Snowdon: Be prepared for winter

As challenging winter conditions grip many mountain areas across Britain, the BMC is urging people heading for Wales’ highest mountain to be prepared.

Going into the mountains where there is snow and ice requires specific equipment, skills, knowledge and awareness in addition to those used in summer hill walking, and the consequences of making errors can be much more serious.

Snowdon from Moel Siabod, 114 kb
Snowdon from Moel Siabod
© Trevers, Jan 2015

This is true anywhere, but the booming popularity of Snowdon means the 1,085m (3,560ft) high mountain sees more than its fair share of visitors who aren’t equipped to deal with the harsh, often hazardous conditions.

Elfyn Jones, BMC Access and Conservation Officer for Wales, said: “Snow and ice can transform mountains completely, adding an extra dimension of spectacle. They can be wonderful places to be, but they can also introduce hazards and dangers you don’t find in summer.

“A lot of people think Snowdon is an easy mountain to climb because there are wide paths to the summit and a café on top. But Snowdon in winter is a very different place to Snowdon on a sunny summer day.

“The weather is much harsher, with strong winds, sub-zero temperatures and blizzards par for the course. Visibility can be very bad, making navigation challenging. And snow and ice can often cover those paths, not only obscuring the way but forming potentially hazardous slippery slopes, which you need an ice axe and crampons to negotiate safely. In heavy snow conditions there can be a risk of avalanches.

“Mountain Rescue teams are constantly kept busy in winter responding to incidents caused by people setting off up Snowdon not knowing what they’re letting themselves in for. These incidents could so easily be avoided by people having a bit of prior preparation and know-how.

Snowdon Summit in the Snow, 165 kb
Snowdon Summit in the Snow
© captainH, Dec 2014

“We’re not saying ‘don’t go up Snowdon in winter’. If you think the views are good in summer, you should see them under a layer of snow – it can be hugely beautiful and rewarding. We’re just saying ‘be prepared’.”

Rob Johnson, Chair of Llanberis MRT said: “Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team share the view of the BMC that the winter mountains offer an amazing experience. We are keen that anyone who takes on the challenges and rewards of climbing Snowdon in winter does so with their eyes open as to just how challenging those conditions can be.

“Last week the summit winds topped 100mph and there is currently snow and ice on all of the paths. It is important that people have the appropriate equipment such as ice axe, crampons, waterproof clothing, insulated clothing, map, compass and most importantly the knowledge of how to use it.

“We also urge people to base their plans on an up-to-date weather forecast and match their objective with the conditions and their experience. Never be afraid to turn back and remember it is often more challenging to descend in snow and ice than it is to head uphill.”

The BMC promotes good practice in winter through a variety of channels. One of the best ways to get up to speed is to learn from professional instructors by attending a winter skills course, such as our Sport England-subsidised ‘Winter Skills in Wales’ courses.

Snowdonia National Park Wardens produce daily reports detailing the ground conditions and snow level on the mountains, including advice on the appropriate equipment required. This information is available on the Met Office Snowdonia mountain weather forecast.

BMC officer Will Harris captured footage of a recent helicopter rescue on Snowdon's Pyg Track, one of the most popular routes up the mountain. It shows how challenging and hazardous even 'easy' routes on Snowdon can be in winter. Watch it below.




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