Gale-force winds, money trees, V for victory – Snowdon

Two hundred and ten miles in Canada is by no means the same distance in the UK.

Winding roads, varying amounts of traffic, one-car country lanes with five-foot hedges…it took us ages to get to Wales. The trusty camper van arrived to Snowdonia National Park mid-afternoon, which was a bit late to start hiking, but plenty of time to seek out a campsite and food.  Snowdon was pencilled in for the next day.

Camping in Wales

(1,085 m or 3,560 ft)

About Snowdon: How amazing it is that Wales could take one mountain and create Disneyland?  You could go badass and climb Snowdon, or take the tourist tracks that wind up the back side, or literally take a trolley train from the base to summit, which – btw – has a bunker-esque restaurant on top!! It’s rather welcoming that there are so many experiences to be had on Snowdon, but I’m sure it also has the purists rolling in their graves.

Savvy choice: Having a local inn prepare pack lunches for the trip. It was pricy at about 9 GBP each, but after two other hikes it was a delight to open a lunch bag prepared by someone else with things you might not ever buy but were excited to eat.

Weather report: Some of the strongest winds I’ve ever experienced!  That wind ripped, tore, howled…and tried (unsuccessfully, thank goodness) to dislodge me twice from this great Earth.  At the summit, we moved in a wild, windy cloud, and it was so cold.

Closest pub: The YHA Snowdon’s bar is open for drinks, but the atmosphere is G-rated with many youth and school groups racing up and down the halls.  For something more pub-ish, hop back in the car and head down the road.

Our hike: And then there were two… Miz M. and Miz W. planned to take the trolley up Snowdon, while we took the PYG Track.  Fingers crossed that we’d meet at the top!  Little did we know, but the wind was so very fierce that all train services were cancelled that day, and the coffee shop remained closed.

Snowdon PYG track

Snowdon has many trails converging towards the summit, and we chose the PYG Track which begins across the street from the Youth Hostel up on Llanberis Pass, at the Pen Y Pass car park.  The well-trodden path is very clear the entire way as we quickly discovered on a Saturday morning where everyone and his dog were making the trek!

We were told this mountain, of the three, would be the “easiest”, and we could see why….the path was defined and there were many gradual or even flat spots at the beginning.

Snowdon break

After a snack and break – and it was quick because the wind sucked the very heat from our bodies –  we carried on.  Passing Llyn Llydaw and Glaslyn, the trail took a rockier, steeper turn as the trek rose into the cloud which hid Snowdon’s summit.

Snowdon into the clouds

We came across the most curious tree.  A money tree, or perhaps a wishing tree…add a coin, find your heart’s desire.  There were two such trees just prior to the bit before Bwlch Glas and the final 100 m.

Snowdon money tree

That last 100 m I was glad to be a solid lass, because if I was any lighter, I would be airborne!  The ferocious wind tossed and tormented. As Miz J. and I mounted those last steps to touch the summit marker, we hung on for dear life at the centre cairn.  A photo would’ve been appropriate, but there was no way to take out the camera without being blown off the top. Victory! Three peaks complete!!!

Coming down off the stone platform was pretty much more terrifying than climbing up.  I wavered at the top of the stone staircase, and was about to take flight when a steady yank on the back of my pack from a fellow hiker pulled me to safety.  From there, I followed suit from Miz J. and inched my way down the stairs on my bum.

With the summit restaurant closed, we huddled in a doorway out of the wind, with other hikers who’d just completed their Three Peaks Challenge in under 24 hours – well done!

The way back down was an all-singing, all-dancing joyride.  The trail was packed with loads of other hikers and even a peak endurance race (Ras Copaon 1000m Cymru), with runners navigating the tourists as they pushed through to the top.  Such a stellar way to end our three peaks!

We missed seeing Miz W. and Miz M., but their smiling faces swung by in the camper van to collect our tired and sweaty selves to whisk us off to York!

