Expeditions, Navigation, Guided Walks and Trekking
I wanted a crack at the winter round of Snowdon horseshoe after enjoying my old slides from 1975 in great conditions. More on that story in other blogs, but Mike and I decided to grab a day out before Christmas and my next hospital visit. A careful watch of the weather forecast confirmed that, for once, Snowdonia had a break in the rain this Saturday. So we dashed out on Friday evening, driving through the rain and snow, grabbing a great Balti in Llanrwst on the way to Pen y Pass hostel.
Saturday dawned with clear blue sky and we tried for a pre-dawn start, but failed, the breakfast was too good. As we set off up the Pyg track the main car park was filling up with Army lorries packed with soldiers. We managed to overtake the first squad until Mike remembered he had forgotten his head torch! So by the time we reached the split in the tracks and the start of the Crib Goch route, there were around 25 commandos blocking our way. They were extremely polite, letting us through and we soon hit the snow line as the sun broke over Y Lliwedd. As the ground got steeper the squad in front of us slowed down, feeling the weight of their 60lb packs no doubt. That’s a lot of gear even for a squaddy. One of them explained they were equipped to spend a couple of nights out there, with plenty of food. If they didn’t get a move on, we would probably have had to join them!
A steep corner, not far below the ridge, stopped the group entirely. We carefully worked our way around them on narrow ledges but had to stop when we found the Marines mountain leader struggling with a steep ice covered corner. It was time to put our crampons on. “Take five and crampons to hand” shouted down the leader. The Marine sitting next to us got his crampons out and looked at them in wonder, working out slowly how to put them on. Solid steel and painted black they looked solid next to our modern Grivels. He admitted it would be the first time they used them, not having been out in these conditions before. Now we were geared up we followed another couple of (non military) guys up an easier ramp to our right and soon hit the start of the ridge proper.
Another solo climber raced past us, no winter gear at all, he treated the ridge as though it was slack-lining practice, his outstretched arms keeping his balance as he ran across the sharp edge in just his bendy boots.
We met more army instructors at the start of the exposure, where they had fixed rope to the ridge. “Just to show them how to use a handrail”, they explained as they took another sip from their tea flask. Clearly it was going to be busy along there later on. Looking back down we could see at least a couple more squads joining the road block below us.
We had very little wind, unlike the day before when Snowdonia was battered with 50mph gales. So we also strode along the top of the ridge, balancing above the steep drops on either side. Just a few thought provoking steps to negotiate and the pinnacles as always the crux of the route, with a bit of a thrutch on the final pull up to Crib y Ddysgl.
By now were were running behind schedule to complete the full horseshoe in daylight, slowed down by the Marines and suffering from a lack of winter fitness. So we decided to just visit the summit and retreat down the PyG track.
As we joined the hoards going up the tourist track it was difficult not to feel out of place along side the day trippers with their bendy boots, pac a macs and bare heads. There were lots of Japanese there, most in trainers and nice rain coats, with Olympus cameras slung around their necks. We decided to leave the crampons on, better safe then slipping around the place.
We had the summit to ourselves for a minute before we were joined by more Japanese, who we helped by taking their photo’s. I dropped down to shelter behind the cafe, while Mike took a call from his son, who was demanding he get home to bring his PlayStation. While there, another couple made their way up to the summit and the lad got down on one knee and proposed to his girl friend. How romantic! She accepted as well.
In the line of sheltered walkers enjoying their lunch was a lad wearing just a T-Shirt, tracksuit bottoms and very bendy boots. As I approached he was defending himself to a couple of well clad walkers. “I have a jacket in my bag if I need it”, he said as he flexed his well honed and tattooed arms. He walked off into the mist heading down the way he came up. I met him later, sitting half way down the PyG track. Looking pretty sorry for himself, he was huddled in his cotton hoody, cold and fed up. I said it was good he had put his jacket on; “You must be getting cold now”. “Yeah”, he replied, “I took the wrong path from the top and ended well down the track alongside the railway, so have had to come back another mile to get here”. Glad he made it, another rescue narrowly avoided.
Our walk down the PyG track was easy, leaving the crampons on was the safe thing to do in the conditions. It was difficult at times avoiding being knocked over by the poorly clad tourists sliding past us. Up on the ridge above us it looked like a long line of Commandos we still edging along the fixed rope. It looked they would have to complete in the dark!
Back at the hostel and car park as dusk came but we had time to enjoy a lovely hot chocolate from the cafe before the long drive home. Surely one of the best placed cafes in the country.