The Ogwen valley, the hills are beckoning…
Snowdonia is white, we are in the last days of January as I write this and I have been working on the fringes of Snowdonia building some wooden structures on a farm. Where we are based for the work, I get a full view of the Snowdonia range from the Carneddau all the way down to the Rivals on the Llyn peninsula. Right now the scene is set for a very white Snowdonia winter.
It’s this time of year that excites me the most in many ways, nature takes the control and administers some real cold weather here in north wales. Temperatures for us don’t usually get that cold (for our overseas readers – we don’t often get down many days below -2c at the coldest parts of the day). Blessed with the warming effects of the gulf stream which keeps our coastal water temperatures up a little higher, (around 7c in winter maybe 5c on a very cold winter), they are mild in comparison to many bodies of water in this world.
The effect is insulating on our island of Anglesey and the Snowdonia ranges, and the warm mild winds that grace our shores generally bring with them warm wet weather. However, with a polar low occurring in many parts of the northern hemisphere, we can get a down draft of cold air, if the charts favour us, and with that comes northerly and easterly winds. Right now we have a this going on, and it brings with it cooler temperatures which allow the usually rainy precipitation to form as snow instead. Fantastic isn’t it?!
The Snowdonia range
The Snowdonia range is quite a diverse set of terrain facing different orientations. Different parts of the national park will get different amounts of snowfall through out the winter time by region. The first part of the Snowdonia mountain range to get the snow is always the Carneddau. This is due to it facing north and being the first landmass at altitude that cold winds come into contact with. Carnedd Daffydd, Carnedd Llewelyn and the other parts Carneddau range get a good dumping of white first and foremost. Their northerly facing aspect also helps them hold the snowfall the longest in winter, hiding them from the winter suns rays.
I will show a diagram of the parts of the Snowdonia national park by name below, the most prominent sub regions of the national park are, The Carneddau, The Glydderau, The Moelwyns, The Elidirs and the Foels. The sub domains are the best way to break the Snowdonia national park into its northern most territories in north Wales I find.
There is also northern Snowdonia and southern Snowdonia, where we leave the bounds of north wales into Mid Wales, where you have the likes of Cader Idris and many other hills in the region of 2000ft and 1000 ft respectively.
For the purpose of this introduction for our winter blog series I’m going to concentrate on north Wales for our readership, and the main spots to head to or where I enjoying heading to in the winter months. I will do a deep dive into three winter hikes for you all in the coming four weeks.
The local of Snowdonia national park is spit into four glacial valley’s that I like to search for adventures in, see the image below. The best way to visualise this is from above on a map. This is in fact a road map of Snowdonia, but what it shows is the valley systems where roads run through.
Snowdonia national park with the main routes showing us the valleys and passes. Image by visitbala.orgSnowdonia national park with the main routes showing us the valleys and passes. Snowdonia national park with the main routes showing us the valleys and passes.
Firstly the famous Ogwen Valley (1), Then the Nant Peris Pass (or Llanberis Pass) (2), Then the Conwy Valley (3) and the Nantly Valley (4).
These four valleys, hold a vast array of Snowdonia’s walking gems.
Where I concentrate my efforts this time of year though is on two regions the Ogwen Valley and the Llanberis Pass area. These two regions are so densely packed with winter ridge walks, hikes, scrambles, gulley climbs that it will take you a few seasons to tick all these regions outings off to begin with. You have so much variety at your doorstep in these two valley passes that for basic winter walking (which is what most of my reader ship – I assume?!) Will be doing, this time of year..
To condense this article down into a bit sized offering I am going to have to keep my ramblings to a minimum, and on one of my favourite topics that can prove difficult! However I will try..
Ogwen the hot spots are easy you have a number of walks (lets keep this to walking for the time being- I will do another blog on my winter scrambles, climbs and ice climbs in another edition). So winter hikes in the snow in Ogwen well lets look at three “mid range” walking routes :
Y Garn— Idwal lake up to Y Garn and down the back side of Y Gran into Cwm Idwal again.
