Monday, 13 December 2010

Brocken Spectres in Snowdonia

I woke up with a start on Saturday morning in a mountain hut in Snowdonia. We had planned a weekend of wintry mountain fun and I was a teensy bit excited. You can understand my disappointment then, as I stepped outside only to hear the heavy pattering of water. I was moments away from having a rant to myself about "bloody Wales and it's stupid rainy weather" when I realised that actually it was just the noise of the river. Ideal.

After packing an array of spiky mountain tools into our rucksacks we drove up the Llanberis Pass, heading into what looked - incredibly - like a beautiful and bright winter's day. I was chuffed that my first trip up Snowdon was going to be a good weather day. As we ascended the Pyg Track, the snow thickened and gradually became hard packed and icy, the wind became gustier and the cloud loomed over, isolating us from the wondrous view beyond. 

"Walk like you've got a
massive sanitary towel in"
..was Liz's wonderfully wise advice
We stopped to don our crampons as the ground started to get tricky underfoot and at that point I couldn't care less that we couldn't see anything and it was blowing a hooley because, more importantly, I now looked like a full on, kick ass mountaineer.

Progress quickened as we crunched our way up the icy path, picking off the weak and the men who thought they were too hardcore for crampons.

As we neared the roof of Wales we battled through the cloud and were greeted with alpine-like sunshine. We looked down in amazement as the rainbow rings of a brocken spectre materialised on the grey layer beneath us for just a few moments.

Halo of the brocken spectre
The summit was bathed in glorious sunny rays and everybody that got there had the same inane grins on their faces, for a winter's day in Wales this really was absolutely spectacular. We picked a prime spot and scoffed down the obligatory malt loaf and cereal bars before beginning our descent.

Descending has never been a strong skill of mine and this was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most difficult descent of anything, ever, in my life. Loose snow and icy patches covered the mixed rock and scree so every single step was a step into the ankle-wrenching world of the unknown. My silence said everything, I was not happy with all the slip-sliding and zig-zagging. 

When we eventually got to the bottom I breathed an enormous sigh of relief and celebrated  the fact I had made it down alive with a bit of chocolate. I looked over in awe at the next obstacle in our route:  Y Lliwedd. This beast loomed over us with it's forboding rocky frontage. It looked almost impossible to get up, but a closer inspection revealed a playground of scramble-friendly pinnacles. My mood quickly lifted as I scampered up, sheer drops providing me with a steady flow of adrenaline. 

We stopped for a breather (and some tea) at the top of this absolutely superb scramble. The sun was just starting to dip a bit lower as we began our very careful descent. A few tired slips and bum slides followed until we hit the tarmac of the Miner's Path and had just enough energy left to route-march back. As we approached Pen Y Pass car park the bus pulled up and Liz - in what I can only describe as an act of energy-depleted delirium - broke into a run in her enormous mountain boots. If it wasn't for the awesome scramble that would have been the highlight of the day.

Completely exhausted we headed home for massive portions of pasta, chocolate and a drop of whiskey to finish off. These things are staple foods for mountaineers and aren't included in the "unhealthy" box when you've done a big winter day out in the hills! 

Stay tuned for day 2...

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