Snowdon [GW/NW001 ] A Salutory Lesson!

Greetings to all my fellow Sotarists .

Ever been blinded by the pure adrenalin of " Summit Bagging " and almost paid the price ?

Well , join the club , or rather , consider my recent experience on Snowdon and inwardly digest … it may help you survive one 'orrible day up some artic , heathen and thoroughly inhospitable SOTA summit !

This is what happened to Nick GW4OOE/P and myself MW6PYG/P ] :

On Thursday 7th March , having already bagged and qualified 4 easy SOTA summits GW/NW -051 : 044 :054 : 041 ] on the previous day we set our sites on bagging the Biggy GW/NW-001 .

Day 2 of our 3-day expedition to Snowdonia and the N wales mountains found us arriving at Pen y Pass Car Park just before 0900hrs . Wales offers the intrepid Sotarist a spectacular mix of bitterly spine-chilling wind , driving rain and fog . And so it was in that car park . Barely a sole sane] to be seen and visibility down to say 200 metres .

Our target was totally ’ wipe -out ’ thick fog / cloud obliterating all except the WC sign and the £10 CP charge for the dubious privelege .

We booted up , donned our wet-weather gear and with heads bowed to the wind we set off up the PYG track for NW-001 , complete with GPS route , laminated OS mapping , whistles , compasses , etc , etc .

Starting at circa 1000+ ft ASL we made steady progress on the ascent with visibility no better than 20 -40 metres . At around 2400 ft ASL conditions deteriorated rapidly as we slowly came into the snow line !
Didn’t seem too bad and the rain was tolerable but in our faces and the fog was getting thicker .


We had invested so much time , energy , desire , challenge in bagging Snowdon , 10 SOTA points and 3 Bonus pointys to boot , that we just ploughed on up .

Tramp up Snowdon with our woad on ,
Never mind if we’re rained and snow’d on …

Well that was the song I recall singing as I climbed Snowdon the last time , 38 years and I did it again … as you do .

The next 1200+ ft of ascent to the summit were horrendous . Driving rain blasted onto old , compacted snow in near 0 Celcius temperatures results in dangerous ice sheets . Together with near near wipe-out visibilty the going got progressively worse the higher we went . By the time we reached the summit at c. 1210 hrs the wind speed had risen to 50-60 mph .
Hell on Welsh earth conditions… couldn’t even stand up .

No place to hide or shelter to activate for SOTA … welcome to purgatory !

We’d made it … just . So now to do the Activation . Somehow we were able to function long enough to get the radio contacts … by the skin of our teeth only . It was so hellish we were unable to remove gloves , handle GPS buttons , feed , drink or even answer mother nature . All we could think about was getting off that unholy mountain .

We had intended to return via The Miners Track but decide to return by the Pyg track .

We were very lucky to descent in one piece . Nick took over a dozen falls and I took two . The ice sheets were lethal and it took all our reserves to traverse them on all fours and /or on backsides . To attempt standing would have courted disaster .

AA 2hr+ ascent / 2hr descent took over 6 hours . We arived back at Pen yu Pass exhausted .
I felt chipper… we’d done it !!

Well not too chipper for long … got back only to learn that the Mountain Warden had been warning folk of the bad conditions on NW-001 and advising that it should only be attempted with Crampons and Ice-axes .

We had neither .

We had no idea , when we started , of what was to come .

Moral to the story ? … On big mountains , even in UK , always , always get the info the the summit you are about to tackle … bugger the National weather forecast … complete waste of time for this sort of winter SOTAring .


Happy winter bonus bagging to you all .

Next few weeks Nick , Phil G4OBK ] and I are SOTA bagging in Lakeland… baby summits for the spring campaign !

Fair play to you for owning up to an error of judgement. I have had to do likewise over the years. I bet looking back you can’t believe that you were so daft as to continue in those conditions, but I then can’t believe I decided to descend down Wind Gap off Pillar in wet weather last summer!

Hopefully poor decisions that we end up getting away with makes our future judgements better and wiser! Glad you are both safe.


In a word:

Crampons and ice-axe. OK that’s 3 words (maybe 4).

You wont make that mistake again and this time only pride and backsides hurt.

I’ve carried my crampons and ice-axe up many, many summits then carried them down unused. The few times they’ve been needed they’ve been the only way to get off the hill in one piece.


In reply to MM0FMF:

I saw a video earlier of a climber who was using Ice Axes & Crampons when an ice fall from above sent him hurtling back down the mountain for quite a while. Of course, he couldn’t have made it up as far as he did without them, but Ice is lethal, whether it’s on a mountain, or the path outside your home.

I’m sure you will be more careful in future Geoff, & that can only be a good thing.

Best 73,

Mark G0VOF

In reply to M1EYP:

Hi Nick / Geoff

If when visiting the lakes next week you fancy the higher peaks, please be very careful which ones you choose.

Last weekend saw Wasdale, Keswick and Cockermouth MRT’s out on Sunday to incidents invovling those out on the fells on ice / snow without correct equipment. The latter, very sadly involved a 300ft fall from Pillar resulting in a fatality. The one on Sca Fell Pike came close to being the same.

