Sunday, 11 March 2012

Y Garn & Cwm Idwal

I hadn't actually planned on going walking last weekend. It had been a fairly depressing week for a snow lover like me listening to the news in the week, with reports of temperatures in the mid teens and people sun bathing on beaches down south. I sat waiting for Match of the day to start on Saturday when the news ended and the rather pleasing to the eye BBC weather girl Laura Tobin appeared. She said a very short cold snap was happening with snow expected overnight on mountains in north west England and north Wales. I checked the MWIS forecast and indeed they too had snow forecast for Snowdonia, Lake District and even the Peak District. I looked to the left at the missus and she gave me that look of "I don't want you to abandon me, but I will let you go as I know you love the mountains, especially when it snows". The only other complication was that United were playing Spurs in the afternoon and I had already agreed to go round my Mum's to watch the footy with them. I really wanted to watch the match but I wanted to go to the snowy mountains more. Maybe I could do both and go early to the Peak District and get back in time. I pondered and tweeted to see if other people could make the decision for me. Being mostly outdoor folk on my Twitter feeds it was a unanimous response of... Duh! Mountains of course!

Cwm Idwal

I got up fairly early for a Sunday and readied my gear. Yes I did remember to pack my camera card this time before you ask. The first job was to get online and check webcams. The Cat & Fiddle and Flash Stores webcams are the best for checking snow in the Peak District as they are high and clear. There was no snow, just grey damp drizzle as it was outside my window in Altrincham. I then checked the George Fisher webcam of Skiddaw,  there was snow but also damp grey drizzle again. I then checked the Ogwen Valley and Snowdon cams, to my delight there was lots of snow. It was decent looking snow and looked like it was down to the valley floor. Could I really make it to Snowdonia and back for the afternoon kick off? I did the maths in my head and realised it was possible if I set off right away, so I did. I didn't want to go to the Peak District if I was going to be walking in rain for a large part of the walk. I decided not to make the mistake of eating a revolting Texaco petrol station sandwich for breakfast and instead went to McDonalds for a Sausage & Egg McMuffin which was delicious. It was drizzle all the way to Chester. Crossing the River Dee the clouds opened and revealed a welcoming sight. The beautiful Clwydian Range, the first major hills you see on the journey to North Wales, were all white and covered in snow above around 300m. It was a good drive to North Wales and all the way there my head was full of ideas for something that would be quick and also get me high enough to be in the snow. I eventually decided on Y Garn. It is a familiar mountain that has always given me epic days out. I've done it twice before and both times were in winter conditions.

Cwm Clyd

I turned off the A55 and headed up the A5 towards Bethesda. I got really giddy when I realised the cars coming the other way had snow on them. I could also see that the snow line was actually as low as the road above Bethesda. I stopped in a layby in Nant Ffrancon just to absorb the incredible scenery. The many ridges that fall from the Carnedd Filiast ridge into Nant Ffrancon looked amazing in snow. The cloud line was at around 700m and covered the top of the ridge, so made the ascending ridges look like they were rising into a hidden wilderness. I parked up on the pavement at Idwal Cottage. I do this to avoid the parking charges in the official car park. Other people do it so I do it too. However after opening my door and nearly having it taken off by a big quarry lorry, I was starting to wonder why on earth I do, especially as there are laybys just a few hundred metres up the road. Llyn Ogwen and the Ogwen Valley looked stunning in the snow. I set off along the path to the left of the toilet blocks at Idwal Cottage. When I reached Cwm Idwal the scene was completely monochrome. In fact that monochrome that when processing my photos when I got home I clicked the black and white option to see if it improved one of the photos and it looked exactly the same. I passed a few photographers by the shores of Llyn Idwal and headed towards the foot of Y Garn's north east ridge path. This is a steep route for quite a while. I met one guy coming down and spoke to him for a long time. To be honest I was enjoying the rest as this is one steep ascent. He was doing the Welsh 2000's and told me a few stories about how far out in the wild some of the Welsh 2000's are. I carried on and eventually reached the half way point on the ridge where the path flats out near the floor of Cwm Clyd.

