We were trapped. The three of us were stuck on a grassy island in the middle of a sheet of ice on the side of a mountain, feeling pretty hopeless. It was starting to get dark, and we were a long way from home…
Where were you and how did you get to become so stuck I hear you ask? Well, it all started out as a bit of fun (as these things invariably do).
My cousins and I had gone to north Wales to visit my brother and spend the day hiking. Mount Snowdon was only an hour away and none of us had ever reached the summit. The weather was clear and sunny for a February and we thought that today was the day to conquer all 3,560 feet (1,085m) of Wales’ highest mountain. We clambered into the car, picked up some donuts for the journey, and sang along to the Team America soundtrack for the whole journey (oh, yeah!)
We parked up in the Pen y Pass car park and the four of us set off along the Miner’s Path, fully equipped with a sensible pair of walking boots and warm clothes. The walk started off well and the going was good. We passed the lakes with relative ease and started the ascent to join the PYG path. As we started to get higher however, the snow started creeping in.
Now snow, as a rule, is white, soft underfoot and cold. This is exactly how the first few patches were when we came across it. Not a problem, we’ll be at the top in no time. After another twenty minutes of hiking, the levels of snow increased until the footpath was completely covered, and it was starting to get slippy. So slippy in fact, that my brother decided it was too treacherous and he was going to turn back. After a brief discussion (and possibly a bit of name calling), my cousins and I waved good-bye to my brother and carried on up the PYG track. We were determined to make the summit and finish what we had started.
Although it was slippy underfoot, we got to the summit without any bother. The views were magnificent and it was quite novel seeing the surrounding mountains all naked, when ours was covered in a blanket of snow. We followed what we could see of the train track (it wasn’t running today) to the top and posed for some photos. After admiring the view for a bit longer, we started our descent down the mountain with our newly acquired bragging rights which we were going to bestow upon my brother when we got back to the car.
The path down was remarkably icier than when we had ascended it just an hour before. There were a few occasions where grabbing rocks and sliding down on our bums was the only way to ‘safely’ navigate the ice. It was around about this point that we realised crampons and ice axes might have been a good idea. As we didn’t have these, we improvised and devised a cunning plan. Although the path was icy, the area of mountain next to the path was covered in a fresh layer of snow which was soft and non-slippy – or so we thought. We decided walking down this in our boots would give us better footing and be a safer option than the icy path, and we were right – for the first few steps.
My eldest cousin was the first to slip. Down he went, sliding down the ice but thankfully stopping on a patch of grass about forty feet away. He got up and waved. Then I slipped. I found out that sliding on ice is a fast activity, I felt like a curling stone. Unlike my cousin though, I didn’t stop when I hit the grass. Instead, I bounced into the air and kept on bouncing. I managed to flip myself over and flailed my arms around until I grabbed something which stopped me from going any further, but my water bottle flew out of my bag and bounced once, then twice and then disappeared over the edge of the cliff forever. My youngest cousin joined us about five minutes later after cutting a path through the ice using nothing but brute force and ignorance.
So that’s how we ended up on a grassy island in the middle of a sheet of ice – feeling hopeless.
Because we had fallen such a way, we were now a distance from the main path. We had no phone reception and it was getting dark. One of my cousins decided the previous example of brute force and ignorance was the way forward and started to cut a path in the ice back to the path. He got half way, found a piece of ice that was tougher than him and then slipped again. How he stopped, I’ll never know, but in that situation there was nothing I could have done to stop him. As I watched him slip, the only thought going through my mind was ‘his mum is going to kill me’. However, with a bit of luck I managed to catch the attention of some passersby who came to our rescue. Armed with ice axes and crampons, they cut a route in the ice for us and escorted us back to the path.
The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful and not much was said. We got back to the car and with deflated bragging rights, drove home. My brother had had the right idea to turn back when he did and we should have listened to him at the time, but that’s the beauty of hindsight.
After our near-death experience, none of us slept very well that evening (apart from my brother). We had learnt some valuable lessons that day – don’t climb an icy mountain without crampons and an ice axe, and make sure to tie down any water bottles securely.