It’s been a funny sort of winter in North Wales – a promising start to the winter mountaineering season in December gave a great trip out up Pen yr Ole Wen (see post #108) but after that the snow started a gradual retreat until only the higher peaks of Snowdonia had any cover (see post #120). Then, a couple of weeks ago, winter returned with a vengeance, causing misery to farmers and commuters.
There’s a traditional saying in Britain about ‘ill winds’ – the ‘ill winds’ that blew from the east on the first day of spring certainly brought nobody any good. Transport was disrupted, sheep were lost in snow drifts just as lambing was starting, and the wild goats in the Ogwen Valley came down to the road to graze. Even hardy mountaineers could find little pleasure with 40mph winds on the summits. Then, someone switched off the wind, and people came out to play.
A sunny day was the extra ingredient to the mix – my photographer mate John Bamber took no persuading to drive down to Wales for a snowy mountain day, and he brought his nephew Tom to join in the fun. We decided that a traverse of Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr would fit the bill, and hit the trail to the frozen Llyn Bochlwyd, before heading up to the Bwlch (Col) between Tryfan and Glyder Fach – on our arrival it appeared that someone had stolen the stone wall!
We carried on along the Miners’ Track, or a close approximation! At one point we contoured across the slope rather than losing height, but soft, unconsolidated snow made this hard going – after a swift ‘risk-assessment’ on avalanche conditions, we pressed on to better ground on the plateau below Glyder Fach.
From the plateau it was more uphill work. We found a sheltered hollow for a refuelling opportunity (AKA sandwich break) before pressing on to the summit of Glyder Fach (it translates as “Little Heap of Stones”) passing ice-rimed rocks on the way. Tom had declared himself a ‘crampon virgin’ at the start, but his fitness and natural confidence meant that you would never have guessed – ‘zero to hero’ by the time we reached the top.
As Tom hadn’t been this way before, a photo on the famous ‘Cantilever Stone’ was just about obligatory! From there we by-passed the spiky top of Castell y Gwynt (Castle of the Winds) and carried on to the rim of Cwn Cneifion.
The rim of the cwm was edged by large, impressive snow cornices – we kept a respectful distance from the edge, and ‘Mist’ had a rope attached to her hill-harness. As we passed along the top we watched a party of three climb the easy line to the top of the cwm.
We were soon at the high point of the day, the summit of Glyder Fawr (the “Big Heap of Stones”). Here we had the most nerve wracking part of the day, as John rested several hundred pounds worth of Canon camera on an icy ledge – the fact that we have a summit photo shows that the camera survived!
The descent from the Devils Kitchen, otherwise known as Twll Du (Black Hole) would have been uneventful had we not come across the large party slithering their way down the icy path – two of them were clearly well-frightened, and we decided that it was probably better to help them down an icy rock step, rather than having to rush down for Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue team to pick up the bits. For those interested in this sort of thing, we roped the two of them down on an Italian Hitch from a buried ice-axe belay, on the worst snow of the day – I knew the axe would stay put as I lowered, because John was standing on it! For the guys we helped, it was probably a great adventure – we were just glad it hadn’t turned to misadventure.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock – Images tagged (JB) © John Bamber, and (TS) © Tom Strawn