|"Virginal Explosion" Yr Elen © Glyn Davies 2012 - Prints can be purchased HERE|
Sadly, Carol had several clients that day so couldn't get out for any sort of walk with me, but I just felt like company that day, unusually, as snowy winter conditions, though beautiful are also more demanding, and a buddy is never a bad idea So I phoned a friend - a friend who is fitter than a Sherpa's Yak and probably as powerful. I rung her, but the earliest she could meet me was 11.30am, later than I'd hoped, but at least she was free, and it meant we could do a circular walk rather than a there-and-back walk. I sat waiting for Awen on the bridge at Aber in the crisp morning sunshine, listening the the river gurgling beneath me, and watching splashes of water bouncing off boulders like agitated fireflies. 11.30 came and went, and at about 11.50 this South African sun-bronzed smile drew up alongside me in a silver 4WD and we headed for the higher car park before swapping all gear into my van, it was now 12.00. We still had to get to Llanllechid to start the walk.
Why is it, when you are in a hurry, that God deliberately places things in your way, like memory loss, stupidity, narrow lanes and farm vehicles ? Leaving Aber, I took the small lane towards the Hendre hill, instead of doing the sensible thing and rejoining the A55 for a short distance, but so it was, that I found myself scratching the new van along uncut thorn walled lanes, confronted by a driver even more stupid than me, who was trying to back down to a missed turning, and a farmer in a 4x4 pick-up who had to reverse 3 miles to reach the nearest passing point.
|"Almost Empty" Yr Elen © Glyn Davies 2012 - Prints can be purchased HERE|
We arrived at the parking area and it was now about 12.30 and that gave us four and a half to five hours on the hill in this weather, before darkness set in proper. I was still a bit bronchial, I had a sore throat, and I don't think I've shaken off the virus from five weeks ago. Awen on the other hand, even in her down Rab looked like a gazelle on steroids, she has this way of looking like she could sprint from cold or hurdle a gate from a standing start, which can be intimidating ! Thing is I have something she doesn't ! Yes, walking poles! God help me when she gets some of her own. We set off across the broken ice covered slurry pools, formed by the huddling of cattle and sheep together to fend off cold, and we were gaining altitude faster than a 737 at Skiathos airport, and my breathing was showing the same altitude issues :-) It's important when I'm with Awen, to talk to her about the aesthetic within light and landscape, as it allows me to stop and catch my breath without looking like a wimp, well until I get into my stride anyway !
|"Snow Break in the Mountains" Carnedd Dafydd - Prints can be purchased HERE|
We reached the col between Moel Wnion and Gyrn in no time and Drosgl loomed up ahead, white, rounded and perfect. We decided against summiting it's peak and moved South to join the path from Gyrn Wigau. From the ridge, we were suddenly confronted with just the most stunning view across to all the high peaks of Snowdonia, snow covered, snow cloud covered, sharp edges but hazy light and looking twice, three times their normal size in these wintry conditions. The wind here cut like a razor, blowing as it was from the East, and whilst I tried to shoot a frame or so using my new base layer gloves under my shooters mits, I noticed Awen donning her over-trousers. We attempted a quick cuppa here but the coffee went cold within a minute so we decided to push on. It was now 2.00pm and the shadows indicated the sun was already lowering in the sky. It was a fairly brisk walk from here towards Bera Bach, crossing frozen pools and snow-smoothed heath. The crags of Bera Bach were white on one side and pure grey on the other, clearly indicating the prevailing wind direction. It looked beautiful, small, but beautiful. We passed a man who remarked about the icy winds on the summit, and his white dog just grinned. I assume it was a white dog in the snow, and I assume it was grinning, not grimacing, as his tackle was basically dragging through the snow !
|"Bitter Blue Beauty" Yr Elen © Glyn Davies 2012 - Prints can be purchased HERE|
We thought we'd be clever on the summit and eat lunch on the leeward side of the hill, but the snow obscured leg-snapping sharp boulders all around the peak, and it took an age to simply negotiate the boulder field before finding a five foot section of lesser wind! Why is it also, that the leeward side is ALWAYS the shadow side, so you escape the wind but lose the sun ? The coffee stayed warmish at least, but after just one round of sandwiches and a biscuit, neither of us could eat for some reason. The sun was still bright, and the superb ridge between Garnedd Uchaf and Foel Fras was out of the cloud and looking magnificent against the skyline, now turning a delicate orange in the lengthening sunlight.
And this is where I should have known better. We both procrastinated about what to do, we knew we had to get to her car on the far side of the Aber valley but equally, we had already had to wade our way through several snow drifts which we simply couldn't 'side step', making progress very slow, especially with the ridiculous weight I carry in my camera rucksack at all times. Whereas Awen can almost step 'on' the drifts like a bloody fairy, I sink right down to the base of a drift like a troll ! We decided to go for the lower peak of Yr Aryg and then just turn back and return to my van, and we lost 17 litres of water in body sweat ploughing through drift after drift of unconsolidated snow, followed by submerged boulder fields just below the summit itself.
|On the summit of Bera Bach, after coffee & sandwiches :-)|
Still the ridge tempted us in the late afternoon sunlight, compounded by the fact we'd just seen one other figure atop that ridge, creating a false sense of security. So we compromised, and decided to walk as the crow flies across the slopes directly towards Foel Fras, omitting Garnedd Uchaf completely. This was one of three wise moves it happens. We actually reached the ridge just below Foel Fras, which was open, rounded and covered in icy pools. Small vertebrae of rock groups punctured the surrounding snow, horizontal flags of windblown snow pointing towards the next summit. From Bera Bach, Foel Fras had looked so close to the ridge, but from here at about 4.00 pm, with an hour to go before dusk, it looked a million miles away, so in a new adjustment to plan, we omitted the actual summit of Foel Fras as well, and formed a diagonal route across the steep slopes on the North West side of the peak, in and out of drifts which sank me to my waist, literally. Even with walking poles extended, my weight combined with pack weight meant I was often dropping in deep without any chance of advance warning. Don't get me wrong, it was actually great fun at the same time, and in the now relative warmth of the dropping orange sunlight it was both beautiful and exciting, just difficult. Awen by now was using her own techniques, that of sliding down the drifts on her bum, sledging with no sledge, and she was able to make far better progress than me.
