On Sunday 16th September 2018 we ran a Snowdon Sunrise event. There were seven people booked onto this event and they were from 2 different companies, but they were all fundraising for Julias House Hospice. We had run another one the day before, also for Julias House Hospice, but for that event the team were all from one company. That previous night had not blessed us with the best of weather and the visibility had been quite poor. This even resulted in us having to help another organised group whose leader was a little off track and not sure of where to go. You can read our blog about that one here.
We knew the weather for this one was going to be even worse than the night before. We have lots of experience in these conditions (and in much worse), we were well prepared, and more importantly we had been in constant communication with the participants for quite some time, so they were also well prepared and knew what to expect.
As there were only seven people on this event I was running it myself, so we met under the covers of the car park at about 3am on the Sunday morning. I gave the team a briefing of our plan and our options for the walk. I checked on the kit people had and handed out a few items that the team would need in these conditions.
The weather was already very poor. The wind was whistling and howling, and the rain was heavy. It was a time when you wanted to roll over and curl up into a warm duvet in a comfortable bed, but we were committed, and the team had worked hard on the fundraising so that was never in anyone’s thoughts. I explained that there was a good chance that we may not make it to the summit due to the tough conditions. Our priority is always safety and it is important to set the expectation at the beginning. People book with us not only because of our first-class customer service, our very keen pricing and excellent value for money, but more importantly because of our skills, our experience, the kit that we carry, and our decision making on the mountains – all of this means that we can manage the risk extremely well.
We set off at 3:45am. Right from the start the wind was strong. We took a route that would provide us with some shelter for the first section, but even here it was evident that this really was going to be a night to remember. The raindrops were huge, and although there was not much mist or cloud on the mountain, visibility was quite poor as it was proving hard to see through the rain as it was just so thick and heavy.
There was one thing in our favour though – the temperature was not too bad. We made our way through the rocky first section and got into a rhythm. As we approached the Bwlch we heard a loud deep rumbling. It was the wind as it tried to find its path through the mountains. We all crouched low and braced ourselves as we knew this would be a strong gust. It passed us by and then we continued, taking our chance to get around the Bwlch as the wind dropped slightly for a few seconds. We knew that form here onwards we would be more exposed to the elements, so we stayed very close as a group and listened out for the stronger gusts of wind that you can always here before it arrives. We were still making good progress considering the conditions, but we dropped the pace a little to ensure that everyone in the group stayed very close. The wind was about 45 -50mph, with gusts swirling around the Cwm at even higher speeds. I got the group into a huddle on more than one occasion so that they could hear me over the wind noise as we discussed our progress and the next leg of our route. Everyone was still smiling and enjoying the tough challenge, but we did discuss the various options that I had in hand for making a retreat if it was necessary. At each of those checkpoints we stopped, assessed the team and the situation and made our decisions. It is a credit to the determination of the group that we kept going each time, and eventually we made the section just before the summit ridge. This was another potential turnaround point as often on the ridge the wind is stronger as it is exposed form all directions, but luck was with us, as the wind was slightly lower here, and it was not swirling as much as in the Cwm below. The decision was now an easy one. We carry on and we make the summit. We spend no more than a minute on top, take a very quick photo for the fundraising and then we get down as fast as possible. Even though it was now getting light, there was no sunrise to be seen today, and no amazing views to spend time absorbing.
Just getting the group up onto the summit cairn was a challenge on its own. We held onto each other as we made our way to the top and took the last few steps to reach our goal. There had been a few tears along the way. For some of the group this was an enormous challenge and they had overcome some huge adversities just to be able to contemplate attempting this challenge. The emotion was obvious, and the pride had been earned. We took some video footage and then made for our descent route.
I had already decided that as we had taken a bit of a beating on the way up, that we would take an easier route down and head into Llanberis, but the work is never finished until we are all safely back down and feasting on our well-earned big breakfast. On our descent one of our group has an issue with their boots. Snowdon was not finished with us yet and it wanted to just make sure we knew who was in charge here. The soul of the boot had completely come away. We are prepared for all events, and this Is not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last. This is a real mountain and it will test your kit as well as yourself. We made a repair to the boot, but we knew it would need to be adjusted and fixed a few more times on our descent, but we were good to keep going.
As we lost altitude the wind started to ease, and we got below the clouds and were gifted with our first views of the day. The beauty of Snowdonia was revealed, and we made good time back towards Llanberis. I had called ahead, and our taxi pulled up with perfect timing, just as we arrived at the end of our challenge. We were dropped back at out start point to collect our vehicles and head for our refuelling breakfast.
This was a very tough hike for anyone not used to such conditions. The team showed a massive level of determination – and it was all needed. To make the summit on a night like this one is not easy and not be underestimated. Most people would have turned back or would have not ventured out at all. Snowdon had really kicked our ass, but we planned and prepared well and managed to achieve what we set out to.