"Upon Snowdon: On the Road Less Trodden" by Victor Gekara - 16 April 2007

Upon Snowdon: On the Road Less Trodden
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth. 

Now spring is here and, though still early, summer is beckoning. It reminds me of a time almost a year ago and a place; on the ragged cliff-top of mount Snowdon, hanging on for dear life amid raging wind and zero visibility in the fog. It seems like yesterday and I just cannot stop wondering what happened to the time. 


After many months of cold, gloomy weather the first signs of bright sunshine and warm weather make one want to get out and soak in the sunshine and breathe in the fresh outdoor air. It was during such a time a year ago that me, my wife Yvonne and three of my colleagues; Iveta, Lijun and Momoko decided that we needed a bit of real outdoor adventure. So we decided to go up north for a weekend of camping and trekking up Snowdon. We set off from Cardiff in good weather and high spirits which kept improving as we drove past the breathtaking beauty of Brecon Beacons and the captivating mid-Wales landscape and finally we arrived at a village called Capel Curig, in North Wales, which is at the foot of Snowden and is a popular destination for those, like me, who like exploring mountains and their mysteries. Everything I saw about this village reminded me of another tourist village, far away, called Nyeri at the foot of Mount Kenya.


The weather was however not as warm as what we left down south; it was cold, grey and wet but this dampened our spirits not as we set about pitching out tents and plotting out exploits of the next day. Tents pitched and all set, we decided to take a short evening walk up a nearby hill just to get acclimatised with the place and create appetite for the food and drinks that we had carried with us. We were determined, despite the weather, to have a party and we did. 

After a hot meal prepared and taken in very limited tent space we sat down to many a story and laughter as those of us who occasionally indulge in alcoholic beverages enjoyed a good glass of wine. I believe we even had some music from some source which we didn’t very much care about as we all shared in one very refreshing and carefree outdoor experience. We however finally retired into out tents to brave out a very windy and rainy night during which I woke up several times quite convinced that the wind was blowing away my tent.   


The following day I woke up early, went out into the cold but refreshing air and commenced on a ritual that I always perform every time I am about to hike a mountain, however small. You see, I believe that every hill, mountain or valley has a soul and an independent spirit. When climbing one you are therefore engaging battle with that spirit and you could therefore do one of two things; you could win and conquer the mountain by appealing to her or by intimidating her. I believe in the latter so every time before I start hiking I locate the mountain and try to intimidate her by staring at her and, step by mental step, climbing all the way up roughest of her terrain to the top. How long I take to do this depends on the strength of the mountain’s fighting spirit which also depends on how high, steep and ragged she is. I looked around and located the highest peak in the vicinity and sat on a rock to begin the mental conquest. It did not take very long because, to my mind, this was little more than a hill. Little did I know; I was staring at the wrong peak, fighting the wrong spirit!

After breakfast we prepared ourselves for the day’s adventure by dressing appropriately and carrying the essentials like water, fruits and biscuits and set off for the drive to the starting point. It is only when we had been driving for a few minutes that it struck me that I had been meditating on with the wrong peak. Never the less, we arrived at the starting point and joined many other hikers who were busily going about their last minute preparations. At the information centre there we were told that the weather was going to be much better than the day before which was good.

We examined the map one last time and made sure that we had picked the right route, i.e. the miner’s path. It all seemed very easy so much so that we spent the first one hour enjoying the scenery and taking pictures. At one point someone asked me how I compared this to Kilimanjaro and I arrogantly declared it to be nothing more than an evening stroll through Bute Park in Cardiff. The mountain was listening and not liking what she heard and soon I would be made to swallow these words a hundred times.

The sun was up and the weather was really good as we merrily made our way up until we came to the place where two paths meet and the uncertainty began; signs of times ahead. One path led down towards the lake; it looked clear and well trodden, the other led off into the hill and it looked rough, rugged and less trodden.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there

We deliberated and decided logically that since we were hiking a mountain we had no business walking down to the lake and, furthermore, we could hear voices further up the ragged path whereas the path down to the lake was silent. So, up we went. After doing a good thirty minutes of much tougher rock climbing we realised that we had actually abandoned the intended route. There was no clear route here and no sign posts to follow and the voices we had heard earlier were no more but, determined, we pushed on with less conversation and more anxiety now; the photo session was over! 

Soon we heard the voices again but with time they grew louder and nearer until we met them: a man and a woman looking tough and well geared and quite seasoned for the outdoors but their message was simple; “up there guys, it is a no go zone. The rocks are too rough and the climb is too dangerous, we are going back.” We however pushed on until we saw what they were talking about. Two of our team also decided to throw in the towel and went back.And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

Three of us pushed on, up the rocks and almost all the time practically hanging on the cliff. The conversation was now completely gone as we concentrated on scaling the next rock, only the occasional “are you alright back there” and “yes”. The wind got stronger, the temperatures fell and visibility diminished as thick fog covered the mountain. Then we reached the point I will always remember; the point at which I almost went back myself. It was a sharp rocky ridge with either side dropping sharply for many meters of cliff face. All one had to hold on to were sharp rocks at the top of the ridge and it stretched for many metres ahead. Visibility was zero by this time and the wind was stronger. There were two guys ahead of us perched on the ridge in the wind unable to move forwards or backwards. Two other guys further on were urging them on but these guys just couldn’t move. There was terror in the eyes of the nearest one to us. When the wind slowed he started slowly making his way back. He had given up, couldn’t make it across. We looked at each other, not talking but communicating quite loudly. Should we or should we not? Can we or can we not? But, thinking of the way back down seemed worse, especially with defeated spirits. We started forward and no words can really communicate the experience. Suffice it to say, I have never ridden on so much adrenaline in my life.

Finally at the far end of the ridge we only to be confronted with the possibility that we just might get lost up there on the mountain. There were so many peaks around us and by this time it was clear to us that this was not really a mapped out route. Up there one was lost, mad or very adventurous; we were lost! We decided to walk on forward but we were encountering similar rough and dangerous cliffs too frequently and the wind was playing games on us. Drifting distant voices in and out and from all directions. After a few more cliffs we arrived at a point we assumed to be the top, then we received a phone call from our colleagues asking us where we were and Iveta said, “we are at the top” and they replied, “where, we can’t see you, we are at the top” and the phone went dead; lost signal. We looked at each other, what did they mean by the top? Didn't they go back down? When the fog cleared we started seeing more people walking up another well marked path. They passed us and kept walking. Many of them: old and young, men and women some with their dogs. We followed.

Finally we came to the top; the very top, and there were many more people literally pouring in from many more paths which converge right at the top. More poured out of the steam train which ferried the less adventurous and, definitely, more sensible up and down. And we thought, ah, those guys must have gone back and taken the train up! But no, they actually went back to the place where the two paths diverged and followed the correct route and reached the top more than an hour ahead of us.

Much later and back in Cardiff Iveta sent us an e-mail with a description of the route that we had taken and it read something like: "Unmarked, steep, rocky and dangerous; only to be attempted by professional expert mountain climbers using proper mountain climbing equipment".

Well, I would do it again, definitely, but, this time I would make sure I am communicating with the correct mountain peak!

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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