Friday, 5 March 2010
Huge snow clouds over Ysgolion Duon © Glyn Davies 2010
It’s becoming a habit. It’s Monday. I’ve imagined, nay dreamed about getting up into the hills to make the most of the [last of] the snow, so why is it, that when I wake up I end up deliberating about my existing plan!
Today, the light was fantastic as well. I opened up the skylight in the warm bathroom, from where I get a fantastic view out over the Snowdonia range. A huge cloud of steam erupted into the crisp air and the coolness of the day chilled my face, even though the sun was washing over all the frosty rooftops.
“Is it too cold for me in the hills today” “Is it stupid going it alone” “What if I fall, will people know where I am” “Do I really know how to use that axe if I do start sliding”. In fact I got to thinking that maybe I should go to the beach instead! I went to the back bedroom and peered out of that skylight, out over Anglesey and to my shock, thick black clouds were drifting towards me from the West. Rethink my plans! What if the weather deteriorates ? What if I get caught on the mountain tops in thick cloud? I remember the last white out! Indecision, indecision, this was not what the Met Office forecast had suggested!
Best idea is to scour the OS maps and see which mountains are low enough to escape the cloud base, which hadn’t even appeared yet, and see where the light would be falling. Yep, good plan. Let’s make a cuppa and scour the map. Why is it that even on the large scale Outdoor Leisure series 1;25,000 maps, they still don’t show the bloody footpaths on the main hills! Unbelievable. I also think about parking, where is the safest place. Where is the easiest access to the hills to capitalise on my time out ? One and a half HOURS later, I have finally decided that I will head for the valley Nant Llafar below the Carneddau, and head up to the maximum high point of Foel Ganol, just into the snow, always in the sun and easy terrain ! I deliberated for a further 3/4 of an hour about how to pack my rucksack, which kit to take, what food to make, how much drink to carry, and whether I should even bother with my crampons if I wasn’t going particularly high.
One mile up the road just before Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch I looked out over the hills and felt happy, finally satisfied that I was a) going up into the hills b) that the weather and light were still looking amazing and c) that my route choice seemed sensible. I would leave a message for Carol at work to tell her my intended route and e.t.a. I wound my way up out of Bethesda, looking unusually pretty in the morning (well lunchtime sun !) and followed the tiniest little roads up to the area of Gerlan. I parked up in the narrowest of lanes, amongst loads of houses, pulled as close to the low stone wall as I could to avoid causing any hassle to residents and geared up in the back of the van. I donned my Goretex over trousers and my Zamberlan mountain boots. I didn’t put on my Musto rainproof as it was already quite warm in the sunshine so just left my Rab soft-shell on.
Carnedd Dafydd from the half way point © Glyn Davies 2010
As I sat there zipping up my gaiters, I looked at my intended route and became quite disturbed, that the final slope to Foel Ganol looked very steep, very rocky and very, very icy. As I set off for the valley I weighed up the options and checked out the slopes of Mynydd Du on the West side of Nant Llafar. These are the initial hill slopes before a very white and steep looking ascent to the summit of Carnedd Dafydd, one of Wales main peaks at 1044m. By the time I had reached the river of Afon Llafar I was already knackered and whichever option I chose looked like way too much hard work ! Being this close to Foel Ganol confirmed my decision that it was in fact, a stupid choice of route for a lone, relatively unfit, out of practice middle aged bloke so without a second thought I started up Mynydd Du and told myself that I’d just go as far as that and not to be so stupid as to even think about doing Carnedd Dafydd “just because it is there”.
Clouds over Carnedd Llewelyn © Glyn Davies 2010
I hadn’t taken any pictures as yet and although the light was intense above and beyond the peaks of Carnedd y Filiast and Mynydd Perfedd beyond the Nant Ffrancon, the sides facing me were of course North East facing and therefore in total shadow. The slopes of Foel Ganol and Carnedd Llewelyn on the other had were looking gorgeous, snow covered and the shadows of clouds passing over the blank canvas, exactly the reasons I am into my mountains these days! The short walk up through broken snow and slushy grass was a real quad breaking struggle for me and I used my ice axe as a walking stick to help my weary legs with some of the work. I can’t believe how tiring I was finding it all but conversely, the higher I got, the more excited I became and the more the hillsides were becoming snowier and whiter. I planned on having my peanut butter sandwiches and hot coffee atop the first main bluff, just before the snowline and it was with huge relief that I finally made it and sat on wet grass in an icily sunny wind!
