Friday, December 16, 2011

Something for the Weekend

We have had a good dump of snow overnight last night and throughout the day today. My clients for the day cancelled due to poor travelling conditions coming across from the Peak District and so I have not been up on the hill. The snow line has dropped to about 350m with snow down to Pen Y Pass. With all this fresh snow you will need to pick your routes this weekend. Reading the conditions reports on UKC highlights the lack of understanding of what can be climbed in different conditions so I thought I would provide a brief summary of the three main types of winter climbing in Snowdonia and the conditions needed for them to exist, to help choose good objectives for the weekend.

Ice Climbing - As the name suggests. For ice to form and be climbable we need a sustained period of cold weather for several days and nights. There also needs to be enough water in the streams to freeze and provide routes to play on. A gentle freeze/thaw action will help the ice to build and prevent the ice from being too brittle. A sudden sharp drop in temperatures can produce very hard, brittle ice that is not great for climbing. We have not had these low temperatures yet this year and they are generally quite rare here in Snowdonia because we have such a relatively mild climate being right on the coast.
Ice Climbing in Cwm Idwal - South Gully - Dec 2010
Snow & Ice - This generally refers to the sort of climbing found in the main gully lines such as Broad Gully in Cwm Lloer, Parsley Fern Gully in Cwm Glas or Easy Gully in Cwm Cneifion. For these sorts of routes to be "in condition" we need to have had some good dumps of snow to fill the gullies followed by a slight rise in temperature to start a gentle thaw followed by a freeze to bind the snowpack together. (This process can occur naturally over time without the freeze/thaw action but rarely does in Snowdonia since it usually starts raining and washes it all away). This type of re-frozen snow is called neve and is Gods gift to winter climbers.

Hidden Gully, Cwm Cneifion. Good Neve in Dec 2011
Mixed Climbing - This is a mixture of ice and snow but can also provide climbing on routes where little of either exist. Mixed climbing is your best bet for early season conditions as it generally requires little if any ice and many routes can be climbed without neve. Defining when a mixed route is "in condition" is often contentious since harder routes often rely on frozen turf that can be easily damaged if climbed when its not frozen. A lack of snow and ice can also lead to damage to the rock itself which is a problem on summer rock routes. (For further advice on minimising your environmental impact and picking suitable routes read this article

This weekend the best climbing will be had on mixed routes. In the lower grades ridges like the North Ridge of Tryfan, Crib Goch, The Gribin, Seniors Ridge and the Crib Llem Spur will all give great mountaineering at about grade I/II as long as its not too windy. The lower grade gullies will probably be a wade fest in the fresh snow as they have not gone through the melt freeze process described above. 

Crib Goch - only needs a dusting of snow to be wintery. Neve like this though makes it even better. Dec 2010

Pillar Chimney, Colwyn Du - A great mixed climbing venue & a route that uses snow, ice & rock combined - Jan 2011

To push things on a bit there are plenty of mixed routes in Baggys new guidebook North Wales Winter Climbing that are high enough for the turf to be frozen, will be plastered in snow and will give a great range of routes from grade III upwards. Have a great weekend! 

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