Pencilling in a return….but in the mean time, here are some stats from our Canuck National Three Peaks Challenge:

a zillion sheep
467 miles, peak to peak (not including detours)
76 pints
33 bags of crisps
8 sore calves
3 great pub meals
2 official campsites
1 parking lot doze
1 flat tyre

Flat tyres, Liz Hurley, bacon sandwiches – Scafell Pike

Flying high on bagging our very first Munro – the one and only Ben Nevis – and sleeping like rocks in the bunkhouse, we packed up and hit the road for Scafell Pike in England’s Lake District.  Making a short stop in Fort William to check out directions to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, we came back to find the camper van had a flat tyre.

And that the roadside assistance had expired.

And that the spare tyre was rusted out and flat as a pancake.

While the repairs were getting sorted, we ate meat pies, bought tea towels and postcards, toured a castle ruins, had a beer, noshed on Haggis-flavoured crisps, checked out the Ben Nevis distillery, bought some whiskey, said hello to local livestock….and all was good.

Fort William killing time

By the time our camper van was roadworthy again, our leisurely driving day south to England turned into ~255 miles to get under our belt before it got tooooo late (aka dark).  We left Fort William late afternoon….yikes.

Getting out of Scotland was a lot of twisting turning lanes. Miz W. was the best driver ever, and thank the gods for her driving skills and Miz J’s navigation system, along with Liz Hurley’s input.  Our sat nav was totally Liz Hurley, embodied.  And most of the time Liz Hurley was sending us in the right direction.

But she started to fade after many, many hours of driving.  We also lost the radio.  The cigarette charger died all together. The interior van lighting extinguished. It was pitch black outside.  All started going straight to hell in a hand-basket.

The camper van became entirely persnickety (hot wires?) so we pulled over at a bus stop, possibly in Egremont, to let it cool off. I think it was about midnight at that point.  It wasn’t until we hopped out to find a bush to pee behind when we realized we were right next to a very old, scary-looking cemetery.  Only a rock wall separated us from … the undead.

Well, that was my only motivation required to move it. (The others were much more brave.)  Once the van had a decent rest, we were back on the road.  We ended up sleeping around 0230 hrs-ish in the Gosforth commuter parking lot where we popped the top and squeezed in amidst all the luggage for a snooze.

Later that morning, we woke to a busy little car park all around us.

Gosforth parking lot

We nipped across the street to the corner store and to the bakery for breakfast pastries, yogurt and a few hiking snacks, and were quickly on our way to Wasdale Head, where we’d eventually find both the trail head and Miz J.’s friend from York, Miz S. and her sister waiting for us to conquer Scafell Pike.

(978 m or 3,209 ft)

About Scafell Pike: Wasdale Head is home not only to England’s highest peak, but also to the deepest lake, smallest church and biggest liar.  How could one NOT visit such a charming locale?  On the western edge of the Lake District, it also (as many places in the UK) seems to have it’s own weather systems, so be prepared on Scafell Pike! Fun fact: The peaks of the Lake District are known as ‘fells’ from the viking word ‘fjell’ for mountain.

Savvy choice: Camp (or stay) right at the Wasdale Head Inn (birthplace of British mountaineering) for easy access to the trail heads of many great hill walks. Fee for camping is just 5 GBP a night, and that gets you a lovely green, access to the toilets/showers, and a welcome to pop in the next morning for bacon sandwiches. Heck ya, bacon sandwiches!!

Closest pub: Wasdale Head Inn’s Ritson’s Bar is cozy and welcoming, with every drink under the sun available, packed with walkers and local colour as well.  Menu’s good, served to 9:00 pm, and dessert is available late. Customer service is spot on.

Our hike:
We met up with Miz S. and set off midday for our trek just down the road from the Wasdale Head Inn at the National Trust car park.

Scafell Pike Sarah

Across the footbridge, past the sheep, through the meadow and up the hill, we starting on a lovely path of stone steps – both manicured and natural – where National Trust workers were upgrading the path. Wonderful work! What a way to spend the day!  Looking back from the slopes of Lingmell, there are delightful views of Wast Water.

Scafell Pike first steps

After crossing Lingmel Gill on stepping stones our little group slowly separated, each finding her own pace, with Miz S. and her sister springing onwards like goats, while Miz. W. and Miz. M. chilled out on the slopes for a few photos and a snack.

