#108 – Pen yr Ole Wen. A promising start to the winter season in the mountains of North Wales

Pen yr Ole Wen in summer, seen from Llyn Idwal near Ogwen

Pen yr Ole Wen in summer, seen from Llyn Idwal near Ogwen

(L to R) Tryfan, the Glyderau and Y Garn, seen from near Pen yr Ole Wen  (JB)

(L to R) Tryfan, the Glyderau and Y Garn, seen from near Pen yr Ole Wen (JB)

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.

John adding another photo to his image library, and ‘Mist’ being a patient dog

John adding another photo to his image library, and ‘Mist’ being a patient dog

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!

Skiers and snowboarders carrying their gear above Afon Lloer

Skiers and snowboarders carrying their gear above Afon Lloer

John heading up to the East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen

John heading up to the East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen

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.

The short rock step in summer ….

…. made a bit more interesting  (JB)

…. made a bit more interesting (JB)

John at the top of the rock step, now a short snow gully ….

 …. and giving a cheery wave

…. and giving a cheery wave

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.

John and ‘Mist’ continuing up the East Ridge

John and ‘Mist’ continuing up the East Ridge

‘Mist’ having a good time  (JB)

‘Mist’ having a good time (JB)

Another group close behind  (JB)

Another group close behind (JB)

“Come on then, we haven’t got all day”  (JB)

“Come on then, we haven’t got all day” (JB)

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 author pressing on with the summit slopes of Pen yr Ole Wen above ….  (JB)

The author pressing on with the summit slopes of Pen yr Ole Wen above …. (JB)

….and then the weather changed (Tryfan and Glyder Fach in the distance) (JB)

Two pairs about to climb one of the gullies … (JB)

…. and later topping out in gloomy conditions (JB)

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.

Heading for the summit – the author with ‘Mist’ roped up (JB)

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 author and 'Mist' on the summit – no views today then!  (JB)

The author and ‘Mist’ on the summit – no views today then! (JB)

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!

On the way down  (JB)

On the way down (JB)

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.

At the top of the snow gully  (JB)

At the top of the snow gully (JB)

Short-roping ‘Mist’  (JB)

Short-roping ‘Mist’ (JB)

"Can we do that again?”  (JB)

“Can we do that again?” (JB)

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!

A great day out for all concerned

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!

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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28 Responses to #108 – Pen yr Ole Wen. A promising start to the winter season in the mountains of North Wales

  1. brulionman says:

    what your dog is carrying in his “backpack”?

  2. What a fine figure of a Border Collie! And I see she’s bought herself the same harness as Dixie 🙂 The short roping looked like an excellent idea to me. We once turned round and retreated down Pen yr Helgi Du with our Border Collie and previous Boxer, when they both came scarily close to being blown off the ridge. We have to look after our best friends!

    • The principle is quite easy to work with – it’s like roping up to cross a glacier with a human companion, but short roping (about 3 metres) doesn’t allow the dog (or a nervous human for that matter) to build up enough momentum to dislodge the person at the other end of the rope, quite important with a 20 kg dog! – Holding the rope with a bent arm also introduces a form of shock absorber

      I have a real fear of her going through a cornice, as she always tracks along edges – as a cop I dealt with the death of a well known and respected mountaineer who fell through a cornice after his dog had gone through – the dog survived.

      • I have a real fear of our dogs near any cliff edges – especially the convex type ones you tend to get a lot of at the coast. They both have a tendency to just run without thinking and I used to work with someone who lost his dog over a convex cliff in Cornwall. Very sad.

      • As you say Chrissie, we have to look after them.

  3. Well, fancy getting your dog to tow you up the hill! 😉

    I well remember having my friend’s sheepdog passed down that rock step to me when we descended the way you went up. It looks quite some step in the photo – I can’t remember it being that high or difficult looking. What’s the ‘normal route’ like? Is it scarily steep and is it scrambly at all? I keep thinking of trying it but haven’t yet…

    BTW, I understood Ole Wen to be the same as Olau Wen or White Light?

    • Carol, I love your contributions 🙂 In this case they are like a three course meal that involves all the senses – the three courses are in turn a joke, a question about the route, and a question about the language.

      So, lets dine!

