I remember there being an old car advert with the tag line “it’s a mini adventure”. This tag line was picked up by famous adventurer Alistair Humphreys. The idea is that you create an adventure that doesn’t have to require a big budget or international travel, and can be done in a short timescale. With a mini adventure in mind, I checked out the mountain weather forecast for Snowdon and set out for a winter walk up the mountain.
With the rest of the UK gripped in late winter weather (or “The Beast from the East” if you want to sell more newspapers), the lowland of Snowdonia was surprisingly free from snow. The drive to Llanberis was uneventful and free from snow. I’d packed my most appropriate winter mountaineering kit: lightweight double boots, heavyweight Goretex jacket, medium and heavyweight gloves, ice axe, crampons, torch and spare batteries, emergency 2 man bivvy, various layers and as an emergency, my Himalaya down parka and mitts.
For most of the walk up I was bordering on being too warm, but every now and then I would round a corner and get walloped by a strong wind that would cool me right down. Soon patches of snow appeared and runoff from grass turned into icicles, streams turned to ice, and the snow got progressively deeper where it had accumulated. The forecast called for wind of 20-30 mph with gusts over 40mph and every now and then a gust would try to push me off path.
I saw about a dozen other people on this side of the mountain: all but one of them were descending. I’d size them up to see how battered they looked, and they in turn sized me up to see what fool was going up in the dying daylight. Most of them looked like they’d be through a deep freeze – their outfits and backpacks still covered in ice that had been flash-frozen in situ.
Two thirds of the way up I stopped to put crampons on and to switch to my heavyweight gloves (Black Diamond Guide gloves). The length of time it took me to swap gloves cooled my hands right down and I regretted not having silk-weight liner gloves. By now the remainder of the path was covered in snow and ice, and getting steeper. I got to about 200 vertical metres shy of the summit in whiteout conditions. The path faded, and looking back I realised I might start to struggle retracing my steps. I fired up my GPS to validate my location: I’d strayed a few metres off the path in the snow, and I was just a couple of metres from a steep drop on a ridge. I corrected course and refound the path, and soon approached the obelisk which marks the confluence of numerous paths. Ahead lay the summit, somewhere in the grey-white clag. The winds were stronger now and ahead I could hear a roar that sounded like a powerful waterfall, but I knew it must be the sound of wind driving up the mountainside and over the summit.
I couldn’t believe how slow my progress with crampons was – I definitely was not setting any speed record. I remembered the many kilos of emergency kit I was carrying was weighing me down, and walking with crampons is slower than walking without. Eventually I thought I’d gone off the path again, as it appeared to stop with nowhere else to go. In the whiteout I looked ahead, to the right and to the left, where I eventually spotted a few stone steps. The final steps to the summit! Each final step was hard for earned; the full force of the wind roared up the mountain side and tried spinning me and my rucksack like a top. The final three steps were approached with me holding on to each step till I was finally stopped on the summit once more.
The return journey was relatively uneventful. I saw one individual still making their way up, and they looked anxious and sought advice on how far the summit was. As they disappeared into the whiteout above I contemplated returning to the summit with them, then thought the better of it: every single person I encountered as I ascended probably questioned my sanity too. After a big feed at Pete’s Eats I drove home and slept for no less than ten hours, pleased with my mini adventure!