Sunday, 3 February 2013

Snowdon from Llanberis

It was unthinkable, the idea of not heading up a mountain this weekend. Almost the entire country had been blanketed in decent snowfall for the first time this winter. Sadly my car has been in the garage all week so I didn't think there was a chance of me getting to the mountains. My only hope was the trains still running so I could jump on one to Edale. I was very pleased to get a phone call on Friday afternoon telling me I could pickup a courtesy car on Saturday morning. A trip to the mountains was back on! On Friday night I was enjoying an after work pint in The Grapes in Manchester with colleagues when I got a phone call from my mate Simon to say that he had seen my Facebook message saying I wanted to get out this weekend and that he wanted to join me. As I had to go pickup the courtesy car mid morning there was no way we would have enough daylight hours on Saturday. We therefore agreed on Sunday and after much indecision decided on Snowdon. Conditions were serious so I chose the Llanberis Path. I had read tweets saying the Ranger Path and Watkin Path were waist deep and the zig zags at the top of the Pyg and Miners tracks were their usual treacherous self. It turned out to be the right decision. At times we were in complete white out conditions. Being on a path I could do with my eyes closed was the only thing stopping me from turning round.

Icy Victoria Terrace, Llanberis, Snowdonia
The courtesy car is a new 1.4l Ford Fiesta. I have to say I was impressed with the car. It drives like a larger car and one thing I noticed was how much less fuel it required to get me to Snowdonia and back. It was still dark when I made my way to Birkenhead to pickup Simon on Sunday morning. We were on our way through North Wales in no time and managed to make it to Llanberis for 9:45am. We parked in the icy car park at Llanberis and geared up. We had to immediately put on our spikes as Victoria Terrace was like an ice rink.

Start of the Llanberis Path at Cader Ellyll
I always forget how steep that road is beyond the cattle grid at the end of Victoria Terrace. Its not the easiest way to start a walk and we could feel our thighs even before we had reached the start of the Llanberis Path at Cader Ellyll. The animals were all over the road by the farm yard, including a cute friendly pony that got a deserved head scratching.

Simon ascending the Llanberis Path, Snowdon
The Llanberis Path was quite deep under snow as the wind had blown over the ridge on the left and blown all the lying snow into the deep trough of the popular path. We had to walk on the right hand side of the path as to the left the snow had banked up to drifts as deep as our waists.

Moel Eilio, Snowdonia National Park
The views to our right across to the Moel Eilio ridge were awesome. The ridge of Moel Goch, Moel Gron and Moel Eilio looked far grander than normal. Snow has this effect of making mountains look huge no matter how small they are.

Moel Goch, Moel Gron and Moel Eilio
The wind increased as we made our way along the Llanberis Path. As we made our way towards the Halfway House the overlying powder snow was being whipped up into impressive tornadoesque spindrifts that came hurtling towards us at speed.

Snow Patterns
There were some huge drifts as high as six foot deep against the stone walls on the approach to the first railway bridge. The railway itself completely buried in the snow and several feet deep drifts in the chasm above the first bridge. As you can see in the above photo some of the patterns the wind had sculpted were beautiful.

Moel Cynghorion, Snowdonia National Park
One mountain that really stood out was Moel Cynghorion. The snow not only made the mountain appear much larger than normal but also gave it a contrast I'd never seen before. Normally dismissed as one of Snowdon's small satellite lumps of grass, today it looked incredible. You could make out the dark cliffs and scree of Clogwyn Llechwedd Llo and the slight glacial step on its north eastern shoulder.

Moel Cynghhorion, Snowdonia National Park

Looking back down the Llanberis Path, Snowdon
At the Halfway House the wind was very strong. The cold strong north east wind was squeezing its way over the ridge on our left and blasting the snow at us. The going was hard enough already with ice and waste deep snow in places. We put on our spikes and covered our faces with buffs and balaclavas.

Simon at the Halfway House, Llanberis Path, Snowdon
The next part of the Llanberis Path is one of the toughest with a steep stepped climb. The path eventually reaches the next railway bridge. On the other side of the Clogwyn bridge is usually a fantastic panoramic view to the Glyders. Not today however, today there was nothing but cloud and a freezing cold north easterly wind.

Simon ascending steep section to Clogwyn, Snowdon

Clogwyn Bridge
We had well and truly entered the cloud line at Clogwyn. The drops off to the left here are fairly severe so given the conditions under foot I decided it was time to get out the axes. This was Simon's first time with an axe so I showed him the basics.