Now the third and final major decision, whether to skirt the North East side of Llwytmor, which would be a more direct route back to her car, but in shade, in the cold, down some quite steep slopes judging by the tight contours on the map, then a snowy section where we'd have to cross a river in half-light, or to just make a direct descent into the waterfall valley I am familiar with, above the Aber Falls. Here I could locate the riverside path I'd done several times before and finally descend into the main tourist valley using the precipitous step around the edge of the huge Aber Falls Waterfall. I knew this would be snow and ice free and I had head-torches anyway, so that what we did. Thing is, there is a reason the Aber Falls are so impressive, and that's the vast watershed in this valley above, and watersheds contain numerous streams all feeding the main river, and these numerous streams all flow through mini troughs and river cuttings. In the snow, the very thick snow, it all looked so easy, but we soon found ourselves dropping into soft snow, tripping over submerged boulders and losing footing. We still had light, it was about 4.30pm, we could still see the route but all of a sudden, I just lost my leg straight into a stream ditch perhaps 2-3 foot beneath me. My ankle twisted badly and I could feel the stream running over my trousers, but amazingly the Paramo trousers didn't even let a stream wet my legs, but I was basically face down in deep snow, towering above me, and the weight of my rucksack meant I could even lift myself up. Awen was quickly alongside me, and I had to unclip my rucksack for her to wrench off me before I could even move. The deep snow mean that like in quicksand, I couldn't push up out of it. Whatever I touched just sank deeper. I manoeuvred the walking poles into the vertical position, and very slowly eased myself into a standing position putting all my weight on the poles. I could still move my foot but the ankle was very weak. I assumed I had just sprained it, and so we both completed the descent to the river with me looking like a 90 year old pensioner on walking sticks.
The enormous shadow of Bera Mawr to our left now, meant we were soon in very dim conditions, and ironically the snow helped to make sense of the route. I did remember though that there were at least two really tricky sections, where sloping rock across the route is ALWAYS wet and greasy, and of course in this weather the water would be ice. If you fall off these slaps one drops you into a sheer 20ft chasm above a waterfall, and the other rope you maybe 20 feet into a boulder bed, but I was aware of where they were, even in the semi darkness and snow, so we navigated safely over them. Soon we were below the snow-line, and even with my bad ankle we were able to move at speed again. We could see and hear the pounding water of the falls to our left, dropping over 120ft into the valley below, and we circuited the narrow path at the side of the gorge. It's amazing just how quickly dusk becomes night at this time, and we crossed the 1:1 scree slope towards the dark woods beyond. we were now on night vision, and decided to finish the walk down to the car park in the darkness, but a 3/4 moon created enough light to walk by. We reached the small bridge, where I had sat in the sunshine just before lunch, and at this point my ankle was really throbbing. Awen volunteered to walk ahead up the long mountain lane to the car, whilst I walked much more slowly behind her. I had to stop. I found a gateway and poured a coffee and ate another biscuit. The sweat which had been purring off me was now forming an ice layer down my spine, and there was nothing more relieving than the ghostly glimpses of Awen's headlights snaking their way through the trees towards me from the mountain side. It was just before 6.00 now but it was already night-time.
What have I learned ?
Snow slows you down.
Drifts REALLY slow you down.
Unconsolidated snow is hard work and even dangerous.
Have a set of snow shoes if you know you will be doing loads of drifts ?!
Halve the route distance you'd do on a non snowy walk.
Allow enough time to do any planned route, and if timings change, adjust the route accordingly.
Always have an exit strategy.
DO skip summits rather than get hypnotised by summit fever.
For me at least, I can't speak for other mountaineers, doing a shorter journey means I can savour the landscape MORE.
I felt so pushed that ironically I wasn't able to enjoy my photography, or take photos of what I wanted to, when I wanted to.
Even as a non artist, Awen said that maybe decisions need to be made between doing a walk for a walk's sake, and doing a walk for art's sake.
All that said, and accepting that I'd planned too big a walk for the time we had and the conditions underfoot, I enjoyed the day. I even enjoyed the 'pressure' to a degree. I enjoyed being a little 'on the edge', reminds me of my extreme rock climbing years! Life often seems a lot sweeter after one is pushed, even scared, and we are forced to rationalise dangers and fears.
I felt I made the right decisions to avoid some summits. I feel I made the right decision to drop into a known valley with a route I knew. I feel I was always conscious of my companions worries, needs, comfort and ability levels. I am happy that I got her back to safety, safely, (even if she did have to do that last uphill lane by herself to get the car!).
Awen was happy, and sent me a message saying how much she'd enjoyed the day, though I believe she enjoyed a hot bath just as much :-)
|Our friend Awen, feeling the cold ! The Carneddau hills are in the background.|