Posted on January 22nd 2019 by Jason Rawles
My social media went bonkers after I posted a sunrise summit picture of Snowdon. I wanted to expand on what it took to get that image as it’s winter, involves darkness and there wouldn’t be many people to help if things went sideways.
Before heading out
For me, this is the most important part. The work you put in will determine success or failure. I had my eye on the weather and ground conditions for 72hrs before so I knew what to expect. This in turn meant I knew what extra kit to carry like warm layers, head torch, crampons, ice axe and warm drink.
I knew the route I was planning to take. Now, this is REALLY important. I decided to take the railway for some as it eased the ascent but there is a treacherous part of this route. It’s just after the railway passes over the Llanberis path by Clogwyn station. The railway is covered with snow and it banks off and a minor slip could (and has) resulted in a deadly fall. I know this, was prepared and had my crampons on way before this.
For those interested it’s at grid reference SH608556 (6 figure GR to within 100m) so please beware. 🙏
I knew the weather would be clear and with winds gusting around 25mph on the summit. This means cold. It was predicting to be ‘feels like -10’ on the summit.
I’d told someone what I was doing and my timings should something go wrong.
Most importantly, I have experience in winter walking so knew the pitfalls, what to do and how to plan for a safe summit.
Because of the super blood wolf moon I knew I wanted to walk slowly, absorb the atmosphere and enjoy the moment. I calculated 4hrs up and 90mins back down so had food, water and hot drinks for this time and then allowed an hour on the summit which meant loads of warm kit.
I also ensured I had a group shelter, walking poles, extra power pack for my phone, first aid bits, head torch (plus small spare) and of course, maps/compass etc.
All I had to do now was get up in time!!!! 😂
During the walk
I left just before 4am to allow me time to get to the summit and enjoy it. The sky was clear but the full moon cloaked the stars. However, as the eclipse took hold the stars came out to shine along with shooting stars and satellites. It was magical.
I stopped numerous times but only as long as it took for the cold to bite me. I had crampons packed at the top of my rucksack so they were available as soon as they were needed and my grub of choice was cheese sarnies. I also had nuts and raisins!
After crossing over the Llanberis Path bridge I saw a very defined snow line. The snow bit in to my boots meaning I didn’t necessarily slip at first but I also knew a treacherous part was coming. It ‘might’ be okay isn’t acceptable so I put on my crampons and ploughed on up. I was so glad I did because as the path changed my bits twitched at the idea of just having boots on as the consequence is likely death.
I got to the summit as planned and had it all to myself. The sky was an amazing mix of blue, orange and purple and it was here that I stuffed on big gloves, another jacket and warm hat. I slurped on the hot coffee and smashed a cheese sarnie in.
It was cold, really cold, but the layers protected me. Also worth noting that my phone battery life went from 87% to 12% in the space of a few minutes due to the cold. I wasn’t stressed as I also had a power pack with me, but, it’s worth mentioning.
It’s hard to describe being up there all alone after the magical walk I’d just done. It’s eery, exhilarating and humbling.
I couldn’t believe that I’d be alone on this day so looked up and down the paths. I saw a head torch on the PYG Track and wondered who it could be. Then, a little while later, my pal Chris Mutton arrived on the summit. Was lovely to see him. Chris is a legend and done some amazing things in the mountains. We spoke for a while, said our goodbyes, then arranged to meet in Pete’s Eats for breakfast!
The walk down
Crampons stayed on until the same point they went on. Well, because, you know…consequence! It’s the downward pressure while walking that can really send people spiralling and with crampons on you have to walk a little different. Lift your feet a little higher, less spring in the step and a bit like you’ve ridden a horse. This is more pronounced walking downhill.
All went to plan and then I met Chris for bacon and egg rolls in Pete’s Eats! A fitting end.
The point of this blog
There is a point to this blog. Things don’t ‘just happen’, you have to plan and prepare for them. Also, people think by walking up the railway in winter, on Snowdon, that it will all be okay.
PEOPLE DIE DOING THAT! 😞
It’s a serious undertaking. The snow creates a convex/concave slope that, if you slip, tips you over a cliff and to your near certain death. PLEASE THINK BEFORE DOING THIS.
The mountains in winter can be awesome but also harsh. It’s like Mother Natures kisses you on the cheek and then punches you on the nose.
Some top tips
I want to help but reading a blog won’t give you experience or teach you about snow conditions and using crampons/axe as part of a walking experience. That said, here are some tips to help you along the way –
- Look at what the weather is doing for at least 72hrs before as well as on the day. This gives an indication of what is underfoot and the potential gear needed.
- Know the route you’re going to walk and be able to navigate if visibility disappears. Within this, don’t rely on digital as the cold saps battery life. Have a backup, with a backup, that also has a backup. I have the route printed off from OS Maps on waterproof paper plus a full version map in my rucksack. I have the route on OS Maps downloaded on to my phone and then a power pack for my phone. Plus I have OS Locate if I need a quick digital relocate.
- Plan for a worst case regarding the cold. When you’re tired or hungry you’ll be more susceptible to the cold. Hypothermia and frostbite can easily happen in the UK mountains so take this seriously.
- Slow things down but not TOO much! What do I mean? You’re carrying more kit and it’ll be heavier. Slow the pace down a notch to conserve energy but not so slow that you get cold. Naturally being fitter is good but don’t forget your pace can determine a lot. If you’re huffing and puffing around, and sweating loads, that sweat will also cool off leading you open to more cold.
- Enjoy the planning! It’s fun, checking routes and chatting with people. I love getting my kit ready and getting excited. Looking at information, making decisions and perhaps changing things around according to (e.g.) wind direction.
I also wrote a winter safety blog series last year which you can READ HERE.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any top tips to share…? 👇
Thanks for reading and please do share this important message.