|Bitter Ridge, Carneddau © Glyn Davies 2010|
Within half an hour Carol and I were making flasks of hot coffee, sandwiches and sorting winter walking gear. I decided against crampons and axes as it was the first fresh snow of the season and the ice making freeze-thaw would not have started yet. Snowdon looked like it only had a dusting of snow but the Carneddau peaks looked much whiter, much sunnier and almost entirely free of cloud. A rapid check of the Met Office Mountain Weather Forecast revealed a generally good day with increasing cloud towards 6.00 pm and increasing wind, fine, we'd finish any walk easily by then. Drove through a bustling bright Bethesda in crisp morning light and were captivated by the amazing clouds over Y Garn & Tryfan to our right, all backlit by intense rays of sunlight, spectacular. I was really looking forward to getting some dramatic winter mountain shots today, the bliss of ignorance.
The North facing peaks opposite were looking quite cloudy but after the initial chill on leaving the van we ascended towards Ffynnon Llugwy in beautiful, sweat breaking sunshine. The snow on the hills beyond reflected brilliant white against the clear blue sky. Welsh Black Cattle steamed in the morning air and gave us a cursory glance as we made our way through the herd. We passed the dark reservoir and started up the steep back-wall towards the col. The first little patches of snow rested on blades of grass and by the col we were in the first proper snow. The wind was forceful on this exposed col and the cold was suddenly noticeable. The snow, although fresh and soft was covering slippery wet grass so things were slightly disconcerting. Carol had a scary few minutes as we had to scramble up a short rock face, normally dry but now a thin curtain of water. The shadowy blue void below seemed huge and the skies above were looking suddenly cloudy. There was now a general anxiety from Carol which was affecting me somewhat, as the person responsible for her safety up there. We surmounted the dramatic buttress and attempted lunch on the far side but I was too nervous about Carol to eat properly. I suggested going back but there was no way she wanted to down climb that rock face so we were then committed to the peak of Carnedd Llewelyn and to come down the spur on the other side of the horseshoe. By now the summit was obliterated, low heavy cloud / hill-fog capitulating the peak we headed up towards. At this point the snow was up to my knees making progress slower. We summitted in thick cloud and sheltered in a cairn to enjoy some warm coffee and chocolate muesli bars. We were both impressed by the snow feathers decorating the leeward side of the boulders and rock.
|Temporary relief at the summit, Carnedd Llewelyn © Carol Mead 2010|
Things changed for the worse now. The wind increased substantially and the cloud seemed thicker than ever, visibility down to about 20 feet. All footprints had disappeared but having done the route just 7 days ago I knew exactly where to head and clarified it with the GPS. Carol was not convinced and being unused to these sorts of wintry conditions was genuinely and quite understandably concerned. We started crossing the long col between Carnedd Dafydd & Carnedd Llewelyn and the ridge ahead of us seemed huge and unforgiving. The wind was now on the increase, worsened by the exposure on the ridge, but was now a continual fresh breeze and gusting stronger. The light levels were dropping rapidly and we saw it was already gone 3.00pm yet we were still climbing UP to find that Eastward spur! For the first time ever in my life, I was actually very concerned about our situation in the hills. It doesn't matter that these are not Alpine peaks, get caught in extreme winds, cold and snow and you can pop your clogs anywhere.
|Brewing Storm at the High Peak, Tryfan © Glyn Davies 2010|
Finally and fortunately, at the point I estimated to be where the spur started, I could see two sets of footprints bearing away to the left. A final check of the GPS put us right on the apex of the spur so the footprints were good enough for me - confirmation that this was indeed the start of the ridge down. It was really slippery here, as the snow was just floating on lush wet grass sloping downhill, and we both lost footing a few times on the open slope. Finally we realised we could see much further and suddenly the whole void of the valley basin gaped before us as we dropped below the cloud base. Whilst we were still not able to relax it was comforting to know we were exactly on the right route and still had enough daylight to take us off this spur. We reached the snow-line in the fading light and then of course the footsteps disappeared. I used logic and intuition at this point to bear right off the ridge so as to avoid some huge cliffs of rock which cascade to the black lake below. We scrambled down through enormous boulders and scree until we reached the lake foot and a small bridge to relative safety and the track home. We sat on the small bridge, dangling our legs over the gentle river and in the darkening ambience of the valley, comprehended our route over the cold blue-looking massif across the lake. This was the first and only time I took pictures today and I hope they convey some of the magnificent menace that even our Welsh hills can hold?
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