North Face – Crib Goch
Here I was again, contemplating another walk along this precipitous mountain ridge, only a week or so after my last visit. On that occasion, a couple of members of our group had witnessed a young lady’s horrifying fall from Crib Goch, and participated in her rescue following the accident. Now we were back, yet this time in a completely different dynamic.
I had come here to take my Mountain Leader (ML) course, along with four other veterans. We were being observed by “Adventures with Heroes” boss Evo Evans, a qualified ML himself who had led on the previous, unrelated Crib Goch trip. This time he was with us on behalf of Adventure Quest (who were funding this ML course), and our instructor was the legendary Welsh climber Phill George.
Our walk along Crib Goch came several days into the week-long course. Previous days had focused on weather systems and synoptic interpretation, micro-navigation and blind relocation. This particular day was supposed to be something of a treat, some serious hiking after a few gentle days; however, there was still a little “lesson time” involved! At the start of the day we discussed a few hiking safety procedures before practicing some rope work down in the Pass of Llanberis.
Hiking blind, as I call it, can be quite fun when the opportunity arises. For me, it’s a chance to let my mind wander while my senses are busy soaking up the beauty of the surroundings. Somehow – and I believe this doesn’t happen too often in Wales – we had caught a day of sunshine and clear summits, so letting my mind wander was easier than ever.
Hiking blind is only something I can really indulge in when I’m stepping out on the hills alone… or with my map-monitoring lady, perhaps! When on a ‘course’ such as this one, I can’t really let my attention wander too much as all of us are supposed to be watching the landscape… noticing features, crags, tarns, woodland patches, boundaries, fences, etc. In fact, anyone who fails to maintain a watchful eye risks finding themselves pretty stuffed when we stop… and then comes the inevitable question: “Right, who can tell us where we are?” It’s important that when quizzed, one can match all of those observed features to the map. Indeed, even without being aware of where we were being led, I’d been advised to take a bearing from myself to the leg leader, as the one thing I did know was our start point. Therefore, by taking bearings, counting steps (i.e. pacing) and timing each leg I could get a fairly accurate idea of our position before even consulting the map.
Hmm, might I be getting the hang of this stuff?!
Anyway, after several legs, each one concluding with a “relocation” (i.e. a different group member in turn was put on the spot and asked to show the instructor our new position on the map), we ended up at Cwm Uchaf, located below a very high knife-edge ridge. At first I didn’t realise where we were; my turn to relocate had passed and now someone else was leading, so I confess I hadn’t been paying much attention! The dramatic feature lay beyond our position, and I certainly hadn’t recognised it.
Then realisation dawned: this was the mighty and infamous Crib Goch ridge, and we were looking up its north face. I couldn’t get over how different it looked from here, compared to the view we had had with Evo on that fateful day a week earlier.
On this day we had made good time, and Phill George put it to the group that we could, if everybody was happy (?!), fight our way up the scree slope to the crest of this north face. We would then scramble along the notorious knife-edge ridge – and all reach the end hopefully – before heading down to do more “blind legs” on the way back to our transport.
At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this prospect. Evo picked up on this, and volunteered to keep me company if I felt like declining such a tempting offer… I mulled it over for a moment. Even though the accident we’d witnessed last time had occurred slightly further along the ridge, I couldn’t deny that it was clouding my memory of the entire hike, if not the whole place.
However, a big difference was that on the day of the accident, Crib Goch had been ludicrously busy. There had been hikers everywhere, all ages and abilities, scampering over practically every crag. Today, thankfully, it was a weekday and you’d think we were on a completely different ridge. Hardly a soul in sight! I knew it would do me good to go up there again, so after everybody else agreed, I too put my hat in the ring and off we headed up the north face.
To someone looking up at Crib Goch from where we were standing in the cwm, it’s only a matter of minutes before the level of hazard and exposure up there becomes clear. The sheerness of the sides, with their several-hundred-foot drops, is jaw-dropping… and I can tell you it is a LONG ridge. Given the length of time hikers tackling it are forced to maintain their mental effort not to fall, this is definitely not a place where one can indulge in complacency or let the mind wander…
And here we were about to head up that way… and indeed, we climbed up the craggy rocks carrying varying amounts of kit on our backs. For once, my pack was fairly sensibly weighted for a day hike!
Once on the top, and making our way along the ridge, we soon came across a man who had stopped “to look out at the views”. However, the way he was clinging on tightly to the rocks suggested that actually, he was having “a moment” – I wonder how many people do, each day up there? Anyway, he assured us that he would be fine, and we moved on, only passing one other pair of hikers before reaching the end of the perilous ridge. It had been challenging, from a manoeuvring / hanging on point of view, but I must say I enjoyed it. Evo stuck throughout with those at the back of our group, who may or may not have been having “moments” of their own, to ensure the last man was OK – his trademark MO! By all accounts everybody managed well, and for a couple of the guys it meant they had achieved a memorable “first”, while also ticking a classic route off their hiking bucket list.
At the end of the ridge we stopped for a while before heading back down to Cwm Glas and setting off down another track, barely marked on the ground and incredibly narrow. Given the steepness of the mountainside at this point, one could argue that this was even more exposed than the infamous ridge above… If my memory serves, those of our group who were “in the know” referred to it as the Goat Track. A mighty narrow path with a very steep drop to the left. It wound ahead of us all the way down to Pen-Y-Pass YHA, but we stopped well short of there to engage in a few more navigation exercises on the way back to our transport. To our instructors, this bit of the mountain presented new training opportunities, but as far as I was concerned, the main achievement of this hike had occurred several hundred metres above; my day was complete already.
On my previous trip I had vowed not to return to the Snowdon area due to the excessive crowding on the mountain tops. I’m now delighted to have made the effort to revisit, and all the better, really, that it came so soon after that intense first experience of the ridge. This time, I had started my visit by scaling barren Glyder Fach (Chasm Route) with an old school friend, before the ML course, and then I had faced Crib Goch again on a peaceful, virtually tourist-free day. For me, those factors really presented the area in a whole different light.
Perhaps the moral of the story is simply to avoid the weekends!
For those interested in becoming a Mountain Leader I can heartily recommend Phill George as an instructor. You can visit his website for more information here.
If you are a UK veteran interested in taking part in the ML qualification I strongly recommend that you visit the Adventure Quest website, here.
If you are none of the above but would like to take on a new challenge, with support from qualified guides, why not consider coming along on a group day organised by Adventures with Heroes? For more information, just click here.
Simon Duringer is an award-winning blogger, interviewer and author. His own books can be found on Amazon too by clicking any of the following icons…