A month ago I received an invitation to trek Mt Snowdon in Wales as a part-training/part-team bonding exercise with some of the folks I will be attempting to summit Mt Kilimanjaro with - an offer I couldn't refuse. As Mt Snowdon is located in the northern tip of Wales then it's challenge just to get there in the first place: a whooping 9-hours from London in Friday afternoon traffic, horrendous rain; and, once crossing the border, tiny single track roads weaving there way through some of the most stunning scenery on the British Isles. Luckily, as soon as I crossed into Wales the rain stopped and the Sun was shining low in the sky causing the mountainous region to be draped in an orange/yellow glow: a juxtaposition to the urban landscape I've become accustomed to over the past 6-years of living in London. By the time I rolled into Rhyd-Ddu, my base for the next few days, it was in time to catch the final glimpse of the Sun dipping below the horizon welcoming in the night.
The next day we woke to the most breathtaking view of Mt. Snowdon that I've seen to date. Every other time I'd ever visited the region it had been blighted with thick fog covering the top third of the mountain; it was like navigating through a cloud. On this occasion, the sky was blue with white fluffy clouds, the mountain was topped with snow and the cafe located at the summit could be seen clearly. It felt more like I was staring at a photograph or painting than the real deal. Seeing snow on the upper slopes of the mountain surprised me as I was under the impression it would've thawed by mid-April, shows how little I know. As I looked upon the mountain from the warmth of our farmhouse accommodation I found it hard to envisage that I was about to trek to the point that can be seen towering high above the ground. People just seem so insignificant in comparison to the landscape and the thought of standing on top of this mountain doesn't seem to compute in my mind. I've scaled a few mountains in my time but this feeling still resonates. It took a short while for us all to gather the things we needed for the trek and to get going but after a hearty breakfast we set off to tackle the mountain.
The plan was to ascend the Rhyd-Ddu Path and return on the Ranger Track. This was the quieter side of the mountain so we were hoping for blissful peace throughout the journey. The Rhyd-Ddu path was easy to begin with; the incline was shallow and took us along a track that used to serve the old Bwlch Cwm Llan Slate Quarry before getting relatively steep and rocky as we headed towards Llechog Ridge. It was between these points that we were introduced to the snow; a dusting to begin with but quickly deepened until it hit my knee height (approximately 2ft) a short time later. As it happens the snow was particularly prominent along the ridge and without cramp-ons or an ice axe the route became serious. I haven't had any experience with trekking in the snow and I suddenly became aware of the steep drops on either side of me and how close I was to the edge. It didn't help that I had no clue about the terrain below the snow, I could happen a guess but what if I got it wrong? Instead I opted to just take my time and to make sure my feet were planted before moving onto the next step. To say I was 'bricking it' was a vast understatement. This bit needed all my concentration if I was going to get across this ridge unscathed. My pace had slowed to a snail pace and the dark thoughts of slowing down the rest of the team were going through my head. However, there was no way I was going to let that get to me, instead I ended up muttering to myself, taking deep breaths and ignoring the fact that I was inches from certain death - I must have sounded like a complete maniac. It was at this point where I realised that my walking poles were disadvantaging me instead of aiding me. At many points throughout the ridge ascent I really wanted to use both of my hands and feet to traverse some of the trickier spots; but, having the walking poles stopped me from utilising my hands properly and as I was so close to the edge, I really didn't want to faff about with taking my bag off and putting them away - so I struggled on. It was at this moment I understood the advantage of planning ahead, knowing your terrain and what equipment is best used when. The snowy ridge almost beat me but I'm happy to say I persevered and through motivation from the team I got through. In hindsight, it was the snow that had thrown my confidence; having never trekked in those conditions before I was in completely new territory. I have been 'on the edge' of rather steep drops in the past and it hasn't phased me one bit, but in the snow it got to me. I felt uneasy on my feet and that gave me unrelenting nerves. Cramp-ons/studs are definitely being added to the kit list for Kilimanjaro.
Once we got to the end of the Llechog Ridge, the space opened out a little and the icy cold wind galloped to a pace, nothing that could affect balance but enough to feel it bite through your clothing. At this point I realised that my trekking trousers: craghoppers were not suitable for cold conditions as I could feel the wind cut straight through the material. At this point, I took a moment to stop and to check out the view. I had been concentrating so hard on where my feet were going on the ridge that I didn't realise how high we had come. We regrouped and made our final push for the summit and after 2.5 hours we had made it: we had taken on the mountain and won! A feat we can all be proud of. It was at this point we were met by a huge amount of people, it was so busy up there. Where had all these people come from? There was even a queue to the plinth that marked the highest point; and, as we looked down the 'tourist' route (aptly nick-named due to the busyness of it) there was a string of people going in both directions - also described as the motorway of the mountain - a sea of colours, lots of chatter and some questionable trek wear. This was the perfect place to stop, have a bite to eat and re-hydrate before descending down the Ranger Track and back to the pub.
However, once we had crossed the train track and were actually on the correct route it was smooth sailing from then on. In approximately 5 hours we had done a return trip of the mountain. Later on that evening, as we were sat at the pub looking up at the mountain, it was hard to imagine what Kilimanjaro would look like; towering 6-times higher than Snowdon. An eye opener of fear and excitement.
This trip was invaluable to judge how the next 4-months will be shaped in terms of training and physical/mental preparation. It also highlighted current kit issues, missing kit and how to utilise it in the most efficient way for the terrain expected. I for one have learnt a lot from this weekend and plan on rectifying the issues as quickly as possible. There is still a lot to do before stepping onto that flight in August but I already feel better prepared than I did a week ago. I will try and keep this blog updated over the next 4 months with my preparations for Kilimanjaro. If you would like to follow my progress then don't forget to favourite www.memoirsofascribbler.com and/or follow me on social media: Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. I am also trying to raise as much awareness and funds for Cancer Research UK, should you wish to donate then please follow the link: www.justgiving.com/marcus-to-the-top