Sunday, 19 December 2010

Y Garn and Cwm Idwal

North Wales had a huge dump of snow last week. Northerly air flow combined with already freezing temperatures and weather fronts collected moisture off the Irish Sea, froze it and dumped it across Snowdonia. This therefore made it an obvious choice for this weekends walk. I spoke to our Northampton based friend Kelvin midweek who mentioned that he would be up that way this weekend too so we planned to meet up with him for an adventurous winter walk on Sunday. Kelvin being the hardened man that he is, slept in his van overnight in one of the A5 laybys in the Ogwen Valley. Temperatures dropped to minus fifteen that night! We on the other hand were nice and warm under a down quilt and electric blanket at home as I checked the weather forecast. The forecasts said it would be a very cold and sunny day, perfect conditions for a winter walk. So knowing we had to set off early to get there in time to make a proper day of it, we set the alarm clock for a quarter past six on Sunday morning.

Ogwen Valley from Y Garn's North East Ridge

We took an age defrosting the car as it was minus twelve degrees in Cheshire when we woke up. I have recently discovered that there is a problem with the heating system in my car too which the missus was not impressed with. Basically it decides when it will and won't pass through the warm air from the engine area so for the first hour of the drive we were freezing. To counter act the discomfort I knew the missus would be in I filled our Platypus water carriers with boiling water so she could use them as hot water bottles on the way. We got to Wales in good time as the A55 was clear. Amazes me how much time it cuts off the journey round Chester these days now it is continuous dual carraigeway from the end of the M56 to the A55. One thing I had never seen in my life until this moment was snow on a beach. I've been in Scotland when it snows but still never seen an actual beach with snow cover on it. The beaches along the North Wales coast looked great covered in snow and the Great Orme looked incredible. We came off the A55 near Bangor at the junction with the A5 and tried to use the services there, as we pulled in however all we could see was a car park covered in deep snow with abandoned cars strewn across its entrance and exit roads.

Afon Ogwen at Idwal Cottage

As we continued along the A5 towards Bethesda the snow got deeper and there were dozens of abandoned vehicles along the road. At Halfway Bridge we picked up a walker who was thumbing a lift to Idwal Cottage where we were heading. He was a cheery fellow and we had a good chat and laugh with him. As we approached Bethesda we could tell the place had clearly had a lot more snow than we had anticipated. Bethesda's pavements, cars and parking spaces were all completely buried under two foot deep snow everywhere. The village was surprisingly busy and locals with shovels were everywhere trying to clear their cars and pavements. We continued along the road with care until we got to Nant Ffrancon where a freak wind was blowing the snow from the fields on to the road. It got quite hairy in places but luckily a local farmer was on hand and was clearing away the drifts with his tractor and plough. We reached Idwal Cottage and had fun trying to find somewhere to park as all the laybys were feet deep in snow drifts. Nicky braved the cold outside, grabbed the spade from the boot and started digging out a parking space on the main road for us. The hitch hiking walker helped push the car in to place. With the car parked we got geared up ready for a proper winter walk. The day before I had been out to the fantastic Hitch n Hike gear shop in Bamford in the heart of the Peak District. I got Nicky some Grivel Monte Rosa crampons and got us both a pair of Kahtoola Micro Spikes which I had been craving for a long time. The Peak District drive the day before was awesome, despite reports of the roads being closed, in reality they were all open and passable. The Peak District looked amazing in surprisingly just a sprinkling of snow and the sun setting.

Myself, Nicky & Kelvin on Y Garn summit

We met Kelvin down the road at the Idwal Cottage car park toilets and cafe building. We hadn't seen Kelvin since we did the winter skills course together in the Cairngorms last winter so it was handshakes and hugs all round. We set off along the path to Llyn Idwal, passing through the gate and over the Llyn Idwal outflow which was covered in loads of incredible ice formations and of course as always with the backdrop above of Y Garn the target for the days walk. We chose Y Garn as the navigation is fairly straight forward, we've done it before and we know the going was going to be tough so had to choose something fairly short in distance. We soon reached the beautiful Cwm Idwal where monochrome snow and ice covered cliffs soared above a frozen Llyn Idwal, contrasted by perfect blue skies. From Llyn Idwal we could see fellow walkers on our route up the North East Ridge of Y Garn. It was obvious by their slow pace that it was going to be tough. We were soon making steady progress up on to the ridge itself via Pinnacle Crag. All the way we were extremely thankful for those who had broken the path and kicked steps before us. As we got around half way up the ascent clouds moved in over the surrounding tops and eventually covered us too. Visibility was not great but we easily made our way up the final ascent of the ridge to the summit plateau with relief and aching thigh muscles. The final part of the ridge is usually quite a narrow scramble but as is sometimes the case, with a wide area of snow packed on it the going was actually easier than normal.