Feathered Hoar Frost, Llanberis Path, Snowdon
As we gained height on to the north western shoulder of Garnedd Ugain we passed two other walkers and asked what it was like ahead. They told us that a few hundred metres on the visibility was white out and down to just ten metres with snow recovering any path or footsteps. As we got higher we realised they were not exaggerating. I decided to stand a few stones up on their ends as markers so we could find our way back later. I've always been surprised that there are no proper cairns along this part of the Llanberis Path. The path is after all by far the most popular and safest descent route. In the past there have sadly been casualties caused by people returning in conditions like these following the railway tracks instead of sticking to the path. Following the railway track puts people in a precarious position above the lethal cliffs of Clogwyn Coch. By now it was complete white out, I couldn't see anything other than Simon. There was no path, no footprints and you couldn't really sense the lie of the land. So with markers set and knowing I had done this path several times before we plodded on. I was pleased that Simon wasn't panicking. He seemed to have a lot of faith in my experience in this scenario.

Myself knocking frost off the Finger Stone, Snowdon
We met a group of lads who had just stopped and made the decision to turn back. We met them just after the two old building stone walls which I know from experience to be only two hundred metres at most from the Finger Stone. We spoke to them for a few minutes and I explained this to them to see if that would change their mind. One of them was still uncomfortable but felt better when I told him I had set marker stones every twenty metres or so for them to follow back down. They were still undecided so we left them and continued to the Finger Stone.

Simon stood by frosty Finger Stone, Bwlch Glas, Snowdon
The Finger Stone looked great as it was completely covered in hoar frost. Looking down what we could see of the Pyg Track I was very glad we didn't decide to ascend that way.

Simon at a frozen Snowdon summit cairn
We followed the path to the summit area. The summit cafe was hidden by huge drifts of snow. Instead of looking its usual prominent self and out of place it could hardly be seen. The winter conditions had well and truly retaken the mountain for a few cold winter months.

Myself at the frozen Snowdon summit cairn
The summit trig point cairn was covered in frozen hoar frost and not a place to be sticking around today. There wasn't the usual queue waiting to summit the cairn.

Hikers heading to the Snowdon summit cairn

Frozen Simon on Snowdon summit
We descended the path from the summit area back to the Finger Stone. On our way we saw the three guys we spoke to earlier as they had decided to carry on. I'm glad they did as to have got two hundred metres from the Finger Stone and then turned back would have been a shame.

Simon walking through white out on Llanberis Path
When we reached the Finger Stone we navigated back to the Llanberis Path. We watched as a few others including a group of around a dozen hikers, headed down to the railway tracks. We had total white out conditions again until we reached the old building stone walls. From there we followed our marker stones until we reached the cloud line just above Clogwyn.

Simon at the Clogwyn viewpoint above Nant Peris
By now we were both buzzing about what an epic day it had turned out to be. The white out conditions and the way we handled them was something we could both be proud of, but especially Simon for whom this was his first proper winter mountain experience.

Simon looking down to Llyn du'r Arddu, Snowdon
The views on the way back down the Llanberis Path were awesome. Llyn du'r Arddu was stunning. We watched in awe as the spindrifts continued to spin their way across the path and down the hill side on front of us.

Simon descending the Llanberis Path, Snowdon

Myself knee deep in snow on the Llanberis Path
The snow was waste deep on the approach to the Halfway House. The temperature by now had risen and the wind had eased so we were able to finally uncover our faces and take off a layer.

Simon knee deep in snow on the Llanberis Path
Moel Cynghorion was still looking amazing on the descent, now with the sun setting behind it giving the clouds a three dimensional look about them and creating warm glowing colours. It was a fantastic day despite the kind of weather that on any other hill on any other path would probably have had me turning round. The so called tourist paths may not be everyones cup of tea but they aren't half useful in the winter.

Moel Cynghorion, Snowdonia National Park

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  1. A fine day on the hills that. Deep snow and some views. Take it while you can.

  2. A great read and some excellent photo's. Thanks for sharing - Steve :)

  3. Looks like you had a cracking day in the snow, nice photos.

  4. I'm assuming that the train was not running that day!

  5. What a fantastic day out! We were up Foel Fras on Friday still quite a bit of snow about up there and white out conditions, compass was out for navigating, a great day if rather cold and blustery! I've used your guides a few times in the past when I first started walking so I thank you for that!

  6. Going up today for the first time - really enjoyed reading this and glad it won't be quite so chilly!