Difficulty rating : 7/ 10
Time to do route : 3.5 hours (Add extra time in winter)
Pen yr olwen— over around Cwm Lloer back down around the Ogwen Lake
Difficulty rating : 7 / 10
Time to do route : 4 hours (Add extra time in winter)
Glyder fach and fawr—Ogwen valley up to Cwm Bolchwydd, to the Gribin ridge, upto Y Glyder fawr and back down Devils kitchen to Cwm Idwal.
Difficulty rating : 8 /10
Time to do route : 5 + hours for both (Add extra time in winter)
These are three nice hikes all within a very close proximity to one another and in the Ogwen valleys reaches. They all can be accessed via the same car park and are all what I would class moderated to advanced in winter conditions. I am not a mountain guide (I am ML trained but juts for my own knowledge not guiding just yet). So when I say moderate to Advanced I mean a good level of fitness is needed which full inter pack wright and heavy boots, capabilities to walk 5+ hours is necessary.
The Ogwen Valley is a glaciated U shaped valley that has steep valley sides with a long U shaped base with a classic ribbon lake flowing through. It faces North West out to sea and at the source of the valleys mountain entrance there are steeped backed mountains which form the Idwal valley. There is a glacial lake in the lower Cwm called Cwm Idwal.
The local geology of the area was classically shaped by the moving glaciers that moved through these parts 11,000-21,000 years ago at the last glacial maximum. A mile high the ice sheets tore through the solid geology and created these amazing U shaped valleys.
The rock here is varied in its geological description, as with most tectonic regions the area is compromised of Igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. We can not just classify the rock in Ogwen valley, when looking at the geology in Snowdonia as we have to refer to the greater Snowdonia range.
The age of the rocks is around “ 300- 650 Million years ago ” It was formed as the greater part of the Caledonide mountain range linked to Scotland’s monroes. The highest peak is Snowdon in the Snowdonia range standing at 1033m tall. There are 15 peaks over 3000ft tall.
Snowdonia has some draw dropping scenery, with V shaped and U shaped glacial valleys carved long ago. It makes for quite a spectacle. The national park spans ( 2132 Sq Km). But we are but concentrating on one valley within the national park for this blog – the Ogwen valley.
Rivers run through the landscape in summer months and winter months and bring with it fresh mountain water that runs all the way to the source where they meet the sea at the sea along the Menai strait.
The Ogwen has a few Cwm’s or (Steep hollow at the head of a valley, in English) that hold the winter snow for much longer with their northerly facing slopes. The upper Cwms are is reportedly where the glaciers all began their lives, gouging out the deep glacial lakes like Llyn Idwal.
Winter hiking is a tad more involved shall we say than summer hiking, temperatures are way cooler and with that comes with the obvious risks. Warmth and safety are our two considerations here.
Snowdonia hiking in the winter means packing extra layers, as in, insulated jackets, waterproof jackets, and some extra mitts and a hat.
Typically if I’m hiking here, I will bring an extra belay insulated jacket a mid layer as in a fleece, buff and or balaclava style fleece headwear and another thinner pair of gloves (non water proof). These are for kind of emergency situs where I find someone who’s lost theirs of I loose mine in an unlikely event.
Navigation in winter means being really really good at your nav. Cloud bases and and fog can drop in and a white out can form in no time, which means you need to know where you are at all times. Maps OS Snowdonia (1:25,000) and a Silva Compass, plus a GPS is very useful if not mandatory. It’s all very well having all this kit, but if you don’t know how to use it, you may want to go on a course with the likes of Plas y brenin.
As mentioned above Snowdonia winter walking and hiking is a bit more unforgiving than the summer months. Below I have listed a typical pack list for a winter hiking day if I’m heading up. As you can see I take some extra things and in winter its necessary to pack for a multitude of weathers here.