Kelvin descending Devil's Kitchen path

On the plateau the visibility was so bad that we could only see around twenty metres in either direction. We turned left and used the impressive cornice as a hand rail to get us to the summit cairn. Trying not to step on the cornice itself at any point. At one point the white was so overwhelming it created an optical illusion that tricked us into not realising the snow in front of us was actually built up and at chest height to us. We walked straight into it, after expecting to walk just walk ahead and across it! The summit cairn provided a good shelter from the bitterly cold wind. We made ourselves some bucket seats in the snow and had lunch. All of us smiling and happy to be at nine hundred and forty metres above sea level in white out conditions with a bitter wind burning our faces. We felt alive! After trying to drink more of my frozen Lucazade, I took a bearing from the summit, for practice and just in case. The wind on the descent down the south side of the mountain was bitterly cold and stung all our faces. I was very glad of the Rab Balaclava I had brought from Hitch n Hike the day before. Kelvin took a few tumbles as we struggled through the deep snow towards Llyn y Cwn. After stopping to take a picture Kelvin suddenly realised he couldn't locate his camera. I started ascending the hill again following the path he took, with my thigh muscles starting to burn again. I turned round to hear "Found it!". I shot a disapproving glare at which they both laughed and trotted back down. As we got down to Llyn y Cwn on the col between Y Garn and Glyder Fawr the skies opened up to give us some pretty awesome and atmospheric views to the Carneddau on our left and Snowdon on our right. We played around near the frozen Llyn y Cwn where I landed face first in the snow and ended up falling down a hole to my waist at one point.

Nicky admiring the icicles

Our descent was via the Devil's Kitchen path. We struggled at first to find the proper path as others who had led the way before us had also gone way off course. We did eventually find the familiar wide open track that leads down to the small stone wall that crosses the path at the point where it turns in to a rocky scramble. The views from here looking over Llyn Idwal are always impressive, I'd say easily one of the best views in Snowdonia and today they were as impressive as I had ever seen them. We started to descend the slippery and steepening path. Nicky and Myself thankful at this point that we still had our Microspikes on our boots. We wore the Microspikes all day. Even when they are not necessarily needed you don't really need to take them off as they do not hinder your progress as crampons would. We had to be careful in places as the path was just like a slide in a playground but steeper, covered in compacted slippery snow and big boulders on the crags below. As I was carefully watching my own footing I suddenly heard a "Woah!"  from below me and looked down to see Kelvin at the bottom of one of these tricky slides lay akimbo across a boulder which luckily had stopped him in his path. Nicky and Myself skipped a heart beat and Kelvin just looked up and laughed and said "Phew that was close, maybe its time for crampons". Was a very funny and memorable moment. To get down Kelvin's slope I used a skill I learned on the winter skills course last year and chopped out several steps using the adze of my ice axe, I was extremely pleased with my skills.

The Moon and Tryfan

As the path skirts the bottom of the Devil's Kitchen itself we looked up to see a winter ice climber half way up the back wall of the huge dark and foreboding gully. Looking up at him I could only think two possibilities. He either has serious mental issues or gigantic balls. My legs were shaking just watching him. As the path turns right again a big buttress sticks out from the right, this usually has a waterfall down the side of it but today the water was spread across the buttress and had dripped off frozen and created probably the most spectacular icicles I have ever seen all in one place. I got a good shot of Nicky stood under them to give perspective as they were huge. We chatted to several fellow walkers and climbers on the final descent to the shores of Llyn Idwal. A short walk round Llyn Idwal saw us back at the path we left earlier. By now it was starting to get dark but a massive bright moon shone the path all the way back to Idwal Cottage and provided a stunning backdrop to a snowy Tryfan which looked even more grand than it usually would. We fed some left over sandwich chicken to a beautiful and friendly Robin at Idwal Cottage then left Kelvin as he went back to his van and Capel Curig for a Lamb dinner. Kelvin stayed over in Snowdonia for a few more nights as it was just too good to miss. Unfortunately we made our way home in the freezing cold car and went to work the next day as he was enjoying Moel Siabod.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Harrison Stickle via Stickle Tarn

