An early cold snap proved to be an exciting prospect. Complemented by a quick viewing of the met office ‘Cwm Idwal’ ground conditions page, a resource for winter climbing, confirmed my trip to go and play in some snow.
I wanted a big day out. Starting when the stars were still out and ending when they were waking up again. This is exactly what I got, thanks to the clear skies I found myself under one early winter’s day in Snowdonia. I arrived at Ogwen cottage at 05:15 and was stomping up to Cwm Idwal under the harsh chill of the early December air under a sea of stars by 05:30.
What a magical experience. even with the glare of my head torch the Plough and Orion’s belt were easily visible in the dark sky above. As I moved further on into the blackness, occasionally some residual light would spill up onto my surroundings; the source a lone car driving down the A5, everything else – completely black. The silence was deafening, and the beauty in the pale night sky astounding. I stopped on the beach at Llyn Idwal, turned my head torch off and soaked it all in for ten minutes, probably more.
“Icy cold mountain water lapping against the pebbles on the shore line.”
I could sense it all, the feel of the whipping wind, cold enough to make you tighten the adjusters on your coat and bury gloved hands in pockets. The smell of the icy cold mountain water lapping against the pebbles on the shore line in the fresh rasping air. Then the sight of those stars above, each second my eyes adjusted to the piercing blackness another one hundred stars appeared, all with the low moon illuminating the snow that rested on the peaks high above. Wow!
I stood alone in the silence only interrupted by the occasional gust of wind clawing at me as if trying to attack any part of my flesh exposed to the elements, small ripples gently lapping up onto the beach around my feet. What a magnificent place and what a fantastic time of the day to come. The relationship between man and nature complete. Why would you still want to be in bed?!
I set my compass bearing off into the blackness and eventually found the start of the ridge scramble, the east ridge of Y Garn. I started up the dry rock with ice in places and the little dustings of snow becoming more and more frequent the higher I climbed. I almost didn’t notice the tremendous show going on behind me, concentrating so intensely on my hand and feet placements in the darkness. I paused for a break and turned to witness the changing light behind me. The entire Ogwen valley beginning to fill with sunlight in the most spectacular lighting you could ever imagine. Unable to see the sun rise behind the stegosaurus silhouette of Tryfan, the rays of the early morning light fighting to peek around its giant buttress’ as the snow all around appeared to shine brightly in the crisp winter dawn.
Eventually, my work was rewarded and I left the remainder of the ridge scramble to emerge into the pretty little Cwm Clyd just next to the small Llyn Clyd. On the main cliff above all the usual winter gullies could be identified in the clear air and I headed for a snow patch sheltered from the wind by some rocks and decided to have a brew and prepare for an ascent of banana gully. The gully appeared to be in condition, thin, but still possible with all the snow cover. I sat down and made some soup enjoying the ever-increasing light passing over the Ogwen valley, occasionally staring up at the gully hoping the snow was going to be frozen.
I put my crampons on and sorted my gear before approaching the bottom of the gully. After around 10-15 metres of ascent it immediately became apparent that the sugary snow did not make for the greatest of conditions. I pressed on hoping that further up the conditions would be better, but no avail the sugary snow persisted complete by being continuously doused with spindrift from above.
Further up as the gully became steeper I changed my technique to front point gaining a lower centre of gravity unable to get good axe placements in the loose spindrift that coated the ground so deeply.
Just before the point where the horizon becomes visible I kicked a step and moved, but the sugary snow gave way and the rear spike of my crampon bit a hole into my pants just above the crampon kick patches. I cursed the crap conditions and tried to cut out a level platform to stick some tape over the hole before continuing. A further 10 metres up and the top out was visible. The crampons suddenly began to bite under the lose spindrift into some patches of ice. Why couldn’t that have been 10 metres further down!?
Nonetheless, I continued to the summit ridge the best part of the whole climb. I topped out in full winter conditions with strong winds, spindrift whistling all over the place and rocks covered in ice making walking very problematic without the aid of crampons. I took out my map and compass from my pocket, set the relevant bearings and headed off Northerly in the direction of my next objective: Foel Goch.
As I continued the cloud appeared to break and the views of the magical mountain winter wonderland were revealed. It was spectacular to see over to the Snowdon range and the Moelwyns beyond all with their winter coats draped around their shoulders in the now light of the morning.
Ahead my path was clear to the next summit objectives: Foel Goch, Mynydd Perfedd and the enticing lonely ridge of Elidir Fawr. I pressed on at speed to gain the first, somewhat uninteresting summit of Foel Goch and then continued, contouring the mountain arriving at the next, Mynydd Perfedd.
At the col between these two peaks a splendid first view of the snow-capped Carneddau was witnessed this time naked of cloud. The sight was magnificent being able to pick out all the peaks of the range in all their winter finery.
