Today I’d planned to head up Snowdon via the Watkin Path, but a pretty bad night’s sleep yesterday put paid to that, as yet again I am suffering with a cold and nagging cough at night. So, instead I decided to still get up a mountain, but an ‘easier’ one in my own valley, literally a five minute drive away. I looked out the bedroom window up the valley and the cloud appeared to be lifting; time to go!
I grabbed my gear, (consisting of my hill-sack packed for winter use; so extra warm gear, crampons and ice axe, weighing around 12 kilograms), my car keys and threw the dog a chew and locked the back door. Wouldn’t forget the camera as already attached to my hill sack. I ran up the steps to the car and looked to the right. Crap. I can’t see the head of the valley any more, rain had swept in within five minutes! Not one for being a fair-weather hill walker, I dumped the stuff in the boot and drove off up Nant Ffrancon, parked the car in the rain and waited for ten minutes, just in case I changed my mind. Nope. Still wanted to get out, despite the rain; I’ve got all the gear to keep me dry and warm, so may as well.
My route for today was to ascend Y Garn (947 metres/3,107 feet) via the north east ridge, descend to Llyn y Cwn (Lake of the Dogs) and down Devil’s Kitchen, skirting around Llyn Idwal back to the car park; a fairly straight forward circuit, but not ‘easy’ by any stretch of the imagination! I booted up, made sure I had everything and left the car park and the throng of people and fellow hill walkers that were out; was pretty busy here today. Thankfully, my route appeared devoid of people.
I made my way up ‘Tin Can Alley’, a narrow but deep notch that runs from the main path up onto open ground and cuts off a lot of paved footpath, as if you wanted ‘drier’ feet, you would not come this way; it’s often boggy and eroded and with melting snow, it was pretty bad today. The rain had almost stopped by now, but in the immortal words of Peter Kay (an hilarious British comedian), there was plenty of ‘fine rain that gets you wet’. Every now and again I turned around, just in case a photo opportunity arose. Unfortunately, Y Garn was still suffocating under thick, grey cloud. I was optimistic for it to clear up…
Eventually, I came to the gate that takes me onto the first steep section (read: hard slog), that wends its way up the north east ridge. There’s only one thing for this, and that’s to just take it slow. I was already over-heating and I only had on a thin base t-shirt and my Paramo Aspira; I was really wishing for some cold or wind, but as we had southerlies today, I was well sheltered from them for the moment. It’s just far too mild for me at the moment and whilst I can turn into a block of ice whilst sitting in the house typing away wearing a number of thick layers and a down jacket (hey! we do have heating you know, I must have bad circulation when typing), when I’m outside doing hard, physical stuff (traipsing up mountains, for example) I like it to be cold!
I carried on up the steep steps and passed a couple of people descending, one of whom slipped and fell on his arse just as he was telling his partner to ‘be careful here’; thankfully, he was able to laugh at himself and just pride dented. As I slogged up I again wondered why I do these crazy things when I could be sat on my backside. Allow me to show you below. This time, I want to post one half of the gallery of images as I climbed up, and then I will post a second gallery further down the page. This way, I hope that you will remain engaged reading the post instead of just looking at the images and buggering off, although there’s still nothing stopping you doing that of course! I’d like to think that what I write is interesting, occasionally funny and with a smattering on fact here and there. Ahem. I digress. Where was I? Ah, the first gallery. Here’s the first lot of reasons why I do these crazy things (don’t forget to click on the first image to open the gallery):
I continued up the steep ridge, as I approached cloud base. It was a case of 300 metres before I hit more consistent snow, requiring I strap on my crampons and ready my ice axe. I’d almost caught somebody up as I watched him don his spikes and disappear up into the cloud. So I let him get further ahead by taking a few more pictures, whilst I still could. I arrived at the firmer snow and decided it would be wise now to stop and get my crampons on. Basically, these fit on to the bottom of your boots and they are secured by a strap and provide you infinitely more security underfoot on steep, hard snow and/or ice. But you have to adapt your walking style to avoid ripping your walking trousers! I like the feel of it. Axe in snow (carried in your uphill hand – closest to the slope), one step, second step, and repeat. If the snow is still not hard-pack, then you kick steps for extra security. The snow on Y Garn today was not ideal, and it made me feel a little on-edge, due to the thaws that we are having. I had to be very careful how and where I placed my feet, as it was deep and swallowed most of my 60 centimetre walking axe. I carried on further up and made my way onto even steeper ground; paths are non-existent in these conditions folks, good judgement is required! At one point, I placed my right foot and just as I was about to lift my left, the snow gave way and I slid down around 4 metres, thankfully ‘arresting’ my fall with my axe. Naturally, this shook me up a little as it would have been a long drop down into the cwm below. I re-appraised my position and decided to break a new trail to get me further up to the ridge proper. But there was so much slab (snow build up) here, I didn’t have much choice but to continue as carefully as I could, hoping that none of it would avalanche, as I was almost on that sweet spot of 45 degrees, where snow has a habit of ‘letting go’ of what it is tenuously attached to.
