The snow has fallen. It is cold enough for conditions to be good and I am excited. By far the best day of the winter season so far.
An early arrival at the double lay-by below Clogwyn y Grochan in the Llanberis pass meant a full day mountaineering. We arrived just after first light and geared up out of the boot in the early morning chill. We could see our breath as we pulled our packs on and set off in the direction of Cwm Glas Mawr. The lonely side of Snowdon – perfect. Not another soul in sight.
Liz was just as excited as me. Her first proper day out of the winter this year, we were like kids on Christmas eve, chatting away eagerly as we crossed the icy bridge by Blaen-y-nant that grants access to the climb up into these attractive slopes.
We started climbing up at quite a pace, eager to get higher into the beauty of the mountainous terrain. The higher we climbed, the more we melted into the scale of our surroundings, swallowed by open hillsides, sheer rock buttresses and imposing cliffs. We were greeted with the spectacular line of the famous ice climb, Cascade, off to our left as gained the plateau of Cwm Glas Mawr. We passed between the two huge monolithic rocks that are iconic to this lonely place. As we progressed through, we started to lose clarity, beginning to kiss the bottom of the cloud hanging in the valley as it blanketed our surroundings.
With the cold wind gently blowing the side of our faces we made a plan to follow one of the stream beds up into the higher Cwm Glas. This would help us to identify our objective, clear that the visibility would be poor once we ascended into the skirt of misty fog above us.
Poking up into the dense cloud we began to come across patches of snow, unconsolidated at this level but with increasing frequency, the anticipation began to build. Further up our chosen route, progress was aided with use of our axes on the sometimes slippy ground conditions.
Further into the whiteness, the snow steadily became more of a snow pack with signs of frozen snow, signalling we had started to gain some proper altitude. In the relatively benign conditions the wind gently buffeted us, protected by numerous rocky outcrops, we paused here for a quick drink and some snacks before continuing on to the better snow pack.
During the top out into Cwm Glas we were startled as increasing wind strength hit us head on, forcing us to zip up jackets and get the woolly hats back on. With visibility still next to zero I took a bearing from our position up towards the prominent feature of Clogwyn y Person.
As we approached the nose, the familiar clang of hexes could be faintly heard against the wind. Next, came the distinctive sound of climber calls as the people somewhere in the mist in front of us communicated. Suddenly, the terrain kicked up dramatically and we were confronted with the spectacular line of the nose in front of us – Clogwyn y Person.
After a brief ‘hello’ with the previously unknown climbers in the mist, we searched around for a large boulder to take another pit-stop for drink and snacks out of the wind before continuing on to our objective. After our refreshments, we took another bearing from the bottom of the nose across to the location of Parsley fern gully. As we contoured the slope towards our goal we met again more climbers, lost in the poor visibility desperately trying to locate Sinister gully. After a long conversation with the party of three we parted ways with them deciding to follow us up Parsley fern.
We identified the beginning of the gully and started our way up. I was leading at first kicking steps for Liz to follow in good firm snow. What an outing, it felt good to be on the route and gaining some metres after a couple of hours breaking trail following compass bearings. The conditions weren’t perfect but they were good enough and the pleasure of the task soon came in abundance.
I continued to lead up the gully having great fun in the silence out of the wind. Both locked away in our own little worlds as we focused on the job; axe, kick, kick. Axe, kick, kick. For me this is the best thing there is. In a location as magnificent as this, hidden away from the world with a remote feeling that allows your mind to wonder, so liberating, a moving meditation that helps clear out all the ‘stuff’ in your head, organising your thoughts until it’s just you and nature. Perfect! We didn’t even speak, quietly battling through the physicality, both knowing; both feeling the relationship between ourselves and the mountain. Yes! This is the stuff!
It was fantastic, up we went briefly pausing to gain our breath and to exchange our thoughts. Both of us beaming at each other completely immersed. In our element. Who couldn’t love this?!
After a while Liz took the lead, heading up to the steeper stuff were the route splits to left and right-hand gully she plodded on keeping the pace kicking in lovely steps in the deep snow for me to follow.
We stopped just shy of the route split and dug out a pair of bucket seats so we could rest and enjoy some hot soup. In the gully, completely sheltered from the wind, it was eerily quiet. It was beautiful to sit there enjoying the peace gazing in amazement at the perfectly white surroundings. What a beautiful place, it was absolutely spectacular. Imagine if there was a view as well.
We stopped for long enough to allow the party of three below to pass us. After we exchanged some pleasantries again they headed up left-hand gully. Craving the solitude, we opted for right-hand gully and once again Liz lead off.
As we ascended this atmospheric route the gully narrowed significantly with a huge rock slab to the left and on the right-hand side, steep snow, frozen turf and obvious ice bulges sporadically placed rising parallel to the gully. I couldn’t resist I had to have a little scramble up. Swinging my axe placements and kicking my crampons into frozen turf and ice. This was the best part of the day by a mile. After 60 metres or so the terrain began to lose its steepness and re-joined the gully bed. By this time, Liz was almost out of sight leading on into the mist taking considerably less time to kick steps and move upwards in the gully proper.
I caught her up and took the lead back, her breathing heavy and legs probably tiring from the long lead. Just in time for the top out! I headed up on the near vertical snow and punched through the cornice that marked the top. Wow! That was brilliant. Immediately hit by strong winds and not very much to look on the top, Liz followed over on to the summit slope.
Finding ourselves again in zero visibility, the compass came back out and we followed the bearing to the summit of Garnedd Ugain. Made it – Fantastic!
The celebrations were brief and we set off again, swallowed by the white, following the little red arrow of my compass to join the Llanberis path and trudge on up to the summit of Snowdon then shelter by the cafe to have some lunch.
Finally, after a long plod up the final summit slope of Snowdon, we arrived at the summit cairn. Nice job well done, some well-earned hot soup and food. We climbed down to the leeward side of the cafe in a high snow drift that almost covered the shutters on the doors. A familiar silence out of the wind as we took our packs off and sorted out our gear and food.
After a long stop, sharing of food and chatting with other climbers taking refuge by the cafe we were starting to get cold. We headed off back in the direction we came from heading for a descent down Cwm Glas Spur. With tired legs against light snow showers and a strong head wind, we travelled at a steady pace until we got low enough to hear ourselves think were we started to speak about what a great day so far had been.
After some easy scrambling down and some pretty cool exposure in places, confronted with huge chasms dropping below our feet only revealed when the clouds and mist chose to. We eventually dropped out of the clouds and were treated to searching views over Llanberis and back up, atmospherically towards the cliffs we had climbed down from.
Tired legs saw us get down off the spur and back into Cwm Glas Mawr, dropping into the two iconic boulders that mark the Cwm floor where we started the day from. With a glance back up to the line of Cascade, the looming darkness began to over-take us. We pulled the head torches out and now with brightly lit terrain in front of us we carefully made our way down the rough hillside back to the bridge at Blaen-y-nant.
A long day in the mountains and a proper winter excursion saw us both drained as we de-rigged at the car. With the heaters on to de-ice the car and warm us back up, we drove off in the darkness in the direction of the pub to finish the day with a pint in front of a log fire.
Watch the video HERE!