Winter Three Peaks – Snowdon

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I’ve climbed Mt Snowdon a few times before today, all of them have been good ascents. I did a winter ascent in 2013 via the Llanberis path. This time, as part of the National Three Peaks, I decided with my dad to climb it via the Pyg Track, a shorter route, but harder and steeper. 

We traveled to the start of the route, arriving there at 830am on a cold, miserable winters day. It wasn’t raining yet, but the forecast was rain for the morning leading onto snow and sleet later in the day higher up.

At the Pen Y Pass car park, I paid for the car parking then put on all of my warm kit and waterproofs, loaded my bag with drinks, food and spare warm clothes, then set off.

The start was easy going, following the track through the puddles as it meandered up the mountain towards the junction with Crib Goch, which I’d climbed in the summer last year. The rain started after about thirty minutes and was coming onto my face, it was cold and then running down into my clothes. It wasn’t pleasant. I zipped up my coat tighter to keep out the wind and wet.

I stopped briefly for a drink and to eat some of the mini cream eggs that I had in my pocket for energy. Once at the junction with Crib Goch, I scrambled over the style and the wind smashed into me, almost taking me off my feet. I had to lean into it and push hard to keep walking.

The track from here was a mixture of rocks and mud and seemed to meander on forever. The lakes far below me on the miners track looked cold today, and the walkers on the path next to them looked tiny.

Our path continued over, around and across boulder fields and slabs of rock. All of it wet and slippery. In places there were patches of snow and ice and as I looked up, the summits were in a shroud of cloud, but I could see the snow was plentiful up there.

After what felt like an age, the miners path met my path and I stopped at the junction for a rest. I had a flask of hot chocolate with me so I had some of that and a mars bar. After a short while I continued the uphill plod. The path had been getting more and more slushy up to here, but had now turned to real snow. After about twenty minutes of walking past the junction, the path started the long, ascent through zig zagz up the final part of the mountain to the summit ridge.

The first big thing to note on this final section was a stone wall, which has been man made, and I think it is probably a resting point for walkers heading up here in the summer. I slipped and slid up to this point, as well as a lot of other people who were struggling on this section of the path. I was surprised how many people were on the mountain.

I got to the wall and found it was covered in snow and so I perched on it and fitted my crampons onto my boots. Once these were on, the going was so much easier. The crampons are simply metal spikes that fit to my boots to give me grip on the snow and ice. I had been using my walking poles up until here, but now I switched to my ice axe.

Keeping the axe in my uphill hand I continued, slowly placing one foot in front of the other, and exaggerating each step to avoid catching the crampons in my waterproof trousers.

I walked on up the icy path, overtaking many people who were floundering in the snow without crampons and ice axes. Its crazy that people were heading up Wales’ highest peak without the right equipment. One slip in some places could result in huge falls causing some serious injuries and damage.

The last one hundred and fifty metre plod before the summit ridge was tough. The path narrowed to about a foot wide and was compacted snow. As such, I had to tread carefully. All the while allowing for others who were coming off the mountain to skirt around me. The visibility had also dropped so I couldn’t see so well.

The top of the final slope onto the summit ridge turned from a plod to a steep gully through a broken cornice. The path was clear but steep. I found it no problem with my crampons, but others were struggling on it.

Once on the summit ridge, the going was easier and I headed up towards the summit. As usual, there were a lot of people here and it was a busy place. I made my way up to the trig point which marked the summit, and jostled my way through the people to get there. I then raised my arms, tired but relieved. I had some photos taken and then headed to the cafe, which sadly was closed due it being winter. I huddled up behind the building and had some food and a drink.

I had a little play around in the snow here. For fun, I buried dads mars bar in the snow. I then searched for ti with my ice axe and found it. Dad then ate it. One man had dug into a snow bank and made a small snow hole just big enough to sit in and get out of the wind, so I sat in that for a bit. Then I was getting a bit cold so I set off back down the mountain. The visibility was really poor and I could not see more than about ten metres. Then it started snowing and that made things even worse. I headed back down the summit ridge.

Lots of people were slipping and sliding on the summit ridge as they didn’t have crampons or ice axes. I passed them on the steep ice as they struggled. To offer to help them would have taken far too long as there were so many of them. With the crampons on, it was easy and I made good time back to the top of the Pyg track.

At the top of the Pyg track, we descended through the gully and back onto the snow slope. It was nice steep ice walking. I descended fast down through the snow and ice, getting down quite quickly. There was one group I saw that had about eight people in it. None of them had an ice axe or crampons. They had a rope so had tied themselves together to aide them. However as I watched, members were falling over and pulling the people they were tied to with them. I guess it did stop them slipping a long way, but looked so mad.

I walked past them on the ice to get below them quickly so that they wouldn’t fall on me. Below them, I took off my crampons and then I glissaded off the mountain about forty metres. This was basically sitting on my bum and letting my waterproofs act as a sledge, and sliding downwards. It sounds dangerous, but using my ice axe as a brake it was a safe, fun and fast way to descend the mountain. In no time I was back at the junction with the miners track path.

I had a break here and then carried on. The path going down felt like it went on forever. I plodded on and on. The views were amazing, I loved seeing the line of cloud in the sky which defined the greyness and below that was beautiful and clear, almost like two worlds sitting one on top of the other. Snowdon was all but lost in the gloop above me, but the lakes were glinting below me.

Eventually I got within sight of the style below Crib Goch, and decided to run. That was a bad idea and I fell flat on my face. I hurt my hands and knees and had a little cry. However, I knew I had to get up and carry on, so I summoned my will power, had a little cwtch with my dad, and then carried on down the mountain.

After the style, I descended steeply back down towards the car park at Pen Y Pass. My legs were hurting now from all the stepping down over the boulders and I was aching lots.

After what felt like an age, I rounded a corner to see the carpark. What a relief that was. I was knackered. I walked up to the van, dropped my stuff on the floor and sat on top of my bag. “Thank goodness that is over.” I said. I popped into the building for a moment to use their facilities and when I came out, it was pouring with rain. I was so pleased I hadn’t had to walk in that.

I got changed out of my wet kit in the back of the van and then had a drink and some food before we set off to our hotel for the night.

As we drove out of the carpark, the last light faded. I had been on the mountain for 7 hours, which isn’t bad for a winter ascent by a kid.

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