Cwm Idwal and its centrepiece, Clogwyn y Geifr, is a popular spot in winter, its northerly aspect, high altitude and abundant moisture make it an ideal place for ice-climbing, and so, the ice climbers come. On a favourable weekend therefore, the Cwm’s crags teem with parties making their way from one ice fall to the next; searching, stopping, queuing, and eventually, if the cold hasn’t driven them back to their cars, climbing. So what to do if you don’t want to spend, what will inevitably feel like an unreasonable length of time, queuing? Well, for a start you could look elsewhere for your ice, there’re plenty of other viable winter venues in the area, or alternatively, you could look to one of the more inaccessible parts of the Cwm, the parts that most see as being too much effort to bother with. The cliff on the south-east side of Y Garn, which overlooks the aforementioned Clogwyn y Geifr, is called Castell y Geifr, and in Idwal terms, it’s as inaccessible as they come.
Traditionally there has been no culture of claiming the first ascents of winter routes in Snowdonia, so unfortunately, the identities of the first ascentionists of this route are unknown.
Conveniently, Cwm Idwal and Castell y Geifr are located quite close to the A5, meaning that while the approach may be steep and arduous, at least it isn’t very long.
There is plenty of parking along the A5 near Ogwen Cottage (SH 648 603), some of which you have to pay for, some of which you don't. My advice is to never bother with the official car parks and just park along the roadside. There is a wide 'pavement' type verge on the southern side of the road that can easily accommodate the width of a car or minibus, and is completely free and never full (even on bank holidays). It also allows you to park even closer to the base of the mountain and the start of the path.
Take the path from the Cottage to Llyn Idwal (SH 645 595). At the northern end of the lake, bear right and follow its northern and western shore for about a kilometre. Leave the path at around SH SH 642 592 to begin climbing the snow covered heather and scree east facing slope towards the now obvious break. Enter the break and follow it to the steeper ice-filled gully that branches off right from The Trench. This is the start of the route (see photo ).
A steeper ice-filled gully branches off right from The Trench. It is reasonably easy if it contains plenty of snow, but in normal conditions the second pitch is satisfyingly icy and challenging for the grade.
Pitch 1 (Tech. Grade 1/2; 40m): A rib splits the gully. Ascend either side of the rib at the same grade and belay on a commodious ledge just below the steep ice pitch.
Pitch 2 (Tech. Grade 3; 25m): A clear, narrow and increasingly steep ice filled gully is now ahead of you. The steep wall on the right will offer some rock protection while the ice in the gully will take a variety of ice screws. Climb this ice over bulges to easier ground above. Belay in snow or on the wall on the right.
Pitch 3 (Tech. Grade 1; 55m): Continue through snow and intermittent ice to the top, either cutting left to join The Trench or straight up the ridge above.
In most conditions, it’s unlikely that many will see the need to climb pitches 1 and 3 as a leader and second and will therefore only need to consider gear for pitch 2. Ice tools, rigid crampons and a helmet are of course a necessity and double ropes may be more favourable than a single one as it reduces the risk of rope drag. A small rack of nuts and hexes will be useful and ice screws are essential if the crux is to be protected. This being Wales, short to medium length screws will be most useful. A Deadman snow anchor or equivalent may also be useful for constructing snow belays should they prove necessary.
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