This week-end I went hiking in North Wales on my own.

I started on Saturday at lunch time from Llanfairfechan, on the North Coast. The weather was relatively good, the sun dominating on the clouds most of the time. Getting out of the commons was rather complicated, as the footpaths didn't exist anymore or were closed for the winter. So I spent hours climbing over stone walls... After a while, I arrived at Llyn (lake) Anafon. The snow started to cover most of the ground from this point, at around 500m high. I climbed up to the ridge and reached Foel-fras (942m). The snow was alternatively frozen (crampons would have been useful) or quite deep: snowboots and gaiters required, but I had none of them ! (*) Progression was therefore not as fast as expected. Then little by little, as I reached Garnedd Uchaf, the wind started to blow stronger and stronger. It was fundamentally not so cold (around -2°C), but with a wind that probably reached more than 50km/h at the end, it felt pretty cold I can tell ! See wind chill on wikipedia. I couldn't stay still for more than 5 minutes, and removing my gloves would have been a very bad idea !

To finish me off, the wind brought more and more clouds. Eventually, while approching Foel Grach (976m), I was completly in the clouds, with a visibility that didn't exceed 10m. I reckon I was not in the best situation. In that kind of conditions, it's very easy to get lost as you can't keep an eye on a landmark to orientate yourself. On top of that, reading the map was not easy because of the wind and the night was coming... At this point, my route was supposed to go downhill in between two cliffs. It was a really complicated position. I was walking, hoping to find big rock behind which I could pitch my little tent. The wind was stronger and stronger. Suddenly appeared just in front of me a kind of black open door, contrasting with the white everywhere else. It was Lloches Foel Grach Refuge, that you can see on this picture. It was really coming from nowhere, it's not even on the map ! I first thought I had some hallucinations. How could I find it just like that remains a mystery to me. I was very very lucky. Without this providential shelter what would have happened ? Would I have found a decent spot for my tent ? Would I have been able to pitch the tent ? Would my little ultra-light tent have resisted to the harrassing wind and the snow ? Would I have been able to light on the stove (no stove, no water) ? Lots of questions without answers...

Back to the refuge then. It's a small shelter of 3 meters by 2, built of stones. In this context, that's considered as a luxurious place to stay. Of course it was a bit cold and the drafts under the door and the shutter brought a nice quantity of snow inside during the night, building snowdrifts ;) But it was real luxury to be able to light on the stove easily, to sit down on a wooden bench and to sleep without wind ! I had a quick diner and went to "bed". I gave my new sleeping bag (TNF / Toundra) a first try. The thermometer gave -3°C in the refuge, exactly the comfort temperature rating of the sleeping bag :) (see temperature ratings). So I went in wearing only underwear. That was damn good ! It was really hot inside. And with a kind of light hood to cover the face, you even avoid the cold wind on the face, it's just great. Well, I can tell you I slept 13h in there :-D . Needless to say that the only problem with such a sleeping bag is to get out of it in the morning ...

After this long night, while preparing to leave, I had the typical winter problems: trousers, socks and shoes frozen... The weather was not much better as I hoped and I didn't wake up as early as expected. So I decided to follow a safer and shorter escape route (see how careful I am :) ). The wind was a bit weaker, though. After 10 minutes walking following my instinct, I felt like I couldn't get myself anywhere like that, so I started to navigate relying completely on GPS/compass/map. It's a bit strange to trust such a small electronic device. You can't see anything, you just know that there must be a cliff just on your right, that you should now turn left, and so on... It was quite strenuous, as the snow was sometimes as deep as my legs ! I eventually arrived at Tal-y-cafn. Da boch !

Ultra cold.

(*) Yes Kim, I didn't follow your advice... I'm sorry, I'll do it next time.