The sunny, warm day was such a contrast to the rain and sleet of Ben Nevis. Stopping frequently to take a breath and repeat to myself – hills?  I have such respect for these “mountains”!

Scafell Pike upwards

We each continued up the steep ascent towards the Hollow Stones, a tumble of glacial debris that requires a sharp eye for cairns, as not to lose the path.  My path ebbed and flowed with those of Miz J. and Miz S.  It was steady hard work, step after step.  Lots of time to think and muse.  What I enjoyed about this trail was – due to the clear skies – that I could look up and pick out the trail above and beyond.  It was a different set of cards dealt on this hiking day.

On the traditional National Three Peaks Challenge, this leg is done completely in the dark, in the dead of night.  That is surely a challenge in itself as the approach to the summit is very rocky, where you mount a boulder field of shattered rock and the vistas of Lakeland which unfold from every direction wouldn’t be seen at all!

Catching up to Miz J., we hiked the final bit together to the summit.

Scafell Pike view

Glorious views of the Lake District!

Scafell Pike Melis

The whole gang met up together on top of Scafell Pike, then headed down slowly – sore knees today!! – to reconvene in Ritson’s Bar for drinks and supper. In total, I think it took about 5.5 hours.

Next stop: Snowdon!




4 girls, 3 peaks, 1 camper van – Ben Nevis

Our Canuck version of the National Three Peaks Challenge was to hike the highest peak in each Scotland, England and Wales within a week. (We decided against doing it in 24 hours as we wanted to remain friends afterwards, among other reasons.) A road trip through Great Britain, sleeping in a camper van, and epic hikes…what more could we ask for?  In fact, every hike began and ended with a meadow full of sheep, and a pub close by, which was icing on the cake.

(1,344 m or 4,409 ft)

About The Ben: The “loveless loveliness” that is Ben Nevis – what a monolith, a beast, a beauty.  The highest mountain in Britain, The Ben’s North Face cliffs drop off suddenly, adding a bit of danger in to any common hike. Climbers, mountaineers, hikers, fell runners and tourists all flock to get a piece of The Ben.

Savvy choice: Watching the weather in early June, Miz J. booked us a guide for Ben Nevis, knowing that if there was still a lot of snow (which there was) we didn’t want to risk offing ourselves accidentally in Scotland by wandering over a cliff.

Weather report: Cloudy, misty, rainy and lots of snow at the top! By 1,200 metres it was a complete whiteout and for direction we depended on Dave and his compass.

Closest pub: Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse: stellar food, A+ for atmosphere. Tuesday nights feature live, local music. Perfect end to the day. Tip: for dinner, RESERVE A TABLE in advance because squatter’s rights aren’t recognized and the staff won’t hesitate to turf you to seat locals.

Our hike: After our first night in the camper van, at the Glen Nevis Campground, we packed up camp in the drizzle, ate our yogurt and berries, and drove over to the Ben Nevis Inn, where the parking lot also served as the trail head for the Pony Track we’d be taking up The Ben.

Glen Nevis campground

We met our guide, Dave Anderson from Lochaber Guides, and he set the ground rules, estimating the amount of time we should spend out on the mountain due to our abilities, and discussed our aspirations for the day. He didn’t make any promises with regards to the summit, and just said we’d play it by ear, seeing how we all made out.

Ben Nevis Dave the guide

The Pony Track – also known as the Tourist Route or the Mountain Path – rises gradually through the meadows (sheep!) with great views looking back into the valley below.

Ben Nevis first steps

Ben Nevis lower trackThe path continues upwards towards the lake, Lochan meall an t-suidhe, at which point there is a junction where hikers continue upwards on steep, stony switchbacks (or zig-zags, as they call them in the UK) climbing The Ben’s western slopes.

Ben Nevis zig zags

The path was very easy to follow until we encountered snow as we headed into the switchbacks. This is where I donned my middle layer (thermal – fleece – shell) as the temperatures began to drop. Dave stepped up to earn his weight in ale for skills and leadership, navigating precisely along the invisible path.

