Pen yr Ole Wen isn’t exactly what I would describe as one of the ‘jewels in the crown’ of Snowdonia. It’s a lump of a hill, almost literally sitting in the shadow of Tryfan, despite the fact that it is 63 metres higher. It’s Tryfan and the hills of the Glyderau that have the drama and the soaring ridges, but Pen yr Ole Wen is a great vantage point from which to view Tryfan and the Glyderau – it’s also an ideal springboard to the hills of the Carneddau.
The promise of snow on the hills and a ‘window’ of reasonably fair weather made a winter hill-day inevitable, and as John hadn’t done much in the Carneddau I suggested we do Pen yr Ole Wen before continuing to Carnedd Dafydd and possibly Carnedd Llewelyn. As John carries an unfeasibly large collection of photographic gear on his trips, I was looking forward to some good images at the end of the day – ‘Mist’ was just looking forward to a good walk!
We followed the stream of Afon Lloer (‘Moon River’) up almost as far as the lake that is its source, before turning left up to the East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen (‘Head of the White Slope’). When younger I once took the other route, directly up from Ogwen Cottage on the A5 – the fact that I was badly hung-over at the time didn’t help much, but it’s one long slog! The East Ridge, on the other hand, is much more elegant and even has a mini-scramble up a rock step – not today, though.
I had fitted ‘Mist’ with her ‘Web Master’ harness before we set off, in case she needed a bit of a tug up the rock step. Today it was banked up with snow, just as described by Snowdonia mountain guide Rob Johnson in his blog on 29th November. The dog being in 4×4 mode barely broke step, and shot up the snow gully, followed closely by John and I.
At this point the ridge started to get really busy. One of the members of a group descending the short snow gully was having a minor epic, and a big mixed party was hot on our heels – it certainly wasn’t mountain solitude! That was soon to change though.
The bright, sunny day began to desert us and at about the same time the conditions underfoot were getting icy enough to justify us getting ice axes and crampons out. The group behind us either didn’t like the look of the weather or didn’t have winter gear, and we soon found ourselves almost alone again, except for two pairs below us climbing an easy snow gully.
At around 900 metres altitude the slope to the summit steepened, and became very icy. ‘Mist’ started losing traction despite being in 4×4 mode, but I had a short rope ready just in case, and it took mere seconds to get her safely clipped in. Any thoughts that I had about being over cautious were soon dispelled by a couple descending with a Spaniel, also secured on a short lead.
The other couple were on the way down, and described summit conditions as being vile! As we talked I was alarmed to see a bloke without crampons gingerly kicking steps down the slope past us, his boot heels barely making nicks in the hard snow. I asked him if he was OK, but he seemed happy to carry on downwards alone. We didn’t hear any screams so I suppose he must have been ok!
At the summit there was a short discussion. With visibility less than 50 metres and a bitter north wind blowing right in our faces, we discussed carrying on to Carnedd Dafydd. John pointed out that it would be little more than a navigation exercise, which was all the excuse I needed – “Sod it, let’s go down” was all it took! In our testosterone fuelled youth we would have pressed on, and no doubt had a great day.
The descent was without incident, and became a bit of a social do at one point as we chatted to one of the pairs we had seen in the gully earlier. I kept ‘Mist’ on the rope until we had descended the short snow gully, not really necessary but giving me a chance to practice the short-roping I had done on a winter course with mountain guide Tim Blakemore two years previously (see post #11). ‘Mist’ was an ideal client, and didn’t grumble once!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock – Images tagged (JB) © John Bamber
p.s. Despite a change in the weather halfway through the day, everyone seemed to have a good day out – skiers, snowboarders, walkers, gully-climbers, dogs and two old mates having a great day in the hills!