We had a right love and hate relationship with the snow this weekend. The plan for the weekend was to go to Oslo to see A-Ha's last ever concert in their home town as Nicky is a life long fan. However we got to the airport and boarded the plane on Saturday morning only to be told that we couldn't go anywhere as Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport was a foot deep in snow and any flight heading their way would have to stay precisely where they are. For is this meant sitting on the apron at Manchester Airport. We waited for four hours until we had to make the decision to get off the plane which luckily we could as we only had hand luggage. We basically had to make it to Amsterdam for a 1:30pm flight which had now been cancelled and the evening flight too was cancelled so we wouldn't have made or been able to cancel the hotel. We've lost a lot of money unfortunately and Nicky was devastated not to make it to the concert. So after a down Saturday I decided we had to get up early Sunday and make our way to The Lakes to make the most of the snow instead and turn it in to something good.

Nicky heading toward Pavey Ark

Knowing we would probably be getting up early but not drastically early, I knew by the time we got the the Lakes we would probably only have at the most four or five hours of daylight. So I had to plan a shorter walk than normal and also take into account the fact we would be slower if the snow is as deep as reports say it is. I decided on the Langdale Pikes from Stickle Barn Tavern up the Stickle Ghyll path as I knew the roads would most likely have been cleared out to Langdale and it is easy to get to once you get off the M6, so saving some time. After de-frosting the car we set off into the a perfect cold, crisp, and clear blue sky winters day. The cars thermometer as we got to Kendal showed the temperature outside to be -8 degrees Celsius. As we came over the hill towards the back of Bowness we looked forward to see a wonderful sight, there was a cloud inversion over the whole stretch of Windermere and above it the huge white snow covered Consiton Fells.

Stickle Tarn

I love how on winters days like these with perfect clarity the mountains look twice their normal size and so much closer. The roads were clear all the way to Langdale. When we arrived I was surprised to see so little people around. The National Trust's Stickle Ghyll car park was fairly treacherous with a good nine inches of snow on the ground. I went through my usual stomping around effing and jeffing at the ridiculous cost of parking to go for a walk in the Lake District. We set off from the Stickle Ghyll car park and headed up hill on the left hand side of the Ghyll. The water falls were iced over with icicles and formations looking magical. Mounds of snow on boulders in the ghyll added to the magic. After a short steep climb we crossed a wooden foot bridge over the ghyll then continued our ascent on the other side of the ghyll. One pair of walkers we kept passing had a beautiful Bearded Collie and Spaniel that were clearly loving their adventures in the snow. We eventually rounded Tarn Crag and crossed Stickle Ghyll at the boulder field before reaching the dam at Stickle Tarn.

Wild scene on Langdale Pikes plateau

Stickle Tarn was completely frozen over and looked as good as it always does but even better that normal as its back drop the stunning Pavey Ark was covered in snow creating a grand monochrome scene. We ate a chocolate bar at the tarn and headed then headed left to the south western shore of the tarn before starting the ascent to the col between Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle. The ascent is steep and quite dangerous in winter conditions but the snow was two foot deep powder with no frozen layers at all so a fall would just see you buried in snow instead of sliding down the hill side. We didn't even bother to get our crampons or ice axes out as the deep snow gave a certain security you wouldn't normally have on a hill side covered in frozen snow. This two foot deep obstruction was like every step we were walking over a fence, we followed the steps of those who had gone there before us but the going was still pretty tough. At one point Nicky said it was like walking through whipped cream!

Myself on Harrison Stickle summit

We topped out on the col and walked across to the large bowl shaped Langdale Pikes plateau. As we reached the plateau clouds came rolling in for literally only around ten minutes and added a wild an desolate atmosphere to the place. As we headed towards Harrison Stickle the cloud was starting to break up and was leaving small brocken spectres and halo effects as the low winter sun hit the summit rocks and the remaining cloud. The cloud was gone by the time we reached the summit and the views were incredible, though it was absolutely freezing now we had stopped. We headed off StickleGhyll gorge skirting Harrison Stickle. The path was quite scary in parts as here you knew if you slipped there was a good chance you'd end up in that deep Dungeon Ghyll gorge below. Eventually the path eases off and ascends over a grassy slop towards Pike Howe. Pike Howe is a wonderful rocky knoll that sits in the most perfect position for gazing down the wonder of the Langdale Valley. Nicky topped out on Pike Howe while I took a picture and we then took the zig zag path from behind Pike Howe back down to Stickle Ghyll. We topped off our exhilarating walk with a hot chocolate sat by the wood burner in the Stickle Barn Tavern looking out at the beautiful snow covered fells. Perfect Day!

I have uploaded the photos from the walk here.

Route Map...