Snowy Snowdonia – above the clouds!!

Hills: Moel Eilio (Hewitt), Foel Gron (Hewitt) Foel Goch
When: Saturday 7 February 2015
Who: just me
Weather: see for yourself!
Ascent: about 720m in total
Conditions underfoot: Snow and ice on ascent of Eilio: patchy snow on the other hills over about 550m
Time: About 5 hours including breaks – but who cares.
Post walk drink: Merlot

Having started this blog on 1 January this year, so far it has contained rather a lot of old walks, with me steadily posting up some old favourites or walks that have for whatever reason been memorable, whether due to stunning winter vistas, stinking hangovers or pouring rain and wind. What it hasn’t contained is any walks this year, for the simple reason that there haven’t been any. Living in a rather flat part of the country doesn’t help with the highest part of Kent apparently being in someone’s back garden! It was well past time to sort that out, and therefore a trip to Snowdonia with my walking group was planned. Rather to my surprise, the weather forecast was actually pretty good!

The first law of my walks: if the weather does not go wrong something else will. If it does not involve a hangover/ unintentional visit to the pub then it involves either a transport debacle or mechanical failure of some description, or a case of human error (e.g. forgetting or losing the map). The second seemed to be the case this time as I couldn’t find my map of Snowdonia, necessitating a panic buy of a replacement. I then found my original map in a drawer in my office and remembered I’d lent it to a colleague and never taken it home. So now I had two maps.. I also remembered that some time ago I had splashed out more money than I care to think about on a new GPS with OS mapping which we hadn’t been able to figure out. The evening before heading off was spent fiddling with the GPS and eventually realising I had put the memory chip with the OS maps in wrong – but still couldn’t get the map to display at the correct size. A phone call to the help desk being of zero use I eventually worked out all I had to do was zoom in and bingo, OS mapping at 1:50000 for the whole of the UK. Result! 🙂

The car was packed and I did the awful but necessary 5am start and run to Stanmore to drop the car before work so it was near the M1 ready to head off after work. Setting off at 6.30 I made ridiculously good time up the M1/ M6 and started to entertain thoughts of making it to Capel Curig in time for last orders. I then hit roadworks on the M54 followed by more roadworks, an accident and then a road closure on the A5 necessitating a hellish diversion around Shrewsbury and via Welshpool. The last hour or so of the journey was also in freezing fog which made things a little slow.. the end result of all of this being that I didn’t get to the bunkhouse the club was staying in until after midnight and didn’t get to bed until nearly 1. And no wine!! 😦

The following morning after nowhere near enough sleep the alarm went off at 6.45 and I had to take a call as to what I was going to do. Some of the group were going on a winter skills course, others were off to do a circuit of the Glyders from Llyn Ogwen. Whilst that looked like a fantastic walk I felt totally knackered after the journey and the truncated sleep and had to be realistic. I decided a shorter walk was a better bet so packed up the car and headed off to Llanberis. I’d done Moel Eilio before, in thick fog, but planned a longer circuit and hopefully some stunning views. I’d also had a tip-off about a sneaky parking spot up a minor road which would save me the slog up on tarmac from Llanberis as well as a few quid for the car park.

I’m not sure in hindsight this parking spot is recommended! The road is gated, very narrow and not that pleasant to drive. At one point I managed to almost get the car stuck as I’d had to reverse onto some dubious ground after realising I wouldn’t fit in to a potential parking spot and then furiously rev the engine to get it out. Fortunately I found a parking spot a bit further up but was a bit worried about the car and faffed around, including turning the engine off and on again to make sure it would start, before finally getting going. I then realised that one of my walking poles had decided not to behave itself and wouldn’t tighten up properly – I could extend the middle bit and lock it but not the lower bit. The day was beginning to seem like a bit of a catalogue of disaster and, even worse, clag had moved in. I had two choices- either give it up as a bad job or get on with it and hope the clag lifted. I decided to get on with it as if nothing else I would get some exercise and I knew Eilio was a straightforward plod. On went the rucksack with the crampons in it an the ice axe attached… ugh, I always forget how much more the winter gear weighs! In hindsight maybe I shouldn’t have added to it by packing my stuffed toy minion that I take with me when I’m walking without my husband, but I guess he doesn’t weigh much!

The initial part of the walk is up a good track which climbs gently up to Bwlch y Groes where there is a plantation and a lot of old quarry spoil. From there, a broad path heads south in a pretty much direct line to the summit. At this point the cloud had cleared and I was treated to some terrific views across to Snowdon and the Glyder range as I climbed.

I was making heavy weather of the ascent though and really feeling the lay off from the hills – of course, the extra weight of the winter gear and the fact I only had one properly functioning walking pole wasn’t helping! The ground conditions were mixed, patchy snow from about 500m became deeper with some patches of ice, though nothing that made it worth digging the crampons out of the rucksack. I’d far rather have them and not need them than the other way round, though!

At about 100m below the summit the cloud started to sweep in again and my heart sank. The cloud wasn’t too thick though and it was obvious there was blue sky up above, plus the route was as obvious as I’d remembered it being from when I’d done it before. And then about 30m from the summit I broke through the cloud layer to see glorious blue sky, white peaks and rolling cloud below me. My first proper cloud inversion and an absolute cracker! I stood there snapping away and just drinking in the surroundings, my choice of route completely vindicated.

Of course, the flipside of being above the clouds is that at some point you have to descend through them! I dropped off the summit following an obvious fence line, climbed over a deer fence stile and then dropped back into the clag. The descent from Eilio to Foel Gron basically follows the line of a fence and visibility was frankly not great after re-entering the cloud. The summit of Foel Gron (a Hewitt at 629m) was in cloud with nothing at all in the way of views.

However, the walking remained straightforward and after Foel Gron, I dropped over a minor top and then hauled myself up the minor summit of Foel Goch. Visibility was by now pretty bad and occasional signs of clearing didn’t manifest. I dropped off the side of Foel Goch, handrailing a fence down towards Bwlch Maesgwm, and stopped for lunch as by now it was after midday. The cloud cleared away to the south but stayed resolutely over both the hills I’d come down from and the ridge over Moel Cynghorion. I’d been thinking of adding that one on to the walk, but decided that I couldn’t really be bothered with 200m of extra ascent for the sake of seeing the inside of the cloud for a bit longer; plus I wanted to make sure the car hadn’t suffered any ill effects from the earlier debacle. Lunch over I picked up a really good path which descended the valley, with some decent enough views opening out, though Cynghorion stayed covered in cloud.

I was back at the car shortly after 2, and the car was thankfully fine, leaving me to spend the rest of the afternoon having a leisurely pootle around Llanberis (and buy some new poles!) before re-joining the rest of the group in the evening. Nobody was back when I got in so a leisurely pootle to the excellent Bryn Tyrch inn was called for where I (and the minion) watched a glorious sunset accompanied by a nice glass of Merlot. A lovely way to round off what turned out to be an excellent day on the hill, despite the catalogue of disaster at the start!


5 thoughts on “Snowy Snowdonia – above the clouds!!

  1. That’s an absolute cracker of a sunset – the inversion was lovely too wasn’t it.

    That little road (if it’s the one I think you’d be on) is the one up to the Youth Hostel. BTW – if you get on soft stuff, don’t rev the car, put it into 2nd or 3rd gear and ease away slowly with as few revs as possible – of course, if you have to use reverse you’ve only got the one gear. Same as driving on snow…

    It might have been quicker for you to continue up the M6 to the M55 along the top of Wales and go to Capel that way – a bit longer but might have been quicker. Having said that, from what I remember of the A5, it used to be a pretty quick road normally…


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