Snowdon, the hard way

This article is more about Michaela Bray’s first time up a mountain of any distinction, and for this momentous occasion she chooses non other than Snowdon.  Well, actually, I chose it.  As it was me that convinced Allan, Sarah C and Michaela that Clogwyn Y Person Arète would be ‘a great day out’ and we can bag the summit of Snowdon for Michaela in the process.  Having had my eye on this gem of a scramble for some time I seized the opportunity of press ganging some poor unsuspecting AMC members into doing it with me.  (Important lessons learned from the master – Dave Linnett).

The Climb:

Clogwyn Y Person Arète (Cloggy) is a grade 3 scramble, at least it is if you believe what the guide books tell you.  One on-line report even puts it at a grade 2.  Talk to others who have climbed it and you get a slightly different grading with descriptions which I’m afraid cannot be quoted here, other than to say It’s ‘ard!

Our Route for the day:

The plan was to start from the lay-by near the Climbers Club hut at Ynys Ettws. Cross the Afon Gennog and work our way steadily upwards and South East through Cwm Glas Mawr.  Upon reaching the Cwm follow the stream to the left and from there Clogwyn Y Person Arète is unmissable as the stark ridge of the arète dominating the view to the left.  Casually (yeah right!) climb the arète via any particular route emerging on Crib Ddysgl.  At this point most books suggest taking Crib Goch as the decent route, however, we aimed to take in the Snowdon summit and so would head over the mini peaks of Crib Ddysgl onto the main Snowdon Ridge, a short meander would then see us to the summit trig point.  A spot of lunch (mmmm.pork pies!!) and then take a stroll down the Pyg track (which I know rather well, too well perhaps!) to Pen-y-Pas car park and wander down the road back to the car.

Approx time: ‘by the book’ 6-8 hours (Bo**ocks!)

So, here we begin the tale of Snowdon the Hard Way.  With the alarms set for 7.30am we settled down for a kip in rather cold and damp hut bunks.  Sleep was difficult due to someone snoring (I still say it was Sarah C) and before we know it off go the alarms.  Sarah C springs out of bed like a gazelle, ok slight exaggeration, but she’s up and at ’em with military precision moving purposefully around the room getting ready.  In the meantime the remaining three of us are still idly languishing in our sleeping bags.  I think it was the prodding and poking of my rib cage by Sarah telling me to ‘get the **** out of bed’ which alerted me to the fact that it was indeed time to get a move on.  Eventually we’re all up, packed, ready to go and heading for the door when we were nabbed and allotted cleaning duty before leaving the hut by the AMC General Mr Paul McCloy.  This put us behind schedule slightly, but, no worries.

10.15 am – The trek into the Cwm was fine but pretty hard going as it’s quite steep and we soon caught our first glimpse of the arète – fantastic!!  I turned to look at Michaela, who had a..let’s say ‘pensive’ look on her face and appeared rather apprehensive (honestly can’t think why).  With reassurances from Allan and Sarah that ‘it’ll be fine’ and ‘you’ll love it’ we stopped, had a quick bite to eat and geared up.  Now at this point I must explain that of all the days to choose to Cloggy we chose what must be one of the busiest days in winter for this route – not one, not two, but four teams were either on it, starting or waiting to start the route, typical!  Having gone through the trouble of trekking in I looked around to see Michaela contemplating what lay before her.  I looked at Allan – time to get a move on he said (the phrase ‘time to get a move on’  became rather well used before the day was over!).

12.15pm – We chose the easier chimney to the right to begin with as the Parsons Nose was taken with several climbers faffing around on it.  It wasn’t long however (about 2 minutes in fact) before the rope was called for as the going got pretty tough very early on in the climb.  Michaela tied into the rope with a sigh and said aahhh that’s better.  This is where we start to lose some serious time.  Me on lead tied into the middle of the rope, bringing Sarah and Michaela up on belay followed by Allan un-roped worked for a little while until we hit the ‘ard bit’.

Sarah belaying me on the 'ard bit!

Sarah belaying me on the ‘ard bit!

This was the bit I’d been expecting as others had told of a few sections which were not exactly grade 3 scrambling.  You’re not kidding! I thought as I thugged my way up a flaring crack on the side of the arète onto a small and narrow perch.  Up comes Michaela – I can’t see her, but by Christ I can hear her!  Michaela has the affectionate nick-name of ‘Monica’.  Why?  Have you heard Monica Selles playing tennis?  If so then you’ll have some idea of the sounds which come form Michaela when she climbs.  The tranquil valleys are now echoing with AAAGGGHHH, AAAGGGHHH, UUUGGGHHH, AAAUUUGGGHHH.  I swear, I was half expecting some umpire to shout thirty love as I pulled and tugged Michaela up this flippin’ crack on a very tight rope.  Then all of a sudden I feel the unmistakeable tug on the rope followed instantly by a yelp (so not Monica Selles style) ” she’s off!!  You alright? I called – no answer.  I called again – yes came the reply, none too convincingly.  Eventually Michaela’s beaming smile appears over the top, panting like she’s just run a marathon.  Now Sarah’s turn – funny how two people can sound so alike on a climb?!?!  The only difference is Sarah’s grunts and groans are punctuated with expletives, now the once green valley is blue and ringing to the tune of;  AAAGGHHH,****, UUUGGGHHH, ****, AAAGGGHHH, ****, AAAUUUGGGHHH, ****, ****, ****!!!  Sarah finally arrives and makes herself safe next to Michaela.  I call out to Allan – Errrr, Allan ” d’ya think you’ll need the rope? Knowing full well what the answer will be – what d’you bloody think? he shouts.  I’ll take that as a yes then.  Michaela, can you untie from the rope please? I ask, Michaela looks at me with a. yep you’ve guessed it, rather pensive look again.

