It’s coming up to my birthday again and I’ve been trying to decide where I want to celebrate turning 26. Rome, Slovenia, Germany or Switzerland – all these destinations crossed my mind. After some careful consideration though, I’ve decided to go back to one of my favourite National Parks, Snowdonia.
I know some many people fell in love with some of the pictures we uploaded in our last blog post, so if you’re thinking of heading there too, here’s some tips for planning an incredible trip.
Buy a map – you won’t regret it
Some information and advice that you may find useful I would always strongly recommend that users of the guides purchase the appropriate Ordnance survey map covering the area of the walk. Maps are not expensive and add to the experience of the day. They are also invaluable in the event that for any reason things do go wrong.
The following maps cover the areas of the walks: Explorer OL17 : Snowden and Conwy vally and Explorer OL18 : Harlech, Orthmadog & Bala. Learn how to read grid references on these maps – it’s very easy, the first 6 digits refer to the horizontal position and the second six refer to the vertical position. For a full explanation if you are unsure, check out how by Googling or using YouTube.
Plan, plan and plan some more
Before you set out, you can ‘virtually’ drive the last part of your journey to the parking area using the ‘street view’ facility available on Google Maps. This is a fantastic free tool and I would strongly recommend that you use it. It may save you some time and frustration caused by stopping to check directions.
The street view function covers almost every major and minor road in the park. The google maps ‘satellite’ view can also be very useful in picking out some of the way points shown in the guides. Access area and public rights of way Although much of the upland area in the park is now classed as open access land, some is not – especially land close to farm buildings. Open access areas are shown on the ordnance survey maps by highlighting in orange. Many well used paths are not shown on Ordnace survey maps as they are not official public rights of way.
When to go I don’t personally go into the mountains on rainy days and I don’t go high on cloudy days – I really can’t see the point in toiling to the top of a mountain if you can’t enjoy the views and I don’t like being soaked to the skin. Very windy days can also take the fun out of things – especially if the wind is against you on the ascent (people have been blown off mountains and killed on several occasions).
These guides are designed to be used on days with good visibility. Check the weather forecast before you set out – BBC weather, XC weather and the Met Office mountain weather forecasts are all very good.
Picking suitable gear & equipment
Essentially, you pay your money and take your choice. In my opinion, there is really no need to purchase the entire contents of the Cotswold shop before setting out (as some walkers seem to feel the need to do), however, setting off for a trek up Snowdon in October with just shorts, a t-shirt and trainers is an equally bad idea.
Outdoor clothing is one of the few types of kit that has not fallen in price since production was largely moved to the far east, and some of it can be very expensive indeed. Using common sense is the best approach – no point spending £500 on a waterproof jacket that was designed for alpine mountaineers if you are doing all of your walking in the UK.
Knowing what to wear
For summer a lightweight type is a good option in case of rain and wind. In winter, a heavier wind and waterproof jacket is required either with attached fleece or with enough room to put on when wearing a fleece. Most jackets these days are ‘breathable’. My advice would be to start with a cheaper end jacket and see how it goes. £50 or less will buy you a decent lightweight and £100 or less a decent waterproof.
Whatever you end up buying, don’t make the first time you wear it on a long trip up a mountain. Just like you would with a new pair of high heels, take them for a test run first (no, I don’t mean around the house!). Go for a walk locally to see how your new coat handles wind and rain; you don’t want to be finding this out when you’re battling 45mph winds and snowstorms on a summit.
Finisterre beanie £25, Trespass Martine down jacket £58, Sorrel boots £95
I’ve recently been trailing the women’s Martine down jacket from Trespass is fantastic for chilly and dry days out. I wanted to ensure it kept me warm enough to wear underneath my shell jacket when we next visit Snowdon – and it didn’t fail to impress! The jacket is made with a natural down feather filling which retains heat, made up of 80% Down and 20% Feather – in other words, it’s super cosy.
Why would I take this jacket up Snowdon? This type of natural material is highly flexible, meaning it can be folded and stored away easily in its stuff sack located in the pocket and put in your car, rucksack or travel case. It’s ultra-lightweight allowing you to add on additional layers such as ski top, base layer set or microfleece without feeling constricted or weighed down.
When it comes to choosing trousers and tops I wear whatever I feel comfortable in. In winter I just add extra layers, such as the merino base layers available at Finisterre. I prefer to wear Craghoppers cargo trousers as they have loads of pockets (including a side map pocket) and they dry really quickly if they get a bit damp.
Two things I would not skimp on are shoes/boots and socks – cheap items can turn a good day into a painful day in no time at all. Investing in good quality hiking shoes that offer support is important, because there’s nothing worse than being uncomfortable on a hike. Equally, you may think that £10 – 15 for a pair of socks is crazy, but it really is money well spent – my personal favourites are Brigdale trecker extreme.
Stocking up on fuel
You can’t walk up hills or mountains on an empty stomach. At some point you will run out of gas and ‘hit the wall’, where you legs start to feel like jelly and tempers start to flare. Eat a good breakfast that contains lots of slow release calories before you set off (cereals or a fry up are good), and take snacks with you that you can use to give a quick boost you calories if the need arises.
Personal favourite from my half marathon days is peanut butter and banana on toast!
I usually take a bag of jelly babies, but if sweets isn’t your thing, things like bananas can be good. The ‘energy gels’ that are available will work, but are just sugars mixed in a jelly – take a bar of chocolate, its just as effective and much cheaper (and tastier).
When you get to the summit, there is nothing better than enjoying a well earned snack – a couple of buns and a cup of tea go down very well whilst admiring the views. and are well worth the effort of carrying them up. It is important to take a good supply of fluids with you – especially on a warm day.
Running out of water half way through the day is a very unpleasant experience. On a warm day, if walking up hill, I would always take at least 2 litres of water, sometimes 3 if it is a hot day and a big mountain. Better too much than not enough – you can always pour away any excess to lighten your load . Portable water filters are available for use in emergencies but they are quite expensive.
Essential for carrying water and food and other kit, you’ll need a good rucksack. Choose a size to fit your requirements and no need to spend a fortune. Good padding on the back and hip strap helps to prevent the stuff inside banging against your spine.
Finally, ever since getting my walking poles I wouldn’t consider doing a mountain without them. Pick yourself up a cheap set of poles, and you’ll see exactly what I mean! You’ll then be able to invest in a pair of Komperdell Carbon Ultralite walking poles.