Go and fach yourself
A weekend on the little Glyder
I would like to share with you my thoughts on a weekend of far reaching vistas, stunning white mountains set against a sky of cloudless blue and snow conditions to die for (not literally I might add). So with that in mind I would direct you to my Alpine Wales entry from three weeks ago, as my latest return to Welsh winter mountaineering was nothing of the sort.
Confirmation of our sojourn was left until the 11th hour and in the mad rush I had completely forgotten about John Appleby’s reports of closures on the A5. Consequently, by the time we finally reached the Gefnan hut it was far too late for protracted guide book perusal and a hasty decision was made before our departure to the alpine bunks. Come the morning a slimmed down Team Demon (Jeff and I) would head off to Cwm Bochlwyd in search of snow on the North West face of Glyder Fach. Considering the recent ‘turbo-thaw’ it was an extremely optimistic plan to say the least but Team Demon seldom let widely reported ‘facts’ get in the way of going for a wee look see.
Despite some promising early light in the cwm we were met with a rather sad scene of a defrosting llyn, rain and the patchy remnants of snow shoots rising into the clag a tempting carrot for desperados such as we. The atmosphere was one of defeat and though unspoken we each sensed that the other felt the same…what a load of festering arse clinkers. However, we weren’t beaten just yet.
We crossed the outflow and trudged on. Rogue snow patches were occasionally encountered; not the fabled nevé of happier days but heavy, wet mush. Our route ‘Main Gully’ could be up there somewhere but if we didn’t go then we would never know so onward blindly into the mizzle we went.
After a session of scree and boulder bothering innate directional genius or more probably luck brought us to the Alphabet Slabs where a steep, disintegrating slope of nastiness offered us an opportunity to get on our route. I wasn’t too sure but as per usual Demon grasped the nettle and before I had time to protest I found myself following and soon we were on a ledge above the slabs. A nervy traverse, an in situ sling and a greasy rock step were all portents of doom but our fears were allayed when around the corner a deep, snow filled gully presented itself. There was no doubt about it, we had found our climb.
Demon swiftly made upward progress, stopping briefly to fix some protection before finding a good belay. Upon joining him I found that my lead lay up a streaming midden of grot but unperturbed I stepped across a scabby bergshrund and found my way up in a series of desperate convulsions, happy to find a bomber anchor for my trouble.
Above was the chock stone and cave which in summer provides the crux of the route. Happily we found no great difficulty in taming the beast and in the space of an hour our mood had turned from uncertainty and dejection to breezy optimism. The guide book suggested that with the main difficulties behind us a mere 60 metres of snow climbing were all that stood between us and the summit. With our 30 metre rope it would be two or at most three pitches before I could roll a smoke, break out the Jaffa Cakes and drain a flask of Bovril. The guide book lied!
For a couple of rope lengths we romped up grade 1 terrain in a state of near ecstasy; the snow we thought had improved exponentially and occasionally the llyn appeared giving a pleasing sense of airiness to our situation. We were having a wonderful time and I was enjoying every second until I received a sickening report from above. Demon’s tone had changed; he suddenly sounded very serious and was no longer singing or cracking jokes. “There is a massive fracture in the snow up here and we are climbing on wind slab”. We both knew what this meant and I was almost consumed by the thought that at any moment we could be avalanched and dashed on the rocks 500 feet below or buried in a cold, suffocating tomb or both.
Somewhat out on a limb and close to the top we decided to keep going and agreed that because the anchors we were finding were so bomb proof it would be prudent to remain roped together so in the event of an avalanche we would stand a chance of remaining attached to the mountain. The wisdom (or not) of such a tactic is open for discussion. Four more pitches followed and my nerves were becoming frayed as strange whooshing sounds were heard emanating from the opaque depths where only minutes earlier we had been climbing.
After what seemed an interminable round of climb – belay – climb – belay we finally topped out onto the summit plateaux where our hoots of joy and relief shattered the silence. We had a brief rest and then went on our merry way to the Gribin Ridge which we descended in darkness. It had been an exciting day and for the morrow we chose a less exacting test before journeying back to the flatlands; Gavin Diegnan would swell the ranks of Team Demon for his first ever winter climb on Bristly Ridge…but that is a tale for another day.