Sunday, 23 March 2014

Pen Yr Ole Wen, Carneddau Daffydd & Llewellyn from Glan Dena

Today, I took a group of 5 Clwyd Mountaineering Club colleagues and personal friends on a grand tour of the Carneddau. The forecast was for 30-35mph winds, increasing to 45-50mph, with snow and heavy snow.

I had been keeping an eye on conditions in the mountains all week. At the beginning of the week, there had been very little snow, but by Friday evening there was a light dusting on the tops. Given how the low level precipitation had consisted of brief showers, sometimes of hail, I presumed that there would only be powdery snow around, with possibly some hailstones. There was also likely to be rime ice on the tops, given the recent high humidity levels.

The route took us from Glan Dena (SH668605) along the side of Llyn Ogwen; up Pen Yr Ole Wen from Ogwen Cottage; over Dafydd and Llewellyn; over Craig yr Ysfa; then back to the start along the access road, over to the Roman road and down the valley.

The weather was clear until we started the Pen Yr Ole Wen ascent, and occasional light snow flurries silently swirled around us. As we went higher, the clouds descended and the winds increased. The snow was, as expected, powdery and sticky, a bit like the first falls of snow that make small children excited and then melt the next day. It made solid boot prints and easy walking. Group management was key at this point because the group's steep ground climbing fitness varied from mountain runner and cyclist via alpine walker to flat terrain legs. Thankfully, everyone helped out and we kept together reasonably well, or at the least in two small groups without too much separation.

As 'Leader', it was left to me navigate over the tops, where visibility was poor (around 100m). At one point I truly felt like the leader, when the group gathered around me as I explained how I was going to get us from the summit of Pen Yr Ole Wen to that of Dafydd. I explained how our pace of approx 4km per hour would take us 12 minutes to cover 800m, then add 1 minute for every 10m of the 110m ascent. This gave us an ETA of 23 minutes. At the same time, I paced it. The timing was 1 minute short; my pacing (due to icy patches and some deep snow drifts) was on the short side, needing another 200m! Good experience for me, and it felt good sharing the knowledge.

After Dafydd, the clouds cleared occasionally to give us excellent views down Cwn Llafar to the north, and even as far as the Denighshire Moors and Clwydian Range in the east.

As we crossed the Bwlch Cwyfrw-Drum, the winds really started to gust. Fortunately, it wasn't so strong as to make walking impossible, but you just had to be ready to transition from the no-wind to strong-wind (leaning left) moments! We picked up the north-south wall near the top of Llewellyn with the intention of sheltering a bit: it might have helped, but the wind was so fierce that we decided to avoid the summit proper, then descend east toward Craig yr Ysgfa. At one point (SH686643) the snow had been scoured and completely covered the path in ice, for about 10m. There had obviously been only one walker over this stretch when it was snow because vague boot prints were still carved in the ice. An ice axe might have been of use here, to cut the steps more positively; but in the end we managed to cross it without incident. The consequences of a slip were minor, the slope reasonably short and flattening out into powder and scree just below.

Thereafter, the walk itself was fairly inconsequential, apart from the really vicious but brief spindrift squalls that seemed to pick up on the west side of Ysfa. Given the late hour, we decided to avoid Pen Yr Helgi Du (boo) and continue down the access road to the A5, cross to the Roman Road at Gwern Gof Isaf Farm, then head directly back to Glan Dena. As approached, we could see squalls of precipitation heading up the valley from Y Garn. Then the lightning and thunder struck. No problem, we were relatively safe in the valley. But the consequent hail was unrelenting for the final 1km: 5mm balls of ice pounding thin waterproof layers like being flicked by an annoying bully hundreds of times per minute.

But we we're back!

A brief pause at the pillbox on the north shore of Llyn Ogwen
Al  inside the pill box

Glyderau and Ogwen Cottage

Secret bridge under the A5!
The snow showers arrive.
Snowy near the top of Pen Yr Ole Wen
Icy cornices along Ysgolion Duon
Cwm Llafar and Yr Elen (in the sunlight) from the top of Ysgolion Duon
Crossing the Bwlch, wind blowing right to left (notice the leaning!)
Ascending Llewellyn from the Bwlch
The well-worn path down from Craig yr Ysfa
The hailstorm arriving up Cwm Ogwen from Y Garn past Tryfan

(Photos also on Flickr)