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First Winter Day

Black Mountains – 19-01-2015

Having just replaced my long-suffering boots with a new pair, the weather forecast gave an ideal opportunity to bed them in. The amount of ice on the driveway and local roads meant that somewhere near was athe best option, so I headed south to the Black Mountains at the eastern end of the Brecon Beacons NP.

Plenty of snow was visible on the hills as I drove towards Hay and then Talgarth, so I was a little surprised that the ground was mostly free of snow and unfrozen at the bottom of Y Grib – the undulating ridge head onto the high ground.

But after crossing over Castell Dinas and climbing out of the bwlch, there was no shortage. I followed the ridge up to the cairn, with Pen y Fan and friends impressively coming into view round the side of Mynydd Troed.

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On the ridge, the snow mostly just inches deep – the wind scouring from the ridge and depositing it on the leeward slopes – but on the plateau towards Pen Y Mallwyn it was much deeper and unconsolidated, making every step an effort.

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Much post-holing and floundering later,  and I reached the ridge path heading towards Waun Fach. The snow again was a lot easier here, and I made good progress on the path to the summit plateau.

I’d seen figures on the skyline earlier, and now could see they were all carrying unfeasibly large packs. And the SA-8o’s were bit of a giveaway that this wasn’t a D of E award group out training.

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After stopping for food, I took a wide loop round the summit plateau, before heading back to the car via Pen Trumau

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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.

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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