Heading skyward through the snow, Dave broke the trail and we all followed in his footsteps, taking it one foot in front of the other. The snow’s depth was to our shins most of the way.  Whiteout conditions ensued with the clouds and sleet, enabling us to only see about 2-3 steps ahead.  The wind, while not terrible, was constant.  The minute we stopped for a breather or a consultation as to progress, I could feel my body temperature start to drop.  By the time we’d reached 1,200 metres, the discussion became real: do we press on to the summit at 1,344 metres?

There would, of course, be no view at the summit. It would be a matter of doing it for oneself, tapping the marker, touching the ancient observatory. Ahhhh, the struggle to decide!! There’s a pass at home that has defeated me twice due to weather (aka safety) and it made me crazy every time to turn around.  This was no exception.  Dave made it clear, though, that bagging the summit would mean another steady upwards slog at a good clip for at least 30 minutes.  The die was cast: due to conditions, timing and general health/wellness of the whole group, we took our victory photos and headed back down The Ben.  Although 24-hour 3-Peaks-ers schedule only a few hours to run this mountain, it took us a good 8 hrs up and down the wee beastie, with plenty of breaks for snacks and rests. More than likely due to the rainy weather, we had the mountain to ourselves most of the way, which was a real treat. We only encountered about a dozen hikers, most of which were on their way up when we were coming down. Dave kindly gave advice to those who asked him, and pointedly made comments about their inappropriate outerwear (jeans, high-heeled boots, tennis shoes, etc).

Ben Nevis, my first real hike of the summer, was essentially very wet.  My waterproofs were excellent, but the sweat from the inside and the rain/sleet from the outside, just left me soaked. Warm, but soaked.  I’ve never been fond of rain, so I’m happy that I coped!  It helped, of course, not to be heading post-hike back to a tent, but to the Ben Nevis Inn where we acquired a prime table by the stove, stripped all of our wet things off, and hung them out to dry.

Ben Nevis post hike

With a vaulted ceiling, bench seating and a great cathedral window looking out to the mountains, the Inn’s pub was cozy as could be.

Ben Nevis ale

Boots off, socks drying, cold Cairngorm.

Ben Nevis Cairngorms

After a visit with Dave, he headed home to his little family, and we continued to chill out at the Inn for hours sampling ales, ciders and our first haggies, tatties and neeps of the holiday!

Ben Nevis Inn food

As the sun set, the musicians arrived and the evening become livelier with the additional of the toe-tapping 10-person band.  We had booked in to stay at the bunk house that night, so we popped downstairs to shower and change, and returned for the music.  I wish I could tell you what they played, but I haven’t a clue, all I can tell you is the call of a mournful pipe, a jovial accordion, an ancient drum.  All-in-all, an amazing start to our three peaks journey.

Ben Nevis Inn music

Next stop: Scafell Pike!


This is how we do it – #3Peaks

Road map to SnowdonI swear that prepping for the National Three Peaks Challenge was more challenging than the actual hiking. Admittedly, anticipation for me is 90% of the fun!

Bagging the three highest peaks in Scotland, England, and Wales all in 24 hours sounded like an awesome test of body and mind. Miz J.’s discovery of this little gem was ever so brilliant.

We’d start in Scotland, with Ben Nevis (1,344 m or 4,409 ft) for about 6 hours of trekking up & down; followed by a mad six-hour drive down to England’s Lake District to Scafell Pike (978 m or 3,209 ft) for a night hike up the rock peak, est 4 hours; and lastly, we’d haul ourselves along for another five (or more!) hours’ drive to Snowdonia to complete the final peak, Snowdon (1,085 m or 3,560 ft) in about 5 hours. Tah-dah!

However, coordinating the adventure from across the ocean (back home in Ca-nah-da) was a complete test of patience. It was mostly done, of course, from the comfort of the couch, laptop at hand, or at our weekly Wednesday night planning meetings in a bar. But still…lots of negotiation to find the best way for us to rock this goal.

Initially, we decided to go with a company that would provide an “open bus” where we could join in with others to do the challenge on a particular set of dates. Then we realized that if we truly wanted to do this in 24 hours, the group could only move as fast as its slowest hikers (which could ultimately be us) and did we want that wrath and pressure, given we’d be paying 375 GBP per person? Hm. Maybe not. And it just seemed so expensive, even though the price was on par with most of the companies offering the same services.

