This path looked different in the daylight. It looked different going up instead of down too.
For starters, it seemed much steeper. My heavy breathing and visible sweating despite the cold temperatures was testament to that.
Also, there seemed to be a jolly lot of boulders, cold and slippery, that we were having to clamber over.
But as I stopped to admire the view once more, Llyn Peris a shimmery grey blue in the near distance lapping at the foothills of Wales’ Mt Snowdon, I realised this was quite a different journey to last time.
Last time it had been pitch black. There had been no moon when we gingerly picked our way down this rocky route from Snowdonia’s towering Glyders, with our wavering head torches dimly shining the way. But it was a route we should never have been walking on.
That was the year before. We’d been out on the Welsh mountains all day, enjoying the squeaky crunch of icy snow under our crampons, but we had misjudged the time and ended up stuck in the growing darkness on a cold and windy mountain, unable to find the perilously steep descent named Devil’s Kitchen.
The options were limited – benighted on the side of a cold, windy mountain or try find an alternative.
As luck would have it, another path had appeared. We had to climb over a fence and jump across a stream in the dark to get there but the track, albeit not clearly defined, was enough to get us back to civilisation.
Now, a year on, we were back on that very track, heading up instead of down, on a mission to find the pesky Devil’s Kitchen route – but this time in the daylight.
Ironically it ended up being remarkably easy to find – when you can see, and you know where to look.
It had only taken us a few hours to puff our way up the mountainside to Llyn y Cwn. And literally, right there, just pointing off from the lake was the track leading to Devil’s Kitchen. It couldn’t have been clearer if it had had neon signs and flashing arrows.
I couldn’t believe it. “God damn it,” I muttered.
We trotted to the brink where horizontal land met air and the path suddenly dropped away over the edge, revealing a vertiginous trail hugging the cliff, with Llyn Idwal several hundred metres below.
We began the treacherous descent, moving slowly, avoiding the slippery patches of snow and ice.
I used my left hand to clutch the rock face and give the sense of security that I wasn’t about to topple out into the abyss. And this was descending in broad daylight. Hmmm, I mused, had we found this path a year ago, it certainly would have been an interesting descent in the dark.
And then before we knew it, the worst of it was over. Although, I’d taken my time and two of my walking companions had sped ahead, and I now couldn’t see them. Not to worry, I’d catch them up. I turned left at the sign post.
As the ground levelled out and the shores of Llyn Idwal appeared I started to pick up speed.
Ah ha, and there in the distance was a person in a red jacket and one wearing black. It had to be Barry and Ray. But blimey, they had really motored ahead. The boyfriend – who had by this time caught me up – and I picked up the pace.
“You know, I don’t think that’s Barry,” the boyfriend said, as we got closer to the red-jacketed man.
“What do you mean? It has to be Barry. He and Ray surely can’t be further ahead,” I reasoned.
“Well, it’s just that I think that person in the red jacket has a dog lead and is walking that dog.”
I squinted. Bugger, the boyfriend appeared to be right. The person in the red jacket was clearly walking a dog, which meant the person in the red jacket was probably not Barry – which meant where the hell was Barry, and where the hell was Ray.
I had visions of the two men in a crumpled mess with broken bones sticking out, having fallen off the side of the mountain. I shook the image from my mind – there were enough people around to have seen or heard something like that and there were no signs of a commotion or mountain rescue.
For five minutes the boyfriend and I ummed and ahhed as to what was going on and what to do. Was this some sick joke? Surely not.
In the end we reasoned they couldn’t be behind us – surely they couldn’t have turned right at the sign post, which said ‘don’t turn right, path closed’. We surveyed the path back along Llyn Idwal and up towards Devil’s kitchen. We waited for a few walkers in red jackets to get nearer before eliminating them as Barry.
With only about an hour or so of daylight left – and Y Garn still to climb before the descent down the track back to the car – we reasoned they must have really legged it ahead on up the mountain.
And so, with the minutes ticking, we set off along the steep track to the snowy summit of Y Garn. We passed an Eastern European man descending with his girlfriend. Had he passed an older man and a man in a red jacket on his way down? He wasn’t sure, but he thought so.
We ploughed on. Every so often we looked back down towards Llyn Idwal. At one point we heard the buzz of a helicopter in the distance. The vision of a crumpled Barry and Ray returned to my head. At one point we noted two figures far below approaching the climb towards Y Garn. It was hard to tell if the figures could have been Barry and Ray but it still didn’t make any sense on how they were behind us.
On we went, entering the misty cloud and following a steep, stony track lavishly covered in snow. We reached the summit of Y Garn, where inch-long icicles grew off the rocks making up the summit cairn. There wasn’t another soul and certainly no speck of red walking in the distant cloud.
We quickly descended, slipping and sliding in the slushy snow, reaching Llyn y Cwn again with the Devil’s Kitchen descent. Still no sign of Barry and Ray.
Daylight was quickly disappearing now. The irony of having to descend the same track as last year in the dark did not escape me. If anything, it was more perilous; indeed, more perilous than when we had climbed it that morning, as rain had turned the track into a trickling stream. The soil was water-logged, the grass and mud slippery, the rocks a greasy slick. The sparkle of water shimmered under our head torches as we slowly picked the route down.
Below us there were no flashes from head torches, no sign that Barry and Ray were ahead of us. Was it possible they were, in fact, behind us? But how? And yet, in the distance, back up the track, two blobs of light danced. It must be them. I was so confused.
On reaching the road we watched the two dancing lights, waiting for whoever it was to appear.
We heard the clack of a walking pole on tarmac before we saw two figures emerge.
“Barry? Ray?” I shouted. “Is that you?”
We were greeted with huffs and expletives. Why hadn’t we waited for them? they demanded.
Relief coursed through my body. We were reunited with the two men and they were unscathed. But how on earth were they behind us when they had been in front?
“I didn’t read that sign,” Barry said. “We turned right.” They’d helped a damsel in distress over a river and had accidently taken the long route around the lake, while we had zoomed ahead.
“That path’s a bit tricky coming down in the dark isn’t it?” Barry added.
Yes, I agreed, and wondered what stories it would present us with the next time we walked it.