The Idea: Sleep in a mountain bothy, run to the top of Snowdon
Ascent: (Snowdon) 1,070m (whole weekend) 2,642m
Essential kit: Trail-running shoes. Walking Boots. Sleeping bags. Camp stove. Dog lead.
Less-essential kit: Weird fishy snacks.
Kit we wished we’d had: Knee supports. Wet suits.
Cost per person: £20 (petrol)
After three months of hearing how cycling through torrential rain, hiking through bogs and getting smashed about by ice-cold waves is good for the soul, our girlfriends thought it was about time they joined us on an adventure. Not everyone could make it, though. Callum’s girlfriend was too busy being introduced to his other friends, Joe’s wife declined (for reasons that will be disclosed in later posts), and Nick’s girlfriend was ill, so he brought his dog Maple instead.
Meg and Faye, however, were super keen. Alongside me and/or Jake, they’ve swum in freezing cold British seas in December, driven a rickshaw the length of India, pitched a tent on Dartmoor in the howling rain and snowshoed through Slovakia. By comparison, a spring weekend in Snowdonia sounded – quite literally – like a walk in the park.
We chose Snowdonia for two reasons: firstly, because we’re trying to visit all of Britain’s national parks this year, and secondly, because Jake’s training for a mountain race in June (the KMV in Chamonix) and needs to get as many near-vertical miles in his legs as possible. Snowdonia has the only peaks in the UK that are over 1,000 metres high and not in Scotland. We planned to run to the top of the most famous of these peaks, Snowdon, at some point over the weekend and use the rest of the time to explore some of the lesser-known mountains of northern Wales.
“As we walked upwards, spring gave way to winter. Snow covered the path, icicles formed on verges, and the wind started to burn our faces.”
It took six hours to get to Snowdonia, which meant a 3am departure got us there for breakfast. Roadworks held us up as we tried to leave, almost as if London didn’t want us to see the beauty of the world outside the M25. When we eventually reached Wales, motorways and A-roads turned into single-lane mountain tracks, sheep lined the verges and we were welcomed by a jolly old man in a tweed cap who waved and nodded as we passed his farm. Six hours in the car might seem like a long time, but considering how different life is in Wales to London, it felt like it should have taken longer.
Our first stop was Y Garn and the Devil’s Kitchen. We had taken our first steps on the mountain by 10am and the urge to catch up on sleep was soon replaced by the urge to sprint up hills, roll back down them and do it all over again. Snowdonia’s lake-dotted, mountain-divided landscape had turned us into excitable children. For the first time in ages we were too distracted by the epic views to remember to take pictures (apart from Jake, thankfully) and moved swiftly up the mountain, trying to inhale as much of the cleansing alpine air as possible.
After a few hours of walking, we stopped for lunch just below the cloud line. As we sat there, eating our now customary mix of tinned-fish treats and trail mix, an old couple walked past, stopping briefly to say hello in a Welsh accent before bounding on into the clouds. Though we’re not hardened adventurers, we like to think we challenge ourselves beyond the norm. It’s always slightly surprising, therefore, when we’re passed by pensioners with a spring in their step. As they walked on ahead, I told myself I’d move to Wales before getting old and fat and make it my mission to climb at least one mountain a day.
As we walked upwards, spring gave way to winter. Snow covered the path, icicles formed on verges, and the wind started to burn our faces. The peak was completely obscured from view by the cloud cover and there were several moments when we thought we could see the top, only to find we had further to go. There was no view when we eventually reached the peak, but the wind stopped and the atmosphere became eerie, giving the impression of being in the eye of the storm. After a few deep breaths and a quick check for flying sheep, we began the descent.
Nick worked out that the easiest way down the mountain was to slide through the snow, making the most of the water-repelling qualities of his much beloved ‘technical’ gear. I followed him blindly, forgetting for a moment that I was wearing jeans and a cable-knit jumper, which immediately became sodden. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wear them for long. Nick found an icy lake for us to swim in a little further down the mountain, so I removed my damp clothes as we treated ourselves to a little hypothermic shock therapy.
