The little gem
Fantastic conditions in Cwm Cneifion
The turbo thaw was a hell of a bore and though we still got things done we are lusting after good conditions…what a difference a week makes. Main Gully had been a deranged psycho but Hidden Gully would prove to be a well behaved and genial host for this weekend’s playtime…mostly. This time we only had a day to play with but what a day it was. Better than perfect nevé (tautology alert), wall to wall sunshine and the most extensive views I have ever seen in Eryri came together to provide an outing to make the heart bellow out it’s most joyful and harmonious notes. Hear me now people, it was a rare treat and uncommonly good. Get the picture?
Of course the slog into Cwm Cneifion was as brutal as ever and the rope in my sack was an unwanted burden but could I have cared less? A rhetorical question to be sure for we entered the cwm and our eyes feasted while our feet floated above the snow. I know this to be true because this season Welsh winter mountaineering means floundering through deep powder until high on the hill and there was none of that today.
Many others were hell bent on playing there too but the cwm accommodates all. There were gnarly crackpots having fun on Clogwyn Du, guided parties under instruction on Y Gribin’s ermine flanks alongside funsters on the ice and traditional loons like us looking for an aesthetic line to the top of the mountain.
I was accompanied by Team Demon stalwart ‘Desperate’ whom it must be said was in a gluttonous mood. He’d missed last weekend and had built up an appetite so an aperitif was needed before we could move along to the main course. That was fine by me; while he chopped his way up an unnamed ice climb I sat smoking and taking in the happy scene from a lofty vantage point. A train of humanity entered the cwm and teams were scattered about, consulting guide books and no doubt feeling every bit as fortunate as I to be back in their natural habitat.
Desperate returned from his nibble on the ice and expressed a need to rest for his calves were in shock after a sustained bout of front pointing. His eyes are bigger than his belly, a point reiterated when later that evening I would watch agog as he attempted (successfully) to devour a triple whopper and fries. In comparison my appetite is dainty but after my wait I was growing a little peckish to say the least.
Already at a reasonable height we made a beeline for our route which in the guidebook is referred to as a ‘little gem’ and so it is. We traversed across Easy Gully and then up the narrowing slot on wonderful white hardness. With no need for a rope I urged Desperate to go forth and ventured a proposal that he employ the camera with liberal abandon; he didn’t disappoint.
I rejoined him at an ice step and he was off again, thrashing the obstacle without mercy. With dinner plates careering through the air I hung back for fear of being disfigured by the bombardment though once ensconced on a good ledge he called me up and up I went. It was at this point I realised that my axes were a little blunt for the pleasurable pursuit of ice climbing and I would welcome a rope from above. The fact that I had 50 metres of the stuff weighing down my sack added to my burgeoning chagrin along with ‘matey’ who effortlessly soloed past with first time placements and a sardonic greeting, “Having fun”? At this I spat my dummy and smashed my way upwards before wrestling to retrieve my axe which was deeply embedded in the ice. I finally wrenched it free only to unleash a ‘platter’ which made a rapid descent and stopped only when it hit a fellow climber full in the face. My cry of “Below” had inspired our comrade to look up in search of the origin of my warning. There wasn’t too much blood and we agreed that a little pain never hurt anyone.*
Above was more ice but softer and my axes did their stuff admirably. A tricky little step and a steep finish brought me back into the sunshine to be greeted by a view which though familiar never fails to set my soul aflame. A round of applause marked the completion of my first grade II solo and I took my bow only to realise that it had been reserved for a brave leader topping out on Clogwyn Du. I pretended to check my crampon straps before nonchalantly regaining an upright posture.
A quick photo call and then we were off again for the short stroll up to the summit and surely one of the most comely vistas Eryri has to offer. We drank in the view and I a pint of Bovril and wished the day could last forever but we know they never do apart from in our minds. And that is where this most salubrious of days will dwell until for me there are no more.
* The blood bit is a fib!