Hi all! It’s been a while. Back in March I had to go to England for a conference, so I decided I should probably do some hiking the weekend before and climb the tallest mountain in Wales, because #yolo!
Schuyler (our partner in crime for Norway) was a short plane flight away in the Netherlands, so I asked her to join and she was in! David also came along for fun because academia allows for such flexibility (one of the few perks!). I arrived into London from a redeye and off we went to Snowdonia National Park, supposedly a 4 hour drive away.
It turns out the traffic in the UK is like, REAL BAD Y’ALL, and that 4 hour drive on the wrong side of the road with my sleep deprived brain turned into a 7 hour drive on the wrong side of the road with my sleep deprived brain. It was pretty rough and I was exhausted by the time we finally found our airbnb (not to mention that the UK seems to be fond of very narrow winding roads). BUT NO MATTER. There were mountains to hike.
The weather was looking stable and we headed out early-ish, or what we thought was early-ish. We arrived at the Pyg track parking lot at Pen y Pass before 9am and uhhh… the parking lot was a mad house and totally full and we had to park 3 miles down the road at Nant Peris and get a taxi to the trailhead. Yikes! This was going to be a very crowded trail… apparently the only pastime in Wales is hiking????
I had decided on the Pyg track because it had decently low mileage (less than 8 miles out and back), decently low elevation gain (less than 2500 feet), and seemed unlikely to kill Schuyler, who hadn’t done any hiking since summer 2018 in Norway. It also seemed very scenic, which it was, right from the car park! It was also very, very, very busy.
We began hiking with 5000 of our closest friends. As we hiked up, the crowds never really thinned out too much, so we were constantly passed by or passing other groups. One friendly coupled tried in vain to tell us how to pronounce “Crib Goch“, one of the scramble-y paths up to the summit. I got the idea that you should generally just pretend you’re speaking Klingon when trying to pronounce Welsh words and you’ll be in the general ballpark of proper pronunciation 😉 .
As the Pyg track winds up the mountain, the grade is fairly steady, with a flat-ish section in the middle before becoming steeper to gain the ridge. As the path got steeper there was an epic bottleneck, and I took lots of pictures of the hundreds of little ants making their way up the trail. I’ve been on Mt. Washington on a sunny summer weekend with the hoards of hikers, and this was pretty comparable. It was nuts!
After you gain the ridge, the last few minutes to the summit are easy-peasy, and then we were treated with the summit spectacle of dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of hikers crowding around a relatively small area. There was literally A LINE to climb a staircase and stand at the true highest point, perhaps 10 feet above everyone else. We decided this wasn’t worth the wait and sat down to eat our lunch. In the group next to us, one woman pulled out a cigarette and began smoking. Behind us, a man took off his shirt, sprayed himself with axe body spray, and put a new shirt on. Above us, a drone buzzed. AH, NATURE.
While conditions weren’t exactly tranquil, the scenery was in fact beautiful and very Scotland-esque, which isn’t all that shocking since we were on the same island, albeit a few hundred miles south. I wonder, however, if the trail was this crowded on a random weekend in March, what does it look like over the summer!?!?!? If any Welsh people happen to come across this blog, please tell me the secret to hiking in Wales without the insane crowds, pretty please?
On the descent we decided to GO ROGUE and take a different route down, since we had to take a taxi back to our rental car no matter what. We chose the Llanberis path, because I remembered reading that it was the easiest path up, and this way we’d descend down a different side and also perhaps catch a glimpse of the train, which was stopping halfway up the mountain instead of the summit since it was early in the season.
Welp, since the Llanberis path is the easiest way up, it meant it was even more crowded than the Pyg track, but at least we blasted down the wide and steadily graded trail. On the way down, we saw many a paraglider floating around the summit and fields below. We also saw the fabled train, which was moving so slowly you could almost keep pace with it!
The scenery on the Llanberis side definitely wasn’t as good as the Pyg track side, in my humble opinion, but it was very easy to descend, and at the bottom of the trail there was a conveniently located cafe offering beer, snacks, and taxi rides. Having made it safely back to our rental car and Schulyer still very much alive, the day was deemed a success, albeit a rather different hiking experience than what I was naively anticipating!
The next morning we headed back to London super early to try and beat the traffic, which mostly worked! Then I got sick right in time for my conference, probably due to the sleep deprivation followed by exhausted driving followed by hiking followed by more driving. WOOPS! #noregrets?