Sunday, 29 March 2015

Snowdon - Fail!


It's been raining all night and the wind kept waking me up. I thought the tent might break at one point. I stuck my head out and tried to capture the blowing rain. Didn't quite catch it.

I was hoping it would be gone by morning.
It's really not pleasant out there!


The already sodden ground was now a series of puddles. My tent was surrounded by them and I assume they're underneath too, though there's no sign. My tent is doing it's job of keeping me warm and dry.

The site showers were nice enough; hot, wet and free. Just how I like them. I just realised I have a slight headache (probably dehydrated from yesterday, I didn't drink much) and the tip of my right-hand index finger is numb. Hmm, maybe my bars need a tweak.
Many had had enough and were packing up.
I'm back in the tent. The rain is relentless! How am I supposed to cook anything? Not safe to do it inside.

OK, tea made. I put the stove in the lid of my pannier to protect the ground sheet and used the wind-shield to protect from the draft under the door. Still seemed to take forever. Not used these mess tins before.
The stove doesn't actually send much heat downwards but better safe...

The rain finally stopped but the wind is worse. It comes in waves, every few minutes there's another blast. It eases a bit so I make my escape again.

A lot of people had packed and left. Those tents that remain seem empty and many had collapsed. One had blown down and was half in the river that feeds the lake, only being held by a couple of pegs still hanging on in the saturated ground. I was lucky, I'd deliberately pitched behind a group of trees to break the wind. I couldn't have moved further across (out of the wind) because there were puddles already forming there. 

Some tents were collapsing in the wind.

Duck weather.

Some showed no signs of life.
I wandered over to the windswept stand where I had bought the pizza from the night before. The owners (mum and dad to the young guy and his girlfriend) were friendly and we chatted about the weather and travelling, their son and girlfriend had spent a year in India. The conversation then turned to horses and motorbikes and their obvious interaction. She said that trail riding (on a big bike) sounded very similar to event riding on a horse, where you have to use momentum to help carry you over obstacles. We also talked about horses having a mind of their own, unlike bikes. I thought you pretty much point them in the right direction and just control their speed, but there's more to it than that; riders have to build a rapport with the horse. Some might say it's the same for bikes.

I bought a couple of flapjacks, one for breakfast, as I'd failed to sort anything for myself. In the rush down I'd forgotten to stop and get supplies. It wasn't helped by not having my top-box and having nowhere to put anything. Take top-box next time! The bad conditions meant I didn't go back out after pitching either. Tiredness doesn't help. Ordinarily I wouldn't have the extra luggage of walking boots, jacket, rucksack etc, but having the extra stuff made it harder to pack/unpack and meant less space on the bike and in the tent. I digress.

With the promise of the worst of the storm blowing through by mid-day, I planned to get ready, to see how far I could walk. Everyone I'd spoken to said conditions were too dangerous and it's probably too late to attempt Snowdon anyway, but I had to do something.

I walked down to the bridge and stood for a while, thinking. The lack of provisions was a concern, as well as the high winds. Hard to believe this bridge was used in Tomb Raider!

Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003).

Narrow and little run off. How did they stop?
I returned to my tent to get my rucksack then headed back along the footpath. It was very wet and rocky at the bottom but became more muddy as it climbed.

The rain is back.

A group of teens with massive packs, along with one adult, were hiking along the same trail. I assumed they were doing DofE. I stopped at a scenic view to let them pass me and watched them descend the almost vertical trail ahead, it looked like; on their bums.

I walked to the same section (walking were you have to consider every step - it's narrow, wet and steep). It was a 4-5' drop with barely discernible footholds. If I slipped; I'm on my own. I only have my day-pack with already limited supplies. I was only about a third of the way down the path (if that) before even reaching the start of the Watkin Path. Even if it took me an hour to get on to Snowdon (quite likely), I'd still have 5-6hrs of walking and then have to come back this way, in the dark. I did have plenty of lights with me...

4-5' step drop. Steep, wet and out of time anyway. Worth the risk?
I returned to the scenic view over the lake, considering my options. Another group of teens slowly made their way up. The lead girl asked about the trail ahead, I explained and she went to assess it. They also had a supervising adult with them. I chatted with him while the group went ahead. They were from a Gloucestershire school doing DofE Gold. They had been wild camping the night before and had to pull out to a youth hostel because of the storm. Their supervisor whispered to me, with a smile, that they were on the wrong path. The group returned, deciding against the descent as I did. They were better equipped than I was. While the group took a selfie with the lake as a backdrop, their supervisor explained how he'd got involved; volunteering because there wasn't enough supervisors when his own daughter wanted to do it. Simple enough, but then there's CRB checks, first aid training, mini-bus driving... things he hadn't considered, but it was all good. They all looked like they were enjoying themselves.

By now I  had decided to return to camp. I wasn't equipped for a long day on the mountain in bad weather. I had seen both groups pausing, what seemed like every few steps, to eat a handful of dried fruit and nuts and it made me think about my lack of provisions again.
Re-tracing steps.
I followed the group back down to a stile where we wished one another a good day and they turned to climb straight up a path I hadn't even seen (they had their maps in waterproof cases, mine was keeping dry in my rucksack).

Back at camp, it's a pretty desolate.

I'm considering my options; pack up or stay for the second night and get some more riding in instead.

To ride or not to ride?
Rain is holding off, but still have low cloud and strong winds.
I was tidying up some gear when the winds really kicked in again, the worst so far. I was holding on to the tent from the inside. I honestly thought I was going to lose it. That's it! I'm getting the hell out of Dodge! I packed as much as I could inside the tent as the wind battered everything. The noise of the wind through the trees roared like a jet engine.

Shit! Where's my wallet?!? Don't tell me I dropped it on the trail, not now, it could be anywhere! The next blast triggered the alarm on the bike! I didn't hear it fall over. I had moved it slightly to put the side-stand on firmer ground and luckily it was facing more into the wind making it harder to blow over. Panic over, I found my wallet in a different pocket, duh! I continue packing and the alarm goes off again. That's over 250kg being moved about out there.

Listen to that wind!

A lot of the site was like this.

Packing between wind blasts.
I manage to pack the tent and load the bike between blasts. With everything secure, I walk over to the site's payphone but it says "barred" on my number. One of the staff is passing, he's says it does that sometimes when the weather is bad, something to do with the lines. The office phone is still working and he fetches it for me to call home.

By this time it's late afternoon. I set satnav to fastest route and apart from the roads out of Wales (which were actually quite enjoyable) the ride home was pretty dull with more wind and rain. I did remember to use my earplugs this time and they worked a treat. I've never used them much before as I didn't like not being able to hear the bike, but once I got used to them I actually like it. I can still hear music and nav instructions. They even made the music sound better, somehow. I must look at piping music through plugs...

So what did I learn?

  1. Don't rush the journey - don't plan too much and break up the route into smaller sections that can be swapped about a lot easier.
  2. You will be tired - washing up and laundry aren't fun.
  3. Take the top-box - keep it largely empty.
  4. Putting the tent inside a pannier just isn't worth the hassle - use the space for food and clothes.
  5. Take some thick bin bags - for emergency waterproofing. Thankfully I didn't have an issue but they're cheap and take up little space.
  6. The only really important things are:
    • Being warm and dry.
    • Getting food and water.
    • Sleeping well.
Probably in that order.

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