On 13th July 2019, together with my Mom, my hockey friend Pat and about fifty strangers, I boarded a coach around the back of Selfridges in Birmingham at 9pm to make our way to Llanberis in Wales. At about 12.40am, we arrived and set off to do a Sunrise Summit of Mount Snowdon. I was not prepared for just how magical it would be.
The Llanberis Path Route
The Llanberis Path is the longest but gentlest way to climb Snowdon- making it the safest choice for ascent in the dark. There and back is about a 9 mile walk, covering an ascent of about 3,200 ft or 975 metres. Whilst there are a couple of sections that are a little steep and require a determined effort, describing it as a strenuous walk is probably about right. I’d say it’s very doable for a wide range of ages and experiences.
Guided by Large Outdoors
Our mountain adventure was guided by Large Outdoors. Our group of about 50 was split into a blue and pink group, with three guides to each group: one to lead, one in the middle and a tail guide. Having a guide to show us the way, and ensure our safety through the night, definitely meant I was able to enjoy the climb more. There were times when our visibility was very, very short, and although there aren’t very many sheer drops along the Llanberis route, it was reassuring to know we were with experienced mountain climbers, and ones who had done this route many times before.
What did I expect?
Before our walk, I didn’t really know what to expect. I wasn’t sure how much I should train, how strenuous it would be or how I’d cope with the lack of sleep. We’re not blessed with many hills in Redditch – great if you like cycling, but not particularly useful when preparing for a mountain climb. I did a few evening walks, popping Pickle in his pyjamas before snuggling him into our Beco carrier (you can read more about our babywearing adventures elsewhere on the blog) but other than just keeping up with my general fitness, that was about it.
Walking in the Dark
To state the obvious, setting off at just past midnight meant our ascent up Snowdon was in complete darkness. The only source of light was from our headtorches, strapped to our foreheads and casting a small pool of light on our feet. Not being able to see our surroundings was a surreal experience for me, especially as the limited light made everything look kind of brown and, dare I say it… urban? At one point, it really felt like I was walking through an underpass, not up the side of a mountain. And even though logically, I knew I wasn’t, I couldn’t shake that feeling.
For about half of the walk, we were shrouded in mist and cloud, the droplets of water in the air sparkling in our dim torchlight and lighting up the blades of grass around our feet like tinsel. At this point, I thought our view from the summit looked set to be foggy and grey… but we soon broke through the cloud to reveal the clearest of skies overhead. A few of us immediately clocked on that the most incredible views were about to be revealed to us, as glimpses of colour began to warm up the sky. The sun was on its way.
Half an Hour at the Summit
We arrived at the Snowdon Summit at about 4am, an hour before the sun was due to rise. Due to the cold temperatures at the top, our guides were concerned about the risk of exposure and wanted to strike the right balance between enjoying the views and getting moving again.
After taking in the views at the very summit, with a couple of cheeky selfies for good measure, we found a spot somewhat sheltered from the elements to make and drink a cup of tea. I unpacked the teabags and my thermos, whilst my Mom provided a little bottle of milk and a much needed spoon. Pat enjoyed the view with a tin of G&T too.
The Descent and the Sunrise
Before the sun officially rose, a group of us began the descent. I wondered if I’d feel cheated that I hadn’t seen the sunrise from the summit, but after enjoying the gorgeous views, I was happy to begin the journey down… and then when the sun did peek from behind the mountain edge, I wouldn’t have minded where I was – that golden sunlight was magical, and I spent a good half an hour stopping every few paces to snap another stunning view.
Being able to see where I’d climbed only a couple of hours before was amazing. I was in awe of the views, the rolling hills and the dramatic vistas of Snowdonia. Although I’m sure it would have been nice to enjoy those on the way up as well, there was something really special about them being revealed this way. It was more rewarding somehow.
Worth the lack of sleep?
Before this challenge, I was most worried about the lack of sleep. Having walked a marathon through the night before, I remember feeling really empty and a bit deflated come 3am when the tiredness really kicked in… but this was totally different. I felt so alive, and awake, and excited. It didn’t feel like I’d missed out on anything. It felt like I was making the absolute best of the time I had. I’d willingly miss out on a night’s sleep again for a repeat of this experience.
In the words of President Barlett, what’s next? Before I’d even reached the summit of Snowdon, I knew I’d be climbing more mountains as soon as I could. I love the sense of adventure. I love the photography possibilities. I love the fresh air, the exercise and the challenge. I’m ready to tackle more. I’m eager to try steeper terrain, and try my hand at scrambling. I’ve realised walking up mountains is the perfect combination of some of my favourite things, and I can’t wait to do it all again.