Monday, November 5, 2012

November spawned a monster

It's that time of the year when the climbing world in the northern hemisphere,turns its attention the winter scene. Every year the 'Snowdonia winter conditions' thread on the climbing forums seems to appear earlier and earlier. There is usually an air of desperation running through the comments therein.Contributors pining for a pointer which suggests that despite all evidence to the contrary,somewhere,in some remote high cwm,maybe-just maybe- there is gully or buttress carrying enough snow and ice to offer some sport.

Last year's winter in North Wales was particularly disappointing for winter climbing enthusiasts. A more typically mild and wet season which contrasted with an exceptionally cold December 2010 when the temperature here in NE Wales rarely went above freezing and often fell to minus fifteen Celsius below.

This fall however, November has quickly shaken off its mists and mellow fruitfulness to offer an early dose of winter. The mountains of north Wales above 2000' have been well coated with snow and looking out at the Carneddau range at the weekend, it looked a perfect day to be walking the ridges and tops. Not an opportunity which appears to have been ignored by winter walkers in North Wales, for local mountain rescue teams were called out to attend at least four incidents in Snowdonia at the weekend.

I was in the Lledr Vally area on Saturday expecting the forecast of wall to wall sunshine would-despite the nippy temperatures-allow us to do some rock climbing and work on some projects. By two o clock the sun had disappeared behind cloud and in the direction of Moel Siabod a dark billowing wall appeared to be heading our way. No mistaking the signs. Looks like something nasty is going to hit us in the next half hour or less? Sure enough a hail squall arrived right on Q .

I was engaged in releasing and throwing down a doubled abseil rope at the time. Sure enough the rope snagged on a flake of rock set on an exposed nose. Under a battering pelt of hail which was coating the crag in a slippery sheen, I struggled with frozen hands to release an in-situ rope to protect myself as I ventured out across the exposed nose to free the trapped rope.  I managed to fall headfirst in a trough of gorse; couldn't free the in-situ rope. Eventually I did and managed to tie on but when I teetered out, the rope wasn't long enough! It was all a bit mad for ten minutes or so.The time it took for the squall to pass over.

By then the crag was dripping, I was scratched,wet through and chilled to the marrow. Time to bail out. The thing about north Wales in November is you just know that the weather WILL be totally unpredictable. Next weekend the temperatures could be back up in the high teens/low twenties and we could be climbing in T shirts. We were last November. Morrissey might have sang 'November spawned a monster' but the month is just as likely to spawn a lamb. It's the most unpredictable month of the year. I'm not taking any bets on what the forthcoming weekend has in store.

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