Saturday, 13 August 2016

A Glyderau Traverse

After my challenging but exciting day in the High Carneddau I had no doubts about where my next walk was going to be. Set against a perfect blue sky, the majestic Glyderau had greeted us as we made our way along the Nant Ffrancon Pass to the base of Pen Yr Ole Wen; and even during my arduous - and occasionally alarming - slog up that mountainside I was drawn again and again to admire the striking crags and ridges on the other side of the valley.

Not one to do things by halves, I initially plotted a linear route from Deiniolen in the west to Capel Curig in the east. And it wasn't just a simple traverse either - I planned diversions to Elidir Fawr and Tryfan so as to incorporate every major summit in the range. Once I'd marked out my route in OS Maps and viewed the distance, the total ascent and the estimated time of my walk, it became obvious that my ambitions were completely unrealistic so I lopped Tryfan off the route as well as Y Foel Goch,  and added a newly-planned descent via Bwlch Tryfan after Glyder Fach. Now all I needed was a day as resolutely summery as I'd had in the Carneddau and it didn't take long for one to be forecast by all the major weather sites, both regular and mountain specific.

Thus it was, early in July, I arrived in Deiniolen ready to climb my first summit - Carnedd y Filiast (which translates, somewhat curiously, as "Cairn of the Female Greyhound").

Weather forecasting, an imprecise art if ever there was one.

The Gylderau are somewhere in there, honest.


The summit of Carnedd y Filiast still hidden in cloud (r).
As we'd made our way along the A55 I'd been keeping a close eye on the peaks of Snowdonia, so I wasn't entirely suprised at the clag that greeted me on arrival. I hadn't expected it to be quite so low, however, and it was with a gloomy expression I bade farewell to Rich and traipsed up the access road to Marchlyn Bach reservoir. 

Occasional patches of sunlight broke through the oppressive cloud cover as I gradually gained height, at one point even revealing Carnedd y Filiast in full. Looking behind me I could see that blue sky was attempting to assert itself over the coast, which gave me some hope that I might see more than the end of my nose when I reached the tops.

The access road took me past Marchlyn Bach on a gentle gradient. The cloud line was higher now and I was treated to a view of the fascinating, angled slabs of rock that dominate the north eastern slopes of Elidir Fach. Although I walk for the exercise and for the sense of achievement, my primary reason for getting out in the hills is the views and the chance to see just how incredible the natural world is at close hand - coming across an extraordinary sight like this put a spring into my step at last.

Looking back towards the coast.
The slabs next to Marchlyn Bach reservoir.

My route ahead - Y Ffronllwyd (l) and Carnedd y Filiast (r).
On the left hand side of the road, there was a stile in the fence and a sign advertising this as the route to Carnedd y Filiast. Another sign described the continuing road as the way to Elidir Fawr. 

I duly climbed over and headed in a straight line - well, roughly straight - towards the lower slopes of my first summit. There was no path underfoot to speak of and the ground was wet and uneven, with tussocks of spiky grass forcing you to wend your way hither and thither to get where you wanted to go. Sheep stared blankly until I was nearly upon them, at which point they scattered aimlessly in various directions. At one point the ground was less secure than it seemed and one foot went deeply into a waterlogged patch of earth. As I carried on I felt the cold tendrils of water that had found their way in through the top of my boot exploring my foot, which put a dampener on my mood again.

Some kind of pipit - a water pipit, perhaps?
Eventually I came to a steep bank: the muddy sides of this took all my powers of balance to descend without going flying but boot prints at least indicated that other people had passed this way before me. Down the bank and across a stream, I found myself back on the access road I'd left - with cleaner and drier boots - earlier on. I couldn't see that there were any gates blocking  the access road so if you're heading to Carnedd y Filiast I'd recommend staying on the road, as it'd provide much quicker and easier passage than the elusive footpath across the field.

Grey cloud still swathed the summit but the lower section of path up the hillside was clear enough on the far side of the access road. I crossed another stile and set off upwards and northwards towards the saddle between Y Ffronllwyd and Carnedd y Filiast's summit. Following the boot-worn strip in the grass, like the hilltops I too  eventually disappeared in the mist.

Even in the clag, the navigation was easy.

The summit of Carnedd y Filiast ahead.
Needless to say, there wasn't much to see as I proceeded here but after the path had swung sharply south east towards the final pull up to the summit the ground ahead became increasingly rock-strewn and mysterious shadows began to coalesce in the mist above me to reveal the mountain's crown. 

