Oregon: Nesmith Point

Something rather different : I’ve been in the USA for a couple of weeks and packed the bare essentials in case an opportunity to get presented itself.

I was staying in Portland,  Oregon, and a visit to the waterfalls in the Columbia River gorge was suggested.  It was great weather, and I started late, so unsurprisingly all the parking at the trailheads was taken.  I drove on , and took the trail marked towards Nesmith Point. At a little over four miles with just under 4,000ft of elevation gain, it’s a good workout.

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The trail leads into the forest, gradually rising towards a series of switchbacks as it steepens.  There are good views over to Beacon Rock on the north side of the river once you gain a little height.

The rock on the path gives plenty of clues about the volcanic nature of the terrain,  and there’s  an interesting selection of flowers out – mostly very different from those found in the UK.

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This one with the white petals is Trillium.

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The trail climbs steeply under the impressive canyon walls, and finally (with a huge sense of relief) the grade eases dramatically.

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The summit is a couple of kilometres on, after a marked junction. The views west down the gorge are impressive, but the trees still block the view north and east.

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The fresh landslip here shows the instability of a lot of the gorge – one major landslide a few hundred years back formed the Bridge of the Gods a few miles upstream.

A quick snack, a rest, and then a faster and easier descent back to the car.

Overnight on Snowdon

The prospect of an imminent week in Amsterdam made focus on getting out for a day. The forecast was good but the inevitable traffic faff and late departure meant that it was almost 7PM before I got to Llanberis. The late hour meant I was tempted to cancel plans for a wild camp and use the excellent Llwyn Celyn Bach campsite, but the moon was full so I reckoned I’d be well up  the hill before darkness and tiredness struck.

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The sun set behind me, casting a deep red glow onto Snowdon as I made my way up the Llanberis path. Just a few folk were still coming down – happy faces after a beautiful day. As the sun went down, the full moon came up, disappearing behind  the cliffs above as I dropped off the path towards Llyn Du’r Arddu. Head torch was needed now for the first time, as I scouted around for a dry, flat and rock-free pitch. One located, it was time for a quick meal before bed.

I woke  briefly at about 2am to find the tent much brighter than  when I’d gone to sleep: the moon was now above the cliffs, illuminating the whole cwm below.  By 0600, it was properly light outside so after admiring the cliffs above I quickly packed up. My initial plan was to cross below the cliffs to the bwlch below Moel Cynghorion, but the weather looked good enough that a diversion to Snowdon summit (hopefully sans crowds) was appealing.

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Rejoining the Llanberis path, the sky was a patchwork of cloud, and the sudden views into the Llanberis path after Clogwyn station were a joy.

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As I neared the summit, my hopes of it being empty were dashed. I could make out a lone figure by the cairn. The views of the cloud bank rolling over Crib Goch, and a sea of cloud below me stretching out to sea were good compensation, though.wpid-P1020788.jpg

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The guy at the summit was  by himself – and seemed cheery enough, asking about the route down to Llanberis. Only then did he drop a bombshell: He’d walked through the night from Pen y Pass for 11 hours (no torch, and no obvious map, and you can guess the footwear), and he had two mates somewhere below on the steep screes at the top of the Watkin path. They’d had enough, and had called Mountain Rescue – and a helicopter was on the way.

On cue, Rescue 122 flew in over the cloud from Valley, and winched up the two below.  By chance, an ex-NEWSAR leader had arrived at the summit with some clients, and he led the third guy back down, while the Sea King headed off with his mates.wpid-P1020796.jpg

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Peace at last. I had the summit to myself for a good 15 minutes, before the first two trains of the day (first one: cafe staff; second one: water!) arrived.

wpid-P1020801.jpgwpid-P1020804.jpgThe rest of the day was less eventful: Down the Snowdon Ranger path, with my shadow  surrounded by a solar glory. The angle was never quite right for a full Brocken Spectre.

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A brief diversion to the top of the Clogwyn Du’r Arddu cliffs allowed me to look down to last night’s camping spot,  then up over Moel Cynghorion (tick!) and Fron Goch, (tick!!)  with a pause to watch ravens and (I think?) a peregrine falcon soaring over the cliffs.

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Finally, onwards to Moel Eilio (tick!!!) in the sun, and back to the car via the maze of little lanes and fields above Llanberis.

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Return to the Rhinogs

31st May 2014: Rhinog Fach, Y Llethr and Diffwys, South Snowdonia

My only previous visit to the Rhinogs was four years ago. It started well with a walk in from the east to camp high by Llyn Du, and ended badly with searing heat, an empty water bottle, and the descent of Rhinog Fawr via a never-ending boulder field. I promised myself I’d be back, but unsurprisingly always found an excuse to go somewhere a bit less challenging.

It isn’t just me, either: Ronald Turnbull in the excellent “Granite and Grit” writes…

“These Rhinogs are part of the Snowdonia National Park. does this mean that we can expect ice-cream shops, reconstructed footpaths and interesting leaflets? It does not. the bad-tempered Rhinogs are being left in their corner to sulk. There will be no car parks: get there at dawn for your two metres of muddy verge, or walk in from beyond some dismal bog. There will be no waymarks: in the Rhinogs you haven’t really lived until you’re lost. There will be no ice-cream.”

