Its not often we get prime winter climbing conditions here in Snowdonia North Wales to don our crampons and winter gear and go play in the snow, but a few times a year the conditions prevail to allow us some quality “white time” in the hills..
You have to jump at the chance and dawdling can mean the difference between getting a climb on the ice and not. With its proximity to the sea and the lashing warm westerly wet winds Snowdonia doesn’t quite fit the bill for an alpine region but occasionally the wind backs to the north and we get a prolonged period of cold weather, and some precipitation sticks. Then we are go Houston…
All of north Wales die hard climbing crew will be transfixed to UK Climbing snowdonia weather reports and checking out the live Cwm Idwal ground temperatures. The first Snows will create deep powder in the Gullies and the skiers will be on scene first checking out local sports for some down hill gulley adrenalin powder runs (Calum musket, John Ratlciffe and Owen Samuel to name names!). Then after a freeze thaw and a re-freeze comes the fun part.. Its not always right but now and then the ice that forms on the run off streams that normally cascades down the mountain side freezes thick enough to climb. These are the snowdonia dreamy days.Winter climbing is an amazing but spicy sport- there is no easy way to put this but falling even on ice screws is not an option and can mean the difference between a fun day out and a sometimes fatal accidents. Its an amazing experience though all said- to climb on ice and feels totally different to anything I’ve ever done before. There is a non permanence to the ice as its constantly changing, each day you see it, unlike rock in its permanent feature, it creaks and yaws as you climb it.. The equipment we use for this kind of climbing is a bit different from normal rock climbing. General kit comprises of Crampons, ice axes and ice screws. The same other bits are used like rope, slings and traditional protection along wth heavy winter boots which don’t give very much underfoot for sturdy kicking. All this extra metal pack weight ads to the grafting up the hill as you can imagine, fitness must be good!
There is usually a long walk into these areas in Snowdonia where the ice forms, as the freezing line is rarely below 600m here, consistently anyhow. So its not uncommon for an hour and a half to two and a half hours of walking into some regions with a heavy pack weight and thick clothing on, and thats even before the climbing begins- needless to say fitness needs to be good!. On this trip we headed to Cwm Ceneffion, Above Cwm Idwal in the Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia. We were heading to do a route up a gulley, as it was a friends first time out with his winter equipment. Its a good idea to get used to equipment before heading straight onto the ice and whacking away with sharp things. Anyhow the route was “Hidden gulley” and we met a few people coming up and down the valley as we ascended, reports where good and the sun was coming out.
Beautiful conditions in Snowdonia began to prevail all around with a fantastic inversion to look down on too. It takes about 1hr 45 to het to the Gulley as it tops right out onto the plateaux at around 1000m. Its a very simple gully and a good pace to try out some screw placements and some warthogs if the ice and turf allows.. We usually do it in a couple of pitches using twin 7.8mm climbing ropes to simulate more advanced styles and practice knots, belay anchors and belay positions, its a good way to re acquaint yourself with the winter climbing sport as our climbs can sometimes be a year apart..
After a few selfies and moments of jaw dropping beauty taking in the vista, we had some lunch and took some pics.. Its so nice to be in the hills when its like this a true pleasure. Then lunch on the tops and start the descent.
We decide to head down Y Gribin Ridge, which makes for an atmospheric descent and more time to get used to the crampons again underfoot. Once down into Cwm Cneffion, we traverse across and down into Cwm Idwal below for a pit stop before heading back to the cars based below.. Always a pleasure walking in the hills only wish there was more of them!
If your heading over to North Wales to do some Winter climbing make sure you check out, MWIS for the weather and Also Llanberis mountain rescue weather forecasts, along with the BMC live Cwm Idwal surface temperatures at 600m and 800m. UK Climbing has a great North Wales winter Climbing section on its Forums also, all links are below. Two books we use a lot are these below, North Wales winter climbs is a must for your route finding and winter climbing rock fax guide gives some great sections on techniques and equipment.
If your after winter climbing coaching look no further than some of the finest local mountain guides in the country :
Useful links for weather forecasting and conditions:
Be safe in the hills and take the proper kit, get guidance if your not confident in winter mountaineering as it a totally different ball game to summer days. Do your research on your weather meticulously, winds at altitude increase differently from sea level and gusts and visibility can change in a heartbeat, and remember winter daylight is short, we typically are walking by 745am! This said most importantly have fun!