      Starter – I had to laugh about being towed up the hill, but it really was like that! The slope suddenly gets steep, and when ‘Mist’ started sliding I clipped her on the rope for safety – when she found traction she was away, and I think I now understand how Inuit sledge dogs work! The feeling of power as she pulled up the slope was amazing, and gave me a bit of assistance along the way, like being on a ski lift 🙂

      Main course – Well, there’s a bit of artistic licence there in the pic of the rock step. When I started rock climbing many years ago I learned the subtle trick of ‘adjusting’ the angle of a photograph – it’s not really a deception, because what you try to recreate is how the move actually felt.
      In truth, the step is short (10 metres at the most, but I’m guessing) and not at all difficult – there are large comforting holds all the way up. I had anticipated that ‘Mist’ might have had problems linking the moves up, as dogs can’t rationalise a sequence of moves as we would – she would just have thrown herself at the problem, so I had the rope ready to assist, but the snow banked the whole thing out making it quite easy for her.
      I’m sure that you would have no problem in summer conditions – the step is a delightful interlude that you would enjoy, and you would probably take a photo like mine that ‘tells the story’ 😉

      Pudding – For many years I also thought that ‘Ole Wen’ was the same as ‘Olau Wen’ or ‘White Light’. A Welsh professor of linguistics has now suggested that ‘Ole’ comes from ‘Goleddf’, which means slope or hillside, making the correct English translation: “Head of the White Slope” – that seems to make more sense to me, but as he’s a ‘prof’ and Welsh on top of that, there’s a good chance he’s probably right 🙂

      • I know that step isn’t as bad as it looks in the photo as I’ve been down it and, if it was bad, I would only go up it! But when I was asking about what the ‘normal’ route is like, I was meaning the one straight up from the corner of the A5 – that looks pretty terrifying to me! You’ll have to teach me how to make rock steps look scary though – I like to make my photos look like that.

        Interesting about the new translation – I didn’t know about that. I thought it maybe used to be a beacon hill or maybe the moon regularly came up as a point on the summit (when they used to call it hill of the white light).

      • My memory of the ‘normal’ route has faded over the years – I do remember it was a remorseless slog, though alcohol had been taken the night before 😉

        I don’t remember any technical difficulties, but the trouble is I don’t remember much of anything else – I do remember thinking “I’m not taking this route again!” 😀

      • I don’t mind a slog, especially if it adds to the challenge 🙂

  4. Sarah says:

    Just beautiful photos, and what a climb! Sorry to hear about the poor visibility, but glad it was still a success. 🙂 Mist is such a trooper!

    • Thanks for that Sarah.

      The ‘vis’ didn’t spoil the day at all – if anything, the different quality of the light just heightens the experience.

      ‘Mist’ is just wonderful! She’s my fifth Border Collie, but she’s the one I’ve felt the most connection with, a real hill companion.

  5. My reaction to the first photo was ‘what a lump of a mountain’, and I see you describe it as such shortly after. No such thing as a boring mountain though, and your photos prove this. Yet again, this is an excellent illustration of the speed at which conditions can change – still plenty of people about who just will not accept that unfortuately. Well done for turning round – that takes a lot more discipline than carrying on. On the subject of grip – I wonder if anyone has thought of making a pair of boots that copy the feet of a mountain goat. They seem to skip about on the rocks in a confident fashion.

  6. beatingthebounds says:

    Looks like a winter classic. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for the kind words. The continuation over Carnedd Dafydd makes a great day, but it’s worth waiting for the visibility – the views are outstanding!

  7. LensScaper says:

    What a great read and you and John have produced some memorable images. I’ve never been to Snowdonia in winter but I must get there before I’m too old. I walked round the Snowdon Horseshoe in snow in early May though! I’ve toiled up from Ogwen Cottage – real slog as you say. I carried on round over Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn and then descended down Bwlch Eryl Farchogg past a beautiful unnamed lake. A couple of years later I reversed the route with my daughter. Descending off Pen yr Ole Wen at the end of the day was not popular and route finding was not easy. I’ve looked at the East Ridge on the map and had thought of walking it. Can you access the foot of the ridge by skirting round the north side of Llyn Ogwen from the Cottage or do you need to walk along the road to the E end of the lake?
    If you don’t post again this side of Christmas – a very Happy Christmas to you and yours.

  8. Thanks for that Andy. Hopefully we will have some snow this season to help you tick a few winter routes off!

    Both OS maps (1:25k and 1:50k) show a right of way running to the north of Llyn Ogwen, which would avoid walking next to the road – I’ve never walked it though. The line of the RoW at Tal y Llyn Ogwen farm has been re-routed as you approach from Glan Dena to avoid the farm by going round it to the north – the diversion is short, and I would imagine there to be a similar diversion on the Llyn Ogwen path.
    If you stay north of the farm you would then pick up one of the (many!) faint paths running parallel to Afon Lloer, but the whole of that hillside is like a sponge – worth waiting for a drought or a freeze 🙂

    (Curiosity overcame me – I’ve just checked Google Earth, and there is a path as shown on the map, but it appears to fade out as it approaches the farm – room for some creative navigation, but it’s all access land north of the farm)

    I have a (recycled) blog in waiting for next Monday but I’ll take this opportunity to return the Christmas wishes – have a good one!

  9. just looks like an amazing place..I wish I could have come with you!

  10. Pingback: #125 – Snow time in Snowdonia – Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

  11. Pingback: #155 – The Southern Peaks of the Carneddau, North Wales | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

  12. Pingback: #189 – Snow time in Snowdonia – The Glyderau | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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