It seems to be a defining feature of the Glyderau that all of them are capped by piles of shattered rock to various degrees. In the murky conditions on top of Carnedd y Filiast it was hard to determine exactly where the highest point was but I did spend an enjoyable ten minutes or so clambering over the boulders and exploring. After a visual diet of grass, mist and sundry sheep, it was nice to have some more interesting terrain before me.

My arrival at the summit's crown of rocks.
The views at the summit were what you might describe as "fairly localised".

Between here and my next goal, Mynydd Perfedd, is a broad ridge which descends slightly before regaining some height; it was all very gentle though, which made walking suddenly much easier than it had been so far. 

One of the inhabitants of the ridge.
A wall and ladder stile ahead.

Ahead, I could just make out a wall cutting across the ridge and a ladder stile in the middle of it offered a useful aid to navigation. 

As I walked along I remembered that the striking north face of Carnedd y Filiast had caught my eye from the Carneddau a couple of weeks earlier. I'd forgotten about that until now but I could see that the mountainside dropped away steeply to the left of me, so I followed the wall as close to the edge as I felt safe and was rewarded with a view of the breathtaking Atlantic Slabs below. I'm no climber nor even a scrambler (though I'd like to do more scrambling at some point) but there was something about those  vast sheets of fractured rock that made me want to climb up them. They looked deceptively innocuous somehow, almost as if you could stroll up them from the valley below, though reading up on them revealed them to be a serious challenge to be undertaken only by experienced climbers with all the right equipment.

The Atlantic Slabs with a glimpse of farmland and the Afon Ogwen almost 2000 feet below.

The summit of Mynydd Perfedd.
Once I'd crossed the stile, it was a short walk to the summit cairn on Mynydd Perfedd, where I decided to take a break and have a coffee. 
I'd worked up quite a sweat heading up from the reservoir and it'd been quite muggy down there but once I hit the cloud line it became much chillier and I was beginning to feel it.

The hot drink warmed me up and next on the list was Elidir Fawr, a peak I'd plotted a walk up a while back but never got round to doing. It added a there-and-back limb to my otherwise straightforward traverse but I couldn't walk past it without paying my respects. At the southern end of Mynydd Perfedd the path forks and I took the right hand fork to head south west to Bwlch y Marchlyn. To the south, I could see Foel Goch and Y Garn, where the cloud was beginning to break up on their tops; looking down below Elidir Fawr's south eastern flank, the swirling mists were also dissipating to reveal Cwm Dudodyn and the crags on the northern slopes of Snowdon.

Foel Goch (l) and Y Garn (r).
Cwm Dudodyn below Elidir Fawr.

Ahead of me, though, the immediate views were even more exciting, as the airy ridge walk up to Elidir Fawr's summit was revealed. It looks far more knife-edged in some of the photos I took than it actually felt as I walked it so I was surprised when I looked back later in the walk to see how steeply the sides fell away from the path in places. When I was about halfway up, the clag finally cleared from the summit, which spurred me on up the steep incline.

Setting out along the ridge to Elidir Fawr.
The ridge to the summit.
The cloud clears from the summit of Elidir Fawr.

Heading back down - Mynydd Perfedd is in the centre but a path
crosses below it to Foel Goch, saving a climb back up again.
By the time I actually got to the top, where the ridge broadens out considerably, the cloud was closing in again in all directions and I began to wonder whether I'd ever get any decent views from the highest reaches of the Glyderau. I clambered over the rocks and took the obligatory selfie before retracing my steps back down the ridge. The picture of me standing on some boulders in mist provided little in the way of a souvenir and I ruefully reflected that I could have achieved a similar effect by simply standing on a neighbour's rockery on a foggy morning.

I took it slowly going back down the ridge as some of the smooth rocks were quite greasy. Fortunately, there is a direct path that cuts across the Bwlch y Brecan, below Mynydd Perfedd, which meant I didn't have to do a climb back up to rejoin the path south to Foel Goch. It was a narrow strip of mud and rock, more of a stream in places, as there was a lot of water trickling from the slopes above and the groove that walkers' feet had etched into the hillside became a channel in which this could collect. Generally though the going was good underfoot. The exertion of climbing up to Elidir Fawr had stimulated my appetite so I found a suitable rock along here and sat down to have a home-made pasty. The indecisive cloud was beginning to lift again now and my next two peaks were clearly visible, with the scree path up Foel Goch looking particularly unenticing from this viewpoint.

Foel Goch and its scree path (r); Tryfan appears beyond the ridge (l).