Once we’d regained feeling in our legs and our manhood had been restored, we finished the descent and headed back the bothy where we would be spending the night. We passed through Betws-y-Coed on the way back, which makes a strong claim to be the adventure capital of the UK. Where normal towns have the same chains of sandwich shops on every street, Betws-y-Coed has outdoor-gear shops. It’s hard to believe that any place needs two Cotswold Outdoors stores within walking distance of each other, but this is no normal town. In Betws-y-Coed, wearing a harness, helmet or life jacket at all times is de rigueur.
When we arrived back at the bothy car park, we made dinner on camp stoves and packed the gear we needed for the night: sleeping bags, roll mats and dog bed. Before we set off, a group of guys from Birmingham showed up in vans and asked us if we were planning on staying at the bothy that night. When we said we were they had a very vocal disagreement, resulting in half the group heading back to Birmingham. We weren’t sure whether to take offence at this or not, but assumed they were just after more privacy.
The light had completely faded by the time we hit the path to the bothy. As we walked up the side of a hill and down into a valley, Meg frantically shone her torch in every direction, expecting to see that the noises she was hearing were coming from big cats or opportunist murderers. She found herself illuminating sheep instead. Three tense miles later, we arrived and set up camp in one of the two rooms.
On our first adventure in Wales, we smoked ourselves out of our bothy by lighting a fire with damp wood on arrival and vowed not to make the same mistake twice. This time we lit as many tea lights as we could and huddled around a table. We played cards, drank whisky and shared stories from the day with the guys from Birmingham. With no bowl in sight and only two sets of keys, we called it a night at around 10pm.
There’s nothing quite like waking up in a bothy. There’s victory in each aching joint, and the moment you’re finally able to relieve yourself after holding everything in due to being too cold and lazy to walk outside feels like all your dreams are coming true. I wake up a different person after a night under a bothy’s roof, partly due to feeling proud of myself for having tapped into the secret world of mountain huts known only to outdoorsy folks, and partly because, through lack of sleep, I’ve had eight solid hours of silent reflection time.
After a quick breakfast and the normal round of al-fresco cleansing, we left the bothy and set off towards Snowdon for our little morning jog. How hard could running up a mountain really be? Jake predicted he could do it in an hour, and the last time I’d run with him I’d been ahead the whole way. Admittedly, that was over a year ago and he’s been in training ever since, but I didn’t expect to be far behind him as we sprinted to the summit. Meg and Faye declined the invitation and Joe, who’d been running with Jake recently, decided to go a different route, shaking his head at us when we tried to convince him we’d all be able to keep up.
Five steps in, I realised I should have heeded Joe’s warning. Not only had Jake set off at a faster pace uphill than I’d ever run on flat ground but I felt a horrible stabbing pain in my knee and had to stop immediately. I made my apologies and let the others jog on as I limped slowly behind. About 15 minutes later I caught up with Nick, who’d given up next to a conveniently placed waterfall. Uncharacteristically, we decided to take a dip in the crystal clear waters and took a moment to reflect on, and rejoice in, our failure.
We caught up with Jake in a cafe at the bottom of the mountain and found out he’d reached the summit in just over an hour. Not only had he become a better runner than me in the space of a year, he’d become the fastest man alive. Faye got up to congratulate him as we sat there sipping flat whites, eating Welsh cakes and feeling unworthy. Failure was no longer something to rejoice in, and I wished for a brief moment that Meg hadn’t come so she wouldn’t have to see me like this. Maple the adventure dog wouldn’t even look at Nick.
All feelings of envy had passed by the time we got back in the cars to leave Wales, but while the newest female members of team Everyday Adventure excitedly planned the next trip, we all agreed that, before the time came, we’d try our hardest to be just a little bit more like Jake, the king of the mountain. ▲