It’s a little late but I thought I’d drop in a quick summary of our snowy exploits in Snowdonia over the New Year. No winter wild-camp, base-camp was a small hotel in Betws-y-coed, but as we drove up the weather was deteriorating as we headed west along the A5. Snow…let there be snow!!!
Per my earlier post we spent the next morning and a few pounds equipping Michelle with some Scarpa Manta boots, Black Diamond Serac crampons and an ice-axe. Suitably heavier with shiny new gear and lighter with cash we grabbed some lunch provisions and headed along the Ogwen Valley. It was a fantastic sight seeing the whole valley covered in snow, Tryfan’s jagged profile jutting into the heavy sky. The weather was closing in with the wind and driving snow hampering kitting up by the car. Bracing ourselves, he headed up the path towards Llyn Idwal and soon realised we were far from alone. The snow had tempted many out for a winter jaunt, from hard-core climbers jangling back-down from Idwal Slabs to grannies out for a bimble with the dog. I’d considered heading up to Cwm Cneifon which tends to be sheltered from the wind but chatting to a couple of climbers coming downb they said they’d battled through waist- deep snow before giving up. Instead we continued along the rising path to the east of Llyn Idwal, heading into the cwm and up towards Devils Kitchen.
By now the visibility was reducing as the wind whipped up the snow. The ice-axe’s came out to help balance when you were unsure of whether your feet were dissappearing into 2 or 20 inches of snow. Heading up to the rocky outcrops at the head of the cwm, where the main path ascends into the gloom of Devils Kitchen, we found an over-hang deep enough to pass as a shelter of sorts for lunch. The frozen cheese and ham roll was devoid of taste, but swiftly surpassed by a welcome flask of sugary tea.
We decided don the crampons before setting off, hoping no-one would notice how shiny and new they looked!! A few tentative steps later and you realise how much extra grip and confidence twelve spikes afford, especially when descending. With no let up in the weather we decided, rather than head up into the gaping mouth of Twll Du, to head down the main path via the west shore of Llyn Idwal and back to the car to thaw out. We’d managed to find our winter legs.
Two days later we woke to a clear blue-sky. A quick breakfast and detour into Cotswold Outdoor and once again we headed along the A5. With a sharp northerly wind I selected Cwm Llloer, below Carnedd Daffydd as a likely candidate offering some shelter and the option of ascending the east ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen (a grade 1 scramble) or heading further up in to the cwm. A similar route was featured in the Routes section of a recent Trail magazine that I had to hand. Parking on the A5 we geared up and crossed the road ascending the path which was submerged beneath the snow. Ahead of us were a couple of guys with cross-country ski’s strapped to their pack’s. It was a tough slog up with around 8-12 inches of snow, much of it un-trodden. We met a family coming down who had turned back from trying the east ridge, which they described as an ice-rink and a no-go without crampons. We by-passed the start of the east-ridge and decided to head into the cwm to explore. It was the first time I’d been here and although the drifting snow made it difficult to see the profile of the land or the lake I’d imagine it would make a good wild-camp spot.
Stopping for a quick snack we met some climbers heading for the very head of the cwm, but I could see a few people ascending the south wall of the cwm up a shallow gully. Crampon’s donned we headed for the foot of the gulley, kicking steps through the frozen layer of snow. The route quickly steepened and the kick-kick-plunge routine became a steady rhythm as we gained height quickly. Stopping to back and we realised it was steeper than we thought and Michelle began to get a little nervous. As we gained height the the snow became firmer and we crunched through the top layer with each step, whilst convincing Michelle there wouldn’t be an avalanche. Eventually we reached the top of the ridge and were exposed to a strong biting wind and smooth, wind-blasted ice surface. We met a group who had just summitted and were on the way down. Michelle was tempted to join them but I persuaded her to push on to the summit which was only another 50m higher. But for the wind the summit would have been a glorious place for lunch. The sun was breaking through the clouds but the biting wind meant for a barren, deserted plateau devoid of shelter, so after few pics we headed back down towards the East Ridge.
A frozen Pen yr Ole Wen summit