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The mystery of the Cwm Tryfan ice axe

The Mystery of the Cwm Tryfan Ice Axe

We found something long-forgotten on the slopes of Tryfan…

So, New Year’s Day 2018… chasing the last of that patch of snowy weather we decided to welcome in the new year with a gentle scramble to the summit of Tryfan (917m) via the Heather Terrace and then the South Ridge. This is a familiar route and we started late, quickly gaining height and feeling the force of the first storm of January.

Rather than Three Men in a Boat we were three men and an ecologist (who is also a girl called Rhian). We didn’t have a dog called Montmorency but we did make do with a cocker spaniel called Darcy.

Darcy and The Doctor

The trip to the summit and back was uneventful (apart from my stirring rendition of Auld Lang Syne on the South summit), but as we descended the path out of Cwm Tryfan alongside the stream leading to Gwern Gof Uchaf something strange occurred…

The Discovery

The exact moment of discovery wasn’t quite captured on camera (although it was faithfully recreated for the GoPro in the video below), but it went something like this:

Tom, also known as Dr. Tom (mostly because he claims to be a doctor, but we rarely see evidence of it) ventured a short distance from the well-worn path to relieve himself in the heather. As the rest of the group reached his general location he finished and strode back up to the track. About a metre before reaching the track he spotted something sticking out of the heather and bilberry:

It turned out to be a Grivel ice axe, showing some considerable signs of weathering. It was buried, shaft downwards, in the vegetation and there is nothing to suggest that it had been placed there recently.
So, had Tom just discovered a vintage axe in the vegetation right next to a fairly busy Snowdonia footpath?
After a bit of examination on site Tom shoved it in his pack and we continued our descent – hastened onwards by the promise of hot chocolate at the Siabod Cafe.

Later that evening we examined the axe (aided by beer). It is definitely a Grivel axe, and the wooden shaft showed some significant aging and was consistent with a few decades in the elements (albeit protected by a screen of mountain vegetation). Some very gentle research (aka asking Alex Roddie) suggests that it’s a 1960s model but modified for a slightly dropped pick to suit the changing style of winter climbing in the last half of the 20th century. The surface corrosion wasn’t total so I don’t THINK it can have been left out there longer than a couple of decades, but my knowledge of the corrosion rate of mountaineering gear alloys is sadly lacking.

Tom is claiming stewardship of the axe – as he found it, and he is now armed with a vintage ice axe so probably shouldn’t be argued with…

So if you’re reading this and have any information on either this particular axe (which hundreds of thousands of mountaineers have walked within inches of and not noticed) or just the model or anything else we will happily pass it on to Tom. Please get in touch through the comments below or via email.

Location

I was too distracted by the thought of warm sugar and milk served by a grumpy landscape photographer to remember to grab an accurate grid reference, but it was approximately SH 669 595 (although I am happy to be corrected on that).

This is the general area – not far above the fenceline that is crossed near Tryfan Bach:

Dramatic re-enactment of the discovery of the axe


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1 Comment
  1. I think I might be able to provide some information about this axe. It’s possible that the axe was left by a guy who was part of a small Leeds based mountaineering group I used was involved with a few years ago. Around 2012 or 2013 this guy bought a load of vintage axes and other gear from an old bloke somewhere up near Kendall who ran an outdoor centre in the 70’s. I can’t remember the details but I know he lost one of the axes on Tryfan a short time later. Hope this helps.

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