Sunday, 10 January 2010

Crampon practice on Cnicht

When I say practice, what I mean is 'use for the first time ever'. Best to start on an icy Snowdonia scramble wouldn't want to waste the sharp pointy newness on anything safe!

I think the original plan had changed 10 times before a sensible lowish level walk was posted on walking forum 3 hours before bedtime on the night before the walk. All I had to do was meet at Betwys y Coed Cotswold shop at 9.00am. I was even early 8.50am North Wales ready to go, mind you I did set off in the dark.

You do have to question friendships when the other three travel together and suggest we meet at the Cotswold store in a town that has TWO of them and give you directions to the OTHER one! Still at least I was in my warm car with a few tunes. After realising something was wrong we met up and I followed Robbo's car in mine until the snow got a bit iffy, and then I joined the other chaps.

I should have know something was wrong by the faint blue hue in the car and the fact that they all were wearing hats, buffs, gloves and boots already.' Oh the heatings not working', 'really Robbo, I thought we were acclimatising before we got on the mountain'. This was bearable until the fan was needed to clear the windscreen and the windchill factor must have dipped below -16C. It really was warmer outside.

At his point I was a little concerned about the plan to climb Cnicht in midwinter in icy conditions. It's not a huge scramble, but if it's called the Welsh Matterhorn then it was going to be a bit pointy and steep. My worries weren't assuaged by the fact that the only other people in the car park and therefore climbing it that day were Mountain Rescue. Oh well at least they'd be on hand.

Setting off Mike and Glyno were bouncing with confidence, although one look in Robbo's eyes and I knew he was thinking the same as me. 'who's bloody idea was this'. And he's climbed it before!

The initial path up was pretty clear, not too icy and a few snow drifts, but nothing to worry about, and lots of views of the pointy bit in the distance.

It was a steady start rather than one of those GO UP NOW starts which really helped with the pace. The odd tricky bit was going to be good practice for later, but with the powdery snow we managed to climb within about 80m (I guessing) of the top without putting crampons on. I really should have practised tying them at home first, but at least Mike didn't tut as he gave clear instructions.

This is a top tip for any relative newcomer going walking with the pros (I fell for this one once before by not having a spare everything in my rucksack...I do now) look in their bags before you set off. 'have you got your goggles' was the question that threw me. I wasn't expecting to do a bit of spot welding, I was cramponed to the hilt and ready to go. All three of them had glasses, Glyno had a particularly trendy set which other than the age gap would get him in any dodgy boy band. 'oh you'll need some to keep the snow out of your eyes'. I was planning on staying vertical with my head 5ft above the snow.

Oh yes back to the mountain, in Robbo's words 'the next bit looks interesting' . It was a full on ice and snow scramble to the top, interesting indeed. And it was absolutely fantastic, crampons are's just like they were made for this. Choose your route!

Once over the first steep part, the rest was a cautious but not too tricky pick your way to the top.

Like the rest of the day the summit was cloud free and were had great views all round, albeit under leaden skies that were threatening snow.

A few pictures on the summit and due to the extra wind chill we headed off sharpish along the ridge in search of 'a path near a quarry'. It was one of those, just a bit too relaxed for my liking comments and was bound to lead to bother.

We decided to hang a right maybe a tad too early in search of the promised path, all we found were snowfields and crags, and more crags and steep bits and then HUGE drifts. Tiring yes, but great fun, parts of it were technically tricky and I'm sure we wouldn't have ever tried this route but for the snow.

The quick story of one man vs the snow

A bit of fun but not too much trouble

Sod it I'm having a rest

Really I can't stand up anymore

A broken man gets some kind words

Then collapses in another drift

Mike contemplates putting him out of his misery

Broken, dejected and awaiting his fate

All friends again as he's pulled out the last few yards

The early stages of exhaustion are shown in the video at the bottom

It must have taken a good hour and a half to cross all the valleys and ridges between the laughter and the re routing at various intervals. I loved it.

Eventually we made it across to the path only to be greeted with the steepest and longest scree of snow we'd seen all day. We couldn't risk going down in case it turned to ice or one of the cornices gave way over a large drop. Oh well! 180 degrees about and back into the wind, as a bonus it was now snowing. It turned out to be a good option and we were back on the downward path within 10 minutes, only one miss hap as I went up to my wotsits in snow and found I had soaked my foot in a hidden stream. No more leading the way for me!

It was an hour downhill from here back to the car/refrigerator and then a further freezing 20 minutes back to my car just when you need a warm. Still the cider and chips back in Betwys y Coed were very welcome...thanks Mike. I loved my first ice and snow scramble in crampons and I'll be back out to try it again once I thaw out.

Enjoy the video


Rambling Pete said...

Good old rubbery Robbo - too many jellytots by the looks of things. Here was me the other day saying I didn't need a video facility on a new camera!

I liked Cnicht - very soggy further on though.

PaulB said...

Battered old camera's Peter, it's the future

robbo said...

It was without doubt the deepest snow I have ever walked (shuffled) in. I was absolutely shattered by the time we got back to the warmth of the A tuely great fun day out though and in great company too. Thanks for your company guys. BTW excellent trip report and pics/video Paul.