Snowdonia Highs

22nd & 23rd March 2003

(Click here for more photos...)

It’s Friday morning and a plan is starting to form - could Snowdonia be the place to fly this weekend? The UK is still dominated by the high pressure that's brought the fine and settled conditions for much of March, and light southerly winds are forecast for Snowdonia. After a few emails to the Avon SmartGroup I establish that Stephen Chiles and Lisa Dodds are heading up there on Saturday morning, all I need is someone to share the petrol money to convince me that I should go. I eventually get hold of Simon Kerr at about 9pm on Friday evening and persuade him that he really does want to get up at 5am the following morning to drive to Bath - good man!

Saturday dawns and by 6.10am we're on the road, heading north. A full English breakfast at Frankley Services sets us back £6 each, but also sets us up for the day, and by 10am we've arrived at Pen-y-Gyrwd which is the main landing area for the Glyders site, and the best place to assess the conditions. It's also where Harvey's house is (the house that the Avon Club rent each year) so we go and have a coffee with Harvey and Frances who very kindly offer the four of us beds for the night. This is a result, as although I was geared up for a night in the car, I didn't really fancy it that much!

Lisa, Stephen and Simon at the middle takeoff, and Simon about to go

By 11am we're walking up to the Glyders take off (click here to see a map), which is about a 20min walk up the hill. It's apparent there isn't much wind here so we carry on a bit further, and a few thermic puffs convince us to stop and lay out. I hold back after Simon, and Stephen & Lisa (on the tandem) go down, and decide to pack up and walk up to the top takeoff, a further 20mins up the hill. This is at about 2300' compared to the lower takeoff which is at 1300', and there was a nice breeze up here. It's still about 1000' below the very top, but I'd walked enough for today!

To cut a long story short, I took off at about 1.30pm and landed some three hours later after some great flying generally exploring the area around the Glyders. It was nice and thermic with steady climbs of 400-600fpm taking one up to a max height of 4300', about 1000' above the summit. The view over the back here is awesome with a virtually sheer drop down to the lakes in the Ogwen valley 2300' feet below! The inversion was very obvious in the distance - a 360 degree dirty brown smudge above the horizon.

Views from above the Glyders

Looking towards Glyder Fach, and the view looking down on Pen-y-Gwryd
(Harvey's house is the left most building)

After packing up we got ourselves sorted out at Harvey's and then headed down to Pete's Eats in Llamberis for the best café food you've ever tasted - my “Monster Omelette” was superb! Suitably full now, all we needed was some liquid refueling so we headed to the pub in Capel Curig for all those “there I was” stories. Unfortunately as I was the only one out of the four of us who got up high it was a bit one-sided :-)

So with bellyfulls of food and beer it was back to the house to crash out...

We awoke to another glorious day on Sunday, and with the prospect of lighter winds we decided a hike up Snowdon was in order. But before that, there was the small matter of cooking a monster breakfast to contend with, after all, we needed sustenance for the two hour climb ahead of us!

At the top with Snowdon in the background, and Simon preparing to launch

With that behind us, or should I say inside us, we set off up the Pyg track at 10am, and made steady progress arriving at the col above Glaslyn at midday. Unfortunately there was a strong wind blowing up the cwm - there was no way we'd be taking off from there... So we walked back down the path until we found a small grassy patch just off the track 200' below the col. Here the wind was much lighter, with thermic gusts coming through regularly (map).

Simon goes up!

Simon was a man on a mission after not getting much flying yesterday, and took off first gaining a good deal of height immediately. He looked like he was having fun, but after maybe ten minutes I commented to Lisa that he was getting bumped around a bit whilst trying to make the transition over to Y Lliwedd in front. Literally a moment later, whilst we were looking at him, Simon's glider decided to pack itself up and go home! Five seconds later it was over and Simon decided to fly down to change his trousers...! Actually he was suffering from acute cramp in both legs and came in to land above the Miners track howling in agony - what a bugger. Forever looking on the bright side though, he did say that he had his legs massaged back to life by a rather attractive lady...

