IT’LL BE ALL-WHITE


Hello readers

I’ve been trying my best lately to ensure that all of my runs are done off-road, due to the problems I’ve been having with my right shin and lower back. This helps to minimise the amount of pounding my body takes. Well, I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate, as to be honest, I still get a pounding off-road, especially on the fells. Probably more accurate to say that I am ‘beaten up’.

We’ve got a lot of snow on the mountains at the moment, and I’m always itching to get up there but have often felt limited due to my off-road shoes not being particularly aggressive in the tread stakes: La Sportiva Bushido
la-sportiva-bushido-trail-running-shoes-for-men-in-black-yellowp105fk_01460-2Sure they’re pretty, but in mud or slushy snow, about as much use as a chocolate fire-guard. On fresh snow or that lovely crunchy stuff, they’re pretty good. Without micro-spikes, I’m also limited, as I would not run in conditions where snow has consolidated to a point where the surface is frozen without them. Unfortunately, I don’t own a pair at the moment and my crampons would be a little unwieldy on running footwear 😀
Yesterday though, as the snow has not been around long enough to be icy at certain heights and the wind has been low (preventing freezing) I took a chance. I did however, bring my axe, as this would be essential for helping me up the steep ascents and also, more importantly, to arrest a fall on any slopes.

And it paid off.

I ran/walked/slogged around a route known as the ‘Elidir Round’. It’s mostly a circular route and includes the following mountains:

  • Elidir Fach  –  795 metres / 2608ft
  • Elidir Fawr  –  923 metres / 3028ft
  • Mynydd Perfedd  –  812 metres / 2664ft
  • Carnedd y Filiast  –  821 metres / 2693ft
  • Y Fronllwyd  –  721 metres / 2365ft

Weather conditions were good, with very light winds and no snow forecast. So I set off from the car park warming myself up along the first, short section of track, which was around 500 metres, before turning off to head up through the quarry. And yes, up. 2.5 kilometres of it. Firstly up the winding quarry access road at a steady gradient probably rising to no more than 20% in places, before heading up an incline to start the first grassy and rocky sections leading up onto Elidir Fach. This is always super-hard without snow but with it, absolutely soul destroying. Here’s a couple of pics from the aforementioned area:

The gradient up here is just relentless and the snow was pretty deep requiring lots of knee lifting to clear it; thankfully, it wasn’t the crusted type of snow that you step on with soft snow underneath. I would suffer with this later though.

I was already suffering and wondering again, why the hell I put myself through this at times awful, uncomfortable and painful sport.
In snow it’s often very important to understand where the ‘easiest’ places to stand are. If you see tufts of grass poking through, here you’ll find better purchase and often shallower snow, whereas flat, smoother areas you should try to avoid as they are deeper and usually crusted, hiding rocks and other nasties.

Eventually, the unrelenting gradient, er, relented but also by this point, clouds had arrived from the NW which meant only one thing: white-out. This is basically where you cannot ascertain ground from cloud or sky and is extremely disorientating, as a lot of detail in your surroundings disappear, not just because of low visibility, but also because your eyes have no contrast to fix on, so everything is just white and you start to become ‘blind’. I personally combat this by looking down at my feet or legs occasionally, giving my eyes different colours to focus on. It can be a very dangerous environment to be in, especially if you do not know the area well and triangulating your position on the map is almost impossible as you have no reference points. To give you an idea what this looks like:

There’s a little detail in this pic with the grass poking through, but as I would be re-ascending this mountain from the NE later, I would be forced to navigate properly.

I knew that on the right hand side of me there is a fence line that I would use to ‘hand rail’ up to the tiny summit cairn of Elidir Fach, but I have a good sense of direction, so knew I was heading the right way. I kept the fence within about 50 metres of me if visibility allowed it. My senses paid off, as eventually, right in front of me, was the cairn. Perfect!

I didn’t take a compass bearing from here, as again, despite the low-visibility, I knew roughly the direction I needed to go to start my ascent of Elidir Fawr, and could just make out the fence corner that I use as a reference. There’s a loose fence post here that is sometimes pointed in the direction of the path!

