A Bad Day on my Favourite Mountain – and its proper name!

20 02 2018

As I’m not doing much at the moment with my knackered hip, this is from way back…

I’ll start with a quick rant about my favourite mountain and the becoming common abuse of his name – my favourite mountain is Snowdon… not ‘mount’ Snowdon… ever! Of course, its real name is Welsh and you can either say Eryri or Yr Wyddfa but the Welsh generally don’t mind if you stick to Snowdon.

All photos on different days – the poor quality ones were a cheap camera!
I was on a trip to Snowdonia in Wales with my parents, mainly just driving around. It was November, however, and my favourite British mountain had a snowy cap. I couldn’t be around the mountain and not go up it so it was arranged that they’d drop me off at Rhyd Ddu and pick me up later in Llanberis at the far side of the mountain.

I had my walking gear, e.g. boots and decent clothing, bumbag etc. but didn’t have my ice axe or crampons. My route was due to cross a pretty narrow ridge (any route up Snowdon ends with a narrow ridge which can be dangerous in winter conditions), so we called in briefly at the Ranger Station atop Pen-y-Pass to check whether there was snow on Bwlch Main, the ridge on my route. The ranger said not…

I set off from Rhyd Ddu mid afternoon – fairly late for November but my fitness was good and I knew the route. I strode off enthusiastically up the long and beautiful track towards the foot of the mountain – an outlying peak called Llechog.


Snowdon from near Rhyd Ddu – the narrow ridge of Bwlch Main goes along the bumpy ridge from the right-hand peak to the left

The first time I did this route in mist, I was wondering how I’d cope with Bwlch Main’s narrowness and mistakenly thought the walk along the edge of the crags of Llechog was the ridge in question. It was pretty easy I thought… then I reached the real thing and had quite a few wavery moments.


Looking back along Llechog

By the time I did this route, I’d done Bwlch Main a few times and was generally okay with the ridge but still didn’t like the little side path above very steep ground to reach it. The weather was quite cold and there was mist swirling about above me as I climbed the steep zig-zag up from Llechog. I had all my gear on though and was plenty warm enough and going very well…

As I reached my unfavourite side path – less than a foot wide and scraping along the side of a very steep and high scree, I noticed the cloud was sweeping out of the cwm (corrie) past my feet. This was like standing on stepping stones amid a fast-flowing stream and tended to make you sway out towards the drop – it was like the mist was trying to pull you to your doom!


My erstwhile ‘scary’ path, well it was in my early days

Suddenly, I’d gone very dizzy and noticed everything was going black! I dropped to my knees immediately and grabbed some rocks until the giddiness passed and the blackness cleared. I stood up and continued a few steps with the clouds swirling past my feet but found the same thing happened again… and again. Every few yards I was blacking out and having to throw myself down onto the path and grab a handhold before I was sucked out down the side of the mountain into the cwm a thousand feet or so below.

Whether this was classic vertigo or some kind of brain malfunction due to the severe disorientation being caused by the cloud movement below my feet, I’ve never found out but it was super scary – not helped by the fact that, at that time, I hated this section of path anyway.

I staggered and crawled to the end of the side path to the start of the ridge proper. This is the place I call ‘the refuge’ and I’ve found many a fearful person sat here not wanting to go back along the side path or forward along the narrow ridge of Bwlch Main (which actually means thin ridge in Welsh).


Approaching ‘the Refuge’ at the end of the side path

I flopped down and sat in the mist wondering what to do. At this point, I hadn’t had any time to wonder why I kept blacking out and hadn’t had my disorientation or vertigo theory yet – that came with later analysis. The continuation ridge ahead was covered in snow, only a few feet wide (at one point only a foot wide) and the drop down each side of the ridge is around 2700 feet and fatal – not encouraging in my apparent state, the conditions and without spikes. I’m very cowardly in winter conditions on narrow stuff anyway.


Bwlch Main without the snow – that couple found it scary too!

It was now pretty late and I was pretty sure I’d be alone on the mountain by now. There was only another hour and half of daylight left and my parents were going to be waiting at the far side of the hill. If I went back down and crossed the cwm below and the pass between Snowdon and Moel Cynghorion, I’d be very late meeting them – the route was safe enough in the dark though… I felt I needed to continue but was afraid of more blackouts along the narrow snowy ridge…

Just then, I heard voices coming out of the mist along the ridge ahead. A party of German men loomed out of the mist. They stopped to parley. Which was the way to the summit they asked? They were going in completely the opposite direction – basically, they’d turned the left instead of right at the fingerpost stone at the top of the Watkin Path and come along Bwlch Main. Their mistake was my good fortune…

They queried why I was sitting looking pale and ill so late in the day. I said I’d been taken ill and didn’t know why but kept blacking out. They asked if I was warm enough (which I was) and whether I’d eaten. I said I’d had something a while back but they offered me a warm drink and biscuits.

