/ ARTICLE: Chasing the Very Bloody Ephemeral: Scottish Winter Climbing

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UKC Articles 20 Dec 2018
Beta Hammer Belter (III) Green Gable.Toby Archer chases 'the very bloody ephemeral' in an homage to Simon Richardson's Scottish winter bible, by examining potential winter route options in England and Wales for those living further away from in-nick Scottish classics...

I've never met Simon Richardson but I have to say, I'm a fan. What follows is not meant as a parody of Simon's wonderful book on Scottish winter climbing: Chasing the Ephemeral, but rather an homage to it; a paean to his approach and philosophy.

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TobyA 20 Dec 2018
In reply to UKC Articles:

If anyone is interested in more photos of the routes described in the article you can have a peruse at: https://photos.app.goo.gl/f6nvA9sokCNMUJLv8

Nettle 20 Dec 2018
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great article, rings lots of bells about preparation and planning. If it's any consolation Toby, even living in the Central Belt of Scotland a similar approach is the best way to guarantee climbing any given weekend. My only other comment is that having a Plan B (C, D, E,...) for walking is a useful strategy to avoid disappointment.


mountain musher 20 Dec 2018
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great article, having had 4 yrs in N Wales & 3 yrs in Staffordshire, I can remember warm fronts blowing in across the Irish Sea every Friday, melting every last trickle of ice in Snowdonia... (now live in Moray).

Idwal Stream, overnight solo, 5 of us, straight from work, couple of hours sleep, back to work! Fantastic memory.

Black Crag Icefall IV... awful gear, Mtn Tech Vertige axes, scrubes going in for an inch! 

Snowden Trinity Face gullies.... watching a soloist lob down through 3 roped parties, not a scratch!

Definitely perseverance over common sense achieved routes when down in Englandshire and Wales....



In reply to UKC Articles:

Nice article - all we can do is hope for some decent conditions in 2019! Currently very mild and wet in Wales......  

The link to the BMC Winter Conditions Turf  temperature sensors are here 




Please bear with us as the upper sensor in Cwm Cneifion, near the base of Clogwyn Du is currently not working but hopefully will be in the next few days.... .

The article makes the point that the sensors can give a "pessimistic" indication of frozen turf - the sensors are accurate but only give a temperature for the turf that's 5cm deep and which by practical necessity are at a relatively sheltered location at the base of the cliff. The impact of wind chill and freezing some 100m higher up the cliff need to be factored in for the more exposed routes. The sensors are only indicative to help people make up their minds if its worth the long drive and hike up to these venues and to deter climbers who having made the walk up in less than ideal conditions  may be tempted to "have a go" anyway when conditions are not suitably frozen and then potentially causing significant damage to some pretty rare alpine vegetation.  

Elfyn Jones 

BMC Access & Conservation Officer (Wales)

p.s. "Nameless Cwm"?!  Surely not Nameless at all ...... Cwm Cneifion is the rightful name  



Post edited at 11:17
TobyA 20 Dec 2018
In reply to Elfyn Jones BMC Cymru/Wales:

> p.s. "Nameless Cwm"?!  Surely not Nameless at all ...... Cwm Cneifion is the rightful name  

You are absolutely right and I have no excuse, I've Cneifion Arete in heavy winter conditions years back  https://www.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.php?id=132045 as well as having done it as a summer scramble so its not like I don't know. If I have an excuse it's probably that I was thinking about the The Nameless Stream (III) when I was writing the article, and wasn't it for year that (English cultural imperialist probably!?) guidebook writers called it the Nameless Cwm? I sort of remembered that's how the stream got nicknamed that as an ice climb. But apologies - Cwm Cneifion is much finer name. Something I would hugely appreciate though is some instruction in how to pronounce the Welsh names. I've been calling  Clogwyn Du Ymhen Y Glyder "clog-win do" but I've heard other pronounce "Du" more like the English "dee"? I've only got one climbing partner who seems to know his Welsh pronunciation, and he doesn't winter climb so I've forgotten to ask him!

Thanks for the links to the turf sensors. I agree completely about them being 5cms under hence surface turf, particularly a bit higher, may (but not always freeze higher). I had a head vs heart vs getting up at 0430 moment on Saturday afternoon. We were all set to head to Helvellyn, packed, sandwiches made etc. when the turf sensor that had just gone below 0 went back above it. The forecast was bopping up and down too, and in the end it just seemed we were likely to be pushing "acceptable" if we did go and climb, so binned it. But sad as I still haven't got to do a proper winter route yet this year.


