Sunday, 9 March 2014

Pen Y Pass to Llanberis via Glyder Fawr

If there was ever a sign that winter was over, then frogspawn is it. At Llyn y Cwn, we passed once or twice foot-wide heaps of tadpoles encased in jelly. But what about the rest of the mountains?

Today's route (Saturday, 8th March, 2014) took us from the Pen-y-Pass Youth Hostel, over Glyder Fawr, then down to follow the ridge north over Y Garn, Foel Goch and Elider Fawr, finishing down through the Dinorwig Slate Quarries. I was accompanied by long-time friend and local Llanberis resident, Dave. We hopped on the Sherpa bus outside Joe Brown's in Llanberis at 0920, which took us up to Pen-y-Pass for 0930.

The surface pressure charts suggested that the winds would be around 40-60mph on the summits, coming from the south. We'd walked in conditions like this before, but it was expected to become less fierce as the day continued. And the forecast wasn't far off.

Avoiding the building works around the hostel, we approached LlynCwnfynnon without descending into the bogs, and were very sheltered as we walked up past Llyn Cwnfynnon and Bwlch Dwyglydion. It was foggy all the way, with the clouds only briefly lifting once for a few seconds to show me that my navigation was working!

Cloud clearing for seconds in Bwlch Dwyglydion

As we approached the top of the Bwlch, small sheltered areas remained covered in snow, but most of the ground was clear. We reached the top of the Bwlch and the winds continued to increase in strength. Turning west, walking toward the summit of Glyder Fawr became increasingly difficult. I opted to stay south of the main path, off the main ridge, but even so, the winds continued to increase.

Using pacing, I managed to hit the multiple rock towers of Glyder Fawr almost directly. We inched our way toward one of the crags from our downhill/upwind position, then hid behind it in the lea, refuelling while the wind whistled the clouds past at astonishing speed. If felt as though we were in an industrial tumbledryer!

Now that we were out of the wind, we were able to progress. I located the descent path easily (for once). Following the cairns, we headed down the scree slope path, it became covered in snow. We assessed it and found it to be made of icy crystals, but largely soft enough to dig heels into. Dave rushed down over it (being an experienced fell runner), while I carefully made my way across. At about this time the clouds cleared and we could see that most of the mountains were completely clear of snow.

Descending Glyder Fawr to the north and Llyn y Cwn

Tryfan and Pen Yr Ole Wen from Glyder Fawr's north path

Heading down to Llyn y Cwn was straightforward, if gusty, as was the start to Y Garn. The wind felt to be coming largely from the southwest, obviously passing around the bulk of Glyder Fawr. We decided that we would see how strong the wind was as we ascended and if it was too strong, we would miss the summit and countour around to the west to avoid being blown off the mountain. It turned out to not be too bad: walking the zigzag path downwind was a doddle, while upwind was like a 60ยบ slope! We made it to the top, but decided to avoid the summit cairn and head down the other side rapidly.

As we descended, the ridge of Elider Fawr was clear. We had to decide whether it was sensible to continue on our planned route. Given the continuing strength of the wind (and the exhausting effect it had so far had on us), we chose not to continue along the east-west path over Elidir Fawr, and instead decided to bail out down Cwm Dododyn to the south. I explained the principle of contouring down rather than descending then re-ascending, so we skirted farther north to pick up the path as far up the Cwm as possible. We followed the path until we passed an abandoned smallholding, then left the path, maintaining our height on the mountain. Following this direction brought us to the top of the Dinorwig Slate Quarries.

The quarries are always interesting, but I'd never yet visited the higher levels. It was now Dave's turn to lead, and he took me through Shed Mawr, down to the Canteen (graffiti'ed by centuries of quarrymen and visitors) and toward the climbing areas that I knew (Australia, Dali's Hole). We continued down the path past the Anglesey Barracks and on to Pete's Eats for a welcome cream-and-marshallow topped Hot Chocolate. Well earned!

Shed Mawr slate cutting equipment

Inside the canteen: a self-maintaining and human mausoleum to Llanberis's slate industry

Looking over The Lost World to the Twll Mawr gap and Llyn Peris

Anglesey Barracks, where the quarrymen from Anglesey lived during the week

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