After thanking them and eating and drinking their generously offered provisions, I decided I should take the opportunity to accompany them along the snowy ridge to the summit – I’m not as cowardly in company and it would look like I was doing them a favour!


More Bwlch Main photos (back on the Zenith SLR now) – on the photo below, you can just see the sketchy side path in the scree below the pointy peak

We stomped off along the slippery ridge, me feeling much happier now I had company. We were soon across and clambering up the steep and snowy slopes to the summit. We sat and had a break in the shelter of the cafe (the nice, old one) and I had another cheeky biscuit.


The slope to the summit on a non-snowy day

They were heading off down the PYG track so I escorted them down to the start of their path and romped off down the Llanberis path – now perfectly fine. I had around 15 minutes to wait for my parents and certainly didn’t mention anything of my time on the hill.


Looking back to the summit on another day


A Train Passing Above ‘the Killer Convex’ – the place where uncramponed folk fall to their doom each winter! Bwlch Main in the background


Looking over the edge to the PYG track


The mighty Yr Wyddfa!

I’ve since done Bwlch Main many, many times in bad and good conditions and it is now my favourite route to Snowdon, so much so, that I normally head back along Bwlch Main after summitting and descend the Yr Aran route and then take a quarry track back out to Rhyd Ddu. I’ve never had any problems since and often pick up worried walkers from ‘the Refuge’ and escort them along the ridge, encouraging them all the way.


Bwlch Main again with the track down to Yr Aran to its left


Descending to Llanberis

I’ve found over my years in the hills that it’s easier for a mountain coward to encourage people who are worried by narrow ridges and heights as I know exactly where they’re coming from and what they’re seeing. I just tell them a better way to look at it and they’re always fine.

But, what went wrong that day? I’m sure it wasn’t lack of food or drink – I rarely eat on a hillwalk and only drink a flask in cold weather for the comfort of the warm liquid. I’m convinced it was a kind of vertigo brought on by the swirling clouds trying to pull me off the ridge which was triggering the blackouts.

Advertisements

Actions

Information

15 responses

31 03 2018
Simon Howlett

Pleased you made it off Snowdon safe and sound Carol. I’ve not climbed Snowdon, the Killer Convex sounds terrifying.

Had a similar experience yesterday when crossing snow on the Corridor Route heading up to Lingmell. Gave me the jitters.

Like

25 02 2018
chrissiedixie

Not been up that way at all, but I have to say it definitely looks like a route to do without Pebbles……..

Like

26 02 2018
mountaincoward

I’d avoid Bwlch Main if you’re dog’s a bit lively (which I gather is the case) and also obviously Crib Goch – which I wouldn’t take any dog on. It’s a truly beautiful route though. Don’t worry, there are 8 other main routes to choose from and, with the Sherpa buses going around the mountain, you can go up more or less any track and take any other back down – I often do that. I never park at Pen-y-Pass either – very expensive – I always get the Sherpa up from the park and ride at Nant Peris. You can also get the bus up from Llanberis if you’re staying there.

Like

23 02 2018
bob

Looks adventurous.

Like

23 02 2018
mountaincoward

If you haven’t been on Snowdon yet, that’s definitely the best, prettiest route and one of the quieter ones!

Like

22 02 2018
tessapark1969

Interesting account. Does sound like vertigo to me.

Like

22 02 2018
mountaincoward

A really severe case perhaps – definitely brought on by the sweeping cloud below my feet though! Horrid

Like

21 02 2018
Gaslight Crime

Try reading George Borrow’s account of his 1854 ascent in his book Wild Wales – a different world.

Like

21 02 2018
mountaincoward

There wouldn’t have been any paths much in those days – apart from the start of the Miners Track as far as Llyn Glaslyn and probably the Watkin Path. George Borrow does sound worth a read when I get round to buying some more books…

Liked by 1 person

22 02 2018
Gaslight Crime

Borrow was guided up by the original Snowdon Ranger.

Like

22 02 2018
mountaincoward

Now that is a lovely route up the Snowdon Ranger track – long time since it had a ranger though. Maybe it would be a good idea to start that up again! The Youth Hostel is just at the foot of it.

Liked by 1 person

23 02 2018
Gaslight Crime

I suspect the YH is where the original ranger lived.

Like

23 02 2018
mountaincoward

Yes he probably did – I must look it up sometime. That used to be one of my favourite Youth Hostels in Wales

Liked by 1 person

24 02 2018
Gaslight Crime

Youth hostels have changed such a lot since I was young…

Like

24 02 2018
mountaincoward

The worst thing is that they’re always full of school parties nowadays – badly-controlled ones – and you get no sleep at all!

Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.




%d bloggers like this: