Welsh Winter Bites Back

This post was going to be on the lovely day I had today with a client. We took to the hills at 9am and climbed Pen Yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Dafyd, Carnedd Llewelyn, Elidir and then across Craig Y Yfas and onto a peak I can’t for the live of me get close to spelling without the map.

Each time my client suggested we keep going I had no excuse not to, so we ended up doing 18km in some of the best welsh winter conditions in a long time. It was alpine till about 1pm. After that it was still OK, just a little more wind and occasional cloud.

We had a lot of sun, some wind and amazing views. We also noticed that the big yellow taxi was pretty busy. I have to say that before I left the house I was pretty sure avalanche conditions would be high. It didn’t take long to come to that after the amount of rain that would have fallen as snow high up and been blown onto the lee slopes by very strong winds. It was a day that for Wales I thought would warrant a steady approach and avoidance of those loaded aspects.

As we walked round Cwm Lloer we could see the tops of the gullies bulging with windslab that looked 20-30ft thick in places. Nearly all the ridge lines demarking the lee slopes had either a definite edge or a cornice. On the way across from Dafydd, I managed to get to the top of what I think was pygmy ridge, as I could see there was no cornice, I looked back at the top of the black ladders, to see some good sized cornices for wales.

We also came across some loading on sheltered locations although none were over 20 degrees in angle so way under what would be concerning. Although we came across one short steeper sections quite a way down from the summit of Llewelyn as we descended, it made me pause and think about my choice of route, I looked down, a short clean runout into an open slope. I went first and then my client followed, back on the neve it was time to relax again.

Anyway, we got back down after an amazing day and as soon as I got home my Facebook page starts filling up with the worst new of both an avalanche and a cornice collapse on snowdon. The avalanche from Facebook photos looks massive for Wales, a crown wall approaching a metre in height and over 20m long. The guy survived, but was injured which is a miracle.

There was also a report of a climber falling 150m through a cornice above Cwm Glas, where I was last week working. There was a good start of a cornice back then before we had a 100mph winds driving snow across there!

The moral of the story is to be careful out there. At its simplest if there is lots of snow (bare in mind the rain was biblical on saturday!) and high winds (we have just had one of the biggest storms of the season) then the avalanche risk will be high in certain areas, there will also be cornices. Both are things to avoid.

If you like to know more then either book on a welsh winter skills course or check out the book A Mountaineers Guide to Avalanches (there are links in the menu on the left for both kindle and iPad)

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