Then, we chose to switch it up and find our own van and driver, order topographical maps of the peaks, learn to use a compass, and do it all ourselves. We tried friends, or friends of friends, and no one had a spare van about or a driver willing to commit to driving like a bat out of hell through three countries and sleeping in the car parks while we hiked. We considered posting an ad on Kijiji for random lads with cars who’d be willing to take Canadian girls on a bit of a jaunt. But we never got that far.

Finally, we figured the 24-hour time crunch was the main obstacle for us completing the challenge on our own. We decided to rent our own van from Campers Scotland, and hike each mountain at our own pace over the period of a week. This way, we get to see a bit of Scotland, England and Wales (Ale! Beef pies! Tea towels bought for mum!) and the like.  Between the four of us, there’d be a driver, a navigator and a peanut gallery in the back (which would also double as the galley).

Flights and camper van booked, hiking maps reviewed and off to the mountains! Or hills. Or Munros. You get the picture. The Canadians are coming. Onward!


48 hours in Reykjavik – Day Two

Refreshed and now on Icelandic time, we were ready to see what Iceland had in store for us during out our last 24 hours in Reykjavik.

Day 2
0730 hrs /
Discovery: out of the four of us travelling together, I was the only morning person. #doh. Up and at ’em, eating delicious Skyr yogurt for breakfast we’d purchased last night at the Icelandic equivalent of a 7-11.
0830 hrs / The reputed must-do “Golden Circle Tour” was duly coordinated. We chose IG Tours because they had an option of using a smaller mini-bus rather than a huge coach. I’ve never been much of a tour person, so this was a bit of a stretch for me but a quick and dirty way to get out into the countryside and have someone else do the driving. Waiting outside the hostel for the bus, the street was littered with plastic cups and other signs that a massive party had gone done while we slumbered! About four buses circled by us and checked our names – tours are a big deal here.  Finally our wee minibus pulled up and off we went.
HI Loft Hostel exterior
0845 – 1630 hrs / We spent the majority of the day rolling through the countryside on the Golden Circle Tour, hitting the major sites of Gullfoss (a rushing waterfall a la Niagara), Geysir (a series of steaming, spouting geysers) and Pingvellir (home to Icelandic parliament’s beginnings), with somewhat barren landscapes in between. I picked up more Skyr to snack on and a book (Independent People) by the Icelandic Nobel prizewinner for literature, Halldor Laxness.
Golden Circle Tour highlights
Side note: our tour guide pretty much confirmed that the Icelandic views of the “Hidden World” are a very real thing – trolls, elves, dwarves, ghosts, etc. – and if you choose not to cooperate with these ancient peoples, you’re going to run into trouble. He was dead serious. And then he took us on a side trip to visit some Icelandic ponies where he chittered to them in Icelandic.
Icelandic ponies
1700 hrs / Back in town, our driver dropped us at the harbour upon request.  Checking out the waterfront we saw the Harpa concert hall (funky facet architecture), whale tour excursions, bike rentals, and any number of things to do should we have a bit more time and money to work with.
Reykjavik harbourfront
1830 hrs / On the hunt for Reykjavik’s best lobster soup… found down at the Sea Baron (Sægreifinn).  Not much more than a hole in the wall, we squeezed onto the bench seating to slurp back the soup and large baskets of bread with Icelandic butter. Delicious!  Throw in scallops and a whale steak, and yum! Perfect supper.
1900 hrs / We retired to the hostel for patio drinks (wine, plus vodka mixed with the local orange pop, Appelsin), enjoying the weather. A local music group was filming a video on the surrounding rooftops.
Loft Hostel rooftop patio
2000 hrs / Thus began the bar-hopping…more Viking, more Gull. A shot of Brennivan (Iceland’s savory schnapps – which I don’t really need to ever have again).  Lots of walking, talking and laughing.  We made a few new Icelandic friends, some who’d never left the island.  We sang loudly along with the live music to Ring of Fire and – believe it or not – Islands in the Stream. A little Kenny, a little Dolly…
New friends
0230 hrs / The night (or morning) ended with the search for an all-night hotdog stand, as apparently the hot dogs here are like an unofficial national food (made mostly of lamb and served with a bunch of creative condiments) and the testing out of the free-standing coin operated single bathroom stall that looked like some sort of time capsule. I managed my only official “run” while visiting Iceland, a one-minute trot around the square, during these hi jinx.
All-night Iceland
Having jotted this all down, I realize our two days was a lot about hanging out and eating…!  Every person we met was super friendly (except the convenience store guy who spoke to me in Icelandic and when he realized I wasn’t local, was kinda cranky), and went out of their way to ask why we came to Iceland…

