North Wales January 2009

Snowdonia in the Snow

The IMC go to North Wales again

Preparation for the trip had consisted of occasionally going to the gym, in the hope of getting back on an even par with Martin Steven’s uphill pace. I also spent time fitting my crampons to my shiny new B3s and packing a selection of ice axes to cover all eventualities. Precisely why I did this isn’t clear, as the snow was almost all fresh in the last two days, the previous weekend’s thaw and rain having stripped most of the older accumulations. This I knew, but despite all the evidence that this was going to be a complete washout, I stuck with my original plan of leaving Ipswich unreasonably early on the Friday morning.

Martin and I arrived in Capel Curig soon after nine O’clock and settled down to the serious business of drinking tea while waiting to rendezvous with Mervyn, having got our arrangement slightly confused on the way. So, after the usual IMC faff, we three parked at the bottom of the Watkin path in Nantgwynant and set out in the general direction of Snowdon just before lunchtime. Yr Aran was the first snowy target, which at its lowly altitude below the cloud base, gave us good views before we descended to the bwlch and started up the south ridge of Snowdon, on generally good snow, especially considering how fresh it was. At about 950m on the Bwlch Main, a bit short of the summit, once I’d breathlessly caught up to the point where Martin was waiting patiently with Mervyn, he pointed out that we were running out of time, so we retraced our steps, mountaineering decision made. Dropping below the cloud, we were treated to views of hillsides lit by the setting sun. My crampons had remained safely in the rucksack all day, as is traditional.

A short drive and were at the bunkhouse under Tryfan, to find Mick and Heather already ensconced and providing tea. Soon Eddie arrived having walked the long way via Glyder Fach. Everyone else drifted in over the course of the evening.

We planned to walk the southern circuit of the Carneddau on the Saturday, estimating that we’d need a full day and to not try to be too ambitious. An alpine start being called for, we set off at the crack of nine O’clock, with Eddie added to the party. After a few minutes walking, Mervyn and I jogged back to the hut to collect his ice axe from my car. The summit of Pen yr Ole Wen came and went and came again, as Martin and I strode off in a direction diametrically opposed to that intended, only to be called back after a couple of hundred metres. The summit of Carnedd Dafydd soon arrived, rather sooner for Martin than the rest of us. Soon, views were revealed by the retreating clouds and we realised that this was turning out to be an almost perfect winter walking day. Snow conditions were close to ideal, with some patches of wind-scoured hard snow on the slog up to Carnedd Llywelyn. These were sufficiently easy-angled and avoidable to keep the crampons in the rucksack, continuing to provide additional ballast, as does most winter equipment most of the time.

Having arrived at the summit, we realised that we were well ahead of our realistic schedule, and could easily have included Yr Ellen in the itinerary for the day. Strangely, nobody was keen to descend and then re-ascend Carnedd Llywelyn, so we carried on with the circuit, Martin and the others glissading to a greater or lesser extent down the lee side, while I trudged down after them. A short break above the infamous Craig yr Isfa and down a short scramble to Bwlch Eryl Farchog and up another pleasantly easy scramble to Pen yr Helgi Du and a long easy walk down the ridge got us eventually below the snow line.

On the Carneddau

Craig Yr Isfa
On the Carneddau (click on any picture for larger image) Craig Yr Isfa

Carnedd Llywelyn from Helgi Du
Carnedd Llywelyn from Helgi Du

We had finished earlier than expected and were soon drinking tea in the bunkhouse, while the other parties were safely returning from various routes, including the Bochlwyd horseshoe bisected by ascents of Main Gully in imperfect but full-on winter conditions.

That evening, we were treated to a slideshow of the days exploits on a laptop, with at least half a dozen contributors. The IMC are a sophisticated bunch, so as well as coming equipped with the latest technology, we also partook of Port and Cheese in an effort to maintain standards.

Sunday dawned with wind and rain, but optimism prevailed and everyone set out for one last day of adventure. The Cneifion Arête was mentioned as a target of at least some of the party. Martin, Mervyn and I set off for Moel Siabod via the Daear Ddu ridge, which gave a very pleasant easy scramble at around the snowline and a short steep slog directly up to the summit. We arrived just in time for the cloud to lift and reveal more views. I have to say that although it’s not the most attractive mountain seen from a distance, I thought it a very nice walk and was glad that I’d done it for the first time. It’s not usually high on the agenda, but I later noticed that it’s equal 120th on the list of most prominent British peaks and seventh in Wales. Snow conditions were again good, with a bit more of a breeze than previously. Crampons remained unused, of course. We walked off down the usual ascent route and drove in convoy to Betws y Coed, which was astonishingly busy I thought, and where another cup of tea was had prior to driving home.

Carneddau from Moel Siabod
Carneddau from Moel Siabod

Thanks to David Coupe for a well organised trip.

Leave a Reply