Yesterday I finally ticked a long-held ambition – riding the Snowdon Ranger Path. Not only that, but we did it there and back in a day, which turned the whole affair into quite a full-on mission.
Up at 5am, we made it to the Ranger Station car park sometime after 11am. The blazing sunshine blasting the rest of the country was not in evidence. Instead, mist and steady drizzle. On the basis of the reputation of the trail and the mountain scenery, I had packed a variety of devices including SLR (with enormous heavy lens), helmet cam, and small camera for handheld movies. Together with a plethora of spare tubes, tools, water and lunch, my rucksac was preposterously heavy. Eliminating all of 300 grammes by leaving the small camera behind, I shouldered the load, and we set off up the hill.
The initial hill is pretty steep, and it wasn’t long before we started pushing. The new Nomad had been on a bit of a pre-trip face-stuffing-fest, acquiring a tough but heavy Mavic 729 rear wheel, and dual ply Minions front and rear. As such, it didn’t exactly levitate up the steep slope. The drizzle had stabilised, and it was pretty warm, so it didn’t take long until we looked like a pair of drowned rats. The trail towards Llanberis forked left off the Ranger Path after half an hour or so, taking the form of a trampled grassy track up a vertiginous bank. Strong calf muscles required.
The track finished at a notch east of Foel Goch, a bit over 300m vertical from where we had parked the car. I had prepared a decent picnic lunch, consisting of home-baked bagels, filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese, plus boiled eggs and carefully wrapped pickled onions. We tucked into our first helping, and admired the slightly less misty view clearing down the valley.
The decent from the notch down Telegraph Valley is long, fast, a bit loose, and punctuated with aggressively-designed stone drainage channels at regular intervals. I had taken the precaution of fitting heavy-duty rubber to my wheels to counter the threat of impact punctures, and the super tacky compound would hopefully grip the slick wet rock as well as anything. Well, it almost felt like I needn’t have bothered – the Nomad ploughed through or over every rough rocky section with serene composure. I had fitted the PUSH Industries Nomad linkage the day before, and hadn’t had time or opportunity to test it. Well, the result appeared to be as promised – very little change to the pedal-ability (when spinning anyway), but the already plush initial stroke had deepened through the travel, with a creamy, more linear sensation. The final part of the stroke is supposed to be even more of an effective mechanical preventer of bottom-out than the original linkage. Well, I had the Bottom-Out setting on the shock fully off, and didn’t feel the bike reach the end of the travel all day, so I think they’ve done a pretty amazing job.
We descended swiftly, and then cut across the valley to Hebron Station where we picked up the main Llanberis Path. This trail up the side of Snowdon has a reputation for remarkable displays of inappropriate mountain attire, and we were not disappointed. For every well-layered and properly-booted individual, there were probably two t-shirt and trainer wearers. I should point out that, at this point, the drizzle had taken a long look at itself in the mirror, pulled out a handgun a few times, and reinvented itself as cold, stinging rain. As such, the more extreme outfits that we witnessed were acknowledged with that mutual, knowing shake of the head best exemplified by staff working in outdoor shops when a customer purchases a heavily engineered lightweight carabiner specifically to attach to the outside of their rucksac. The 12 year old in tiny skirt, t-shirt and plastic slip-on shoes won yesterday’s Honorary Snowdon Flip-Flop Award.
The regular rocky steps make the Llanberis Path a bit of a bastard to push a bike up. It looked like it would be a fun descent though, and a few riders were picking their way down. Mostly taking it slowly and unsteadily, apart from one guy who looked like he knew what he was doing – less braking and more speed creating a smoother and more flowing style. However, the number of people on the trail would’ve put me off – dodging sullen teenagers and Liverpudlian grandmothers is not my idea of wilderness mountain biking.
We reached the summit, whereupon the wind and rain lashed with a greater ferocity, and it was clear that the decent was going to require even more care and concentration that usual. Whilst I psyched myself up for this arduous undertaking, visualising an efficient and effective style and applying it in my mind’s eye to the rocky, precipitous chutes and gullies that we had experienced on the way up, Alex reappeared with a can of lager. Apparently a group of enthusiastic walkers had carried this beer all the way up the mountain, and had decided that we were the most worthy recipients of its foamy delights. As such, we consumed it with reckless abandon. I don’t recall a can of Fosters ever tasting as good as that one did. Around the same moment, another chap appeared – long-haired, wearing shorts, two bin bags, boots without laces and small nylon Clifford Chance bag strung over his shoulders – lost, with only a biro-scribbled map and an acute lack of navigational know-how to get him down the mountain. Imagine a slightly effeminate law student shipwrecked on a rocky Norwegian island with nothing but the stuff he pinched on his last work experience placement and you get the idea.
We started off down the trail. There were a few sections towards the top that we chose to carry, mainly on account of the slick rock and various long drops either side. The start of the Ranger Track proper was a different affair though – a gentler angle, fast, but with plenty of rocky obstacles. The Nomad was quite happy to plough over it all – having spent a lot of time this year on a carbon hardtail that has to be threaded down a trail with the precision of an anally-retentive brain surgeon, this new-found liberation made the decent much more pleasurable.
The tough sections of the Ranger Trail are really really tough. It’s hard to see if there are other alternative lines when you’re already committed to another, so there might’ve been ways around sections that brought me to a squealing stop. Without recourse to near stationary trials-style riding, I can imagine that some of the bigger drop sections really need a bit of speed and commitment to clear. But they reappear with such regularity that you need to be in the right place on the trail at all times – build up a bit too much speed and hit a narrow gap, and you can say bye bye to that rear mech. It was in such fashion that Alex managed to taco his large chainring around two thirds of the way down.
Having carried all the photographic gear up the bloody hill, I barely used it, save for a few pictures towards the top of the trail. I won’t make that mistake again. I have some non-misty but dull footage of the Telegraph Valley track, and then quite a lot of howling wind / mist obscured descending of the Ranger trail. Both will need a bit of editing before appearing here.
The trail eventually begun to level, and rock was replaced with muddy puddles. It was not long before we passed the turn-off point from earlier in the ride, and all that remained was smooth singletrack that descended to the road in a series of sweeping switchbacks. Having bought a parking ticket that I had failed to position in my car (erroneously leaving in my pocket instead) I was relieved to find the car unimpounded.
A fine day out on the hills.