Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Hags Tooth--Beenkeragh to The Bone

The ridge to Beenkeragh from the Hags Tooth
Yesterday I went with Denis O'Brien for a climb on The Reeks. The weather has been utter rubbish this winter with storm after storm bringing wind and rain with only the occasional short cold snap bringing any snow which quickly disappears in the face of the next sweep of mild weather. So it is proving to be again this week but the forecast for yesterday wasn't too bad and with chilly temperatures in the offing as well we took the chance to gulp in some mountain air.
Approaching the Hags Tooth

Denis "Hot Hands" O'Brien

Denis is heading to Scotland next weekend for a winter mountaineering course so he was anxious to get a top up to his fitness and I have been carrying a knee injury since before Christmas which has prevented me running so I was looking to get a good days hiking in as well. We left Cronins Yard and set off in the chill breeze and we were pleased to see the dusting of snow down to around the 350 meter mark. Not what you would call winter conditions but this year we would accept it gratefully. We decided to head up the back of the Hags Tooth (or Stumpa an sTiamh in Irish) and follow the entertaining ridge to Beenkeragh summit and take things from there. Amazingly I have only been up behind the tooth once before and it was nice to see a slightly different perspective as we followed the stream up. We crossed the stream and climbed steep ground and reached the tiny little summit of the tooth. The wind wasn't too bad and we were able to stand in safety and enjoy our surroundings. On the remainder of the ridge we climbed or turned (whichever felt right in the snowy conditions) the various pinnacles up towards Beenkeragh. Denis took the opportunity to get in some "dry tooling" practice with the ice axes prior to Scotland. As we rose we were sometimes assaulted by hailstones and at times soft snow drifted around us. It made for a lovely ascent.
Nice and airy to the summit

In better weather the direct route on the ridge gives a great scramble


Getting in some practice

Some steep scrambling

Looking back towards the East Reeks

From the top of Beenkerach we crossed the ridge to Carrauntoohil where we enjoyed our lunch. Once again we marveled at the ability of the wind to "find you" once you have settled down to eat. Our calm oasis was suddenly blasted by wind and snow and it made for a chilly change of clothes for Denis. We were in good spirits and we decided to continue along the range as far as The Bone. The pull up to Cnoc na Toinne is always a bit of a pain but once on the flat ridge it makes for a joyous passage. Here we were blasted by spindrift  but the views more than made up for that. Down again and the long pull to the top of Cnoc na Cuillin was dispatched and most of the climbing for the day was now behind us. We could see another squall heading our was along the Brida Valley and it wasn't long in reaching us. We headed along the ridge to our final top Maolan Bui or The Bone and descended easily back to our car. It had been a fine outing and gave another little taste of winter. Hopefully we will get a decent spell of cold weather soon.
Looking out the Hags Glen

West towards the Brida Valley

Friday, 22 January 2016


Saturday January 16th;

As I was looking to get a taste of winter climbing in a place I have often visited I decided to do my usual thing of train and overnight ferry and arrived in Bangor before 7am Saturday morning in good time to catch the no 85 bus to Llanberis where I was to meet Tom Hutton and we were to have a day on the hills. It was a lovely frosty morning and it promised to be a good day. Alas no bus arrived and after letting Tom know he saved the day by driving in to town and collecting me. He then took me to his delightful centuries old stone cottage in the shadow of Moel Eilio where I feasted on a fine breakfast and met the delightful Steph and of course the mistress oh the house Du. We were still in good time when we drove to Rhyd Ddu where we parked and set off up a gentle bridleway towards Bwlch Cwn Llan where we planned to climb the south ridge of Snowdon.

Tom had a terrible fall off his mountain bike last year and among other things broke several vertebrae in his neck and spent months in a head and neck brace. But being the determined individual he is he set about re acquainting himself with both the bike and the outdoors as soon as it was possible and now his recovery is nearing completion. Not to be outdone Steph took a hard fall from her road bike a couple of weeks ago at high speed (over 50kph) and has a suspected fractured thumb and multiple sore places but her biggest regret is the damage done to her bike. These people are hard core!. Anyway we rose up into the mist (the frosty morning had given way to milder overcast conditions) and good conversation meant the time just flew by. Du was in her element and was constantly darting here and there exploring and searching for traces of food. The snow was lying down to about 550-600 meters but it was soft. By the time we reached the col there was a fair bit of snow laying but plenty of steps meant that the going was easier. Unfortunately we were now in the mist so no views were to be had but things were nice and atmospheric and at least it was dry.
Steph, Tom and Du enjoying a proper winters climb.
The summit of Snowdon isn't a place to go for solitude.

