Winter is hanging on in the UK this year which has led to conditions for mountain walking presenting more challenges that usual this Easter weekend. Many people choose the long Easter weekend to get away and take advantage of the beautiful scenery in some of Britain’s national parks. This year however, the higher areas of the UK’s green and pleasant land will be a rather uniform shade of white and the conditions found on the mountains will be challenging to even the more experienced walkers. MountainWalk has spoken to a Snowdonia Park Warden, Mountain Rescue in Wasdale (Lake District) and a qualified Mountain Leader guide for Ben Nevis to get a run down of the conditions walkers and climbers can expect this weekend.
If you are heading for Snowdon the main roads are clear of snow, but the A4086 has been closed all week between Nant Peris and Pen y Pass but is expected to be open again by the weekend. The Park Warden described conditions on Snowdon as ‘treacherous’, with snow drifts above head height. The snow is very soft so it’s not a case of walking over the top, but wading through the deep snow making progress very exhausting. Some places are impassable, and even the experienced climbers in the area are having to turn back before reaching the summit. Due to the severe conditions walkers who are not experienced in coping with this type of weather or do not have/are not used to using proper winter walking equipment are advised to stay well away from Snowdon or the other high peaks in the area.
If you are travelling to Ben Nevis then you will find the lower levels of the Fort William area has not suffered from the same snow that’s plagued most of the rest of the country. However inexperienced winter walkers are not advised to attempt to climb to the summit of Ben Nevis. Although there has not been much snow recently, what has fallen has become compacted and the Mountain Path (also known as the Tourist Path) is very icy. The half way point of the walk, Red Burn, is banked out with snow and the only way across is via a small track. Ice axes are definitely needed here as a slip could mean a 20 to 30 metre fall onto the rocks in the river below. From this point the snow and ice continues all the way to the summit. Many of the marker cairns showing the path are covered in snow, and people who do go up are having problems finding a safe way down.
At Scafell Pike the heavy falls of snow and very windy conditions mean that there is an avalanche risk. Wasdale Mountain Rescue advise that people thinking of walking up to Scafell Pike, or the summits around it should be experienced and able to recognise potential avalanche conditions. Mountain Rescue have kindly provided some pictures of the current conditions.
The first picture below shows a classic case of windslab which is where snow has blown onto a surface to which it cannot stick. The snow is therefore very unstable, and anyone coming across windslab should turn back immediately and find another route.
The next picture shows the approach to Mickledore. There is a lot of wind blown snow here which has buried the normal rock features.
This picture is of the final approach to the summit ridge. Normally this is a narrow gully, but if you look at the right hand side of the picture the snow is fully banked out.
The final picture is ice forming in the Red Gill area at Scafell
The conditions on Scafell are excellent for experienced climbers wanting to try their skills on the unique challenges offered by the mountain at the moment, and Mountain Rescue say they would not want to deter people who are suitably equipped and know what they are doing. However anyone wanting to walk Scafell without that winter walking experience and knowledge should wait for the conditions to improve. As well as the avalanche risk the wind can whip up the snow causing almost white out conditions.
As a general point about winter walking, mobile phone batteries tend to run out far quicker in cold conditions. If you are walking in the cold you may want to carry a spare with you, especially if you are using it for GPS. Ploughing through snow drifts and walking on deep snow can be exhausting, and you may get more tired than normal.
Easter 2013 may be a time to try one of the lower level walks around the three major peaks in the UK. The local tourist information offices will normally have good suggestions of walks that you can do in these conditions. See the main website for some information about other walks to consider in the Lake District.