It’s the last week of 2012, the weather is typically wet but abnormally warm. Danny ‘Widehead’ Whitehead (my very good friend who’s been studying in America since the summer), Dave ‘shit line choice’ Camus and myself decided to do something a bit different. After much persuasion and being asked “Are you on crack?” I managed to sway them into riding somewhere that wasn’t a busy trail centre or muddy, boggy local XC loop.
Instead we went to Snowdon.
Why, you might ask, did we choose to do this? It may be without the dust, jumps, tree cover, bright sunshine or chairlifts and gondolas of the alps but for some reason it gives just as good a buzz but without driving for 24 hours and splashing a load of cash.
The Ranger Path is not designed for anything more than plastic walking boots from your local outdoor store so the trail does have a few sneaky rocks which you don’t see until the last second, especially when trying to go flat out and holding a straight line rather than weaving around to avoid obstacles.
There are flat out and wide open sections where you’re hopping over rocks hoping that there’s not something jagged on the landing. Other sections are slower and rockier but still quite wide so staying off of the brakes and skipping over holes is much easier than trying to take each hit as it comes. Other sections have a few flat or off-camber corners with loose gravel but also banked, almost switchback sections which allow you to feel like you’re on a proper track. The very last section, known as Mordor, is much slower and involves picking lines to make it through without catching your front wheel on a gap between boulders and being pitched over the bars.
The combination of high speed at the top and slow, tech stuff at the bottom make it feel like you have the variation of tracks like bike parks in France, Italy, etc. Perhaps not quite as much variety but it’s better than nothing. Also, weather conditions can definitely spice it up a little. 50-60mph winds, snow, ice and cloud cover definitely alter the experience a touch as Danny, Dave and I found out on the penultimate day of 2012. As we were pushing up we spotted at least 3 people with crampons attached to their boots and rucksacks full of survival gear, yet all we had were five tens on our feet and sandwiches in our bags.
As we neared the summit the wind picked up, it was the strongest I’d felt for a long time, and we didn’t think we’d be able to ride at all from the summit to the start of the Ranger path. Climbing to the top, we stopped for brief periods when the bikes were almost being blown from our hands and crouched when we were being toppled over. The view wasn’t spectacular although we didn’t plan on staying long as cold and numb hands aren’t ideal when trying to descend a mountain.
Due to the conditions we doubted it’d even be possible to ride. Every attempt at trying to walk with the bike on a slippery surface in high wind would almost put you on your arse. However, once we’d set off and had enough momentum to stay up it was an amazing feeling. Leaning into the wind to stay on course, the tyres having just enough grip to counteract the moment and not disappear from beneath you. Every now and then the wind would pick up an extra 5-10 mph and you’d slide from the left to the right without even steering in that direction. Seemingly easy sections on previous visits were made all that more challenging so the feeling of accomplishment for making it through the top section with just a couple of dabs on the thicker sheets of ice was much greater.
Once we had made it over the railway track and further down the Ranger path we dropped out of the cloud line and there was less ice. The trail was now riding like on previous experiences, still a bit damp but when only making a few direction changes this isn’t much of an issue. The wind speed was still quite high until we reached the lower third of the mountain, until then you had to try and keep both wheels on the ground to prevent the front wheel being swiped away by a side wind. This is more difficult than it sounds though as there are boulders just asking to be hopped off and over. The last section of the main descent is known as Mordor and contains a few surprises with it being a steep, narrowly cut path with rocks of all shapes and sizes littering it. Every time I’ve come to this section I’ve somehow managed to make it through blind. Once we reached the end of it cleanly Dave and myself couldn’t resist a cheesy high five…
The gradient of the Ranger path levels out so a short pedal is required. To make it back down to correct side of the mountain a short push is required to reach the start of the ‘Telegraph Valley descent’. A flatout section of track with rocky drainage ditches that you’re hoping at around 35mph (according to strava…) and one or two flat corners. This leads you onto a road taking you straight back into the heart of Llanberis.