“How many whales did I see whilst trekking in Whales?”
A joke thrown at me after a friend found out about my getaway. But indeed it reflected the tone of the unexpectedness encountered during my recent break from London city to seek out the beautiful mountains in the heart of Snowdonia’s National Park.
Went on a 5day Welsh Winter Hillwalking course with Plas y Brenin during the 3rd week of Feb, with hopes of experiencing the outdoors in harsh winter conditions and to learn more survival skills. Surprisingly the weather has been kind to our group for the whole week – it was DRY during our walking periods. Probably to make up for the crazy wet & windy conditions thrown at me back in Oct during the 3 Peaks Challenge.
We were blessed with summer weather for our first 2 days out. Basking in the sunshine with little or no wind at all, we were actually sweating away in the middle of Feb! My group of 6 participants was even joking about returning home after the course with a suntan instead. Someone even mentioned that our clear blue skies are even rare during good summer days.
Definitely enjoyed the hikes better with great weather. Day 1 saw us hiking up Moel Siabod (872m) which is located near Plas y Brenin centre itself. Nice scrambles and introduction to navigation skills. Being able to navigate confidently opens up plenty of hiking opportunities in UK. Unlike in Malaysia where you depend largely on (a) local guide or (b) well marked trail from constant use. Maybe we are just too darn lazy or stupid to interpret maps, if any decent ones are made available.
Day 2 – We managed to find a slope face covered with patches of ice at Carnedd Llewelyn (1,064m). Finally the opportunity to strap on our crampons and walk around with the aid of the ice axe. Definitely a tiring affair, as you need to stomp down hard enough to bite the icy terrains. Plus walking around with a stiff boot and placing it at awkward angles for the crampon points to work – good workout for upper thigh and calf muscles. After some practice runs on an easy flat icy patch, we set off up our icy slope towards the top of the mountain – probably about 100m up at a decent angle.
Day 3 eventually ushered in the typical Welsh weather. Mist settled low for most of the day, with temperature dropping down to 0’C. We managed to reach the top of Cnichr (689m) before the mist swept through the terrain and reduce substantially the visibility ahead. Great conditions for us to practise our navigation skills again. Quite happy with myself for being able to adjust nicely to the cold weather – obviously wearing decent thermals and a good down jacket do help alot. Only thing I can’t seem to prevent is the dripping nose effect – at least I’m not the only person suffering from it from the looks of others around me.
Day 4 brought us to Snowdon and a steep wet grassy patch where we had a go with ice axe arrest. With the lack of vast snow, it was kinda funny throwing ourselves over the grassy slope and stopping our fall with various techniques. One of the older participant, probably 50plus was clearly having a blast as he went up & down the slope like a kid again. I can never imagine a retired Asian being in the same shoes!
Our ice axe arrest exercise finished by noon and we returned back to Plas y Brenin for lunch and more practice with crampons on the wooden planks in a nearby forested area. Funnily it was more challenging since the planks were slippery from moss and required more stomping force for the points to bite. Probably had more fear of slippage and falling over the steep wooden planks compared to the real icy terrain itself.
Day 5 – We ended our course with a nice hike up Y Garn (947m). Gloomy conditions, but still dry. The winds were horrendous though, there were several times when we were blown off trail by the strong winds. Was glad that of the extra weight I have put on since arriving at the center due to the awesome food we were being served for breakfast & dinner. Our descent route along Devil’s Kitchen brought stunning views of the waterfall.
(Views from midway to summit of Y Garn – note the typical cloudy Welsh weather in the background)
Personally was slightly disappointed by the lack of snow build-up for a full-on proper winter walking. Nevertheless, it was indeed a wonderful experience because of the company of my group and other students & instructors at the center. Embarrassing (but yet inspiring) to be one the youngest amongst the many participants, but by far not the fittest as I still struggled at times to keep up with the rest. Made me realise that age is not a major factor for mountaineering. Plus the slide presentations by the instructors on mountain climbing around the world has really motivated me to pick up rock climbing seriously again and hopefully to realise an aspiration to climb a proper 6,000m plus mountain.
<Special thanks to Simon Gardiner for the wonderful pics taken during trip>