Helvellyn area has also seen two very close calls this past week.

On the Monday, Karen, 2E0XYL frightened Colin to death when she decided to activate Mellbreak, as at the same time she was en-route, once again MRT were called out to Mellbreak at that precise time !!

Thankfully, it was not Karen, but another unlucky lady ended up breaking an ankle.

Crampons at the very least are essential at the moment on many of the mid to higher fells as the ground simply has not thawed, old snow is still laying, and today, Richard was out on Causey Pike and it was snowing heavily across the area. Where the ground does thaw on the surface, it is still frozen just under the surface, making for very slippery conditions and false footing.

Even the lower fells will now probably be slippery under foot.

If anyone find themselves caught out like you were above, the best thing to do is turn back. The hills/fells will always be there for another day.



In reply to M6EPW:
Very true Liz. My Dad was on Place Fell G/LD-027 [4 pointer] last week and said it was really difficult. The snow had thawed and re-frozen many times in the last few weeks. It was really slippery. He considers higher tops out of bounds at present.


The best return in the winter bonus season is on the 2 point hills in the UK - 150% extra free! You don’t get as good value going higher.

I am keeping an eye on the forecast as I would like to do the “Church Stretton Five” next week [WB-002, 3, 4, 5 + MW-013], but do not wish to encounter ice on the Mynd roads. Current reports on the roads over the Long Mynd over the next few days will be very useful for my planning. Last I checked the wx it wasn’t looking too good until next Friday, but I’ll keep checking…


In reply to M1EYP:

I would like to do the “Church
Stretton Five” next week [WB-002, 3, 4, 5 + MW-013], but do not wish
to encounter ice on the Mynd roads. Current reports on the roads over
the Long Mynd over the next few days will be very useful for my
planning. Last I checked the wx it wasn’t looking too good until next
Friday, but I’ll keep checking…

Was going to do then tomorrow but just lokked at the wx forecast so my change my plans!! Will keep you posted

G1FOA (with a new SOTA beam)

In reply to M6PYG:

No place to hide or shelter to activate for SOTA … welcome to
purgatory !

Hope your 11 S2S points helped ease the pain a little, Geoff…

Many thanks to both you and Nick, for the S2S in such difficult conditions.

73 Mike

In reply to M6PYG:
Thanks for sharing. It never does any harm to share these types of stories.

Most people who do any high mountain walking will be thinking now of their own stories of near misses. I know I’ve got a hat full.

Anyway, you got down in one piece and you have added to your experience and you have helped others too by sharing, so it’s all good really (except for a few scary hours!)

Happy hill going!


In reply to 2W0GDA:

I did not know this at the time, but the video I mentioned earlier was actually filmed on Snowdon on 24th February. It is now on the BBC News wesbite:

Thanks & 73,

Mark G0VOF

In reply to G0VOF:

That looks like ParsleyFern Gully.

Yikes! That brings back memories!


In reply to M1EYP:

More pleasant ones for me: a controlled descent mode known colloquially as the “bummade”, a seated glissade, often at high speed, steered and braked by the ice axe. Huge fun, though best done whilst not wearing crampons - as I found out the hard way!


Brian G8ADD

In reply to M0EIQ:
Yep, Parsley Fern Left Hand.

Mate of mine was near the bottom when it happened.

He was amazed to find him relatively unscathed.

Once the local team and the heli arrived he moved on.

There were a lot of people about, including some Llanberis MRT. Bloke was very lucky, he was winched in less than 30 minutes.


In reply to G0VOF:

Lucky guy, looks as if he lost both ice axes (leashes not round his wrists?) but did manage to keep his feet up to stop the catapult effect of the crampons digging in.


Barry GM4TOE

In reply to GM4TOE:
Bit of debate about ice axe leashes. If you lose hold of the axe and build up a bit of speed then you can get hit by the flailing axe flying around. But on the other hand if it is less steep you might not build up as much speed and be able to recover the axe and then brake with it.

So it’s up to you really.

I’ve only ever ice axe braked once for real, when I was kicking steps without crampons and one collapsed. It was very effective.

Practiced doing it many times.


In reply to 2W0GDA:

I must be less lucky than you. I have done ice axe arrests for real a few times. I was also doing a snow and ice route with a mate who dropped his axe down the mountain. Not only was it a hazard to anyone below (there was no-one fortunately) but it made getting off the mountain much more tricky. I will stick with leashes. Actually on steep ice I (used to) support much of my weight on the leash - but that’s a different technique to using an axe whilst walking.

73 Richard G3CWI

In reply to 2W0GDA:

Was he soloing the route; what grade? It looks like he shifted his weight to avoid some debris falling from above, he did well not to break bones.

In that case he’s maybe happy the axes weren’t leashed, if they weren’t, as he’d maybe find them conveniently stowed in his thighs.

Thanks for another reason to be a summer climber, happy to walk in winter.

Ian, MM0GYX.

In reply to MM0GYX:

Found it, grade I(***)