‘Snowdon in the Snow’ has become a bit of a tradition – it’s surprising how quickly things become that. It was my fourth (I think) year (the outing has been going longer than that though) although I’ve walked up Snowdon on other occasions too.
Like last year, we didn’t get to the top this time – very sensibly turning back near the long slope parallel to the Clogwyn Cliffs area (and not on the railway line / near the edge of course!). That was when the gale force wind, slippery compacted snow, stinging wind-blown ice crystals and low visibility all turned it up another notch. Snow Hill (Snow Dun in old english) / Yr Wyddfa (The tumulus / grave) lived up to its name.
We later heard that two other parties (one was a solo walker) had got into difficulties on the same day, due to avalanches above the Pyg Track and also the lone walker straying onto a cornice. Very sobering, as I think they had all the right clothing and gear and I hope they are / will all recover well. Mountain Rescue were involved in both rescues.. we saw the helicopter swing around the back of Snowdon as we were descending. I donated to LLanberis MRT whilst writing this post, seeing them in action (albeit from a distance) remind me what an essential, great service this is.
We were right to stop when we did and to use the Llanberis path but even walking up that path becomes risky in poor conditions, pretty much from the point you go through the railway tunnel and emerge out into the Cwm Glas Bach (cliffs) area.
This year saw only a small group of us – in fact three small groups as it turned out – heading to Snowdon. All were connected by Steve (his SITS pages on that link are a bit out of date). Steve is the instigator / coordinator of SITS but after getting the conversations going wasn’t feeling it this year (to quote him). And he very sensibly headed to Harrogate Turkish Baths for a weekend of pampering. The less sensible of us headed to Snowdon!
Because our common denominator was chillaxing in a steam bath elsewhere it meant we didn’t all actually know each other and facebook can only do so much to coordinate things; so we managed to book ourselves into two different hostels. Which meant we didn’t get to meet the guys who started and returned along the Ranger path to the Ranger Hostel . But we did hook up with Bob and Rob who were also staying there – but had started down at Llanberis Electric Mountain car park with us on the dreich saturday morning.
We consisted of a group of four from Marsden – along with me were Jeff and Mac, SITS stalwarts and experienced mountain walkers and my son Joe, also an experienced outdoors chap.
Along with Bob And Rob, we then headed up the Llanberis path (which was a small brook in places).
The north-westerly wind was at our backs from the start and felt pretty strong but that gave us a good push up to the Halfway House in good time. The forecast had said it would be gusting up to 30 mph or so lower down and around 5o mph near the summit (but it felt more like 70 mph even before the summit as it turned out!).
We took shelter behind Halfway House to have a snack and the rain was already turning to a kind of micro hail – beginning to sting as it was flung at our faces. It had also gotten colder and the path from here on in went from slush to snow-covered after about 10 minutes ascent.
With the cold wind and snow underfoot it was a bit of a slog up to the relative shelter of the railway bridge just before Cwm Glas Bach cliffs. Where things changed dramatically.
I think I’ve written before about a fall I had 30 years+ ago in Switzerland.. essentially 300m down a steep ice and snow field (peppered with rocks for extra excitement). That’s the backdrop to my view of the conditions as we came through the railway tunnel and looked up to where the Llanberis path would normally be visible. But it wasn’t. To my left was what I knew to be cliffs but the sloping topography was obscured by lots of snow on the ground and low cloud / snow particles being whipped up by the gale.
As I think happens with lots of people on a joint adventure, a kind of group mind emerges and it was thinking ..’ just another few feet up the path and let’s see what it’s like’.. ‘Just another few steps up’.. etc. I ignored the toboggan-monkey on my back and progressed up with the others. One of those others was my child – okay, he’s a grown man with a way better mountain-man beard than I had going on – but still my child. And that and aforementioned memory added to my nervousness. One day you’re holding their hands to cross the road to the park and the next you’re following behind them up a white-out slope in gale force winds yelling ‘are.you.okay?’ whilst actually meaning ‘your.old.man’s.not.okay.back.here‘.
I was about yell out a turn back but Mac made the decision at the same time: the combination of powerful gusts, the steep slope and relentless ice / snow blasts became too difficult. And of course that’s the attraction of high places in wild weather – it’s wild and the rawness is exciting .. but .. So we turned around and headed back downhill. Mac helped with a guy who had ascended behind us in a group but had had an (understandable) anxiety attack and needed some coaching slowly back down. We’re talking about a matter of maybe 50 yards of ascent and on a nice day it would take 5 minutes to cover that section of the path .. but it was becoming a whiteout and not a place to hang about.
Back in the shelter of the railway tunnel we met some others coming up and a couple were considering forging on but we advised anyone we saw to turn back.
The walk back down from the railway bridge was straightforward, more so as I still had my spikes on. The difference either side of the railway bridge/tunnel was marked. It was like a portal to another world. Lower side: blustery, cold, low cloud but just a grim winter’s day. The other side: the ice age.
We headed down to the Penceunant Cafe with clearing views across the valley and down to Llanberis. The remnants of the low cloud and snow on the hills looking benign from this distance.
Bob and Rob had got to the cafe first and were warming up near the fire when we got there, first pot of tea and whole bara brith demolished.
There was a friendly polish family and an equally chatty overseas student from Singapore already gathered around the fire and we (mostly the lugubrious, lovely man that is Mac) regaled them with tales of the high peaks.
Then Jesse, from Jesse James bunkhouse (we figured out, within 60 seconds) arrived and Mac and he soon established shared histories of climbing in Snowdonia starting 40+ years ago. It was great to have their collective enthusiasm and banter warm us up as much as the fire and endless hot drinks supply (thanks to the ever-friendly Stefan).
That banter propelled us through booking in at the Llanberis hostel and in to an evening in the Heights Bar , with Mac on fiddle, Jeff on bones (best bones player in West Yorkshire you know) and Joe keeping time on the table.
A great night to round off the trip.