Having not slept during the night because it was so cold in the room, I really wasn’t too keen to get up when the alarm went off at 6.30am. There wasn’t time for a lie in though and the adventure started straight away as during the night we’d used up all the money in the electricity meter so I had to grab the torch and a £1 before I could even start to think about putting the kettle on.
Most of the others were soon up and about as TG,RP, JM and AW were heading off to do Broad Gully on Pen y Ole Wen and needed an equally early start.
The path up was iced from the start and we had to put crampons on fairly early on. It was Muffin’s first time in them so it proved to be a baptism of fire for him. The visibility was poor and we overshot the path up to the Bwlch we meant we had to retrace our tracks and wade through deep snow to get back on track.
At 10.30am we were at the start of Bristly Ridge which was in full winter conditions although there was a lot of powder snow in the gully which made the climbing more difficult. I’d never done Bristly before and was imagining it to be more like Crib Goch in winter conditions so I hadn’t anticipated exactly how much of a climb it was going to be.
We pitched most of it and ended up doing about ten pitches and moving together for the final bit. I’d love to see a proper route description to see where we went as at one point we descended and traversed around the left hand side of the ridge before having another series of climbs up.
We were relived when we finally got to the top of the climb at 4.20pm. It was clear we were down going to be descending in the dark so it was a quick change of gloves, a snaffle of chocolate and then a quick move off….. in the wrong direction. We again had to retrace our steps in deep snow and I was reminded of Winnie the Pooh when he’s hunting Heffalumps and had the horrible feeling we might be going round in circles all night.
Eventually we found the descent path but by now the head torches were out and after losing the cairns in the clag we took another wrong turn which wasted about 20 mins. By now, however, we could see the lights of the cars driving down the road and that spurred us on.
The path which had been so icy and treacherous on the way up had melted into a stream and the crampons were proving more of a hindrance than a help in the slush so we stopped to take them off. Typically though, about 10 minutes later we came across another iced over section of path and we had to lose time by skirting all around the edge of it to avoid falling head over heels.
I was really running on empty at this point and said to Muffin I had 10 minutes left in me and that was it. No sooner had I said that than we mounted a small crest and could see the roof of the toilet block in the car park ahead of us. We raced down the final bit and I got there with a few minutes left of energy to spare. By this point we were thoroughly soaked, my shoulders were aching terribly, my feet were sloshing around in swimming pools of water and all we could could think of was food, drink and warm clothes. 12 hours after leaving the car in the morning we were finally back to its heated seats and cheesy tunes.
Arriving back at the hut we were greeted by cups of tea, offers of booze and massive plates of haggis and mash. I never thought I’d eat it but I was so hungry I’d have eaten anything: it actually proved to be rather delicious. I found I could barely lift the bottle of beer up to my mouth as my shoulders hurt so much from a day’s ice axe swinging so Lou offered to hold it up for me. 🙂
Apart from the 13 hour day with Norman on the Ballachulish Horseshoe a few years ago (and that was just a walk) this was my biggest mountain day ever and it proved to be an awfully big adventure. Luckily SH is one of the calmest people I’ve ever met and has now twice proved he can cope with me in stressful situations. Despite what it says on Muffin’s video they didn’t have to leave me on the mountain because I became hysterical and although there were a few comments (comments not moans I’ll have you know) about how my hands were cold I think I stayed in pretty good spirits throughout. Considering it was Muffin’s first ever winter climb he out climbed us on a number of sections and did a great job of keeping me smiling and singing on the belay ledges.
Despite the fact we’ve been up since 6.30am and done 12 hours on the hill we still outlasted most people in the evening and enjoyed a few drinks and some good company before retiring to bed for a good night’s sleep. (Which, thanks to covering myself in every single item of clean clothing I’d brought with me, I actually had.)
It had been a long battle but one that we won although not without the battle scars as Muffin’s trousers prove. 🙂