I needed a break from house-breaking last week, so snuck off for some winter action in North Wales on Sunday and Monday. I ended up coming back early to do more house things, but had no real objections after an excellent day on Sunday.
Another early start from Chester, and another cruddy petrol station quiche for lunch because I forgot my sandwiches! We abandoned my car halfway up the Nant Ffrancon due to slow (and sometimes sideways) progress in the snow. The truck made light work of it all, and we soon found ourselves heading up to Cneifion.
With snow pretty much everywhere, we had a good choice of routes. All the gullies down to Cneifion Arete were full, but we kept going up to the top end of the cwm. I fancied a Grade II, having not led anything at that grade since Sargeant’s Gully with Chris a year ago. I’d also had my eye on Hidden Gully for a while, as it gets two stars and is described as a “hidden gem“. On arrival, three teams were on Clogwyn Du and one set off up Hidden Gully ahead of us. We traversed across to the gully from Easy Route on great neve, which continued all the way up. Despite a continuous flow of spindrift, there was good climbing with a couple of short steep steps.
We roped up at the narrowing bit, and I led most of the way up. I got a couple of nuts in, but all the cracks needed clearing, and the rock was pretty rimed up. The climbing itself was pretty secure because the snow was so good, so it wasn’t too much of an issue. I belayed just below the summit, and James took the lead for the last little pitch on reasonably steep snow.
The weather on the top was a bit breezy with poor visibility, so we descended Easy Route in the interests of speed. The plan was then to head lower and play on some of the easy gullies near Cneifion Arete. Tower Slabs had piqued my interest on a number of occasions, but at II/III I figured I had shied away from it with my natural sense of caution. With Hidden Gully proving so much fun, I got carried away and suggested we play around soloing the water ice at the bottom of Tower Slabs, possibly climbing as high as the snow terrace before heading back down. The first 5 metres or so really gave me the willies, I think as I’d not climbed proper ice for twelve months, but I soon got into the swing of things. On reaching the terrace the descent looked dodgy and we found ourselves on lovely neve. After a brief discussion we decided to carry on up; thus followed miles of perfect snow! Great placements first time with axes and crampons, a steep but not terrifying gradient, and a brilliant situation when the cloud occasionally cleared.
Once on top, we came down Easy Route again and back to the car. So, another step towards my aim of leading III by the end of the season (despite a distinct lack of days out) and it ended up being an accidental solo! There’s a big thaw on now, but still snow in the high gullies and freezing levels predicted to be 200m – 300m for the next few days – maybe there’ll be some more action again soon.