Ah sunny Ogwen! The location of so many great days out with the option of year-round activities of climbing and mountaineering a like. Home to some of the UK’s best mountain crags and some of the finest ‘alpine esque’ mountaineering lines Wales has to offer.
Today’s little outing was going to be spent linking three great mountaineering routes together finishing on the summit of Glyder Fach before descending down to the col between the south summit of Tryfan and Glyder Fach to follow the path back down to the car. With clear skies and the sun shining down on us as we arrived at Ogwen cottage at around 8:30am, me and my friend Tom were both fresh faced and hungry for adventure as we tied our boots up with the autumn wind lashing us in the face.
After a short walk up to Cwm Idwal and the base of the slabs, we were soon in calm air out of the prevailing wind. As we excitedly geared up ready for an ascent up the slabs with the intention of finishing at the bottom of Cwm Cneifion, we chatted away eagerly.
I began to lead up the slabs, which by rare chance we had completely to ourselves. The familiar scale of this perfect mountain setting came back to be. We took the climb in short pitches with a 30m rope. As I belayed Tom up to my stances it continued to resonate why I love it so much. Even with the familiar view of Ogwen valley and out over Llyn Idwal, I breathed deeply and took everything in. As the sunlight kissed the faces of the Carneddau mountains in front of me, I inhaled again and enjoyed it to my fullest capacity: the sky, the nature, the colours, the hills, the rock, the water, the birds – what a spectacular day, what a spectacular place!
We sauntered up some nice easy slab climbing along networks of polished wide cracks, in no great hurry, taking in all the elements of the fantastic day. We eventually arrived at the bottom of the continuation wall. Here we stayed roped up and moved together over some scrambly terrain until we poked out into the lonely Cwm Cneifion.
“There is a fascinating beauty and solitude that can only be found in these higher Cwms.”
This has long been one of my favourite places to visit due to its close proximity to the hordes of people below at the beautiful but popular Cwm Idwal. But here for a short extra trip there is a fascinating beauty and solitude that can only be found in these higher Cwms. It always seems to have a remote feeling and seldom do you see other people up here, apart from those peering down from the ridge above as they trudge on to the summit of Glyder Fawr.
From here we could see the aesthetic line of our next objective – Cneifion Arete. This route has all the ingredients of an alpine classic, big jagged spikes in airy positions with dramatic exposure, in a lofty perch high in the mountains offering splendid views down the valley and of the surrounding mountains.
We plodded on up to the base of the route taking in the tremendous surroundings lit perfectly by the beautifully clear day, we stopped and took a rest at the bottom. Here we decided to have a spot of lunch while we admired the view. I fired the jetboil up to make us some hot noodles and a brew. There is no better feeling. Good company, completion of a great route, hot food on the go, spectacular views, with the knowledge of an epic in store.
We took the initial steeper section in two short pitches, I brought Tom up to a big chockstone, just before swinging back right to gain the true arete and continue on easy scrambling in the most magnificent of positions. I then took in some coils and we completed the rest of the route moving together belaying Tom up some of the trickier sections later on. A fantastic route and we could not believe the weather, it was forecast to brighten up later on, but this was perfect!
Tom’s first experience on the arete he described as incredible! And it was, we reached the top feeling literally on top of the world, what a day! Two great routes, fine weather and we had made great time.
It was too good to be true…
Walking out across the ‘football field’ as the large square patch of grass just below Y Gribin ridge is affectionately known as; we were really treated to grand views as the weather allowed. Superb lighting on the west face of Tryfan as it emerged in front of us allowing almost every individual boulder and gully to be seen. Looking back down the valley and across to Y Garn every intricate part of nature was revealed in the most wonderful detail. It truly was a pleasure. We took five minutes to soak it all in before we headed off east; to our final route of the day, and in my opinion the best of the three: Dolmen ridge.
As we came over the crest of the ridge and peered into the attractive Cwm Bochlwyd we could see the entire main cliff of Glyder Fach lit up in the most magnificent light. From here the route could easily be identified and we decided to save some time by making the approach a bit more direct. From where we were, the height difference we would be at from the bottom of the cliff we were standing on would be about the same as the start of the route. The descent did look a bit sketchy at first, but we made a plan to link up a few terraces and outcrops and were soon descending pretty fast down the steep cliff.
