Snowdonia: A mountainous mid-life crisis

A ridge-climbing course at the National Mountain Centre offers a welcome challenge.

By Matthew Jackson
Published 11 Sept 2016, 16:00 BST, Updated 7 Jul 2021, 15:53 BST

My midlife crisis has just jumped to a new level. Having kicked it off with a clamber up Kilimanjaro in January, the outdoor bug has firmly set in, and these days I find myself looking for any excuse to get out of London and up the side of a hill. With that in mind, a weekend at Plas y Brenin (the National Mountain Centre), in the heart of Snowdonia, sounded a perfect fix.

PYB is the Alton Towers for Gore-Tex geeks — think kayaking-rolling pools, lectures on expeditions to Mount Kenya and a gear store to drool over. Then there's the location — in the idyllic village of Capel Curig, surrounded by mountain peaks, rivers and some really good gastro pubs.

We were booked onto a weekend course, Welsh Summer Ridges — just the two of us plus an instructor — a proper mountain man named Mike Thomas. Mike rock climbs for work, rock climbs for fun after work and, when he's on holiday, goes rock climbing. After a quick get-to-know-you, we agree on a plan of attack for day one, which includes summiting Moel Siabod, a 2,860ft peak overlooking PYB.

Mike has a great approach to teaching — allowing us to do the things we want to do, while keeping it safe and dispensing knowledge along the way. We spend the morning taking the long way up while brushing up our navigation skills. Remember how boring an OS map and compass was when you were 12? Well, when you're in the grip of a midlife crisis, orienteering using the contours of rock formations is suddenly great fun.

We then go through some basic rope work on some steeper ascents where a safety line is needed and learn how to set up our own abseils using boulders for an anchor. This is a tease for day two…

My legs at Sunday breakfast are in desperate need of a massage, but post-Weetabix we hike around the lake at Glyderau and stare up at a 1,300ft-plus rock face. When Mike announces we're going to scramble up it, my thoughts immediately turn to a hot bath and a nap.

The next three hours involve a lot of sweat being wiped out of eyebrows and heavy panting. My climbing is generally good, apart from a small wobble at the top, when I can't find the right foothold on a sheer face — this leads to a temper tantrum, during which I announce I'm not going any further.

But the encouraging screams from above remind me I can't live on a ledge for the rest of life, and by some miracle I heave myself up. The reward is an afternoon of abseiling, learning controlled descents, including the 'South African' technique (without a harness).

So what now? What next for my midlife crisis? Do I grow a ponytail or buy a Porsche? No chance. The combination of mountain air and the buzz of the climb has me hooked. I'm off to climb the Eiger next. And I don't care that everyone thinks I'm mad!


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