#188 – Yet another blast from the past – Winter on Pen yr Ole Wen, 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

For all sorts of reasons I’ve not been able to get out in the mountains over the past couple of weeks, but rather than miss a blog post I thought I  would revive another ‘blast from the past’.    In a week where we have been out in T-shirts, it was interesting to revisit a wintry post from just over three years ago – soon be time to get the ice axes and crampons out!

(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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7 Responses to #188 – Yet another blast from the past – Winter on Pen yr Ole Wen, North Wales

  1. John Burson says:

    Nice pics and article Paul, let’s hope we get a good winter this year.

  2. Great article Paul…I miss hiking up mountains in the snow…hopefully we will get a good crop this year 🙂

  3. You can always practice short-roping on me you know – there’s lots of stuff in Wales I’m too scared to do on my own without a rope – Crib Goch for one!

    I can’t understand anyone going up mountains like that in those conditions without an ice axe and crampons. I always take my ice-axe and at least microspikes even if I think there’s little chance of using them – in fact, my microspikes live on my walking bag from about now to at least May – especially for Scotland. I always have my crampons in my car over the same time period too. And I never mind carrying my ice axe – I’d rather carry it and not use it than need it and not have it!

    Some great photos there. I still haven’t ever gone up straight from the A5 at the YHA – looks a bit forbidding to me!
    Carol.
    P.S. I’m going to be in archive mode for the winter now I think…

    • I once had to rope Chris over Crib Goch – she was definitely not a happy bunny! Like you, she carries microspikes all winter, and very sensible too both of you 🙂

      Don’t bother with the directissima from the A5 Carol – it’s a brute!!

      • I just feel that route needs to be done – it’s one of those routes which sort of ‘calls to me’ (in a horrid way) – I get lots of those! Bit like the Atlantic Slabs – but I’d need a leader and rope for those I think.

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