So I started another steep climb, checking my aspect of slope as I went upwards, to ensure I wasn’t just contouring around the mountain, but crossing the contours, as in snow the path is nowhere to be found. I shot a video just to give you an idea of what I was up to and what I get from it. I filmed it portrait as it was easier this way (sorry about the wind noise on the ridge, but not much I can do with that):

I stayed roughly on the line of the track, but is was such hard work:

I was a little concerned that the summit ridge, due to wind exposure would be frozen but thankfully it wasn’t. This ridge is just a shattered jumble of rocks and boulders all the way along and is pretty dangerous in the snow, as you cannot make out ankle-breaking holes so have to choose routes that try and stick to the tops of half-visible rocks, using the axe for balance. This was the highest point of my run and is an included mountain in the Welsh 3,000er’s challenge. I didn’t hang around and carefully made my way off the top down to the bwlch:

At the bwlch I head steeply up along a fence line towards Mynydd Perfedd, where the work was to become frustratingly difficult. The snow was very deep here, usually up to my knees and running was impossible; my feet would just constantly crunch through crust and into the more powdery snow underneath, absolutely draining me of energy, so I had to stop a few times for a breather:

I arrived at the stile, took a couple of pics and filmed another Instagram video (click on final image for video):

From here to Carnedd y Filiast, it is a wide plateau and again, can cause navigation problems. I could have taken a compass bearing, but again, I knew the direction although I did go off course a little further to the north east, as I ended up above Cwm Graianog. I used this to my advantage and followed the cwm edge to handrail around to the dry stone wall running east to west on Carnedd y Filiast. This proves that even experienced walkers and fell runners can be thrown off course in low visibility, as I’ve walked and ran this plateau many times!

I crossed the stile and jumped into the usual drifted snow on the other side, and headed off to the rocky top of Carnedd y Filiast, which translates to ‘Cairn of the Greyhound Bitch’; I know, lovely. This top I find even worse to cross, as the holes between rocks on here can be leg-deep and constantly voiced to myself out loud, “ankles, ankles, ankles” just to keep my brain aware of the danger; it would be very embarrassing to be rescued off a mountain by the Mountain Rescue Team I used to be part of, Ogwen. I took a shot looking SW and NE over my  village:

I negotiated my way very carefully around this mountain, losing my leg in a hole at one point and bashing the inside of my ankle quite hard. A momentary shock, swear and stop, and then extricated myself and carried on around without further incident.

There is a another top that I wanted to include, often called ‘Carnedd y Filiast North Top’ which I never call it as it has a name in its own right, Y Fronllwyd. This is a little further across, and after losing half my leg in another hole, I did an about turn and descended down to the Marchlyn Mawr reservoir access road, at around 580 metres. This gave me some respite from rocks for a while, and I passed a lot cheery people who had taken the long slog up from Deiniolen with their sledges for some fun. I continued down the road and steeled myself for yet another ascent of Elidir Fach. I could have avoided this, if I wanted to, as there is another road that contours around this mountain to the surge pool at 650 metres, from where I could rejoin my original ascent route to descend. But, I’m not the sort of person to take the easy option where physical activity is concerned and turned off the road to join the north end of Marchlyn Bach reservoir, at 480 metres. From here it is hard. Very hard. My legs felt okay, but I had to dig very deep, physically and mentally to prevent myself from turning around and heading back to the road; I have always pushed myself physically and will rarely give up on anything, no matter how much it hurts me. It’s just a case of, head down, turn on stubborn mode, and get on with it. The sense of achievement, satisfaction and yes, smugness afterwards is worth it. Not to mention how much stronger I am making myself.

On reaching the plateau again, I did decide to take out the compass and use it, as visibility just dropped (again, click on the second image as it’s a video):

I knew I had to head roughly SW, on a bearing of around 215 – 220 degrees, to get me to the cairn again. So I kept the compass in my hand (opposite side to my watch, as this can throw the needle) and occasionally checked to ensure I was still heading the right way. The bubble in the compass by the way, can indicate a change in air pressure and thus, weather conditions.
Having reached the cairn successfully, I congratulated myself on a job well done today, and headed down the steep descent off the mountain. I headed a little too far south this time and ended up on some awful terrain with lots of drifts and boulders to negotiate. Eventually, I was glad to pop out of the cloud at the top of the quarry inclines:

I ran back through the quarry, passing a couple of ladies with their dog who’d just ran up the very steep and straight concrete incline to arrive back at my car and a waiting flask of coffee.

This was one of the toughest runs I’ve done in a long time, but I really enjoyed it. Here’s the stats for you:

Distance:    15.6 km / 9.7 miles
Ascent:        1,044 metres / 3,425 feet (weirdly, exactly the height of Carnedd Dafydd)
Time:            2 hours 41 minutes

Strava link: https://www.strava.com/activities/510123933

Having a rest today, but I will be walking up Y Garn with my wife later, in the dark as clear skies forecast 🙂

Crampons will be going 😉

Thanks for reading

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6 thoughts on “IT’LL BE ALL-WHITE

  1. Excellent, well done with foul conditions underfoot. Have known compasses pulled off course with the tops of ski poles (maybe the metal screw was magnetic?) as well. Also occasionally a compass that reverse its polarity – that’s a bad yin!

    1. Cheers Fossil. The compass is fine, as the bubble disappeared as expected when I descended. If I’d had reverse polarity I definitely would have noticed; I’ve never had it happen to me but would be interesting to see it 😀

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