Michaela looking 'pensive'

Michaela looking ‘pensive’

This process was repeated several times as the climbing took on a full multi pitch feel to it.  I lead, bring up Michaela – AAAGGGHHH, UUUGGGHHH, tug, yelp, she’s off again!!.  Up comes Sarah AAAGGGHHH,****,UUUGGGHHH,**** and up comes Allan.  Who, it must be said is totally unflappable, calm and not at all phased by the unexpected difficulties being presented to the party.  After what seemed like hours, which is hardly surprising as it had been, literally hours, I suddenly noticed the shadows getting rather high on the mountain slopes opposite and realised with somewhat incredulity that Crib Goch ridge still loomed above us!  I look at Allan and mouth the words what time is it?  His reply..time to get a move on. This is easier said than done given our situation.  For the first time the word ‘benighted’ enters my head.  Nah, we’ll be fine. We’ve got an emergency shelter, food, kit, spare clothes etc etc – no problem.  And so on we go with still difficult climbing, slightly easier, but there was no way I’d get Michaela off that rope, not yet anyway.  I lead, up comes Michaela – AAAGGGHHH, ok you get the drift by now.

Unflappable Allan

Unflappable Allan

4.15pm – Suddenly a decent belay spot, wide deep, fantastic – is this the end of the difficult stuff? We have a group discussion at this point.  Now I am getting genuinely worried about the time and Michaela is looking pensive again.  Sarah, the night navigation and head torch epic expert, decides that as long as we can get off the arète before dark we’ll be fine.  What?!?!?! Off the arète before dark? Not if the going stays as it is we won’t.  We agree Allan takes over the rope/belay/pulley system duties and I go on ahead and take a gander at the terrain.  Relief – one small pitch later and we’re into easy scrambling, or rather, more like what the book actually states.  Now, up until this point we’ve had glorious weather, sun, blue sky, no wind – bootiful.  We finally get off the arète proper and begin the upper slope leading to Crib Ddysgl.  Sarah, the bloody mountain goat, speeds off and all I can see is her pack disappearing into the mist.  The weather begins to close in and vis is reduced dramatically thanks to the mist and gradually failing light.  We scamper over the mini peaks of Crib Ddysgl and onto the main Snowdon summit ridge.  A quick sprint up to the trig point – I say sprint but it was rather more laboured than that, apart from Sarah the mountain goat.

5.25pm – Snowdon Summit, congratulations to all but especially to Michaela, a quick photo, dinner (mmmm..pork pies!!) and off we go, time to ‘get a move on’.  Suddenly the mist completely clears, the wind drops and stretched out below us are the lights of Llanberis and Bangor in the distance, with peaks poking through the white fluffy clouds we are treated to what is probably the most spectacular view – Sunset from Snowdon.





5.45pm – after gazing at the sunset we start heading down the Pyg track.  The weather is great, clear starry night sky, no wind, no rain and it’s actually quite mild in the large atmospheric bowl of the Snowdon Amphitheatre.  Now there is no rush, and we do indeed meander and practically stroll down the mountain.  However, this is not the end of the tale, oh no.

8.30pm – about two thirds down the Pyg track we see two head torches up high on our left – two climber still on Crib Goch heading off.  Now you’d think this was rather foolish, however, on a night like it was, and with good vis and weather Crib Goch is not too difficult and nigh on impossible to get lost on seeing as the ridge is but a few feet wide.  Or at least you’d think so.  These two ‘climbers’?! are moving rather erratically and the head torches are heading backwards and forwards, we consider calling the MRT when, at that exact moment, we hear the distinctive whump, whump, whump of a S&R helicopter.  It flies in and buzzes over our heads, we signal all’s well and it flies off, only to return and hover in the vicinity of the two climbers on Crib Goch and winch them to safety.  Now here’s the thing – we do it right (sort of), with all the kit and spend 3 hours walking off the mountain.  These two muppet’s get it so wrong and end up winched off the mountain in three minutes – no justice!

10.10pm – After walking down and a very long day we are all pretty tired, Michaela is knackered and beginning to limp with fatigue.  We start off down the road toward the car, only to be greeted by the MRT Landrover, the driver of which kindly offers us a lift – bargain!!

10.15pm – back at the car, 12 hours later.  It must be said at this point that I am totally amazed at what Michaela has achieved.  A novice to climbing and new to the pleasures of mountaineering she took all of the dangers and arduous perilous journey in her stride.  Maintained a sense of humour and positive attitude throughout the day (which I know is not an easy thing to do – just ask anyone who’s been climbing with me) and never complained once.  She (some would say foolishly!) placed her faith and trust totally in our hands, Sarah’s, Allan’s and mine.  TOP EFFORT GIRL!!

At is at this moment guilt inevitably sets in – I feel guilty for dragging (in this case practically the literal truth) Michaela’s arse up Cloggy and causing the pain she is now feeling.  And to make matters worse Sarah’s long term knee injury is made much worse thanks to my route finding and climbing up that, now how did Sarah so eloquently put it? oh yes, f***ing crack.  For this I most humbly apologise. Hang on, no wait, sod that it was a great day!! Yet another epic in the mountains but a fantastic day had by all.  Now all I’ve got to do is drive back to Bristol whilst managing to stay awake! Which was helped with copious amounts of Latte and banter.  Now here’s the other thing – it’s La Tay <said in a true northern accent> not Lar Tay <said in a soft southern nancy accent>