Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Ice Ice Baby

So isn't this exciting. The first bucket test of the year is a success....

The bucket test being - when I leave a bucket outside my back door overnight, full of water, and find it in the morning full of ice - chances are it's a bit on the chilly side up in the mountains.

Talk abounds all over the forums and facebook at the moment of people hoping gullies will be in condition and wondering what knarl they can go at towards the later stages of these week. So perhaps time for a few pointers...

There is snow on Pen-y-Fan, there is snow in the gullies, it is powdery.

Simple snow facts, lesson one...

Snow falls as unconsolidated powder, this of course means that all gullies are slosh fests, and although on occasion fun, they're not really 'in' condition. Unfortunately, the Gods do not bless us enough to allow Neve to fall from the heavens. Not that we ever really have true Neve in South Wales. But really, for gullies such as those on the North Face of Pen-y-Fan to come into condition, we need a bit of freeze thaw, to allow the snow crystals to melt and then rebond as a more compact and solid snowpack. Unfortunately, this freeze thaw rarely happens in South Wales, and the snow is unlikely to stay there long enough for it to compress and establish itself through gravity alone. Whilst it is true that the daytime sub zero's and the overnight drops on the high ground do lead to a nice crunchy solid crust, this is highly unlikely to be stable enough to climb on so much as fall through. Gop.

The gullies of South Wales and Frozen Turf...

So, the gullies and ridge routes of South Wales (such as central gully and central rib on PyF) are still regularly climbable in winter conditions. From snow lesson number one you'll appreciate that the snow is not often in condition however the advantage comes from the fact that these routes are primarily frozen turf choss fests. Which is in fact a lot more fun than it sounds. Problem at the moment is likely to be that the turf underneath the snow may not be frozen. Because the snow came quite suddenly, after a period of mild weather, it is possible that it will have insulated the ground before it had chance to thoroughly freeze, leading to only partially frozen turf. That said, much of the steeper sections in the gullies struggle to cling on to snow, especially on the few mixed steps in central gully, meaning exposed turf will by this point almost certainly be frozen. Thumbs Up! Watch out for those delicate patches of vegetation and un-bonded rock, however. Although specific to North Wales, tootle over to the BMC website and check out there new white is right guide, for some tips and pointers about how to protect the winter environment.

Rime! on the headwall

For the more seasoned amongst us who fancy a bit of excitement on the headwall of Pen-Y-Fan, the good news is that when it's cold and there is snow and moisture blowing about in the air, the headwall very very quickly comes into climbable condition. Thanks to the prevailing north easterlies over the park the headwall gets blasted with all manner of sticky icy frozen water stuff which builds up a nice layer of axe attracting rime. So go out and have some fun kids!

Ice - the real good news!

Water ice, in South Wales?! Yes thats right. There are a number of waterfalls in south wales that come into condition after a good cold snap - usually around 5-7 days of sub zero temperatures. If you follow the temperature of Merthyr, and chop off a few degrees, that's usually a good indicator as to what it's been like up at the storey arms. Most notable of these falls are RAC Corner or Craig-y-Fro, just past the Storey Arms and up on the hillside, Roadside easy ice cragging that is very popular and usually takes around 5 days to form into a climbable condition. Previous winters have seen it offer some interesting variations including a short but sweet WI3 pillar at the bottom and a short vertical section to top out with some fun little steps in between. Best of all is Torpantau, the jewel in South Wales water ice crown, 2-3 pitches of steep, steppy, mushroomed scottish 3, pure ice. After a week of sub zero it's usually fat enough to take long screws and give a fantastic outing. Take plenty of screws though and a couple of bulldogs, as rock protection is scarce and there have been a number of accidents or near misses.

PLEASE REMEMBER - Water Ice is delicate. Don't hack it up and smash it up, taking out large chunks and pillars, and leave it in as best condition as you can for the next ascent. Due to them being the most southerly of winter climbs in the UK, they get a lot of traffic from Wales and abroad.

Have fun out there kids! And stay safe!

No comments:

Post a Comment