Snow, in Snowdonia!

Of all the big mountain ranges in the UK, Snowdonia seems to suffer the worst winter conditions, and any snow that does fall there doesn’t tend to stick around too long. This winter has been quite an exception, and I’ve been enviously eyeing up the “Snowdonia Winter Conditions” thread on UKC, jealous of all the talk of Parsley Fern Gulley and “full winter conditions” on Crib Goch and Tryfan’s north ridge. I’d all but surrendered to the fast that I’d missed out on these great conditions in Wales this winter, and so it was a complete surprise on Sunday to find my wading through the white stuff up one of my favourite mountains – Moel Siabod.

Within the space of a few hours on Saturday evening and another few hours on Sunday morning, a very considerable amount of snow had fallen, rendering Pen-y-Pass impassible to my Aunt and Uncle, Paula and Pete, whom we were meant to be meeting in Pete’s Eats that morning. We hastily rearranged our meeting location to Ogwen cottage and our walk, which was meant to be up Moel Eilio, to Moel Siabod instead.

Our route was from Pont Cyfyng, but instead of the usual Daear Ddue ridge (see my post dated January 12, 2011) we headed up the broader north-eastern shoulder and onto Siabod’s north-eastern summit ridge. This final ridge, whilst not being narrow enough to feel much exposure, offers a good bit of easy scrambling and is in such a fantastic position and was covered in so much snow that it had a really mountaineering feel to it. Add the white-out and wind, and for a moment you could have mistaken yourself for being in Scotland.

Siabod’s north-eastern ridge

Said white-out necessitated a compass bearing from the summit, which lead us to the “tourist” route back down to the Afon Llugwy near Plas-y-Brenin. We walked back along the river to the cars, before popping by the Tyn-y-Coed for a well deserved pint of Purple Moose’s finest! All-in-all, a fantastic day out and it was great to eventually be out in Snowdonia in the snow.

Summit photo!

A luxurious weekend away in the country – Steall Hut

Steall Hut, taken in February 2011.

Luxurious might be pushing it a little bit, but for £4 per person per night, Steall Hut is definitely well worth the money. After a recent refurbishment, the hut not only comes with a gas supply, but also a gas-powered generator and running water (provided the stream said water comes from isn’t frozen…). The hut is situated at the base of Steall Waterfalls, in the stunning surrounds of the tranquil Glen Nevis. Here, the Nevis river peacefully meanders along a the flat-bottomed valley, providing a perfect backdrop for a weekend’s get-away. The word Steall itself actually translates as “spout”, and the traditional name for the falls, An Steall Ban, means “white spout”, and the area itself contains a number of ruins of a past settlement.

The hut itself, owned by Lochaber Mountaineering Club, and also the path up Steall Gorge, managed by the John Muir Trust, have both seen upgrades in recent years. Most notably, new gas hobs have been installed, the previously-stolen generator replaced, and an arguably over-dramatic “Danger of Death” sign installed at the end of the public road and the start of the Steall Gorge path.

As is usually the case, we didn’t leave campus until gone 5pm on Friday, and so it was gone midnight when we started the half-hour walk in to the hut. The walk in involves an infamous wire bridge, which always seems much more daunting in the dark. After a quick discussion about the routes we were planning for the following day, we headed to bed.

Richard and myself had originally planned to do the Ring of Steall, but owing to the very windy weather forecast and the members of the group, we decided exposed scrambling probably wasn’t the best option for the day. Instead, I chose a horseshoe of Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnein Beag. Jim and Calum, who originally had planned to go climbing, instead opted for a scramble up the NE ridge of Binnein Mor, and Richard tagged along with them.

The walk in to the base of my route was a rather long 7km up the valley, and a few others who wanted an easier day tagged along until we started the ascent. We had started in the rain, but by the time we were half way up Sgurr Eilde Mor’s NE ridge, the clouds had started to lift and we started getting some great views. The descent route down the SW ridge was a bit hairier than I’d imagined. It started off with a narrow ridge, before deteriorating into a steep boulder/snow slope. Alex, who was new to crampons, did well to negotiate this steep section without too much difficulty.

We had a quick break at Coire nan Lochain, before picking up the obvious path leading to the col between Binnein Mor and Beag. The ascent of Binnein Beag’s broad southern shoulder involved a bit of scrambling up boulder fields and rocky steps, but it was only made tricky by the amount of ice that was about (we had opted to remove our crampons due to the lack of snow on the ridge). The shoulder was in a great position and offered a considerable amount of exposed, making it fun, exciting and well worthwhile. The summit, whilst being quite broad, is in a prominent position and offers great views in all directions. We spent a while refueling and taking in said views.

Summit of Binnein Beag

The walk out seemed to take an age, and we eventually arrived back at the hut at 8pm, pretty knackered and ready for an evening of cheese, wine, port and whisky.

The next day, we awoke to a perfectly clear sky and quite unbelievable visibility. We’d talked about the two Munros on the western end of the Mamores the evening before, and with the weather being as it was, any achey legs and tired eyes were ignored in favour of another day out in the hills. Jim, Richard, Calum, Laura and myself were the only ones that fancied the option, and so we set off at 9am back to the minibus, dumped our heavier gear and drove further down the glen.

Great views across to Ben Nevis from Mullach nan Coirean

The ascent of Mullach nan Coirean’s northern ridge was arduous, not just because of the day before but also because the sun made it quite hot work. We were pleased to find a well-made paved path (described by Laura as “cute” in reference to it looking a bit like a garden path!) weaving its way up through the forest at the base of the ridge – this certainly made things easier going.

As I thought might be the case, as soon as we reached the summit plateau, we were faced with a bitterly cold wind. We didn’t hang around too long – just long enough to take a few photos and grab a bite to eat. Jim described it as one, if not the, coldest day this winter, and I’d be inclined to agree. The weather closed in slightly as we traversed the ridge to Stob Ban, but fortunately the views still remained when we reached the summit.

Stob Ban’s northern ridge

One of the main reasons for doing this walk, for myself at least, was Stob Ban’s northern ridge. Jim, Calum and myself had been over it almost exactly a year ago, in the pouring rain and with zero visibility. Even then, we got a good sense of exposure and I made a mental note to myself that I must do it again in good weather. The ridge starts with a narrow exposed section with a little bit of scrambling, before descending steeply over a number of tricky rock steps. Last time, we found it awkward and time consuming as the rain had made the ridge very slippy, but this time everything was frozen and with crampons on it felt much easier. One of the aforementioned rock steps had a bit of ab tat (a piece of rope tied around a rock left behind by someone to abseil off) and so I thought I’d test out the club’s new scrambling rope that I dragged around the walk with me, and also practice South African abseiling before my Mountain Leader Assessment in a few weeks.

Looking back on Stob Ban from the ridge

It started snowing quite heavily on the way down, leaving a good thick layer on the already-frozen ground, which was quite lethal. Added to that the fact that we were a bit behind schedule and so making a fast descent, this resulted in numerous falling overs, including a quite comical one where Calum seemed to end up facing completely the wrong direction.

The drive home was quite eventful as well, and at times we were in a complete white-out on the motorway – something I’ve never experienced before (and don’t wish to experience again!).