Helicopters over Snowdonia
On Wednesday afternoon anybody arriving at the summit of Glyder Fawr in the Glyderau range of Snowdonia would have found some strange, parallel tracks on the summit plateau:
Around 1.5-2 metres long and about 8cm across ( a little narrower than my huge size 13/Euro48 La Sportiva boots):
A very specific ski run? Two rather straight snakes? Trench warfare for mice?
Sadly the answer is less intriguing – unless you are a fan of military aircraft… a couple of British Army Squirrel HT1s (possibly from the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury, whose notable graduates include HRH Prince William, his brother HRH Prince Harry and British astronaut Tim Peake) out for some spot-landing practice.
We had been out enjoying the short-lived winter climbing that was possible on that and the preceding day – when ‘Welsh Winter’ arrives the mountaineer has to drop everything and go and climb and we didn’t want to waste the opportunity of a good weather window.
Anybody who regularly spends time in the mountains of the UK will most likely be familiar with the sight and sound of military aircraft using these areas to train, from fast RAF and USAF jets screaming at low-level through the valleys to the drone of the blue and yellow of the RAF training helicopters from RAF Valley and other bases. MV-22 Ospreys, British Army Chinooks and other active military aircraft can also be spotted on various training exercises, from Combat SAR to something a bit more ‘covert’.
Until recently of course the reassuring thwump of the main rotor of the yellow RAF Sea King (or red and grey if you were being picked up by the Navy version) was also a fairly common sound at weekends. The replacement, following a privatisation of UK SAR (Search and Rescue) air operations, is the red and white of the HM Coastguard-liveried Sikorsky S92 is now too a familiar sight in Snowdonia. Similarly, small helicopters are almost always busy in the popular areas of the European alps, rescuing the hapless and unfortunate souls who have been injured or killed by their adventures in those higher mountains.
On this day the British Army Squirrel HT1 (AKA a Eurocopter AS350 Ecureuil) had been buzzing around all day, circling the twin summits of Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr and nearby Tryfan, hovering in awkward places and practicing approaches and spot landings in various places – kicking up spindrift every time they approached the ground. The conditions were perfect – steady south-easterly winds, excellent visibility and a fairly solid snowpack without too many hidden dangers. Perfect training conditions for some easy approaches onto snow possibly?
Whatever the reason, I am never unhappy to see these aircraft whilst out in the mountains. At worst it’s a free intermittent airshow, and at best you get the chance to see, up close, some spectacular flying skill in tough conditions.
From a few years ago, in warmer conditions in nearby Cwm Idwal: