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High Camp on Crib-y-Ddysgl (3,493ft.)

By   Dennis Kemp.

w/e 6/7 February 1954.

Party: Reg Atkins, Walter Sharpley, Keith Chambers and writer.

At 3.30pm we arrived at Nant Peris after a slow bumpy, skiddy journey from London on icy broads.  In the morning we were all up by 8.30, each of his own accord, as the weather was so fine.  A clear, brittle blue sky of Alpine depth of colour; a warm sun on the face; yet intensely cold in the shade.  I took my thermometer out; -4deg. C.  When water was fetched from the stream, just 20 yards away it started to freeze in the bucket immediately; minute needles of ice a centimetre long and as fine as hydroquinine crystals, swirling around and congealing to a stiff paste before the return journey was completed.

A hearty breakfast, then packs were packed, tents were shared out, and we were off for the steep and sometimes loose slopes that lead from Nant Peris to Clogwyn station on the Snowdon Railway.  We were carrying two tents between us, two sleeping bags apiece and plenty of spare clothing and food.  About 45lb. packs.

It took some three hours to reach our objective, the summit of Crib-y-Ddysgl.  The snow was not good on the way up: it was far too cold to compact into, steps and footholds just crumpled away into powder snow.

The first thing to do was to get the tents set up.  Then a brew.  “What’s the temperature up here?" asked Walter, warming his hands under his Duvet jacket, having just tied the main guy to the concrete trig. point with his gloves off, I checked, -6deg. C.  A rapid calculation; “That’s s about 11 degrees of frost Fahrenheit” said Reg.  “Not as cold as I’d expected”.

Long strings of people were passing the tents, parties doing the Horseshoe in this glorious Alpine weather.  “Crib Goch is terribly icy”  “You’re not Really going to spend the night up here?”  “Hey, Joe come and look at these gormless b-----s!!”  We supped pints of hot steaming tea at the entrance to the tents, just to tantalise.

Then came a gentle stroll to Y Wyddfa, the summit of Snowdon.  Clouds were surging up in the valleys to the south and east, and soon the countryside was transformed to a flat plain of white, slowly moving cloud, with a suspicion of Lliwedd’s summit below us, and 28 miles away sharp and clear in the distance, Cadcr Idris’s dark and impressive crags.

The wind changed a point or two to the S.W.  Cumulus anvil clouds started rising, and we watched for the Brocken Spectre.  Our two tents seen from this distance looked minute pinheads on the crest of the Ddysgl.

We lingered on until the cold and the impending storm drove us back towards our camp.  For all the signs were of bad weather to come.  I had often witnessed fine weather turn sour in just this way, but had never before slept on the mountain top in defiance of it.  Not in winter, at least.

We were alone on the mountain by four o’clock, when the last of the Horseshoers were hastening towards their huts, hotels and Worthington E at the P.Y.G.

"One thing about winter, camping” said Reg who's tent I was sharing.  “If the tent blows down at dusk, there’s a good 12 hours or so before daylight again!”  The wind flapped the tent and a gust of powder snow filtered in.  I went outside and piled extra rocks round all the guys.  All these were anchored to rocks, of course, for the ground was too frozen for tent pegs.

We dozed in our sleeping bags till 7pm.  The wind was in gale force by now, banging and whistling at the two canvas intrusions on the mountain crest. All my bits and pieces of food, primus, spare clothes were in my rucsac together with my feet; a good way of keeping them warm when camping on snow.  My boots – already frozen when taken off - were my pillow.  It pays to have everything packed in case of an involuntary departure during the night.

 “Let’s have a leisurely meal now”, Reg suggested.  “It’ll pass the time - and I am hungry too; haven’t eaten since breakfast”.  I unpacked my feet and then the primus and the food.  Reg cautiously unlaced part of the door and reached outside for a mess-tin of snow.  Gusts of powder snow came in and the whole floor was dusted white in four seconds flat.  I thought thankfully of the struggle I’d had to move into place the huge boulder which was our main guy anchor.

The wind hammering away suddenly intensified and we stopped operations to listen, diagnosing every movement of the tent as a parting guy-line.  At half seven, with an almighty clout from the wind, the tent heeled over and started down the slope.  I stopped trying to light the primus, Reg forced his frozen boots on and we went outside to investigate.

 “......... cold --- ...... here. ....”

“Well, it’s not exactly warm inside”.

“……..guys are ok…. pulling across the ice.”

 

The boulders had failed to freeze in time, and the whole tent and boulder system was being blown sideways across the ice we had pitched on.

Reg’s voice came floating in from outside;  “…...Can’t stand.....”

“What?”

“………..pright in th……..”

“Can’t hear you!”

A face and a lot of powder snow came in the door.  “Can’t even stand upright myself.  We’ll be in Cwm Glass soon at this rate.”  One of the dural poles, stressed by the shifting of some of the guys, bent smartly in two to give weight to his words.

I has already re-packed everything and had struggled to get my boots on.

 “It’s not so cold, you know, the temperature has gone up to minus five.”

“----------the-------------temperature.”

Walter stuck his head out of his tent, grinning at our plight. "You want to get a decent tent” he jeered. The wind snatched and he looked apprehensively at the trig point.  It was still holding.

“Come share my palace, boys!”

We didn’t fancy spending the night in our sleeping bags in whatever shelter we could dig out of a snowdrift, so we accepted gratefully.  First sleeping bags and then packs were passed in.  Two packs were belayed outside.  The remains of Reg’s tent were buried under as many stones as we could find.  Then came the difficult business of getting four bods into a tent meant for two.  It was only 6ft. long, 4 wide and 4 high, and already contained eight sleeping bags.  The conversation would have made interesting hearing.

We only had 46 cubic feet to share between four, so every move had to be studied and mutually agreed upon.  At last all was secure.  The wind made a dull booming sound against the tent and hit against it as though with a giant carpet beater.  It was practically impossible to sleep with this din not six inches from our ears: it was quite impossible to move, being held as in a vice by tent walls and your neighbour: but it was not terribly cold.  All the same, I managed to doze off now and again, although it was a confused disturbed slumber mingled with dreams and nightmares.

Walter and I had our heads at one end of the tent; the others slept the other way.  We discussed the situation.  Will the tent prove strong enough?  “It has stood up to worse than this”, said Waiter proudly; “But it’s getting on in life now”.  Will the weather get worse?  In the normal course of events, yes, till three or four in the morning.  Should we evacuate now.  No certainly not, if it blows down, could not blow away with four inside it.  The route down, easy as pie in summer, is not to be undertaken at night in a blizzard in winter.  Any danger from frost-bite?  Very little with such crowded conditions.  Should conditions become so fantastically bad we needed to evacuate, then the route finding would be within our capabilities – otherwise what business had we up here, anyway?

After about 8 hours had passed we had a general post to relieve to some extent our cramped muscles.  I looked at my watch.  It was 11pm.

Another 8 hours passed, and it was midnight.  Snow was pelting on the canvas sounding exactly like hail.  We judged that it must be raining in the lowlands, and that a thaw was setting in, the temperature had gone up to -3C.

Suddenly I woke with a start:  I had been dreaming and was in a bit of a panic.  I had parked the Land Rover in a car park, and had gone off for five minutes.  When I came back there were twenty or thirty other Rovers there, all exactly alike, and I just couldn't find which was mine.  It was snowing, and I to find it and get away smartly, as someone was stuck in the entrance rift to Cuthbert’s and the Rover was wanted to tow him out.  If I could get to Mendip in time. . . . I rushed from car to car, wiping the snow off each in turn, getting more and more frantic until I woke up.  The wind had changed 180 degrees, and fine snow was drifting in the ventilator and settling on my face.

Up to now, the wind had been pretty high, but with the change in direction it started trying; really hard to whisk us off the mountain.  A feeling of anxiety pervaded the tent.  Were we to be blown down after all, at 3am?  The trig. point to which we had been so successfully belayed for half the night was now down-wind.  A pile of rocks was our anchor up-wind.  Would they hold?

They did hold, and at 7am. we considered the luxury of a brew.  It was quite obvious that this would not be possible unless someone quit the tent to make more room.  Before I had time to think, I was the clot enough to say it out loud.  There was a silence.  All turned to look at me.  “Good idea” they said.  “What are you waiting for?”

Outside, it was still blowing great guns.  It was quite impossible to stand upright against the wind; I staggered like a drunken man.  The tent was covered with ice, and the guys were the centre of a cylinder of ice some three inches across.  Snow had drifted under one of the eaves of the tent but most had gone with the wind.  The rocks and the trig. point had all grown grey ice formation into the wind: grey, because the component crystals are so small.  I passed the time by taking some photographs, but again the shutter was so erratic with the cold and the camera difficult to hold still.  I made a time exposure of one second, but the shutter took more like five seconds to tick over.

It certainly was not so cold as yesterday, but luckily still cold enough to stop the snow being wet.  A mere minus two degrees!  After coffee, we packed, took the tent down, tidied up as much as was possible - though another trip will be necessary to complete this in the spring - for tidying was not easy with the wind and the driving snow, which whipped everywhere; into packs and pockets, stinging eyes till they smarted, and the tears ran; finding the joint between glove & sleeve, jacket & trousers.  The tent, frozen and covered with ice, full of wind-drift, weighed nearer 45lbs. than its proper 15.

We had hoped to descend today by the way of Crib Goch & its North Ridge.  With this wind in our faces it was out of the question.  Visibility was only a couple of yards despite full daylight.  The only safe way down was by the track to Llanberis, the track that runs beside the railway for part of its route.  But, first, find your track.  Go down at 90 deg. to the wind, said the compass.  This we did until a vague snowdrift warned us to turn into the wind, along the track.  It was important not to miss this point, as the slope further down becomes steeper, and has been the scene of a number of winter accidents.

The next half-hour was the worst of the whole weekend.  With the stinging snow in the eyes it was next to impossible to look ahead: staggering with the weight of packs and the force of the wind, progress was a fight and a misery.

Suddenly we broke through the bad weather, like a diver breaking through the surface of water into the land of air and light again.  The sun was shining in the distance over Anglesey.  Cloggie stood gaunt and white on our left, looking for all the world like a miniature Grandes Jorasses.  But I had no film left in my camera.

Back in the valley, with the thaw raging, a couple of cyclists went past without a glance at us, sodden, wet and tired.  “Doesn’t it look nice in the snow” said the girl.  “Yes, doesn’t it” agreed the youth.  “You know, I’ve been up there to the top of Snowdon.  Last August Bank Holiday.  It’s not hard, you know, there is a good path.  Shall we…..”

D.Kemp.

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Older members who remember Jim Weekes will be interested to know he is now a much married man and has recently become father of a daughter Nicole.

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Further Congratulations.

From the Dark Horse stable Prop. Bob and Coral Bagshaw comes news of another addition to their string.  This time a son.  No more is, known at this time.