From the col the ground steepened and we gained height steadily. The odd scramble bit came and we decided to don crampons. Once we reached around the 800 meter contour a delightful narrow section made for an engaging passage. Now the breeze was turning into a wind and we were definitely in a proper winter outing. We met a few guys who'd taken a wrong turn from the summit (they had intended descending the Watkins Path) so they returned back up the hill. We followed on and soon enough the rimed up summit cafe loomed our of the mist. As is usual the sun summit was a busy collection of all types, from the grizzled older dudes (me) to groups of newbies, some of whom were pitifully ill dressed for the frigid top. We scaled the final meters to the top and after a quick photo we went back and sheltered near the cafe while we had a bite to eat. Everyone was in high spirits and it felt great to be out and about. We returned the same way and as we reached the narrow section the sun tried to break through the mist and afforded us some magical moments. Beyond the narrows we turned and followed a heavily iced up fence over spectacular cliffs ans eventually rejoined out original track and returned easily to the car. A swift pint in a nearby pub and they kindly dropped me to the door of the Pen y Pass hostel where we said our goodbyes. It had been a delightful day with wonderful company and I hope to repeat the experience in the not too distant future. I was pretty pooped after all the travel and the rigours of the day and I was soon a bed after my dinner. A long excellent sleep followed.
Back to the narrow section

Turning a little magical

What direction was the wind coming from?
Craig Cwm Silyn and Y Garn

Sunday January 17th;

The plan for today was a winter traverse of Crib Goch and all going well complete the Snowdon Horseshoe. There was no phone reception or WiFi in the hostel and I had been unable to get in touch with a young guy (Alex Rhodes) I had contacted on UK climbing who was looking for a partner for some low grade winter climbing so I was on my own for today. It is kinda cool to walk out the front door of the hostel and literally walk across the road and be on the start of the route. Alas the mist was right down and there hadn't been any frost so the snow promised to be soft and so it proved to be. Leaving the already busy carpark I set off up the Pyg track to the turnoff for Crib Goch. I made my way (along with plenty others) up to the base of the steeper ground and was thankful for the plentiful steps in the occasional deep drift. Initially things we on mixed rocky ground before a steep shallow gully offered a 40degree snow slope to the slightly easier ground that leads to the ridge crest. One thing I have to mention is seeing a group of hopelessly ill prepared people coming back against me on the mixed section. They were sliding on their bums and generally very unsure of their progress. I was infuriated to hear one guy say to a girl with him that if the worst came to the worst they could call for rescue and it would mean a helicopter ride down. Anyway I soon reached the top and was faced with crossing the wonderfully narrow and exposed ridge. It was a pity that the mist was so thick but I guess there was a certain ambiance in these conditions as well and the main thing was that the wind wasn't too strong to make continued progress too difficult.
Starting up towards Crib Goch

Looking down steep (but soft) snow

About as clear as it got

Nice ground approaching Garnedd Ugain

The ridge was well covered with snow and progress was quite easy (once you weren't too bothered by the exposure). The narrow section passed all too quickly and then the pinnacles loomed into view. I had found myself all alone on the ridge which was a pity as the contrast of someone standing in the mist might have made for a nice photo. The pinnacles soon were left behind and I was faced with the long less interesting slog to the summit of Garnedd Ugain. Even though I hadn't expected much, this section provided a lovely varied and interesting passage. Finally the broad top arrived and shortly thereafter the busy "trade route" is reached and then I once again found myself on the summit of Snowdon. Things were again busy so I didn't linger and I set off toward the Watkins Path. Once I reached the standing stone that marks the start of the path I joined several others who were peering into the almost whiteout conditions trying to ascertain where to go. I got out the compass and we set off and soon a set of tracks could be seen traversing the steep slope and we were set fair. Eventually the easier ground that leads towards Y Lewidd was reached and I removed my crampons. In the soft snow progress without them was easier and it was possible to reached the twin tops without them. Very briefly the sun appeared on the summit but alas no views were to be seen until I was well down towards the lakes in the huge coum. From there it was a leisurely stroll back to the hostel and a nice shower. All in all a very enjoyable outing.
A brief glimpse of Y Lewidd summits

Looking down towards Nant Peris from the Pen Y Pass

Monday January 17th;

I had been trying to get in touch with Alex by hitching rides into Llanberis where I had phone reception and to cut a long story short we had sorted a day out for Tuesday. That meant that I had to fend for myself today but fortunately a guy who was staying in the same room as me was heading to the Ogwen valley so I blagged a lift and I decided to climb the north ridge of Tryfan and continue up Bristly Ridge to the summit of Glyder Fach. It was a little brighter (but still cloudy) this morning and definitely not frosty but I was hopeful that up high some decent conditions might be found. As we entered the valley it was clear that the snow had retreated up to around the 600 meter Mark and almost all of the ridge of Tryfan that I could see was black and bare. Still I was in good spirits as I set off up the steep path and once I gained the half way point I was pleasantly surprised to find that things weren't as poor as I had first thought. Indeed by the time I was at about the 750 meter contour the axe and crampons became necessary and some nice climbing was on offer. I was also enveloped in a dense mist and so it seemed I had the whole mountain to myself. Indeed I may have had as I didn't see another soul while on the mountain, a rare thing indeed.
The Ogwen Valley

High up on Tryfan....starting to get good

More good stuff ahead

A wintry summit.

