So it turns out, unbeknown to me, that the United Kingdom actually has a winter in the mountains?
I don’t know how I haven’t clocked this at some point in my 24 years of living, but I have now, and I can safely say I grossly underestimated the impact of said winter on my progress in collecting Quality Summer Mountain Days. The emphasis being on the ‘summer’, where to count towards the Mountain Leader award I am undertaking at the moment, the walks have to be completed under ‘summer conditions’ and not, as is the current situation, under a metre or so of snow…
That’s not for lack of trying. Every week, for a month or maybe more, I got up at 4 am to drive to Snowdonia or The Lakes, resolutely questioning how seriously should we take the weather warnings issued in the UK? We always make a big hoo-ha over nothing. We’re all sleet and no snow, all gusty wind and no tornado.
Well, I can now confirm that yes, you should pay attention to the warnings, and at the very least don’t underestimate them.
The first occasion was a few months back, earlier on towards the end of November. After a 3 hour drive down to Snowdonia, fully aware that gale force winds were forecast but carrying on nonetheless, I got there to discover that not only were the trees leaning on a precarious angle, but the valley was shut to traffic. Perhaps I should have stopped there. Nope. I drove Morticia the Mini around the large red ‘Road Closed’ sign and down to the bottom of the mountains I intended to go up.
I know what you’re thinking, minis are not made for overcoming road closures. On the contrary, Morticia performed admirably. The problem was that the entire valley was under water. Apparently the news headlines on the radio neglected to mention the flooding in North Wales. Kendal and Cumbria they did, Beddgelert they did not. Having negotiated Mort through some sizeable puddles (a quality machine), I got to where my start point should have been, only to find it was under a metre of water. No exaggeration, the water level was up to the windows of a roadside barn.
I’m no fool, give me strong wind or a lot of water and I’ll go for it. Give me both, and that’s a no from me, especially because I’m alone and that’s a bit risky in itself (I value life). So I drove all the way back to Lancashire again.
It wasn’t all bad. For one thing my driving experience is going through the roof, and for another, I discovered how tasty McDonald’s Egg McMuffins are. Now that’s fuel I tell you, I wasn’t hungry for another 8 hours (#ad).
The second incident that sticks out, was a day in December when I headed up to The Lakes. It was after all that snow we had, and everyone was saying “winter is coming”. I reasoned that, and I won’t do it again, we aren’t exactly the Alps over here and therefore how bad can it be?
I’ll answer in handy bullet points:
- Pretty bad. Once I left the safety of Ambleside to go up to Coniston the roads were like an ice rink.
- Notably bad and worth paying attention. Having begun to ascend the mountain (after changing my original plan because I couldn’t get there because of aforementioned ice) I noticed the opposite summits were under at least 2 ft of powder, and that was what it looked like from a kilometre away. This coupled with a hectic Northerly wind meant the snow underfoot was rapidly turning harder and slippier. Good for crampons, bad for walking boots. Needless to say I wasn’t going that way without winter gear. Which leads me to…
- Very bad. Gale force winds (I wish I’d paid more attention to the forecast, all I saw was sun, and from then on bluebird mania clouded my vision): are no joke. The wind was so strong I could barely stand, resorting to a very unglamorous crawl at the peak before beating a hasty retreat back down into the shelter of the valley.
Why did I go up at all? Because I wanted to know what it feels like to be 2100 ft above sea-level in Amber Warning winds with ice underfoot. This consolidation period is all about learning after all.
And now I know how it feels, it feels terrifying. So I definitely won’t be doing that again either.
Needless to say I haven’t been to the mountains for a few weeks.
Mr Frost and Mother Nature you win, I’m a teeny human and I can’t beat the weather.
*Apologies for the lack of photos taken. On both/all occasions I was somewhat preoccupied.