You often read that you’ll need this, that or the other on a winter walk in Snowdonia. We even put a list together – Essential Winter Hillwalking Checklist– saying just that. What we forgot to mention is that it’s never that straightforward.
You usually set off from the bus stop / car park / village laden with all the kit needed, wearing a goodly proportion. Of course, you’re at 100m altitude and the snow is somewhere around the 700m mark. You’re overdressed, and it takes you a good half hour or so to admit it and stop to change.
By this point, you’ve climbed a bit and it’s getting breezier but still no sign of snow. The fact that you’ve sweated your way here means you’re cooling even quicker than you intended to, but you’ve stopped the rest of the group now. So you’ll have to remove your jacket, or you’ll look like a fool.
If only you’d remembered to pack the wind-proof, that would be just right for these conditions. You tick it off mentally, like you always do, to bring it next time.
The snow’s still a fair climb away and the ground is wet and boggy, hardly the crisp winter walking you’d looked forward to. Before long, you do finally reach the snowline and a welcome break to put your jacket back on as some less cautious types decide to get their poles out (walking poles, c’mon, what kind of walking group to you take them for!). It’s not all fun and games however, as each footstep slides left or right on the greasy snow. It’s like walking on icing sugar. Then it becomes icy, crusty and even more slippery, but you really don’t want to be bothered to stop to put the crampons on just yet.
Thankfully, it’s not too long before you reach the ridge and some real snow and finally the time to get the crampons on. Then you wish you’d stopped on the slope below. The nice sheltered slope where it was just nice and breezy and where you could still feel your extremities.
You eventually get your crampons on, after fiddling with some straps, and carefully making sure that they’re pointing inwards as they should be. It is inwards right?
Ten minutes later, you’ve finally got your crampons on and the real fun starts.
It’s an icy slope, but only 200m to the summit. The longest 200m of your life, as you haven’t seen snow in nine months and you’re totally out of condition. Calves burning, ears freezing and jarring your crampons against hidden rocks takes you finally to the summit!
You do admire the view, as despite everything else, this is one bit where you do get lucky. You look to the distant peaks, which in the pub last night seemed like a reasonable prospect. Unfortunately, it’s taken you three hours to get up here and there’s no way you’re going to cross another four summits by nightfall. Instead, the pub sounds like a much better plan.
You’ve still got to get down there, but the going’s now much less icy and the snow on this south facing slope is much softer, like baby bear’s bed it’s neither too hard nor too soft. If only it was always like that.Of course, it isn’t and just that you don’t forget it, you find some deeper and softer snow overlying a bog. With snow up to your crotch, thankfully you get pulled out, and your boot comes with you, not like last time.
Soon enough, you go through all the above in reverse. Slipping on greasy snow, refusing to take off your crampons until you can’t see them for sphagnum moss and clods of earth, before sweating your way profusely to the road as you really can’t be bothered to put your jacket in the bag.
You continue on the final leg, with the coat on the outside of your pack as it won’t all go back in, but you no longer care. You’re looking forward to the pint, and next year’s walk in the snow.