Next off was Lisa who managed extremely well given her relative inexperience and the nature of the take-off and surrounding terrain. It's certainly not a place for the faint hearted! She headed out and was content with a short flight down to land by the lakeside.

Now it was my turn! I did the worst takeoff of us all, bouncing the back of my harness off the track on my way through, losing my sun-glasses in the process, and then to cap it all I had to pump out a small knot in the lines up by my right wingtip... hmmm, fun and games, not!

However once in the air I soon gained some height and was content cruising around avoiding the area where Simon performed his SIV course, waiting until Stephen got off. After a couple of attempts from a spot a little bit lower and more into wind he was away and I watched him gain a bit of height before soaring the lower slopes above the Miners track before landing near to the causeway across the lower lake.

Crib Goch beneath me, and looking back towards Snowdon

Ok, so I was still in the air, and fairly high above Crib Goch so I decided to head out the immediate vicinity of Snowdon across to the Glyders, just 4km away to the NE. I immediately relaxed in the gentle lift when I approached the ridge, and was able to let go of the brakes and re-tie the right hand line to my speedbar which had slipped undone a few minutes earlier!

There were a couple of red Gradient's high above Glyder Fach when I arrived and I spent the next half an hour or so trying in vain to get as high as them. It was actually breezier than yesterday and every time you got into a thermal it would take you up and over the back before you really had enough height to be comfortable. There were quite a few pilots fairly high over the valley in front, so following Simon's briefing earlier about how to best get onto Snowdon from the Glyders, I attempted to push out to the high ground the other side of the valley. Two or three times I tried this, but got drilled each time, having to turn back to get high again. Bear in mind it's a 3km transition to get across, so it's not that easy, but some people were managing it.

In the end I opted for the direct 3.5km route to the “pump” flying over Berfedd and arriving with sufficient height to scrape around the corner and onto a sunny slope at Gallt y Wenallt (map). I shared this bit of the hill with a large bird of prey (wasn't sure if was a buzzard - for the birders amongst you it had fairly prominent white flashes on the lower surface of its wings - maybe you can tell me what it was) for a few moments before I carried on traversing the fairly shallow slope underneath Y Lliwedd. I was losing height all this time so I gambled on getting something off the crags at Craig-ddu (above Watkins track), otherwise I'd be turning back to land by the lake at Llyn Gwynant. Fortunately it paid off and a few minutes later I was shouting across to the walkers on Y Lliwedd as I carried on up past them!

Views of Snowdon Summit

From here it's only a mile across to Snowdon itself so I flew along the ridge slightly wary of the SAR helicopter buzzing around in the area where we had taken off from two hours earlier. I was still a few hundred feet beneath the summit, but the SE facing slope was still working well and after a minute or so I was yelling “Yee-Hah” as I reached the summit. It must have been a great sight for all the walkers at the top as I came from below and then carried on circling until I was 1000' above the top (4500' asl).

Snowdon Summit in the bottom left, and looking south east towards Y Lliwedd

I've only flown up in Snowdonia on two earlier occasions over the years and nothing came close to this experience - even some of my decent UK XCs pale into insignificance alongside scenery and views like this, it really is truly spectacular. I was content enjoying the views over Snowdon for fifteen minutes or so, but it was now 3.30pm and I thought it was probably about time I started heading back down to earth, so I headed back along the ridge high over Crib Goch for the second time, and then over Pen-y-Pass where I lazily lost enough height to see that the car wasn't there. Excellent I thought, Simon must have driven it down to Pen-y-Gwryd, and so after another three hour flight over some of the UK's most stunning scenery I touched down with another huge grin over my face thinking can this really be March?

Views back towards Snowdon

Coming in to land after the grand tour!

Route of my flight (approx 20km)

(Click here for more photos...)