I’ve been planning a trip to Snowdonia for a few days alone for a while now.
‘You should contact the young nephew,’ says my wife. I wonder – it would be nice to see him, but the young nephew is at least 30 years younger than me and makes his living as an outdoor instructor in North Wales, so spends most his days in the mountains. He is, needless to say, very fit – but also very busy, I remind myself.
I send him a text. Bloody hell. Not only is he free for the whole of the afternoon and evening that I am planning to arrive, he would be delighted to get out for a walk or a scramble with me. Still, this is North Wales – it will probably rain.
I make the long drive North in glorious sunshine, with more forecast. Arrive, get the tent up, throw some gear in the car and meet the young nephew, as arranged, at the foot of Tryfan. He’s already there, calm – boots on and bag packed. I’m flustered, having spent five hours in the car, and also excited by Welsh sunshine and what’s ahead, but manage, eventually, to pack a rucksack and put on suitable boots.
We’re planning to scramble the West Face Direct route on Tryfan, which is now catching the best of the warm afternoon sunshine. It’s not the hardest scramble around, but hard enough that we throw a short rope, some climbing gear and helmets into the bags.
We both know the way, so set off. The path is steep, skirting round Milestone Buttress and heading up. It gets steeper, and the path disappears, so we are walking up rough scree and boulders – it’s hard going (although the young nephew doesn’t seem to think so). After 20 minutes or so, as it gets steeper still, I start needing to pause to look at the emerging view down the Ogwen Valley (which is stunning) more often; to retie my boots; or to look at the guidebook to check how far we still have to go.
It is as I do this check that I realise the book describes a gentler, grassy approach route, which we can now see over to the right and far below…
Still – we make it in the end – although not in the 45 minutes suggested by the guidebook. And the scramble, from below, looks great, and the rock is clean, and the sun is shining so we set off up. And it is as good as it looks – initially weaving up the gully, to a heather covered ledge where we rest, take in the view, and remember we are carrying helmets, which we put on.
Then on upwards, with a few moves which give pause for thought on the left edge of the gully, to reach more ledges, before the final tower of perfect rock, leading almost to the summit, is over all too quickly. The rope and gear have not been needed, but no matter.
A few more minutes easily upwards, and we are standing below the final summit rise, but we’ve both been there lots of times before, and that wasn’t the point of this afternoon’s trip. Anyway, I’ve been clever, and read the guidebook, which suggests a direct way down the west face from where we are now standing – so avoiding either the north or south ridges – neither of which are great fun in descent. The young nephew is impressed – he doesn’t know about this way down – but I own up that I didn’t either until I read about it 40 minutes earlier.
So down – 2000 feet straight down – starting on steep scree and boulders, then rough paved track and wet grassland, to the road. Fortunately, I have recently discovered how helpful walking poles are on this sort of ground; unfortunately, they are in the car at the foot of the mountain.
But we make it, me with aching knees, the young nephew looking like he’s been out for a gentle stroll, and head to the pub for a deserved cold pint. We sit in the garden and enthuse about what has been a fabulous few hours in the hills.
‘Sorry if I held you up at all,’ I offer tentatively.
He humours me. ‘I wouldn’t have wanted to go much quicker really,’ he says.
He had to say that – I bought the pints.