Sunday, 6 July 2008

Washed Out in every sense

We arrived in Snowdonia feeling confident but a little nervous in the shadow of the looming hulk of Snowdon and Crib Goch. Our trip up to Snowdonia through central Wales was beautiful and the weather held out until we left the pub just up the valley from Llanberis. We pitched the tent in a campsite opposite the pub and got our heads down early in anticipation of our start at 2.30am. In the few hours that we were asleep the wind picked up and the showers blew down the valley from Pen y Pass.

At 2.30 we all squeezed into a pick up and were transported up the valley to the car park at the base of Crib Goch. As we gathered in the darkness of the car park with head torches alight the clouds were passing swiftly across the night sky obscuring the mountainside. Within half an hour of starting we began the first of many scrambles up the rocky outcrops that line the face of Crib Goch. With only the light from our head torches route finding was tricky as our frame of reference was reduced to a few metres. As we broke through 800m the cloud closed in and visibility dropped further. The moist rock became slippery and narrowed to form the knife edge ridge that stretches to the summit and beyond. The going was slow as the wind increased, buffeting us from our left and forcing us to crouch down against the rock. In some ways, traversing Crib Goch is better at night and in the mist. The sheer exposure is often intimidating but in this instance we could see no more than a few metres. 

As we came of the ridge we seemed to lose the route and ended up traversing lower than we should across the face of Snowdon. The surface became slick underfoot and the rock broke loose. After 30 minutes of hunting for a way to the summit ridge we came across a butress that was climbable and made our way towards the summit. One stroke of luck was met with a deterioration in the weather as the wind strengthened further and the rain began to fall. As we reached the summit of Snowdon the weather has closed in so much that we had to huddle around the summit cairn.

As we descended the train tracks we passed several groups of people probably attempting the same feat. By this time, my clothes we soaked through and the rain had begun to seep down the inside of my gaiters and into the top of my boots. After twenty minutes of traversing the ridge line we dropped of the edge over a stile towards the campsite. We passed through the base of the cloud and the campsite began to appear. Both Rob and I were feeling fairly strong, if wet, on the descent despite losing our footing on the boggy ground. As the campsite came into view Rob noticed that our tent didn't seem to be where we had left it. The further down the valley we got the more obvious it became that something was wrong. The group stopped to regroup but we pressed on to investigate. Turning into the campsite we could see that the tent next to ours had collapsed. When we got to the Land Rover we still couldn't see the tent so we headed to the wall behind and saw a crumpled heap of poles and fabric. Given that the tent was filled with my kit, the cots, our sleeping bags and some food it must have been an incredible gust that lifted it off the ground and over a 12 foot wall. Unfortunately, the wall was topped with a barbed wire fence that shredded the ground and fly sheets. With nowhere to sleep that evening and soaked to the bone we reluctantly decided to call it a day, gather together our scattered remains and make our way back to Bath. We were both disappointed to have to quit after the first of the three legs but we I suspect it won't be the last attempt.

We learnt a few useful lessons on this attempt that would make a second effort easier and hopefully more successful. After a good night's sleep (I headed to bed at 8pm last night) I am a little sore in the quads and have a huge heap of soaked kit to wash and dry. I'll take a break from training today but will be back on the road on Monday as my preparations for New York take precedence.

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