At the summit of Mynydd Perfedd I gained my first real view of the sea and beyond I could see the fine weather I was experiencing was soon to turn back into snow cloud and probably a lot more wind, as grey cloud began to chase in off the coast. From here I headed off to Elidir Fawr which was enjoying bathing in the most brilliant morning sunlight, standing proud with its slopes strewn with beautifully white snow.
The ridge above Marchlyn Mawr reservoir I was caught in a strong gale whipping up from the steep sides it took me by surprise and almost blew me off my feet. My face battered by bullets as the spindrift slammed into me at 50 mph I staggered on, to seek refuge on the leeward side of the ridge. From here I headed up to the ridge path further round on the broad crest with relative ease. By now visibility was reduced to almost zero but plodding on in the blinding blizzard I eventually made the summit and made a swift about-turn.
Coming back down from the summit I descended out of the clouds and enjoyed some rest bite with the sun now beaming down on me. Again, the views across to Snowdon were now illuminated in sunshine, although the summit of Snowdon Massif itself was still hiding in cloud. I kicked on along the mountain pass, picking a new line to more directly head back to Y Garn.
I gained the summit of Y Garn without issue and was by far the most spectacular perch of the day so far. Panoramas of Snowdonia in all of her splendour, snow-capped peaks as far as the eye could see, almost not noticing the strong wind attempting to blow me off the top. I tried some bum slides down the south side of Y Garn, my intended destination Llyn y Cwn just above the Devil’s kitchen path, but the spindrift was nowhere near compact enough and I just sank through the sugary snow. I was thankful to be out of the wind on this leeward side of the mountain but I was even more grateful I was descending instead of ascending these slopes – sometimes in hip high snow drifts of tiny, loose spindrift.
It was good fun plodding down at speed, bounding in big steps through the snow and I made the small lake in no time. I planned to have a lunch break here sheltered out of the wind and sat watching over the small lake. I made myself some hot noodles and had a cup of hot chocolate – perfect!
From here, my next objective was the highest point of the day: Glyder Fawr. Sat by the lake I opted for a patch of snow that rose almost in gully formation tightly packed against an obviously iced up broken buttress. I began to ascend here and to my surprise realised the turf at the side was covered in snow and completely frozen. Looking back in reflection now, I think this section was probably the most enjoyable little climb of the day. I had great ice over rock on one side, some okay snow in the middle and frozen turf to the right. I zig-zagged my way up over the icy rock and frozen turf picking my own interesting line as I eventually emerged onto the summit plateau of Glyder Fawr.
Walking over the frozen rocks I climbed up to the true summit in strong winds and looked all around as the wind battered me with a northerly winter chill. The perspective I gained from here was unbelievable, I could see over to the summits I had traipsed over this morning, down the valley towards the coast, over to the mighty Carneddau and across the pass to the Snowdon’s and beyond. Spectacular stuff!
I started off towards my final summit of the day: Glyder Fach. The large expanse of space between the two summits covered in a white carpet only separated by the iconic Castell y gwynt, its spires appearing to drive vertically out of the white blanket with the tips stained in an icy white dress. I clambered over small snow bridges, ice and snow covered rocks to eventually gain the summit of Glyder Fach.
This was truly one of the most magical moments of the day, getting towards maybe an hour before the sun went down, looking back towards the Snowdon range, it almost made a believer out of me. Strong rays of sun pouring down on the horseshoe in the last sun of the day, perfectly clear summits the pictures and videos do not do it justice!
As with any trip to the summit of Glyder Fach, it is not complete without a hop up on top of the cantilever stone.
After this a slow and cautious descent was made down bristly ridge. A few hairy moments here with the loose snow, but slow and steady wins the race. I reached the south col of Tryfan and headed down the path that leads over the outflow of Llyn Bochlwyd at the bottom of Y Gribin ridge. I spent some time here having a drink and a few snacks watching the mountain rescue team practice some drills and taking in the magnificent surroundings as I lost the final few rays of the day.
Making my way down the well-trodden path that leads back down to the Ogwen cottage, I felt an overwhelming happiness at my achievements for the day as I saw Y Garn and Foel Goch opposite wearing their white jackets. Taking time to stop and soak in every last ounce of the day as the sun sank behind the snow-capped peaks I felt grateful of the intimate involvement with nature a day like this gives you in the mountains. I stopped for a while savouring the environment and inspecting each peak in detail as I looked up at where I had started out that morning.
I got back to the car at around 17:30, a proper 12 hour stint in the mountains and all the better for it. Maybe the winter conditions are still a little thin yet but there are defiantly some very promising signs for the months ahead. One of the best mountain days I have had in a while and very excited to get back out on my next adventure this winter.
The video of the whole day can be seen on my YouTube channel HERE.