What I needed for this trip was no rain. My Paramo Velez smock’s pocket zip is broken so I was wearing my Montane smock for this trip and it is not waterproof. Saturday’s forecast looked drier than Friday’s so I delayed my Easter trip by a day and, with a strange sense of inverse snobbery, protected myself from the Saturday morning forecasted rain with the Gelert cagoule I keep in the car for emergencies. Anyone can wear expensive gear, dear.
The 4 day weekend gave me the time to go a little further afield than my usual Clwydians overnight camps but this was still only going to be a 2 day/1 night trip and I didn’t see the need to carry my full backpacking set. I have no idea how I have ever managed to fit everything into a 22 litre pack. That same rucksack seemed much too small so I ended up using my Golite Pinnacle which I find uncomfortable for a multi-day tent trip but quite OK for a lighter load on an overnighter.
I’d been watching the weather forecast and mountain rescue twitter feeds and was not expecting any snow to fall where I was going but I did not know how much would still be on the ground. I wasn’t prepared for a proper winter bivi, like I had at New Year so decided to play it by ear.
The first (and, thankfully, last) issue was when a walker at Llanfairfechan station asked me where I was heading to and I said “Oh, I don’t really mind”. I am such an anti-social walker I don’t usually need to have a prepared Line To Take when interrogated about my intentions. I must’ve looked like a pending statistic standing there in my pac-a-mac and without a clue where I was going. She said they were going to Rowan and I nodded like I knew where that was.
As expected, I didn’t take my planned route out of Llanfairfechan. Not that it really mattered; I only had to go South and then Up. I’d downloaded chunks of map to use offline on the OSMaps app on my phone. Throughout this trip I used my phone as my main “quick check” for navigation. I still had a paper OS map bungeed to my rucksack strap but the phone – with its built-in GPS – was quicker than matching the GR off my Garmin Geko to the map. I wish I was able to download bigger sections of map on the OSMaps app. I had to piece together the downloads before I set off so that I had full map coverage if I had no phone signal. This will not be ideal for a longer walk like the TGO Challenge but I’ll probably download some 1:25k sections for tricky parts of my route.
My plan was to follow the ridge – Drum – Foel Fras – Carnedd Gwenllian – and maybe drop down to Dulyn Bothy. However, after only a couple of miles I decided it was time for a tea-break so I got out my stove and checked my map. I changed my plan. I would now go as far as Drum then drop down to Pen Y Castell which would make me nicely placed for an easy walk back to the bus-stop in the morning.
The weather got more wintery as I got closer to Drum. At first there was a light covering of snow on the path:
My lack of spikes (or even boots) didn’t worry me, and I could easily camp in this light coverage.
I passed a scientific station for measuring sheep wee. I’ve spent many a happy night camping on sheep poo but I’d not given a moment’s thought to the wee.
Very quickly the visibility reduced.
My common sense was starting to kick in. If the path continued like this, with a thin layer of soft snow underfoot, I could continue – but if it started to get deep or icy I would have to turn back.
I didn’t make it as far as the Drum summit cairn (and nor could I see it through the cloud) because I caught sight of this stile in around the right place for my descent to Pen Y Castell.
I wish I’d had a 1:25k map with me, as I now know this fence is marked on that map, but it seemed to be going in the SE direction I needed. Expecting that the visibility and ground conditions would improve down the hill, I followed the fence with frequent checks of my compass.
Resting my poles against the next fence I reached, I noticed these ice feathers.
Conditions did improve after Pen Y Castell. I now knew that I wouldn’t have to bivi in the snow. Not that I would have minded, although I would’ve liked to have had a warmer mat and maybe my bigger tarp.
The track running from the S side of Pen Y Castell towards Llanbedr y Cennin has dry stone walls along its sides. The walls have several gaps in them so I had the cunning plan to nip through one of these gaps and find a pleasant sward on which to spend the night. I must’ve walked 1km round in circles trying to find a sleeping bag sized plot that wasn’t bumpy, rocky, spiky or boggy.
Eventually I chose the least worst patch I could find and put my tarp up in a simple lean-to configuration and chucked everything under cover. Remember, it wasn’t going to rain so this was a just in case tarp. Within minutes it was raining …. and then snowing.
I turned my mat round to run along the length of the tarp, unpacked my sleeping bag and bivi bag, and propped myself up on my elbow under the shelter whilst making a cup of tea.
The rain got quite heavy for a while but I was now in my bivi bag and the mini tarp was doing its job of keeping the rain off me while I cooked and ate.
I’ve learned from cold, miserable experience that the secret of successful cold-weather bivvying is to put on all your clothes before it goes dark and before you wake up feeling cold. If you’re already shivering in a clammy bivi bag then the last thing you want to do is climb out of it and find, in the dark, where you put your jumper and gloves. I put on my fleece jumper then put my smock back on top. I put my dry socks on and wrapped my pac-a-mac around the end of my sleeping bag, inside the bivi bag. I was wearing my new Biotorsion socks and they were comfy both in my trail shoes and sleeping bag. My sleeping bag is supposed to be good down to -5 degrees, and the forecast was for + 1 or 2 degrees, but I’m a cold sleeper and I’d rather be too warm than cold at the start of the night.
The hillside had very good mobile phone coverage so I entertained myself, before bed, with the delights of Twitter. I’d brought my Kindle with me and had fully intended to read a proper book with big words in, but reading people’s comments on my physical hardiness and dubious mental state passed the time nicely.
I don’t think the temperature got down below freezing overnight. I had put my shoes and water bottle in my rucksack to prevent them from freezing but – apart from a light frosting on the end of my bivi bag – there was no indication of sub-zero temperatures.
That’s not to say I was completely toasty in my bag. I woke up a couple of times and noticed that my hips were cold. I covered them with my pack towel and windshirt, inside the sleeping bag, and that warmed me up. This seems to be a fairly common problem for some women. I know some sleeping bags have extra down around the foot; maybe a woman-specific bag should have extra filling in the middle?
The weather was perfect in the morning. Despite having to camp on the wrong (ie West) side of a wall, I soon had the sun on me and I took my time having breakfast and packing up. Why rush when I could lie in the sun, listen to the birds and look at the snowy peaks of the Southern Carnedds?
This is what I’d come for. I took down the tarp and revelled in the quiet simplicity of sitting on my mat, sipping my coffee and doing nowt.
Ater an hour of glorious sunshine I remembered I’d brought my new solar charger with me. Doh! I don’t think they work if you leave them in your bag. I plugged it into my phone for half an hour or so and got a couple of percent of extra charge despite using the phone’s data, GPS and camera. Not brilliant but my phone did end up with more charge than before despite fairly heavy usage. I used it again later, whilst waiting for the bus, and managed to maintain the charge when using the phone.
No camping trip is complete without excessive calorific intake on the journey home. An all-day Veggie breakfast was just the ticket.