We were amongst the first to arrive that day at the Pen-y-pass car park and we ate bacon butties at the cafe there for breakfast. Outside the wind was strong, rain dribbled from a gun-metal sky and the approaches to the summit of Snowdon were obscured by thick grey waterlogged clouds. It may brighten up later I thought - my optimism in such matters never ceases to amaze me! Only once in a handful of ascents have I ever been rewarded with clear and quite magnificent views, views over the nearby peaks, over the coastline to the north and west, views of the ancient druidical Isle of Anglesey and points beyond.
There is an old Welsh tradition to climb to the summit of Snowdon at the time of the harvest moon, the full moon nearest to the autumnal equinox. This connection between the gathered harvest and the onset of winter is celebrated by those walkers, climbers and goats who ascend from the valleys below to greet the moon and those who stay to witness the first rays of the morning sun.
From the car park we fell in behind a platoon of squadies and marched on along the Pyg Track behind them, by the time we had reached Bwlch y Moch 'the pass of the pigs' they were disappearing into the gloom ahead. Modern folklore suggests that Snowdon has within its core a secret base; and the purpose of the base? To hold a top secret doomsday device. The mountains connection with the end of the world is not just a present day myth. In the 'Day of Judgement' the illustrious Goronwy Owen writes that just such a doomsday would be bought forward in the following manner:
"Ail ir ar ael eryri
Cyfartal Hdewal a hi."
(The crown of Snowdon shall be levelled with the ground,
and the eddying waters shall murmur round it.)
It wasn't going to be a day for heroics and epic struggle so the ridge of Crib Gogh was forgotten as we passed on the Pyg Track between those perilous crags and the cold waters of Llyn Llydaw below. The Pyg Track is joined by the Miners Track and then the path starts a relentless zig-zag to the marker stone at Bwlch Glas, Glasyn below Snowdons sheer grey walls and pyramid summit. At the marker stone we turned right and with our faces into the wind stood briefly upon the trig-point at Garnedd Ugain before turning our backs to the gale and making for the summit of Snowdon.
From the mist and clouds we could first hear and then see a train huffing and puffing its way to the station at the summit cafe. The Snowdon Mountain Railway albeit incongruous to its surroundings is a triumph of Victorian engineering in such a harsh terrain, it is the only rack-and-pinion railway in Britain and was opened to passengers in 1896. The modern passenger today seems to consist of big-boned tourists wearing plaid trousers and white plimsolls. We joined the tourists in the cafe and warmed our frozen hands on the hot air dryers in the gents toilets!
How many of those tourists (and walkers for that matter) as they smile for their photographs on the summit cairn Snowdon realise that they are stood upon a giant grave - or should that be 'giants grave.' Rhitta Gawr, many years ago was King of North Wales; he was a mighty warrior and had a great host secure in his mountain fortress. Rhitta led his host against the two neighbouring kingdoms defeating King Nynio and King Peibio in tremendous battles. It was Rhitta's axe that killed the two kings and with his axe that he took the two kings beards.
The other kings of Britain, twenty-eight in number, combined their armies and marched on Rhitta Gawr. Mighty and bold was the battle but bravery and boldness were no match for the cunning and strength of Rhitta's host. Rhitta himself killed each of the twenty-eight kings with blows from his axe, cutting off their beards with single slashes. When the kings of the surrounding countries heard of the disgrace inflicted upon the debearded kings of Britain they gathered their legions and set off for Rhitta Gawr in a great armada. Rhitta's host battled them on the beach as they landed, but alas, the legions of the foreign Kings were no match for Rhitta's grand host and victory was decisive and complete. The foreign Kings begged for mercy but the blood thirsty Rhitta showed none, with his great axe he loped off their heads and took their beards.
Rhitta took the beards of Nynio and Peibio and added those to the beards of the Kings of Britain, in turn these were added to the beards of the foreign Kings. Then Rhitta trimmed, clipped and stitched the beards to form a great mantle that extended from his head to his heel; it must be remembered that Rhitta was a giant and twice as big as any man.
Rhitta Gawr then sent a message to Camelot, the court of King Arthur to say that he had a mantle of king's beards but no hood and that Arthur should carefully flay off his beard and send it to him. Outraged by the impertinence and arrogance of this villainous message Arthur gathered his most trusted knights about him and marched on Rhitta immediately. Arthur and his knights marched relentlessly, not stopping for food or rest until high in the craggy mountain stronghold of the giant they came face to face. Arthur and Rhitta met in single combat surrounded by their hosts, Rhitta swinging his mighty axe and Arthur with the gleaming excalibur. The combat lasted through the night and into the following day and many great and grievous blows were struck until Arthur with the last of his strength aimed a severely-venomous blow that it cut through Rhitta's helm, flesh, bone and brain; cleaving him in two. Rhitta was dead and his soldiers carried him to the highest mountain of Eyri and each of his men placed a stone upon his grave. The place was afterwards known as Gwyddfa Rhitta, Rhitta's Barrow and today known to the English as Snowdon.
Continuing with our day on Snowdon rather tales of giants and kings we descended down the zig-zag path and down the scree of the Miners Track to the banks of Glasyn and then along the well constructed track to the shores of Llyn Llydaw, passing by the ruined buildings of the Britannia Copper Mines - the miners barracks and the large ore-crushing mill. The causeway across the lake was constructed in 1853 to make it easier to transport copper from the mines above Glasyn to Pen-y-pass. From the causeway the whole of the 'Snowdon Horseshoe' is revealed - from the jagged ridge of Crib Goch to the summit cairn of Snowdon and then along the cliffs of Y Lliwedd.
The waters of Llyn Llydaw feed through a pipe to the nearby Cwm Dyli hydro-electric power station. But, don't be fooled by the word 'reservoir' that appears on your ordnance survey maps. This lakes history and mystery dates back to the heroic times of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. There is a local myth that good King Arthur died beneath the lofty heights of Snowdon at Bwlch y Saethau. It is into Llyn LLydaw that Sir Bedivere threw Excalibur to be reclaimed by the Lady of The Lake; and across the lake that Arthur, mortally wounded sailed to Avalon.
Our own Avalon that day was the carpark at Pen-y-pass which lay along the track beyond more ruined mine buildings and spectacular views of Moel Siabod and the Glyders.
Snowdon - the highest point in all of Wales.
Height: 3560' (1085m) Grid Ref: SH609543
Summited: 01 October 2000