Monday, 16 February 2015

Clogwyn Du: Round DeUx

Last season was a very disappointing period for me in the winter climbing scene as the only time I used crampons was for the descent down the Midi ridge to do the Vallee Blanche, and the axe came out once for a traverse in boots across a slope. I spent hours flicking between weather forecasts and looking at conditions for North Wales and the Lakes but nothing seemed worth the 5 hour drive north. So with the new winter season well under way, my luck this year has paid off and with a rare free weekend, good conditions and a partner, I was heading North for some good old Welsh winter. The only trouble was the weather. MWIS has forecast 80mph winds with a windchill factor of -21C.

...This will be interesting....
As per usual, me and Chris drove up on Friday night and proceeded to spend a very uncomfortable night sleeping in a car park. I didn't get much sleep as I forgot my sleeping mat and so bivied beside the car lying on my empty rucksack. And to make matters worse, it began to sleet at some point during the night. 

After being awoken by Chris trying to warm the car up, I decided that enough was enough. I can't keep putting off the inevitable, that at some point I have to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag and that I wasn't actually going to get any decent sleep, so got up and got sorted. The plan for today was to head up high to Clogwyn Du where conditions should be good. I had a few routes in mind, but being the first time in 2 years that I've actually got into the mountains in winter, I thought it best to play it safe and stick to stuff below grade V (Maybe).

Last time I was at Clogwyn Du was with Tim 2 years previously where we had had our food stolen by some very hungry ravens! Lesson learnt, so we took our packs with us up our intended routes. First up, to get back into the swing of things, we soloed up Hidden Gully (II). The snow was really well consolidated and the ice took first time placements every time and it just kept getting better with well frozen turf too. An easy and straightforward route in a very scenic location. The rime added to the sense of adventure and the wind really made it feel 'out there'. Great first route to get the feel for it again.

Hidden Gully 

Chris nearing the top
The wind had now intensified and it became really hard to walk across the top back to the descent gully. Once 'slightly' sheltered back in the Cwm, we whipped out the guide book for our next objective. Nothing too hard, but something a bit more interesting as we were getting back into the swing of things now. We settled on Pillar Chimney (V,5): A grade 3 pitch to warm up some more on, then the meat of the route. We soloed up the first grade 3 pitch to just below the VERY tight chimney where we roped up for a bit and then belayed just below the pillar on the second, crux, pitch. Chris, eager to get on his first grade V, took the lead. Realising he couldn't fit through the gap left by the ice forming up the outside of the leaning pillar, he left it clipped to an ice screw and continued to squeeze himself inside the 'chimney' proper. Later, he reversed said squeeze, retrieved his pack and decided that the grade IV,5 variation deemed a better option. Whilst Chris was tackling the crux of the variation, I was joined by 2 others aiming for Blenderhead (VII,8). After a while, the rope carried on feeding through my device and soon came tight to me. There was no point in calling out as the wind now was wild! 3 tugs and I was on belay, 3 tugs back and I was climbing. 

Soloing up to just before the tight chimney

Team selfie at the base of the crux
Chris at the base of the ice fall blocking the entrance to the chimney of Pillar Chimney (V,5)

The climbing was pretty good. Easy snow up to the pillar with a wide ledge to the crux crack around the other side. The moves are short lived with a few moments of hanging around looking for the most secure hooks until an awkward pull onto a ledge, where Chris had decided to belay, as opposed to the actual belay on top of the pillar, to try and get out of the wind. I continued up onto the top of the pillar to take a look at the last pitch, but the wind was so fierce that I decided to head back down to the ledge and head up the ice to the right, sat above the 2nd and 3rd belay on Clogwyn Left Hand. I became established on the ice but as I swung my axe for a higher placement, a huge block of ice came away from the rock it was attached too.

I managed to catch it in place and hold it against the rock to stop it tumbling down the ice and then into the gully below where a climber was at the 3rd belay of Clogwyn LH belaying their second. I couldn't let it fall, hoping that it'd miss these climbers, that would be very irresponsible! Luckily Chris, on his belay ledge, was just within reach. I passed him the chunk of ice which had now broken into 3 pieces and he placed them out the way on the ledge. I glanced back down at the climber and they acknowledged me with a thumbs up. I'm not sure whether they had noticed what I've just done to keep them out of harms way or whether it was a just a friendly 'hello', either way I'd like to think I had helped to avoid a situation which could have turned serious.

Any way, the ice further up still proved entertaining and gradually got better, until I gained the easier snow slope above at which point the wind was now blowing me up and over the top. No shelter from the wind I had to improvise. I sat with my back against a rock, the route falling away behind me, and tried to block a majority of the wind by putting my pack behind my head on the rock, only for it to keep blowing off. I gave up. Hood up, Chris on belay and now we wait.

Going by the feel of the rope and the rate at which I was pulling it in, I could roughly tell what point of the route Chris was on. No movement for a while meaning he had stopped to remove a screw, slowly but steadily, he was climbing the delicate ice. After a while, I was constantly pulling rope through, meaning Chris had reached the easy ground behind me and was motoring up to join me soon. Upon reaching the belay, he let out yells of pain. Hot aches had caught up with him and with the wind now at it's peak, we decided to get off the mountain and head back down to the car.

Overall, we had a brilliant day out in the hills. One of the best I have had in a while. Great location, top quality routes and good company. What more could you ask for?

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