Would I go back?
Iceland makes a great stopover and is an ideal place to shake off jet lag.  If I was to return to Iceland, I’d enjoy a few days in the capital but then there’d be a tent and rental car involved so that I could drive the endless roads around the edge of this massive island, and see all the hidden wonders that make the pages of the travel brochures. Until next time…

48 hours in Reykjavik – Day One

Our Icelandic stopover goal was to hammer out our jet lag ASAP and see a few sights – enough to get a taste for this wild country of tight pants, big sweaters, elves and trolls, curious cuisine and slick tourism marketing – before heading onward to the UK.

Iceland’s sweeping landscape, hidden waterfalls and multi-day treks would have to wait for another visit = our 48 hours concentrated on the capital of Reykjavik and surrounding area.

Day 1
0640 hrs /
Landing at the Keflavik airport via Iceland Air at midnight our time the four of us girls vowed to stay awake until bedtime proper, Icelandic time, in order to re-set our clocks for the onward journey.

Air Iceland
0930 hrs / We picked up a shuttle to the Blue Lagoon which was a convenient little deal through Reykjavik Excursions: airport/lagoon/city transfer for ISK 3,600.  Upon arrival at the Blue Lagoon, we stowed our luggage at their designated checkpointgreat feature at about ISK 500 per bag, considering we all had a ridiculous amount of baggage for a casual trip and jumped right in to the mineral bath…along with a million other people, including an apparent frat party. Swim up bar, anyone??
Note: the mineral water totally dries out your hair and leaves a chalky feel to your swimsuit, despite rinsing.  After finding (and coveting) the hot spots (the lagoon is generally warm, but not hot), and smearing mineral mud all over our faces, we were cooked.
Blue Lagoon .
1215 hrs / With wrinkly fingers and toes, we hopped back onto the shuttle heading into the city, arriving at the HI Loft Hostel. Located right downtown, this was a stellar location for just about everything in Reykjavik city centre.  The hostel had four floors, a check-in/bar/common area, a kitchen, and a great rooftop patio.  We unpacked a bit, got ourselves organized in the hostel (a private room for the four of us) and then went out…if we stayed in there too long, we’d fall asleep!
HI Loft Hostel
1400 hrs / Cruising the streets we wandered past countless bars and restaurants, outdoorsy shops and tourist joints.  We saw the iconic Hallgrimskirkja, a massive stone church with a dominating view of the city from the bell tower. We shopped at the local convenience store for Icelandic treats and snacks.  This is where our daily potato chip diet began.
1725 hrs / Feeling peckish, we sought out sustenance that included some local options. Skipping the fermented shark and glazed puffin, we stuck to fish & chips, salmon and reindeer burgers at Islenski Barinn. Calorie counting is already out the window. It just tastes so good. All the rumours, however, about expensive food in Iceland are bang on. My modest serving of fish & chips was ISK 2,600, which is about $26 CAD.   Fun fact: did you know that Iceland has geothermal hot spots where you can bake bread in the earth, and boil eggs in the water?? Maybe we should’ve done that…better for the budget. Ha.
Reindeer burger
1910 hrs /  Almost wiped out, but needing to carry on through to at least 2100 hrs, we strolled through Reykjavik’s core, browsing shops and people watching. Tight pants, big sweaters, manly beards.  Trying to picture that look on my husband…doesn’t quite work but would be fun to try….
2200 hrs / Bedtime for me!  I climbed up my eight-foot bunk and passed out, despite it being bright as midday outside.
Tomorrowwe learn elves are a big deal, and whale tastes like the Alberta beef of the sea.