Anyway, if you click on the link below, you can see for yourself the kind of conditions I experienced today. A mountain that’s quite straight forward to ascend without snow, is a whole different ball game with it. Technically, I shouldn’t have even been filming, as I had a little slip whilst doing so (hopefully, you should be able to view this no problem; I recommend you click settings in the lower right and set the video to ‘HD)’:
Well as you’ve read some more, I’ll post the second gallery for you to peruse and then I’ll continue writing:
After I’d had my lunch next to the lake, I set off towards the cliff tops of the Devil’s Kitchen with the intention of grabbing a panorama and a self-portrait, which you’ll have seen above. As the wind was not particularly strong here, despite being at 700 metres, I felt safe to set up the tripod and camera to get the above image. I’m really pleased with how it came out. My photos of me in the mountains are immensely important. I can look at them and feel really glad and happy that I have my health and physical fitness, despite suffering with my chronic depression. I can also picture myself and feel myself being there again, just by looking at the image and revel in the fond memories they give me.
Anyway, I had to be careful here, as I was pretty much at the point where a poor soul had fallen to his death a couple of months ago; it’s a long way down. I was involved in the grizzly recovery of his mangled body with mountain rescue and I can tell you, I am thankful that this does not happen very often. I can only hope that his family could take solace from the fact that he was recovered as gracefully and respectfully as possible.
I got the images I wanted and made my way down the main gully that leads to the top of the descent path. It was as tricky as it always is in snow at this point, as usually there is a dry stone wall that guides you to the left away from danger, but in snow, it tends to disappear and those not in the know could all too easily wander over it in low visibility. I made my way carefully down, still using my axe for help and security. I could hear now the water thundering down the middle of the Kitchen, right out of Twll Du (it’s Welsh name; literally, ‘Black Hole’). And it is. Wet, slimy, dark; not really a place for the living. But also, immensely beautiful in its own right. So today, I decided to get a little wet and climb down into the stream/torrent to take some pictures. This was quite a risky thing to do, but I am aware of my limitations and if my gut says ‘don’t be stupid’ I’ll go with it. But not today. I wanted a shot up into the Black Hole as I’d never done this. It was very slippery underfoot as I made my way across and down to a vantage point that I had spied out that I could fit myself and the tripod on reasonably safely. I wanted a shot with a 1 second exposure to give the impression of movement in the water, a shot at a fast shutter speed to ‘freeze’ the movement and a self-portrait next to the water. It was a real pain trying to keep my filters dry, as the environment here is surprisingly humid and everything was steaming up. I also needed to consider water spatter onto the lens, but most of all my safety when taking the pictures. My wife wouldn’t have allowed it for certain. I set the camera on a timer so I didn’t have to stand in a dangerous spot whilst the camera did its work; all I had to do was compose the shot. I’d even attracted one or two spectators coming up the path a couple of hundred metres further down; it probably looked quite precarious from where they were standing to be fair. After about 20 minutes, I’d got the shots I wanted and clambered out of the wet hole back to the descent path.
As I reached the shores of Llyn Idwal, I became increasingly more disappointed. Two reasons. I was coming off the mountain and the weather had improved with cloud base hovering well above the tops now, with much better visibility. But actually, having looked over all my images today, I’m satisfied with what I came away with and very satisfied that I’d had another fantastic day in the mountains, where I feel completely at home. Some shots are not as high a quality as far as detail is concerned, as I forgot to shoot in RAW mode for a time so a lot are JPEGs; unfortunately, JPEGs are heavily compressed in camera and a lot of detail is removed to decrease the file size, whereas RAW does not do this, the flip side being larger file sizes.
Anyway, the time is 01:48 AM so I should wrap up this post. But I’ve really enjoyed writing it and I hope you have too; it means a lot that you take the time to read my blog and enjoy looking at my images as I am so passionate about them. I leave you then with the final images from the day, looking back up to where I’d climbed and across into the beautiful amphitheatre that is Cwm Idwal. If you don’t live here, I urge you to visit our stunning little slice of the UK. Good night folks.