Wee Davie 20 Dec 2018
In reply to UKC Articles:

Enjoyed that! 

Planeandsimple 20 Dec 2018
In reply to TobyA:

Cheers Toby. Hopefully the southern winter season is great here again this year.

Col Kingshott 20 Dec 2018
In reply to TobyA:

Nice article Toby, well written as always. That is me and my mate Al in Tower Gully behind you in your picture. What did you reckon to Viking Buttress? We did that last season as well, not much ice but plenty of rime, powder snow and frozen turf. We did the Left Hand finish and reckoned close to tech 6. I'm sure it would be a grade easier in icey conditions. Great route though.



Post edited at 16:35
Misha 20 Dec 2018
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great article. There’s loads to be done in North Wales, just a case of pouncing when the routes are in! As you say, living in Birmingham it’s further to get to the Lakes but the bigger issue is access on small snow covered roads (whereas the A5 through Ogwen and the Pass get ploughed fairly quickly and at worst you can walk in to some of the routes from Bethesda or Nant Peris). Also it seems to me that there aren’t as many classic winter routes in the Lakes but that’s possibly because I’m less familiar with the area. 

So North Wales is where it’s at and the ‘bloody ephemeral’ nature of the routes only adds to their attraction. When it’s in, it’s as good as a lot of the stuff in Scotland. Most of the time though the long haul up the M6 beckons... 

TobyA 20 Dec 2018
In reply to Col Kingshott:

Ha! Small world as ever! I remember chatting to you guys - that first bit of the gully with some delicate ice was the bit we didn't realise is meant to be the first pitch of Golden Girl Ali too, so we soloed it as the "approach"! I think Simon has forgiven me since. 

Viking Buttress is an odd one. I did it in 1999 or 2000 in November but in really heavy snow conditions. I led it all and I remember thinking it was really easy - and also felt safe as well. Doing last December it felt quite tricky in places and the gear wasn't particularly convincing. It was a couple of weeks later I did Golden Girl Ali and in comparison that felt so secure and positive, even if you have to pull a bit harder. I got onto the ledge and started messing around on the Left Hand Finish (if you mean the thin corner crack quite near the top. It did seem very techy with a good chance of falling off onto that ledge if you failed to 'boulder it out' - which is never a good idea with crampons on! So I went back round right into the groove system which i think is the original line. I did think with a big pile of hard snow on that ledge, you could probably half the hard climbing on that LH Finish.

Misha 20 Dec 2018
In reply to Elfyn Jones BMC Cymru/Wales:

This is what I’ve found. The sensor must be at the bottom of the cliff where it gets insulated in snow and sheltered from the wind more than the turf blobs on the crag. I’ve going that once the thermometer drops to 0.5ish at the greatest depth, the turf on the crag is well frozen but it probably depends on conditions - how much snow etc. It also suggests that a few of the ice lines would be worth looking at. 

Rob Morgan 20 Dec 2018
In reply to UKC Articles:

> ...while Bristolians and those further south should probably just sell their ice tools.

We have the Brecon Beacons...sometimes...anyone looking to buy a set of tools?

TobyA 20 Dec 2018
In reply to Rob Morgan:

Sorry Rob! If you get routes done from Bristol you get an extra grade for committment! Does easyJet still fly Bristol to Glasgow? I did one of the first UKC winter picnics that way after visiting my family in Bristol.

Solaris 20 Dec 2018
In reply to TobyA:

> Something I would hugely appreciate though is some instruction in how to pronounce the Welsh names. I've been calling  Clogwyn Du Ymhen Y Glyder "clog-win do" but I've heard other pronounce "Du" more like the English "dee"?

Yes, there must be a Welsh pronunciation guide somewhere on the web, but I am pretty confident that "Du" is pronounced "Dee" and "Ddu" as "Thee". Just don't get us started on "Tryfan". Nice appetite whetter for the winter; thanks for the article.

Edit: http://mylanguages.org/welsh_alphabet.php (u and y are the tricky letters. As soon as I think I've identified a rule, I find an exception!)

Post edited at 19:13
mrphilipoldham 20 Dec 2018
In reply to Solaris:

Go on, how’s Tryfan pronounced? 

Good article Toby!

