All posts by roddy

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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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Tryfan

About three years ago I’d been up the north ridge of Tryfan with Rob. While this ‘ticked’ the summit, I’ve never repeated the route on my own. Yesterday’s forecast for light winds and dry rock, so it seemed an ideal opportunity.

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Parked up at the foot of the Milestone buttress, I followed the obvious path up. Unfortunately I missed the less obvious fork onto the North ridge and found myself traversing towards the Heather Terrace. I backtracked and found a route up a damp gully which brought me to a familiar spot a little below the Cannon.

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From here the route up was clear and took me to the flat area at the base of the North Tower.

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The North Tower is the most difficult part of the route, and I spent a good 40 minutes trying to find a route up that I was happy to do. Lots of false starts both to the east and west that took me onto ground that was well beyond my (failing) confidence level. At least I was getting lots of good practice in downclimbing – something that I usually have problems with. Crampon marks everywhere didn’t help me much.

Eventually I did the sensible thing and sat down with food and water, and waited for inspiration. It came in the form of another walker who carefully but confidently scrambled up the centre line of the tower. I watched where she’d started from, and went back for another shot. Knowing somebody else has been that way made a huge difference, and after the first section the scrambling gradually became easier until I reached the ‘notch’ below the North summit. This was easily dispatched, and I was soon standing by Adam and Eve on the main summit.

I traversed round the south summits and into Cwm Tryfan. I was a long way behind my initial timing estimate, so I was tempted to make my way back to the road – but with the weather staying good, and plenty of time before dark I opted to stick with the plan of walking the main plateau and dropping back down to Ogwen via the Devil’s Kitchen.

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Rather than deal with Bristly Ridge or the screes, I took the Miners path round the head of the cwm. This is part of the route that the miners working the copper mines on Snowdon would have followed back to their homes in Bethesda every week. At the top of the path by the edge of the plateau a very lonely Starry Saxifrage was hiding by the stream

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It was an easy walk from here across Glyder Fach and Fawr, and even the notorious screes down to Llyn Y Cwn didn’t seem to bad. But, tiredness kicked in properly on the knee-jarring descent of the Devil’s Kitchen, and I was relieved when the path finally levelled off as you approach Llyn Idwal.

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Minfford Trail to Cadair Idris

Cadair Idris 13/3/2014

Newtown, being right on the Severn was full of valley fog when I drove through, but by the time I’d reached Corris there seemed to be nothing but blue sky – a stark change from Sunday’s low clouds on the ascent.

It’s a long, steep climb up the well-constructed steps that start just past the new (but closed, today) Tea Room at the foot of Cadair Idris,  but with the sound of the stream rushing down the mountain you gain height very quickly. Shortly after crossing a stone wall the trees are left behind and the open hillside beckons.

A more gentle climb from here takes you to the shores of Llyn Cau – somewhere that’s so stunning it always makes me feel good to be alive –  and likely as not, yours to savour alone.

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To reach the lake shore, you’ll need to leave the main path briefly – but this gives a chance to catch your breath before the climb onto the ridge.

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The path from here is heavily cairned in places, but has spots with dizzying views down to the llyn far below. The sun was beating down now, and there was hardly a breath of wind.

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Looking towards the sea, the fog was trying it’s best to roll in, but the sun wasn’t giving it much of a chance.  Eventually you’ll reach the ladder stile and fence, with the summit of Craig Cau immediately beyond, giving great views of Penygadair – the next objective.wpid-DSC_0276.jpg

wpid-DSC_0291.jpgThe trig point was busy, so I headed towards Mynydd Moel before grabbing a quick lunch. There was still some snow in the north-facing gullies, but nothing at all on the plateau.

After pressing on to Gau Craig, I looked at return routes., and decided to try a path following a fenceline to the southeast, which would then let me follow the old track parallel to the A487 back to the car. The path is steep and loose at first, with some scrambling required to wind through the crags on the East face.

wpid-DSC_0292.jpgFrom here, a much gentler path continues down to the road,  and the old track through Cwm Rhwyddfor avoids the road for most of the way.