After Tryfan I headed down to the bwlch and followed the wall up to the start of the steep gully that gains access to the ridge. This was proper climbing and was interesting throughout, especially the spicy exit. Still I was comfortable enough with the one axe and enjoying myself immensely. Now the nature of the ascent changes and it becomes a ridge proper and there are some lovely pinnacled sections that offer both variety and fun. If the quality of the outing is measured in the disappointment when the route is over then this is a super quality route indeed. I topped out onto a frozen wind scoured plateau and headed for the summit with its spiky otherworldly rock outcrops. I had been hoping to see this place in winter raiment but the mist put paid to that. From the summit I headed easily towards Glyder Fawr passing the shrouded Castell y Gwynt en route. As I approached the summit I met the only other people I saw all day heading in the opposite direction. When I reached the summit the mist started to clear and I was given a little glimpse of the plateau which felt all the sweeter having been in mist most of the day. I descended easily on snowfields to the lake in the bwlch at the Devils kitchen when I turned and followed the path that led down to Nant Peris. By the time I had reached the lake the mist had returned and negotiating the boggy pools under the snow made for an interesting few minutes. Back down and under the cloud the stunning views into the valley and across to the spectacular ridge that rises to meet Crib Goch made a beautiful end to the day. Good old Mr Thumb ensured I didn't have to wait long for a drive back up to the hostel at the top of the pass.
After the steep section of the starting gully on Bristly Ridge

More firm snow ahead

Bristly for sure

A clearing (sort of) on the summit of Glyder Fawr

Back under the snow and still lovely

Looking towards Llanberis

Tuesday January 18th;

Alex was meeting me at the hostel at 08.15 and it was a delight to emerge to a clear cool (still not frosty) morning. Alex belied his youth (19) and had an easy poise that wouldn't have been out of place in someone older. He had met another young guy Jacob Richmond (25) who actually worked in the hostel so we had a party of three. We had a brief discussion about where to go and we settled on Broad Gully on Pen yr Ole Wen in the Carneddau. This is a 3 star grade 1/2 route that promised to give a stress free day. What a delight it was to be able to properly enjoy the amazing scenery of this stunning place. We parked by the roadside in the Ogwen Valley and set off up the slopes on the opposite side of the valley from the Glyders. The guys set off at a stiff pace and I felt a bit like an old fart but I kept up well enough and they didn't make me feel too out of place. That's being a bit unfair as they couldn't have been nicer and we were having a good proper good time. The snow became quite plentiful when we entered the Cwm floor at Bryn Mawr and it was a bit of a plod to the base of the route. The gully was as described "broad" and actually quite laid back. The snow was sugary and soft but we were hopeful that as we gained height things would firm up.
Stunning morning light hitting the Glydderi

Jacob and Alex looking back at Tryfan

Finally reaching the Cwm

Jacob looking determined

Alex and Jacob getting suited and booted with Broad Gully behind. Its almost 250 meters high.

The gully is quite laid back and I would say it hardly merits touching on a Grade2 route but it is aesthetically very pleasing and has a nice rugged feel about it. Up we went and finally in the final 70 or 80 meters we found some firm snow. We topped out on into the sunshine and marveled at the alpine scenery all around. After the mist shrouding everything for the previous days it was a true delight to bask in windless sunshine and take in the scenery. The views south and across to Tryfan were especially glorious but everywhere was a delight. We wandered along to the summit of Carnedd Dafydd and then onto a nice spot above the spectacular "Black Ladders" where we enjoyed a bite to eat. From there we made our way easily back down to the valley below, watching the skiers and even a parapunter making the most of the day. I said goodbye to Alex and Jacob dropped me at Capel Curig from where I thumbed to Betws y Coed and browsed in its many gear shops. I then reversed my journey home well satisfied with my first trip to Snowdonia in winter conditions. I hope to return and experience more of what this great corner of the world has to offer.

Jacob about to enter the sunshine

Astonishing views towards Tryfan

Across to Carnedd Dafydd

Looking across at Bristly Ridge

Why not smile..a stellar day

The Black Ladders

Looking towards Bangor

A fun way to descend...and he made a perfect landing on his skies as well.

Parting views of Snowdon from Capel Curig