Cabin fever had set in over the last few weeks/months, and I was desperate to get out for a day, regardless of conditions. Apart from a few hours before Christmas walking in to Llyn Lygad Rheidol, below Pumlumon, It feels like I’ve not spent enough time out walking – let alone backpacking.
The met forecast was basically for hill fog and some drizzle everywhere – but had a few crumbs of comfort – “lifting in the afternoon” ‘higher summits may be clear”, interspersed with the usual may/might/could weasel words.
Based on that, I picked the highest summit I could think of – Snowdon – and set off early from home. This wasn’t entirely an altitude-based decision, though: Santa brought me a copy of Jim Perrin’s excellent book “Snowdon – the Story of a Welsh Mountain“. Perrin opens the book with a ‘circumnavigation’ of Snowdon , avoiding the summit and (mostly) the main paths. It’s a great book, and – unless you’re intimately familiar with the mountain – is best read with a OS map laid out next to you. There’s no map in the book, and the Ordnance Survey themselves come in for some stick for place name cockups such as Nant Gwynant.
While I’ve walked and scrambled around Snowdon a few times, I’ve only ever visited the summit once – early on New Years Eve two years ago, with enough snow around to make crampons a good idea for crossing Bwlch Main. Again, I was planning to start from Rhyd Ddu, but via a different route, taking in Yr Aran first and then up the South ridge. The return plan was to take the Snowdon Ranger path, then a Sherpa bus back to the car. That bit didn’t quite work as planned.
I arrived at Rhyd Ddu well before 9, and the weather looked grim. Rather than face it immediately, I drove to Pen-y-pass to see if it was any better on that side. It wasn’t, as as the caff there wasn’t open yet I headed back to Rhyd Ddu, and headed out in full waterproofs. The rain eased off, but the camera stayed in the pack all the way to the summit of Yr Aran. Map and compass did get a good workout, as the wall that leads to the east of Yr Aran is a little difficult to follow in mist.
The summit cairn was bizarrely decorated with a couple of smoke grenades, one used, and one damaged but otherwise “live”. Visibility was bad enough without having my pack belch green smoke, so I left the litter for someone braver to remove and headed back down.
As I reached the quarry lake by Bwlch Cwm Llan the weather started to improve, with annoyingly brief views of distant peaks. The moisture all around made this a good place for mosses and lichens, and the quartz veins in the rocks stood proud like a crystallized skeleton.
I dropped down to the bwlch and watched the cloud roll back revealing tantalizing views of Cwm Tregallan – somewhere I’ve yet to go. My legs (which had felt like lead on the climb up Yr Aran) were in better shape, so the plan to head up the South Ridge was still on. Unfortunately, the weather closed in again, with no more views for the rest of the day.
The south ridge is a superb route – I’d heard people enthuse about it, and wasn’t disappointed. It joins the main Rhyd Ddu path at Bwlch Main, which I crossed with cloud either side (one day I’ll be able to see the drops either side, and that will probably scare the willies out of me). I was amazed to find the summit itself completely deserted. The wind had got up and the rain was setting in again, so after wrestling my way up to the toposcope I headed down to find the start of the Snowdon Ranger path. The only snow I’d seen all day was a drift in the railway track, by the Clogwyn Coch warning signs.
The Snowdon Ranger seems one of the easier paths up Snowdon – the gradient is pretty consistent and easy, and there are zig-zags on the steeper sections – but after the South ridge it seemed boring and sterile. The driving wind and rain and lack of visibility probably didn’t do it any favours either. After crossing the railway, I had a choice of walking 30 minutes down the road to Rhyd Ddu, or waiting an hour for the *only* Sherpa bus of the day, with all the uncertainty that entails. I chose to walk!