On Mynydd Du © Glyn Davies 2010
It was already 2.40pm so after the jam sandwiches and two chocolate biscuits, half the flask of coffee (which I’d forgotten to put sugar in!!), a banana and half the bottle of blackcurrant juice, I thought I’d head for the more icy peak a few hundred feet higher, to get some better shots of the valley and slopes of Llewelyn. First though, I had to adjust my right sock as my little toe was starting to rub and then I realised I’d forgotten my liner socks which always work well. I also realised for the first time since buying them, that I’d been putting my gaiters on back to front which explained why the hook looked odd at the back of the heel, when in fact it should have been hooked over the laces at the front of the boot, duh! I had to say that even with all my gear, I still felt like a damned novice.
Shifting Light over Ysgolion Duon © Glyn Davies 2010
I reached the summit of Foel Meirch, in the ice and first real snow, much faster than I’d expected, but now all I could see was a very long steep slope and just the hint of the cairn atop Carnedd Dafydd, miles away ! So why was it that at 3.30 I found myself starting up the thick white icy snow-slopes of the final ascent to the main summit! At my pace it would be tomorrow lunchtime before I arrived there. Only two hours til sun down, or so I guessed, and I reckoned on at least another hour or more to get to the top. I had never been on slopes like this before and I found it quite intimidating, just like in the climbing movies.
The snow slopes on Carnedd Dafydd © Glyn Davies 2010
The slope was 35-40º but 45º in places and there was just one set of crampon footsteps in the icy snow, aiming downwards and right at the edge of the drop into Cwmglas Bach. I decided not to follow them but to head up pure white slopes in front of me, one foot after another, very slowly and deliberately with my ice axe being solidly thrust into the slope ahead of me each move, for mental security rather than literal I think. It was slow progress but I was very excited that I was the only person to have made my marks on this beautiful and virginal snowy landscape. Every footstep was a crunch, piercing the otherwise silence. I could feel my heart pumping in my chest, from fatigue but also from joy. I looked down and thought to myself “IF I slip here, and can’t stop myself, I am base jumping into Nant Llafar without a parachute”. Just like when I was rock climbing I just resolved to think about the possibility no longer, but to focus on the task ahead. At one point, as the slopes became nothing more than just pure snow and ice, I almost gave up, especially as it was nearly 4.00pm, but then within just 20 feet I realised I could see the cairn and I was basically there! Like finding a piece of protection on a hard rock climb, my energy came flooding back and my legs worked like magic.
Waving to Myself on Carnedd Dafydd © Glyn Davies 2010
I summited and there was NO ONE around, and I mean no one, anywhere, it was totally fantastic! An ice formed landscape with ice sculptures everywhere and if there were footsteps they were invisible, or snowed over or something.
Snow sculptures on the summit © Glyn Davies 2010
I soaked up the personal space, the freedom, the chance to be totally alone and the stunning views out over a tiny looking Tryfan and out towards Trefor and the Llyn peninsula, my other favourite place basking in the winter sun just beyond Yr Eifl. The sunlight was burning hot over the sea, shining intensely. It was with me. It was there for me,. It was a Godly moment. A strange orange, salmony glow joined the floating cloudscape to the snowy hills below. I wanted to stay there for hours.
Recessional Hills © Glyn Davies 2010
I wanted to watch the sun go down and the snow turn pink to red to blue, but I also knew that if coming up the snow slopes were hard in bright sunshine, going down into the void at night with just my Petzl head torch would just be pushing look way too far! I finished my sandwiches, finished my coffee and ate my Cadbury’s Cream Egg before joyously striding off down the hillside photographing snow sculptures on route.
Snow Form © Glyn Davies 2010
Actually the snow slopes were much easier and felt much safer going down than going up. My heels, well (cramponed of course) sank firmly and purposefully into the deep snow, and felt firm and safe. I made good progress and of course all the strain was off my quads! I was once again giving the Cheshire Cat Grin to everything, thanking the hills, thanking the sun, thanking the snow and ice, thanking the weather just so totally and utterly grateful to be alive and alone.
Rapidly Shifting Clouds, Foel Ganol © Glyn Davies 2010
By 5.40pm the world was turning pink. Two ravens circled in the colours above me and a dead tree on the opposite river bank lay back waiting for the redness. Small shrubby black trees played silhouette against the warm hills beyond and the sheep had slowed down to the occasional casual nibble of non existent grass. The sun dropped behind Moel Eilio and Cefn Du and with that came the pain from my little toe. It was really sore and I tried walking the last stretch down alongside the river, through the copse and onto the dark lane, with my toes squashed up to alleviate the pain. A buzzard watched me from a nearby telegraph pole and a grey squirrel shot over the wall in front of me as I reconnected with my van, warmth and soft shoes.
Last patch of sunlight, Nant Du © Glyn Davies 2010
The next day was hell. I was back in the deserted gallery, in a deserted town. This sort of loneliness is really not what life is about, I had left real life on the mountainside.
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