I was happily heading down first trying to establish a route as Tom was confidently following. Rock after rock, boulder after boulder, ledge after ledge. Good progress was made and we were probably two or three rope lengths away from where we needed to be to walk the remaining distance around the side of the Cwm to the route.
But it happened too quickly…
At first, I heard it. The distinct sound of rock moving over rock. I was facing inward, toward the cliff, my instincts made me look up. About two metres directly above me, just below Tom. A boulder the size of a beach ball came groaning out of its resting place. In a split-second I shifted my weight and reached for a large hold to twist my body off the ledge I was on, off to the side away from the path of the boulder. Even though I was wearing a helmet, if a boulder that size had hit me and in that location, there is no doubt. I’d have been brown bread! It would have ripped me from the side of the cliff and down to where ever it decided to stop. I had just managed, by the skin of my teeth, to save my life.
But my hand… my hand was still there. On the hold below the boulders path. A deafening ‘thud’ as the boulder dropped a few metres directly onto my hand and crushed it against the rock hold before bouncing off somewhere down the cliff. No sooner had I watched were the boulder had settled down at the cliff bottom, my eyes rested on my wrist. The inflammation was intense. Within seconds It was like a bull frog’s chest and my whole hand and wrist area had swelled to four times the size of my own hand.
“Within seconds It was like a bull frog’s chest and my whole hand and wrist area had swelled to four times the size of my own hand.”
Tom scrambled down as quickly as was safe and asked, ‘Are you okay?’ as I just calmly replied, ‘I don’t think so mate, I think I’ve broke my wrist.’ He agreed on seeing the swelling and there seemed to be some bleeding underneath my coat as well. I moved back across to the good ledge were Tom was and he made us both safe with the rope.
He was brilliant, he kept chatting to me, helped me get the bothy bag and gloves out of my bag to keep me warm, kept feeding me water and organised the mountain rescue team. For me this highlights why you bring those you trust to the mountains and shows the deep bonds created by these type of moments when out adventuring. Well done Tom!
Mountain rescue arrived shortly afterwards, I was still in good spirits, trying to sing away the pain. And hey, what a view! However, I was starting to get a bit cold at this point. But the rescue team were brilliant, the paramedic winched down and secured me. The only thing I was gutted about was he had to cut my rope! But needs must I suppose! To be honest getting winched back up to the helicopter was a lot of fun and such a cool experience! I got in the helicopter and sat myself down at the rear whilst I kept screaming over the rotor noise, ‘Go and get Tom!’
With Tom safely in the helicopter, we were on our way to hospital. I couldn’t apologise enough to the rescue team over comms, who were humble right until the end. The paramedic tried to treat my arm, asking if he could cut my coat to get at it. I made light of this and said the rope was enough, you can’t do the coat too! We managed to get my bag and jackets off over the arm without any massive future replacement bills! He put it in a splint and we landed at Bangor hospital.
The mountain rescue paramedic helped book me in and wished me well. Tom and I thanked them all at length and were extremely grateful for all their efforts.
Now, if you ever need medical treatment, Bangor hospital is the place to go! Happy and friendly staff and within half an hour we had seen three nurses, been sent for two separate x-rays and seen the doctor. Fantastic service! The only thing was the decor was a bit dated!
It turns out, to the confusion of all the medical professionals, that I hadn’t even broken a single bone! Just extreme swelling and soft tissue damage. They cleaned my wounds and dressed them, kept the arm elevated with ice. Then instructed me to visit my local A and E by the time I returned home to monitor for compartment syndrome – a particular nasty condition that you can lose your hand with if the pressure inside the swelling muscle is not released.
By the time I got to my home hospital I was sent away with a follow up appointment and no further concerns, just a painful night’s sleep for the rest of the week in store.
All things considered it could have been a lot worse. With thanks to great people like my mate Tom and the prestigious mountain rescue team, who willingly volunteer, frequently putting their lives in danger to help people like me; I am forever grateful. All the hospital staff at both A and E departments and those involved I also owe thanks to. As for me, it will just have to be hillwalking and cycle ergos in the gym for the foreseeable future.
I hope you enjoyed reading, and it just shows how a perfect day can change to a bad one in the blink of an eye. You can only ever do what the mountains permit! Stay safe.
Click here for the full video of our greatest worst day out!!