A Grand Day Out 18: Walking Out the Hard Way

by Paul Johnson Mar/2009
This article has been read 992 times

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In the afterglow on Snowdon (Dec 87)
© Paul Johnson, Mar 2009
So, there we were, somewhere near the Miners Track changing headtorch batteries. There were some big holes near us, possibly hidden by snow and I was disinclined to fall into one. Every indication was that we should be on the path so the surrounding boulders were clearly lost. Powering up the trusty Zoom again, fitted with its then high tech halogen bulb, the path leapt up out of the snow about 5m down slope. Just goes to show how much hassle a flat battery can be in winter.

Confident of our position again, Adrian limped off downhill. He was learning the hard way that borrowing someone's boots can be a painful business. So much so that I think he actually just hobbled along in the inners once we cleared the snowline! That was a long hobble with the snow above the top lake.

Back then winter boots had plastic shells and there were no Single Pitch Awards. There were guides, MIC's and people who wanted to be one or the other (or probably both). Don't get me wrong, the whole world wasn't populated by aspirant mountaineering instructors, it's just that our world was. There were aspirant canoe coaches too so that you never had to go into a 'real' Welsh pub short handed.

Anyway, there we were on the Welsh coast, aspiring away and looking to log ice climbs one December, when we heard it had turned wintery on Snowdon. So, after a heavy night, Saturday morning saw us up somewhere between brunch and lunch and heading for Pen y Pass. By 3 o'clock we had actually put crampon to snow and were plodding up to the confluence of the Trinity Gullies un-harnessed.

Stomping out a stance to the right of the gully, we teetered into our gear. Had we done this earlier things would have been much easier, especially the little snow step just before the stance. Surmounting that with packs on and a long, long snow ramp below had been educational. Still, we survived and the central of the three gullies looked good to go. This was pretty lucky as the sun was already mostly gone but at least the snow was turning 'squeaky'.

As I recall, the climb went smoothly. A well protected little ice step added an illusion of real ice climbing to the whole affair and Adrian followed up with relative ease. As it was getting dark, I remember taking a direct belay among some spikes and sending him ahead to the ridge to save time. He had the memorable experience of topping out his first winter climb to the sight of the sun plunging towards the Irish Sea.

We headed up from Clogwyn y Garnedd to Snowdon summit. It seemed a shame to not go the whole hog and we reasoned the descent would be more straight forward, if a little longer. We even took the time to sit at the summit station and brew up as the last afterglow faded into the sea. I hope Adrian still thinks it was worth the blisters he was about to get....


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