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A Winter Hike up Snowdon; The Highest Peak in Wales

A small silver lining in the clouds of boring admin when moving house is the discovery of long forgotten possessions.

As I prepare to move house for the first time in four years, a much needed clear out of some drawers prompted the re-emergence of a long since discarded external USB storage memory drive. On it contained some archived pictures of old routes, activities and hiking adventures from way back in 2009.

Taken in January of that year, here are some of the photos of a winter camping weekend in Snowdonia with my friend Greg, and our winter walk up Snowdon – the highest peak in Wales. This now leaves me very excited for our week long wild camping trip to the north of Scotland we’ll be doing in just under three weeks time.

Arriving after driving up from Bristol, we quickly discovered we were the only residents of the Llyn Gwynant campsite. We pitched the tent – Greg’s small, cosy two man tent, one that ensures you must be close friends to share it – on the flat grass near the lakeshore. The campsite and facilities were nominally closed for the winter, so we left some change in deposit box before cooking some pasta and getting an early night in order to make the most of a clear morning the following day. I haven’t been winter camping since, but my abiding memory as the temperature dropped below zero, was that I was glad to be sharing a tent.

The planned route was to start from the Pen-y-Pass car park, ascended the mountain on the Pyg track, before turning around the horseshoe of the summit and down to the smaller peak of Y Llwedd and back to Pen-y-Pass. The forecast was good, and the tops of the mountain had only a few centimetres of snow, meaning we could summit without the need to have an ice axe or crampons.

Having popped into Plas y Brenin to enquire about hiring a set of crampons (living as a student in Bristol at the time, I had little need nor money to own a pair) for the day, I discovered my aging walking boots were not actually compatible with crampons, but were assured that the conditions would be ok without them, provided we stuck to the well used routes up the mountain.

We left the car and starting to gain height on the Pgy Track, and up towards the snowline. The air and the views were both clear, giving a great panorama back towards the valley below as we climbed over a fence and over the slopes of Bwlch y Moch. Wistfully (and wisely) we tried our best to ignore the inner desires to bear right the junction where the path forks towards the impressive ridge scramble of Crib Goch.

We contoured round the lower slopes, rising up past the small lakes of Llyn Llydaw and later Glaslyn to join the Miner’s Track as it joins the Pgy Track. The paths amalgamate and sharply gain height through a series of zigzags to the summit ridge.

Here, without warning, the weather turned. A stark reminder, despite the good weather forecast, of the quickly shifting conditions of mountains. Visibility dropped as greyness of dirty snow clouds and wind descended around us. We joined the summit ridge using the deep steps cut into the snowy path by climbers who had come up a few hours ahead of us earlier in the day. We relied on our compass, OS map and common sense to pick up the ugly grey, ice-battered concrete of the closed cafe, summit sign and the terminus of the mountain railway that climbs up from the town of Llanberis – dreaming the cafe was open for a hot chocolate.

As we left the summit to the southeast, we crossed a barren patch of bare snow; a compacted stretch of white; icey and frozen. For the first time in the day, I was hesitant to continue. We didn’t have the correct gear for this terrain. A shallow layer of snow on a busy and well used path I could cope with, but a potentially slippery diagonal area of icey snow above a set of cliffs just wasn’t worth the risk without crampons and an ice axe. I didn’t have that experience anyway.

According to the OS map, the horseshoe path we wanted left the summit almost immediately, and it showed a small path picking a jagged route through dense band of contours. We couldn’t see it. A quick check of the compass bearing showed we were actually incorrectly heading southwest, and down the slopes of Bwlch Main, a full ninety degree worth of mistake. Despite both being competent map readers and hikers, this just showed how quickly and easily it is to get disorientated in adverse weather. The key is being able to use these skills to firstly work out something isn’t quite right, and what you can do to safely fix it.

The choice was simple. The horseshoe route could wait for another day. Without much chat between us, we quickly turned to head back over the summit, and back down the safer zigzags and back to the car via the Miner’s Track.

Dropping just fifty metres, the cloud cleared to reveal a winter wonderland. As we descended down the Miner’s Track, the sun came out to give us the most photogenic scenes of the climb, and made our change of plans – although forced – absolutely worth it.

We crossed the causeway over Llyn Lydaw, and back to the car.

I haven’t yet been back to Snowdon in six years since. I’m well overdue another visit.

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I’m James, I live in London, and from September I’ll be working for Visit England, where my passion for walking/hiking and travel remains stronger than ever. Before this I worked for Ramblers, Britain’s walking charity.After growing up in Surrey, I lived in Bristol and Edinburgh. I consider the Highlands of Scotland my home away from home, and I can often be found on the shores of Loch Sunart in Strontian, near Fort William.I’m also a home brewer and beer enthusiast. I like good beer in keg, cask, bottle or can. When I’m not away, I can often be found exploring breweries, pubs and restaurants in London and further afar.Thanks for taking the time to read my pages. If you wish to contact me, you can find me @mrjamesdwebb or @onepaceforward on Twitter or by email onepaceforward [at] gmail [dot] comPlease like my page on Facebook and share any posts you enjoy with your friends. If you have any questions, or advice to give me, please get in touch!Cheers!

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