountainside by an inexperienced climber in lounge wear, but it’s a small risk to take for the splendour of scaling Snowdonia’s greatest peak.