‘You’ve turned up to a night trek without head torches?!’ Kevin, the trek leader, is incredulous.
‘Sorry, I thought they were provided…’ I mumble. My wife lours at me, her face burning so red with embarrassment that I’m tempted to point out a torch would be superfluous.
Fortunately a rather better-prepared couple in our group of 30 has spare torches and – once they’ve excavated them from rucksacks stuffed full of foil blankets, electrolyte drinks and power snacks – we file out of the Royal Victoria Hotel and into the Llanberis night.
The time is 10.30pm, and we won’t return before 5am. Monika had been thrilled when I suggested a weekend away. She’d been less thrilled to learn we’d spend the opening night climbing a Welsh mountain, but I won her over by explaining it was for a good cause. And by booking a room at the Bodysgallen Hall spa hotel for the following day.
Tour operator Discover Adventure specialises in transforming a holiday into a challenge. Besides preparing for the physical challenge, each participant is tasked with raising sponsorship for their favourite cause, and we’re hiking ten miles up and down the 1,100-metre-high Mount Snowdon for Bliss, the premature baby charity.
We lug ourselves over a stile and join the Llanberis Path, a trail of loose stones bordered by scrubby grass. During the day, this path is a shifting daisy chain of walkers from top to bottom, but climb after dark and the mountain is your own; there’s nothing more peaceful than a mountain at night, the Discover Adventure team had said.
They’d reckoned without Sharky and Tash from Huddersfield. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ jokes Sharky after ten minutes – and again at five-minute intervals thereafter, regular as the drip of water torture. At the 30-minute mark, Tash begins her story about the time she happened to be staying at the same Sheffield hotel as Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards. At the one-hour mark, Monika and I stoop to tie our laces and remain stooped until Tash’s voice has faded into the distance.
Walking at the back of the group, we find the peace we’ve been promised. But it’s not a peace borne of silence because the mountain has its music: the chink and pop of shale beneath our boots, the babble of a brook beside the path, the rhythmic flap of a canvas collar, the ebb and flow of the breeze. The night brings soothing colours too. Green glowsticks bob on the rucksacks ahead, while behind us the orange lights of Anglesey flicker like pilgrims’ candles.
At midnight we pass the Halfway Café, locked and lonely, and then beneath an arch of the mountainside railway and into a wind that buffets us onto our heels and muffles my head like a cold duvet. Cocooned by the wind and the night, I find myself unexpectedly meditative, my mind truffling out a series of unconnected memories: jokes told by my grandfather, a trip to the circus, summer holidays after school exams. I wonder what thoughts visit arctic explorers, shawled in landscapes of endless white.
The path gets steeper as we go, now laid with blocks of stone that form an irregular, energy-sapping set of giant steps. ‘Taxi!’ gasps the ever-witty Sharky, while others take breathers, hands on knees, and the line of glowsticks becomes more and more stretched. Shortly after 1am the moon appears low above a summit that seems mercifully close, before we push into a mountain-top mist as cold and still as a shoal of sleeping fish.
It’s eerie, this final 100 metres. A grazing sheep looms out of the fog and evaporates once more, and our torches cast silver discs against the wetness in the air. And then we’re passing the railway’s end station and climbing the winding steps of a cairn that marks the very peak. The time is 1.35am, and we’ve reached the top of Snowdon.
We’re chilly and damp; our commemorative selfies look ghostly in the gloom. But this has been a trek of a special kind, one of light shows and music and long-forgotten memories. Darkness has revealed things the sun can never reach. Forget the views – I’d choose a mountain at night any day of the week.