I can’t tell you how excited I was for this trip. Every year I go camping in the gap between Christmas and New Year with the promise of some fantastic winter climbing and mountaineering.
I had three days to myself before I had to be back for some family commitments over the holidays. I had a few objectives that gave me my three days out:
- North ridge of Tryfan onto Dolmen ridge on Glyder Fach
- Left-hand or central Trinity on Snowdon coming back via Crib Goch
- Broad gully on Pen yr Ole Wen and around to Carnedd Dafydd
Hopefully in some full winter conditions on some nice frozen snow. The first bummer was I only managed to get away from home early afternoon and therefore only arrived in Snowdonia at around 14:00 – that’s no good!
I set up camp at the lovely, and convenient Gwern Gof Uchaf at the bottom of Tryfan then decided to spend the rest of the day bouldering around the Ogwen valley and Llanberis pass.
Firstly, I drove over to the Llanberis pass to check out some problems on the Cromlech boulders. Success on Flake (5+), Wall (5+), Brown’s crack (5), Hanging Arete (6B+) and after many attempts Moose’s Problem (6B+). Some tricky little projects here and I think the first time I have ever been with a guide book which most definitely made a difference. I had great fun with lots of dry rock making a brilliant little trip. I debated stopped at the RAC boulders on my way back to Ogwen but I wanted a couple of goes at soloing little Tryfan too. So, running out of time I opted to continue.
My next venue was Caseg Fraith/Ogof. A nice little place not too far from my campsite with quite a variety of problems at different grades. You could easily spend an hour or two here. Ramp (4), Arete (4), Wall (5+), Twin Aretes (6A), Tall Wall (6A+) and Caseg faith arete (6B) were the selected problems for this place and I could of happily spent longer and challenged myself a little more if I hadn’t of had the Tryfan Bach objective at the back of my mind.
With about an hour or so of daylight left I made my way from the tent upto Tryfan Bach. Most of the lines were snowed or iced up. I had Slab 1 in my mind but I could see half way up there was a large snow patch. However, on the arete, Crack 1 and Crack 2 there seemed to be claimable lines. I took the arete for the first ascent and came down the descent gully which took me about 3 times longer to come down as it did to climb with snow and water covering some awkward steps.
Finally, when I was down I planned on the next descent it would probably be better (safer and definitely quicker) to down climb the arete. The next route I chose was Crack 1. I really enjoyed the climb getting a real sense of scale taking a lot of time to stop and look around during the climb. On my second ascent of Crack 1 I could tell I was starting to lose light but I was determined to continue right until the last few rays of the day.
I made a few more ascents of Crack 2 and played about trying a few traverses until my arms were feeling fatigued and the sun was on its way down. I fired up the jetboil and got some hot chocolate on the go as I enjoyed the view losing the last few rays behind the horizon of Y Garn in front of me. Upon returning to the tent, now in darkness, I got some food on and put some extra layers on whilst washing up. The stars were now out and I spent some time admiring the heavens on a perfectly clear night behind the bright backdrop of a full moon. All the stars were out casting the most strange, magnificent light on the snow capped peaks all around me. I finally got settled in my sleeping bag and opened my book until I feel asleep.
I had an amazing sleep on what turned out to be the coldest night of the year. Thanks to my nice warm down bag, it felt like the warmest. However, I was awoken to the call of nature around 06:20 and was met by torrential snow dumping out of the sky. I went back to bed for a bit and after realising I wasn’t getting back to sleep I started my morning cooking ritual. A lovely warm brew and some breakfast whilst listening to the gentle patter of the snow on the tent. Magic. I was quietly confident of the conditions, freezing last night with a bit of extra snow today. Granted not frozen but higher up we should be in for some quality winter conditions.
I left for Pen y pass at around 08:00, the car park already beginning to fill up, there was thick snow on the ground covering the pass in a beautiful white carpet. I made my way up the Pyg track, only a few prints to follow at this point. At the col by Bwlch Glas I got a glimpse of the famous horseshoe and the magnificent Lliwedd in her stunning winter jacket. The cold wind began to lash me in the face and I continued over to the junction by the Minor’s path. This was my cue to head off over to Clogwyn y Garnedd. Early on it was apparent the snow was hip deep in most parts and all unconsolidated. Not great.
I tried to continue a bit further, I didn’t quite make it to the spider, but surrounded by avalanche debris and wet wind slab with layers and layers of polystyrene graupel that swallowed my legs. I was quickly coming to the difficult realisation that retreat would be the best option. I reluctanty headed back to the Pyg track with my spirits low and made the long trudge up to Snowdon. Some icy parts higher up but at this point I was sweating and uninterested – I wanted some snow gully climbing. Nothing to see either with gale force winds on the top. Proper winter conditions on the summit, not all bad.
I decided to leave the Crib Goch traverse due to the awful snow conditions and strong winds. Heading down back the way I came with my tail between my legs, my spirits were lifted at the searching views in such a beautiful environment. I couldn’t help but smile. Still, definitely not the day I had envisaged. As I returned to the pass, lower and lower it became apparent that the beautiful blanket of white I had ascended in had all but disappeared, completely melted. Torrents of snow water now rushing down the paths making everything soggy and wet.
I got back to the tent and took a nice hot shower getting myself settled back into camp routine. The trip I had been looking forward to so much left me feeling a bit deflated and disillusioned at this point. I was so adamant that the conditions would have been good, but the weather can’t be controlled! I decided to get an early night and make a pre-dawn start up to broad gully tomorrow, my thinking maybe the conditions will be a bit more desirable before the sun comes up.
I left the tent under a stunning blanket of stars and arrived at Cwn Lloer just as the day was dawning. My first impressions were again, crap conditions. I would have probably been better off heading up the north ridge of Tryfan instead! Despite this I still decided to continue – but not up Broad gully. I walked up the east ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen and round to Carnedd Dafydd to descend back down to the edge of Cwm Lloer and back the way I came. Not a bad outing in the circumstances.
The beauty at the top of the Carneddau was spectacular, especially in its winter finery. Despite stomping through wet, slushy snow it was still a special place to be, rolling mist passing over the peaks allowing views back down into Ogwen valley and across to the jagged Tryfan. I did love it, I was here in my element. But I couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment at the conditions. However, the beauty, the grandeur was absolutely unparalleled. This was ace!
Arriving back at the tent I packed up my things and began to head home. Even some more bouldering was off the menu, the rock all now wet through and slippery. In the end, with everything considered, a good trip. Maybe not what I had planned but still some time alone with my thoughts in the mountains. Perhaps not the fix I was hoping for, but some valuable character building experience.
For the video click HERE, short and sweet with the battery dying early on through exposure to the cold conditions, enjoy!