Date walked: 7th November 2013
Distance: About 5 miles
Map required: OS Explorer OL17 – Snowdon
Weather conditions: Mostly fine with showers and very strong winds at altitude.
This walk is identified in a little booklet, “Hill walking in Snowdonia” by Steve Ashton given to me by my mother . Mum had put her name in the book and a date of September 1989. She may have been a few years older than my 58 years when she did this walk. I recall her saying recently that although she made it to the top she then missed the right path down and ended up coming off the mountain miles from where she needed to be. Thankfully a kind soul had given her a lift back to the Youth Hostel she had been staying in. I had a little smug person inside thinking that Bob and I were fit and equipped with GPS and so this would hardly likely to be our fate.
We were staying in the Sygun Fawr Country House. We’d had an eventful night.
After returning from yesterday’s 10 mile walk in the rain I had just got out of the shower when I had an “attack” (it does feel the right word) of SVT. I have had this condition for about three years and the “events”, during which my heart starts racing and I feel weird and often dizzy, have taken place every couple of months or so (but irregularly and so far, not when I have been walking). Usually I can get myself back to a normal rhythm by a process of doing several odd things but the most effective (which comes under the collective term of a Valsalva manoeuvre) involves blowing hard into the neck of a plastic syringe. There is a theory to this but more importantly, it usually works – eventually.
Except this time it didn’t work and I kept feeling close to fainting and was getting quite distressed. I managed to dress and crawl down stairs and phoned for an ambulance. My thinking was that perhaps I would be able to get myself right with the safety of a medic to hand. The crew came quickly and were excellent and patient with me whilst I tried several more times to blow up the syringe but it didn’t work and after 20 minutes we agreed that they’d better take me to hospital. Bob, bless his wicking socks, followed us in his car.
Three – quarters of the way to Bangor the movement of the ambulance was making me feel nauseous and I began to be sick. The guys had rigged me up to an ECG and one then asked me “How are you feeling now?”. And I realised that though I had had quite enough of being prostrate and rolled around the bends of the road, I felt OK. The retching had served the purpose that Valsalva had intended and my heart was beating normally again. Hurrah!
I felt it would have been rude to ask the ambulance crew to let me out there and then but I knew two things at this point. Firstly, that there was nothing more that A&E were going to discover about my condition that I did not know already and secondly, that once I was in A&E it was not going to be easy to get out. At least not with their agreement. And so it proved. They were, it seemed, willing to accept my self-discharge but for some reason did not have a doctor available to sign me out. Apologizing, I walked out half an hour after getting there. I was very glad to see Bob waiting for me in reception and he got us back to the house around 10.30pm. The extremely kind son of the owner had left out sandwiches for us and access to the bar; no substitute for the excellent supper that I had deprived Bob of to my great regret but very welcome nevertheless.
Which is a very long (sorry) and roundabout way of explaining that when we were setting off to attempt this rather strenuous climb, I was probably feeling a bit fragile. I know what you are thinking – that it was folly to think of climbing up to 2500 feet in the circumstances. I can only say that it was a fine day and I wanted to make the most of it and I’d have been disappointed for both of us if we’d have been more sensible.
So after a good breakfast we set off for Beddgelert, picking up a sandwich on the way. It didn’t take us long to take the wrong path. I say “us” but I was the map holder and that makes the mistake my fault. Especially when the brief description of the ascent in Ashton’s little booklet states quite clearly that the way to the path is through the car park. I had read this yesterday and forgotten it. (I dread my niece’s husband, Simon reading this, his eyes rolling upwards whilst shaking his head in disgust).
On “studying” the map I concluded that we should start by a path that went up by the cemetery after passing the Royal Goat Hotel. It was a nice walk through some woods with the most wonderful carpet of undulating moss.
The map shows a path off to the right that would have put us right, but we missed that too and we found ourselves on a steep boggy hillside with a narrow conifer plantation to our right. There should have been a path through this, too but we had climbed too high so I just led us into the upper part of the plantation and out the other side. By this time Bob had already suggested the option of starting again but I hate such strategies, always thinking that the correct route can be regained by going forwards, not back. I am usually wrong in this regard.
Ahead on this open but steep and spongy hillside a little stream stepped with mini waterfalls lay between us and the route we wanted so we headed for that. It wasn’t quite as small as it looked from a distance but we crossed it (albeit with some difficulty) without getting our feet wet. Its banks seemed clearer and easier to walk on than the dense bracken in front of us, so we climbed up beside it for maybe half a mile (it was probably less), crossing a lot of contours in the process. But there was no future in continuing to climb this gully and a sheep wall running along the contour in the direction of our path encouraged us to change tack.
Sheep trotting along the base of this wall would have had no difficulty. For us it meant a lot of awkwardly picking our way until we came across a stile over the wall. This was almost like a mirage as on investigation there was no path on its other side and so we returned to our wall-scrambling until we found a set of sheep folds. Far below us a shepherd was herding his flock up the valley, whistling to the dogs constantly. I imagined him being bewildered at least and possible angry if he spied us scrambling around his no man’s land.
I checked my GPS and could see that we were a stones throw (OK an olympian’s stones throw) from the path so I clambered over the folds and headed in what I was convinced was the right direction. Bob took the easier route around the side of the folds.
After another few hundred yards of wading through the uneven ground we did come across a cairn – we had found our path. We had taken over two hours to walk about as many miles and had put the effort in of having done many more miles than that but we were back on track.
We headed up the hillside at a refreshed pace; there was no difficulty following our route now. But at times the gradient and the rough stone surface made for slow progress. The wind was picking up, too and the weather had changed so that at one point we had a stiff shower of sleet.
By the time we had got to about 1800 feet the wind had become so strong that we were struggling. Above us was the steepest section of the climb. I was feeling tired and a bit intimidated by the sheer task of making the rest of the climb. Bob was feeling concerned about the possibility of being blown off even if we reached the top. Either way we decided that we were not going to conquer Moel Hebog that day and turned around to go back. But not by the way we came.
I think most walkers find that walking down a steep hill is harder work than going up- it’s certainly harder on the knees. But the contrast with walking down the now clearly defined path compared to the effort required for the height that we had gained made me feel that we practically floated downwards. The wind behind us helped. The weather lifted and now I felt as if I had some attention for the wonderful views in front of us, even at this lowly altitude.
Ahead and around us were all sorts of wonderful days walking for a future date.
The path passes a farm and then through a small pine wood….
…..before emerging at an underpass for the railway line. From here it is an easy stroll down a stony track that leads directly to the edge of the car park.
The footpath signs that we had walked right passed earlier in the day don’t actually say Moel Hebog on them, but I’m not offering this as an excuse for my hopeless navigation. Maybe I just had other things on my mind. Back at the tea room Bob did have a scone. I paid.
My next blog post will return to The Wales Coast path and will be published on December 22nd.
All the photographs on this and most of my other posts were taken on a Canon compact and were processed from Raw files. High resolution files and/or prints of up to A3+ size can be produced on request.