Based in Bangor for day trips around northern Wales, we made a necessary train reservation the day before driving to Llanberis to take the cog railway to the summit of Mt. Snowden, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom outside Scotland.
Llanberis (Many town names in Wales begin with a double “l.”) is a small valley town by a pretty lake. Until the 1930s, the town survived on slate mining, the National Slate Museum is located there, and we were told the largest slate mine in the world was on the opposite hillside. As elsewhere in Wales, signs are in Welsh and English, and over 80 percent of the Llanberis population is fluent in Welsh.
Except for tourists waiting to board the train, the town had been quiet on Friday. When we arrived on Saturday, it was packed. It turned out to be the first day of the Slateman Triathlon.
Llanberis only has about two thousand people, but about a thousand spectators and and another thousand participants came this year for the two day event. The first day is the “Sprint,” a 400 meter swim in the lake, a 20 kilometer bike ride and 6 kilometer run. The second day, the “Full,” is a 1 kilometer swim, followed by a 51 kilometer bike ride and an 11 kilometer run. Those who do both have their times combined for an event called “the Savage.” I understand why people participate, but I am amazed they were swimming when the air temperature was only expected to reach a high of eleven Celsius (about 52 Fahrenheit).
The Snowden Mountain Railway took us 4.7 miles from Llanberis to the summit of Mount Snowden, 3560 feet. The U.S. Appalachian Mountains have many peaks higher, but none so spectacularly rugged. Snowden was more reminiscent of the Rockies. It is said the mountain was used by Sir Edmund Hillary to train before the first Mount Everest ascent in 1953.
Snowden has one of the wettest climates in Great Britain, it was cold, damp and very windy while we were there, and we were told the Railway would probably not operate on the following Monday, May 12, because more than an inch of snow was predicted.
The Railway opened in 1896. One can ride in a carriage alternately pushed by either a steam or diesel locomotive. For schedule convenience, we took the diesel, but it was interesting to watch coal being hand shoveled onto a short conveyor belt up to the steam engine.
As we left the village, we passed a small waterfall. Trees gave way to pasture, and sheep passively watched us go by on the lower slopes.
What seemed to be hundreds of hikers of all ages followed a winding trail not far from the tracks. When we reached the top, we had twenty minutes to walk through a little building with an cafe and toilets to the final stone steps leading to the very top. The cafe was packed with hikers getting in out of the wind and cold.
The steps to the top were uneven and crowded, and there was no railing. Alie stayed behind. Michelle held onto my jacket. I thought she was foolish — I wasn’t sure the wind wouldn’t push me off as well.
Snowden was cloudy, cold, windy — and spectacularly beautiful.
Click on photos to enlarge.