Well, Wales in April. We knew not to raise our expectations too high, still it was a bit of a disappointment to arrive at Gwern Gof Isaf in the rain.
We were relieved that we had hired the whole bunkhouse and didn’t have to erect tents in the foul weather.
Gwern Gof Isaf is a working Ogwen valley hill farm, overlooked by the most dramatic of the Welsh mountains, Tryfan and we knew that no matter the weather we would be exploring its snow plastered flanks and possibly reaching its impossibly serrated summit.
Team Craggers are a hardy bunch and on this family trip the kids in particular showed that they were made of stern stuff. Their battles with the elements and the sheer physical endurance they needed to demonstrate, just to cope with mountaineering in winter conditions, was at least rewarded by spectacular scenery, stunning views and a huge sense of achievement.
We undertook two, low level, walking days when the weather was at its worst (it was also the time for the kids to make friends with the farm animals) and two scrambling days which are described below.
Snowdon in the snow
An early start, two busses and there we were at Pen y Pass. The plan was to take the Pyg track, keep monitoring the weather and at the path junction decide which route to take.
Crib Goch is part of the Snowdon horseshoe and is, perhaps, the most famous scramble in the UK, leading up to the highest mountain in Wales. The ridge is undoubtedly a great day out but with snow lying along the length of its knife edge spine it would be a serious prospect. The team was up for it but ultimately it was going to be the prevailing weather conditions which dictated our course.
The moment of truth arrived. Should we continue along the Pyg track or strike off in a more adventurous direction. The conditions were not pleasant, it was cold and grey, the visibility was poor and although not actually raining, things could change at any moment. We had a short break and weighed up the options. Finally we chose excitement.
Starting off at not much more than a steep walk we made good time and before long we were established on the ridge proper. As the terrain steepens it becomes necessary to use your hands, this is the start of the scramble.
Before long, balancing along the narrowing ridge, we became aware of why this route has achieved its iconic status. Looking to either side of your feet there is a huge drop, the full extent is thankfully hidden as the flanks of the ridge disappear into the gloom. Picking our way with extra care because of the snow, we were still making pretty good time, so when the first flurries hit us we were well established and retreat was not really an option. The extra danger was counterbalanced by the beauty of the falling snow.
The possibility of encountering a snow storm had been considered and we were equipped with ice axes, crampons and a rope. We had taken into account the potential risks but as there was no wind, which would have ruled out our attempt, we decided to go for it.
The excitement was maintained right to the summit and made for a really satisfying ascent.
We were planning to descend by the Pyg or miners track but the start of the paths was banked out with snow and looked too dangerous for the group so we decided to take the Llanberis path which provided for safe snow sliding. And we were just in time to get the bus back.
Tryfan the hard way
Our second scramble was on the north ridge of Tryfan. The conditions were really quite interesting so after a while it was decided that the group would split, with a small group doing the scramble and the rest going for a lower level walk around a lake. The big attraction of the north ridge is that you can make the scrambling as hard as you want, so with such a strong team we made it pretty hard, finishing up with the traditional jump between Adam and Eve, the two standing stones on the summit.
All in all a successful trip.