Wind blowing over Y Garn's north east ridge

This is a great place to stop and admire the views down Nant Ffrancon, across the Ogwen Valley to Tryfan and up to the summit of Y Garn. The rest of the ridge is like a proper ridge. It gets narrow and steep and today was covered in loose powder snow that was being blasted up from Cwm Cywion over the ridge on a bitterly cold wind. Just before the point where the ridge gets really steep on its final section to the summit plateau, the wind was blowing the snow like a snow machine you would see on a ski resort. As I got closer to this point on the ridge I was almost being blown off my feet. I had to put on my ski goggles and Buff as a face mask to stop the snow from blasting my face. I also put my Microspikes as I was starting to slip. Coming down the ridge were several lads who were all laughing at the fact both they and me were all on our backsides being beaten by the wind. We all went slightly down to the left side of the ridge to avoid the worst of the wind. It was windy but it was only literally a ten metre section that was incredibly over powering. We all stood in awe of the spindrifts being created by the wind throwing snow in circles down the ridge. I avoided the steep end section of the ridge and took a path to its left to eventually top out on the summit plateau. The deadly cornice that usually develops on the north east face of Y Garn each winter was long gone. The only difficulty walking across the summit was the patches of deep snow, a foot deep in some places. The summit was windy and cold so I didn't spend too much time there. I could see that of all the highest mountains in Snowdonia, Y Garn was the only one with a clear summit. This isn't the first time I have stood here and had this happen, every trip up here has seen me at a cloud free summit while surrounding summits are shrouded in cloud. The views were awesome and had there been no wind I could have sat there for hours on a day when I wasn't in a rush.

My Ice Axe on Y Garn summit cairn

I descended towards Llyn y Cwn. The paths on the descent were incredibly deep in snow at times. The snow was being blown from the northern side of the mountain over to its south side. The paths which were like trenches, had collected several inches of passing snow. This meant that I could just dig heels in all the way down which made it very easy. The spindrifts on this side of the mountain were quite scary. Descending whilst mini tornadoes of snow blast past you is quite a thrill. When I reached Llyn y Cwn I looked over to Snowdon and saw its pointed summit appear for the first time that day. I turned left at Llyn y Cwn and made my way across to the Devils Kitchen path. As I made my way through the deep snow I kicked something that landed a few feet in front of me. It was a rather expensive Samsung smart phone. I tried to turn it on but its battery was dead. I looked around to see if anyone was in sight but there was no one around. I pocketed it so I could take it home and hopefully charge it and phone someone in its address book if it had no password and hadn't been disabled yet. When I got home that night I did indeed manage to charge the phone, phoned Mum from the address book and returned the phone to her surprised and very happy Son in Birmingham.

Pen yr Ole Wen above Llyn Idwal

I have always thought getting from Llyn y Cwn to the top of the Devils Kitchen descent path is not very clear. Covered in snow it is even less clear. The only time you know you are on the right descent is when you see the small stone wall. I got to the end of the route I was on and realised the stone wall should have appeared by now. I guessed I had probably gone to the left of the correct route as I had nearly done this before. I went over the crags to reach the correct route, but in my stubborn and rushed attempt I ended up in a worrying cragfast position. After using my axe as an extended arm a few times I managed to get myself to safety, but had a few worrying moments. I descended the proper Devils Kitchen path, extremely happy that I had my Microspikes on. I don't know how I descended things like this before I had them. At the bottom of the actual Devils Kitchen I looked up to the tree I am fond of that clings to its cliffs, it looked beautiful powdered in snow and backed by monochrome cliffs. After the tricky section under the foot of the Devils Kitchen I removed my Microspikes and put my ice axe away. The view of Llyn Idwal with Pen yr Ole Wen behind from here is one of my favourites. I rounded Cwm Idwal with a chirpy and friendly three legged dog for company and made my way back to the car. I don't know how I did it but I did manage to get back to Manchester just two minutes before kick off and United won away at Spurs. Fantastic but tiring day and it took its toll on me as I was asleep on the sofa by nine that night.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...