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The Toad Chorus

Glasgwm and Aran Fawddwy. 8/3/2014

Combinations of work, lack of motivation and the ridiculous excuse for a winter meant that today was my first day on the hills this year. The forecast looked too good to miss, with little rain and cloud free summits on offer. MWIS were forecasting high winds in the north of the park though, so a visit to the Arans seemed a  good idea.

After an early start I was on the hill by 8.00, following the stream up behind  Bryn Hafod in Cwm Cywarch. The forecast wasn’t entirely right, as there was still a good amount of low cloud around and visibility dropped right down as I reached the sheepfolds just beyond the head of the cwm.

The wind had dropped completely, and all was silent apart from a strange, almost mechanical noise which appeared to be coming from the large swampy pond by the fence junction. Convinced that my ears were playing tricks, I edged closer and the sound resolved into the unsynchronized ribbeting of dozens of large toads in and around the pond. I crept closer, but I think my orange fleece gave the game away and the pond was instantly silent.

From here, the out-and back visit to Glasgwm was uneventful, but the summit was still in the cloud. A few patches of snow remained on the scree, but with temperatures rising dramatically they’re unlikely to stay for long.

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Following the fenceline to towards Aran Fawddwy,  there’s an interesting selection of duckboards intended to help keep your feet dry. Some are useful , but many more are just plain dangerous – either rotting, or unbelievably slippery. The best one acted as a see-saw:  as soon as I put weight on it, the far end lifted up as my feet sank deeper into the water.

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But, as I negotiated this section, the weather began to clear. Slowly at first, with just occasional glimpses into the middle distance. I stopped for a bit to eat near another large reed-filled llyn, and was again greeted by the sight and sounds of hundreds of large toads.

wpid-DSC_0219.jpgThis time I was quieter (and less orange) so was able to take some pictures. The fenceline from here continues almost to the summit – passing a lower subsidiary top a few hundred yards before the trig point perched on the edge of the cliffs above Creiglyn Dyfi

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Arriving at the trig, the cloud was still all around, but a few minutes wait was rewarded with gorgeous blue skies, with clouds around and below in all directions. Grinning wildly, I headed downhill past the Drws Bach memorial cairn before taking the long gently graded path down Hengwm back to the car.

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Cartographic Furniture

Advanced Navigation Course, 5/10/2013

“Map-making had never been a precise art on the Discworld. People tended to start off with good intentions and then get so carried away with the spouting whales, monsters, waves and other twiddly bits of cartographic furniture that the often forgot to put the boring mountains and rivers in at all.”
― Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

I’m in danger of becoming too dependent on the Viewranger maps, always available with a simple tap on the screen, showing where I am, where I’ve been, and – hopefully – some clue about where I should go next.

While I always use map and compass as primary tools, the temptation to pull out the phone when I’m slightly uncertain of my position is difficult to fight. So when I saw that Rob at ExpeditionGuide was running a new one-day Advanced Navigation course, it seemed a good idea to use that to polish some of the rustier skills.

Rob’s course uses contour-only maps based on the Harvey Superwalker series. These mark contours (at Harvey’s usual 15M spacing) and water features, grid lines, and nothing else. No roads. No paths. No walls, fences, sheepfolds or spouting whales. The intention is that the absence of these features from the map forces you to focus on slope and contour interpretation. The first challenge is orienting the map, as – with no writing – working out which way is ‘up’ is far from easy.

After meeting at the Pinnacle, we parked close to the Pen Y Gyrwyd and followed the stream up to Llyn Cwmfynnon. As we walked, we tried to plot our position on the maps, using the sparse information on the map to help us. We worked our way up to Moel Berfedd, giving great views of Crib Goch and Y Lliwedd.

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The high ground and angled light made it a good viewpoint for identifying contour features below us. After a break we dropped down to Pen-y-Pass and heading onto the familiar -and busy- Miner’s track towards Snowdon, attempting to drawn the line of the path onto the map as accurately as possible.

The short, steep climb off the path onto the Horns came as bit of a shock, as the rest of the day hadn’t involved any serious ascent. Breath caught – and ring contours identified – we carefully made our way down the steep grass to join the Pig track, before completing the day with a drink in the Pen-y-Pass cafe.

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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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