So pack list : (Where I couldn’t find the exact same model I have used the newer edition of what I have myself- my kit is now 5-6 years old, so may places don’t stock these models anymore )
First Aid Pack (Small- generally for winter climbing)
Plastic sealable container containing: Nuts, Raisins and seeds, some other scoff like chocolate, dates, cashews etc
Mobile phone (old style nokia with removable battery)
Water bottle / Platipus / Camel back – 1 litre of water
Routes and Maps
Rather than me try and describe the hike routes to you, I think its best you have a look at these links, which go into more detail on each route:
Y Garn – TGO Magazine
Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr – SAS world of adventure blog
Pen Yr Olwen– The Hill explorer
Ok I use a few sites to gauge the weather but as a rule if its blowing 25-30mp on sea level mountain days are scrubbed, the reason is you can double the wind speed on the tops of our lovely Snowdonia mountains, and trying to hike in 50 mph winds isn’t easy or cool. Wait it out, the mountains are not going anywhere. My resources for weather are :
What to take into consideration that is coming in weather wise , think ahead when you plan your trips up and assume any weather front will move faster than you think. With mild sea temperatures in winter months here in north Wales moisture forms quick in the form of cloud vapour and quickly becomes precipitation at altitude. Sure waterproofs will fend a shower or two off, but a gale they won’t ! So do your homework on the weather well.
Coffee and cake in the Ogwen valley Snowdonia
Some of my favourite coffee shops in Snowdonia in the Ogwen valley region are :
1.Ogwen tourist information centre – nice little in house coffee hut there
Local Snowdonia Guides
We are blessed with a variety of local guides in north wales, and they are some of the top guides in the country if not the world. Steeped in international hiking with many summits under their belts. Many BMG guides and AMI guides live for their climbing and hiking all year round. They live in the area and therefore are invaluable people to draw upon for skills and guiding.
Some of the guys I know from my own hiking experience are below- we don’t get paid to promote these guys, we know them and follow their work and are happy to promote them from our side. They are top brass around these parts !
Snowdonia Hiking Skills
A great place to start out if you have not yet ventured into the world of winter hiking is to do a course with the likes of Plas Y Bennin, who are a national provider for all kinds of winter sports. These guys are the top of their game and run a host of winter sports courses.
Parking- Ogwen cottage pay and display at the top of the valley next to the tourist information spot
Winter Conditions : For good winter conditions I check either :
Mountain Rescue :
Ogwen Mountain rescue are based in the valley
Books / Info and guides :
Local Instagramers :
Gareth Owen —-@Googleygaz
Eillir Davies Hughes —- @eilir30
Sam Marshall——– @_Sammarshall23
Mel Garside ——-@melgarside
Kris Williams ——-@jixxekris
Climbing shops in the near local (+/- 10 miles) :
Capel Curig – Joe Brown
Betws Y Coed : Field and Trek, Cotsworld outdoor and more.
Ok for the serious part! These blogs are for an informative guide only and should you in no way just rely on these alone to help you bag some winter peaks. Use other resources and do your own due diligence on winter conditions, weather and your own abilities before heading out into the welsh winter weather. If your not to fit then do some some mid level training walks before heading up the bigger 3000s. Info is readily available all over the web and in many magazines to learn from. Happy hill bagging!
A little help in welsh..
A few of my good friends have asked me to do the site ad blogs in both Welsh and English, and as much as i’d love to I don’t have the time or the resources (financial and time ) to do it it both right now, but maybe in the future. However for the readers out there wanting to learn a bit more about our beautiful language, here is a good place to start! If you want me to write more about the welsh language and some words and phrases, let me know. Im relearning the language at present!
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Front cover image by : Me !
About the blogger : My name’s Nick Fraser and I’m a local Marine Geologist and Oceanographer. I have moved back to the island of Anglesey, for the last five years having grown up here and moved away. I’m a passionate outdoor lover with a penchant for all things natural. When I’m not blogging in often found climbing, fishing or out in the wild in and around north Wales.