Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Winter Micro Adventure

Contrasting days

When the boys started to discuss a winter micro adventure up in North Wales, I was in. It didn't matter that we were planning on staying up in the mountains, in Wales, in winter. This is adventure,  getting yourself out of your comfort zone and experiencing things you do not think of doing most weekends.
A plan was quickly agreed upon. The Snowdon horseshoe, a great link up of ridges and summits, a British classic. A challenging one but doable for those with limited mountain experience. So where to camp? Having been up these parts a few times recently and had come across lynn Glas lake a beautiful setting just below Crib Goch ridge in Cwm Glas. It was perfect but, would the weather be?
Time soon befell us and 4 micro adventurers awaited eagerly for the designated week with the weather ever changing week on week I had doubts about the trip going ahead and whether it was feasible. Speaking to the guys on the trip I shouldn't of been apprehensive as they were all up for this whatever the conditions.
We arrived Saturday lunchtime after a 5+hr drive to blue skies and inviting scenery albeit with snow capped peaks. Grabbing our sacks we headed off into the hills. Time was crucial as we were going clockwise on the horseshoe with the campsite 2/3rds away round, so we couldn't linger.
We took the miners track onwards to Snowdon but, soon turned off the tourist trail and onto the Lliwedd track. The sun was shining, we were fresh, the packs felt light and all the while surrounded with stunning views.
A short, sharp walking scramble we reached the top, the snowline had begun and talking to a couple of guys who had just done crib goch, with crampons. We realised that we could not do the ridge without appropriate gear and so kept in our minds that we had to change our plan to a B or C. Could we camp at the top of Snowdon by the mountain cafe or could we descend a little down to Cloggy where there was another lake and hopefully be sheltered by the ever present wind.
The higher we got the more the wind picked up in gusts. A cold wind, a frontal wind which could easily bring in worse weather. At the top of Lliwedd we could see for miles around and out to sea was a foray of menacing rain clouds. Taking the tricky ridge descent down to the Watkin Path was  slow going due to rocks holding a layer of ice and hindering quick progress.
At the saddle we now only had one last ridge up to the top of Snowdon. We were all tiring a little and the weather ever deteriorating. Time stood for no-one though and so we pushed on. Almost immediately we were on snowed, iced paths, again slowing us down and knowing that a slip was not an option.
Nearing the summit ridge I spoke to 2 people who had turned around due to it being too icy. I told them not to relay that info to the guys below and scouted up ahead to make an informed decision. The route I believed they took was wrong and indeed too icy but there was another path to the left which turned out to be in good state. On topping the ridge the weather turned on us completely.  The snows fell and we found ourselves in a total white out. On reaching the summit our eyes stung from the onslaught of iced rain. A stark warning of mountain weather. 45 mins earlier we were basking in sunshine. But now was the time to descend and descend fast to a bivi spot.
The mountain cafe was shut so there was no chance of biving there. Crib goch ridge was out of bounds. So where to stay?
It was time to put all our eggs in one basket and agreed with the others that our best bet for the night was an old abandoned miners hut less than an hour or so down the llanberris path close to cloggy area I had been thinking off. Without delay we made haste. Infact, I think the technical term was skidding on our backsides on the ice to the 'safety' of the snow drifted train tracks. Then, we made haste and found the hut as darkness enveloped us.
With heavy packs dismissed we set about cleaning up our new home. Rob got the fire going, Steve and Mike put up the shelter and I went and foraged for 'clean' water.
We then settled in for the night with a delicious hot cuisine, fine wine and a story or 2 over a roaring fire. That's how I remember it. Before settling in we all noticed how clear the night sky was and all enjoyed taking in the vast solar systems on offer above our very heads.
With empty glasses we set up our bivis and lay to sleep. My sleeping spot was far from ideal. Comfy, yes, but unfortunately right next to Rob who beat me to the punch and was snoring soundly before I had even taken my socks off. Bugger.
But tiredness soon took hold and only a howling gale could awaken me now.
What would you know. I awoke to the tarpaulins flapping hysterically around camp and reluctantly got up to fix the problem . This wasn't a quick fix either. After faffing for an eternity to find my torch. I was then cold and so endured throwing some clothes on. Only then I returned to look at fixing the lines, one had been pulled out and the other torn by the roughness of the wind. Once fixed I swiftly returned to the different howling noises that camp had to offer from my companions!!
No sooner had I taken to sleep that I awoke again to one of the tarps kicking around in the wind. Not just the wind but a full on snow storm now. I just lay there for a while hoping that someone else would go and be the hero. But no one stirred (although i did find out in the morning that one or 2 were happy just to wrap themselves up a little tighter in there bivi bags - hardcore or lazy I'll let you decide) and saved the day/night for me.
From learning from my previous efforts, quick as a flash I was out and repairing. Just one of the lines was cut this time. The force of the gusts was enough to shear these against the rocks. Things never being straight forward at these ungodly hours the cut line was on the high side of the wall and so I had to clamber up high and tie the line to a rock then jog around to the outer wall and climb up to retrieve the line and set about ensuring it's permanent place with numb hands. Satisfied I returned to the warmth of my cold wet bag unable to feel my hands. A little sleep later and I awoke to the sad figure of Mike sat hunched over by the wall looking rather despondent.
'What's up'
'Oh I just had to fix the lines and couldn't be bothered to take my clothes off and get back into bed'
'Oh, get the tea on then.'
We were all soon up and about and warming ourselves with a brew and decamping. Then treated ourselves with a solid cooked breakfast (with sausages) before heading back out into the harsh winter climate.
We backtracked up the llanberris path to the snowdon saddle all the while being battered by a sheet ice of wind, although the going underfoot was slightly better than the previous evening with more slushy snow than ice. At the saddle we found immediate shelter by taking the descent down the Pyg track. Although a lot of snow had fallen it was all good underfoot apart from a few sections where care had to be taken.
Crampons or spikes would of been useful here and made our journey home that much more quicker and safer. The downward journey was slow but enjoyable with the challenging terrain and the parties we passed in all their different attires. Some set up for winter treking and others seemingly off to the local shops in sweatpants. I wanted to tell these people to turn around and that a) they were not going to enjoy the experience b) not make it and thereby be at risk.
But, it never seemed right to start preaching as there did seem to be enough wise heads around and I had to keep reminding myself of my first forays into the mountains and the unknown dressed only in tracky bottoms and a cheap fleece and I loved it all. Ending the days mainly in the dark, cold and wet, having gotten lost but sitting in the bar later and digressing and thinking it was the best day. So I wasn't going to preach and just hoped that they all would enjoy their first experiences as much I did.
The snowline soon dissipated and the pace picked up as well as the views. For now we were under the cloud level and could see up and down the Llanberris valley, which made the final walk out just a little bit more rewarding. Finally at the car we had been going for 24 hours. Had had very contrasting days, from a warm beginning our resolve got tested with deteriorating weather. But we persevered and made it out with one great experience that only these micro adventures can throw at you.

We missed out on the Bison steaks on the way home, we did get to try a bison burger, much tastier than your usual horse meat that's going around at the mo. I cannot wait to head up to Wales again, to camp in another wild valley and no matter the weather for you know that it will be one memorable weekend.

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