Solaris 20 Dec 2018
In reply to mrphilipoldham:

I'm not going to rise to such obvious bait as that! But, clue, there was a good natured discussion of it on here a couple of years ago, iirc. And, second clue, the pronunciation guide will help, but note my caveat about "u" and "y"! Oh, and it's not correctly pronounced how most of us pronounce it!

Sean Kelly 20 Dec 2018
In reply to UKC Articles:

No mention of the Black Ladders or Lliwedd surely two forcing grounds for hard Welsh winter climbing. Great Gully  is also another winter classic or should that be horror show Toby? Also some good lines on Clogwyn Du. I agree that there are better lines in Wales when it freezes but the Lakes are often colder. I lived in Nant Peris for a while but often when the conditions were brilliant mid-week I struggled to find a partner. Still, an informative article.

TobyA 20 Dec 2018
In reply to Sean Kelly:

I'm not claiming to have done any classics really; I got my copy of Cold Climbs for Xmas in 92 or 93 I think - but I do wonder how many times the Lakes and Welsh routes in that have been in condition since? The article, following on very much from Simon's thinking in "Chasing the Ephemeral", is about making the most of what you can climb, rather than what you would like to climb. Last season was a good one, but I don't think many of the big routes on Black Ladders got done for instance. I'd love to try some of them if we get the conditions, and Great Gully (Winter) (IV) has been on my UKC wishlist for years but again it doesn't seem to have seen that many ascents in recent years.

In reply to TobyA:

Great article. Good point about the Cold Climbs classics, but some of them come in more than people think... 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2018 had plenty to go at.

Exile 21 Dec 2018
In reply to TobyA:

Great article. The Lakes is usually best viewed as you may think of 'early season' in Scotland - climb when you can and think buttress routes - and you will get things done most seasons.  I agree with NMM though, I have climbed all but one of the Lakes Cold Climbs routes, and similar / better classics, during the last 10 years ish. (I do live in Kendal though...)


TobyA 21 Dec 2018
In reply to Exile:

I only moved back to the UK in summer 2014 as well so missed those winters which were considered the most recent ''good" ones when it seems the Welsh guide got written. I did do Cautley Spout in 2010 when over from Finland for Xmas.

Sean Kelly 21 Dec 2018
In reply to TobyA:

You obviously missed the winter of 2010 Toby!


Rob Morgan 21 Dec 2018
In reply to TobyA:

It's price you pay for having the Avon Gorge on your doorstep...not sure it's an even trade though. Yes they do fly to Glasgow from Bris, and to Edinburgh. I usually make my annual winter pilgrimage with them.

Post edited at 09:54
Toerag 21 Dec 2018
In reply to mountain musher:

> Idwal Stream, overnight solo, 5 of us, straight from work, 

Is night climbing the way forward? Living down here in sunny Guernsey we only get enough snow to make a snowman once every ten years or so, and only enough ice to climb once every 30. I've learnt that the snow state dramatically improves at night when the temperature drops.  If you know where you're going then getting on the crag at night is probably worth it in marginal conditions.

skinne 21 Dec 2018
In reply to Elfyn Jones BMC Cymru/Wales:

That's great news re the upper sensor, endless thanks for these resources.  


Lovely article toby, thanks for sharing.



Mr-Cowdrey 21 Dec 2018
In reply to UKC Articles:

Brilliant article. Living in Somerset, North Wales and the Lakes are where I've done most of my winter climbing. Hop in the car after work at 5pm, drive to N.Wales or the Lakes, sleep in the car/bivi, climb some routes over the weekend, then drive home Sunday night ready to be back at work Monday morning!

Notable routes done this way are all 3 Trinity gullies in a day, Central Gully on the Black Ladders and Idwal stream and Clogwyn Lefthand (the V,6 variation) in a day.

And I've driven up to N.Wales just for the day to get my winter fix having had prior commitments on the Sunday. All part of the adventure. Knowing where to go and what to climb became a researching obsession!!

Caroline C 22 Dec 2018
In reply to UKC Articles:

Joe's Waterfall in the Upper Swansea Valley is actually one of the best ice climbs I've done in the UK! No one else there, beautiful water ice...admittedly part of the appeal was not having to leave South Wales ;-) Climbed it during Beast from the East... apparently it freezes about once every 3-5 yrs...

In reply to Rob Morgan:

Skied from my door in Bristol last year straight down the St Werburghs allotments to the climbing wall. It always feels great when you can ice climb in Brecon knowing you only had to drive for a couple of hours. 

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