Skipping the delights of Barmouth, I drove up the narrow lane into Cwm Nantcol. The stone walls crowd in on both sides, and I was lucky only to meet one oncoming car. Lots of gates, too.  After the sixth episode of “stop, get out, open gate, get in, drive, get out, close gate, get in, drive” I’d had more than enough and the cattle grids on the last two fields were a blessed relief. There’s plenty of parking at Maes-y-Garnedd farm (£2 for the day) and path into Bwlych Drws-Ardudwy is well signed.

My initial plan was to head off path to Llyn Hywel and get some navigation practice in on the way, but the beautifully built stone walls topped with barbed wire scotched that. No loss though, as the path towards the Bwlch is stunning, and the walls seem to keep the area mostly free of sheep. There was a gorgeous selection of flowers and mosses near the path including Heath Spotted-orchids, Lousewort, Butterworts and Tormentil.

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The bwlch widens out into a natural amphitheate, and here – at last – there are ladder stiles to cross over to Rhinog Fach on the south. A steep path scrambles up a gully alongside a stream, easing off as you pass close to Llyn Cwmhosan.  A Drinker Moth caterpillar sat motionless sunning itself on the rock as I passed by.

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Rhinog Fach towers over, but a good path continues up the side of the cwm towards the stunning Llyn Hywel: a large, remote and natural lake in an incredible mountain setting. There’s real ‘wow’  moment as the path levels out and the lake suddenly jumps into view.

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I stopped here for lunch, eyeing up Rhinog Fach above the lake on my left. There’s meant to be an “interesting” approach directly up the screes followed by a scramble up to the summit, but my route was more conservative – crossing the screes by the side of the lake before climbing to the col below Y Llethr, then steeply up beside the wall to Rhinog Fach.

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From here, the wall would be my guide back to the col and all the way on to Diffwys. One last slog to the summit of Y Llethr, with great views back over Llyn Hywel and the hard work is done. There was a lot more distance to go, but most of it downhill and over surprisingly grassy tops and ridges. 

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The trig point at Diffwys is just on the south side of the wall, overlooking Mawddach with the Cader Idris ridge across the valley. I watched cloud scud over the top of Penygadair while the lower tops remained clear.
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After heading seawards over the subsidiary  top to the west it was time to cut down into Cwm . I was aiming for Pont Scethin – a convenient bridge shown on the OS maps. Before you reach the bridge there’s a rather nice memorial on the trail above. I’m not normally a fan of these, but the location and wording somehow gave a boost for my slowly fading energy levels. Courage, Traveller!
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The bridge is incredibly narrow, considering this was once the main coach route between Harlech and London.  From here, one last off path section took me to the col east of Moelfre, where a path leads down to the road at  Cil-cychwyn.  One last mile on the road back to the car, then it was time to do battle with the gates again… Fish and chips in Barmouth felt well deserved.

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Moel Hebog

Snowdonia, 4/10/2013

The forecast for the day wasn’t great, and the reality was even worse: Hill fog, rain and some brisk winds, The weather should make this a “Quality Mountain Day” for Mountain Leader Training purposes , but most sane folk would dispute the use of that adjective.

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I left the start as late as I reasonably could as the forecast did imply things would get better later in the day, but eventually set off from Beddgelert around mid-day, aiming to take in Moel Hebog and the two outliers to the north: Moel yr Ogof and Moel Lefn. The return would be via tracks through Beddgelert Forest near the Welsh Highland Railway.

The camera stayed away almost the whole day, coming out briefly to try and capture some droplet-covered grasses and impressive pillow lavas on the short scrambly section of the ridge onto Moel Hebog.

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From the trig point, it’s a steep descent following a handy wall to Bwlch Meillionen, then upwards through an impressive rocky cleft onto Moel yr Ogof. The climb to the top twists and turns a bit, and I arrived at the summit cairn somewhat disorientated. I triple-checked the bearing onward to Moel Lefn and picked up a path pretty easily.

From Moel Lefn, the terrain gets more complex, and there are steep crags between you and the old quarry at the bwlch. The path I was on was heading in the right direction until it suddenly turned 90 degrees right: I eventually ignored the path, continued carefully down and was relieved to pick up a second lower path winding through the crags. I was briefly below the cloud now, and there were some glimpses down into Cwm Pennant below. From the bwlch, there are some boggy paths through the forest that take you back onto the open hillside, then it’s down through a narrow (and wet) forest trail until you reach a wide and well signed track near Hafod Ruffydd Uchaf. It’s best to ignore the map and follow the signed trail to Beddgelert now, as the path layout has been changed since the last OS map update.

Heading back towards the car the tops were still covered in cloud, but it was lifting and breaking on the drive back to Betws, with Cwm Dyli and the Glyderau looking great in the late afternoon light.

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Hillwalking, and other frivolous pastimes