Appetite sated, I carried on across the bwlch. It turned out that the climb up Foel Goch wasn't nearly as strenuous or unpleasant as it had looked from a distance - a trick of perspective that I would encounter again later in the day. The path zig-zagged as it went, which mitigated the steepness of the ascent and I found myself at the top quite quickly. Some marvellous vistas opened out before me from this new vantage point, both on the ascent and at the top. Foel Goch was the first summit of the day I'd had that was cloud-free and Elidir Fawr was now revealed in full, with the ridge I'd walked prior to that (from Carnedd y Filiast to Mynydd Perfedd) stretching out to its right; before me lay Tryfan, Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr, and - the closest - Y Garn, the latter looking like Foel Goch on steroids.

Looking south west towards Moel Eilio.
Elidir Fawr, cloud free.
Looking back to Mynydd Perfedd and Carnedd y Filiast.
Looking ahead (from l to r): Tryfan, Glyder Fach, Glyder Fawr and Y Garn.

Y Garn. After crossing the fence, I headed right here to join a
path that had by-passed Foel Goch.
Between me and Y Garn was a broad col that descended gently to the base of the latter's summit. In daylight navigation was easy enough here and there was a central fence running north-to-south that would perhaps provide a useful handrail in poorer weather conditions. The fence ran down to some crags below the summit of Y Garn and I couldn't see how exposed the trail might be there so I took the opportunity to cross a stile halfway down the ridge and headed away from the edge. I crossed some pasture and joined the footpath that by-passed Foel Goch.

It was a real slog up Y Garn. More scree and a more direct route really took its toll on my calf muscles and my ankles, and I had to stop for a breather several times. I felt quite envious of the people I passed who were heading downhill in the opposite direction to me but that probably wasn't any more pleasant if truth be told. Just when I thought I'd reached the top, my new perspective revealed another climb ahead. Checking there was no-one else around I shook a fist at the summit proper and at the idea of false summits in general.

I lingered a while once I got to the top. I was pretty winded from the ascent and there were vistas to savour all around.

Pen Yr Ole Wen.
The summit of Carnedd Dafydd (l) behind Pen yr Ole Wen (r).
Llyn Peris and Llanberis, with Cardigan Bay beyond.
Snowdon Mountain Railway.

Of all the views from the top of Y Garn, one in particular caught my attention - the path ahead up Glyder Fawr, a narrow line of scree that seemed barely able to hold itself in place, let alone a walker. Below that fragile-looking ribbon of loose stone, a precipitous drop led the eyes down the crags to a small lake, Llyn y Cwn. I have to admit I mentally gulped at this point and if there had been anyone else there at the time I might have jumped into their arms just like Scooby Doo.

The sun handily spotlights my route up Glyder Fawr.

Pondering an escape route to Cwm Idwal, I gritted my teeth and marched down to the saddle between the two summits.

Again it turned out to be a matter of perspective - once I arrived at the lake and looked up at the vast buttresses of rock and slopes of scree that towered above me, I realised that the trail was far broader than it had seemed from a distance. It certainly didn't look enjoyable - when is scree enjoyable? - but it didn't look exposed either.

I skirted around the lake to the east, surprised at how many people there suddenly were around - walking, eating lunch or just generally relaxing by its shore and chatting. I even passed a school outing, girls and boys of around 14 years of age, listening with varying degrees of attention to a teacher who was leaning on a boulder and advising them about the pitfalls of mortgage applications, of all the unlikely subjects to hear at over 2000 feet up in the mountains. It was a pleasant and picturesque place to wander around and I didn't rush to begin my ascent of Glyder Fawr,

Approaching Llyn y Cwn.
Crossing a stream.
Llyn y Cwn.

The start of my climb up Glyder Fawr.
I saw a couple of people making the descent from Glyder Fawr as I approached the start of my climb and there seemed to be a choice of two paths that joined further up for the main slog up the scree. 

After a bit of mental debate, I picked the one to the left, mainly because it was set further back from the crags overlooking the lake, and typically it seemed like I'd picked the harder of the two options as I had to use hands as well as feet to pull myself up at times.

The way underfoot was clear at least and soon I was on a broad but fairly steep ascent across scree and loose earth. Whether it was the terrain or simply the amount of walking I'd already done I don't know but this took some real effort to get up. I passed a few people that were heading down, some leaping and sliding along at speed with confidence I certainly couldn't have mustered descending on that surface. Groaning inwardly all the way, I greeted each of them with a cheery hello and tried not to look as though I was about to collapse in a sweaty heap.

Looking back to Y Garn from the scree path up Glyder Fawr.
As I neared the top of this section, I could see the summit proper was still some distance off. The terrain was still fairly rocky - at least if you kept to the Ogwen Valley side of the mountain, though it fell away gently with a wide, grass slope to my right - but the incline was much gentler here and it didn't feel much different to walking on the level. Behind me, cloud was swirling in again from the west, obscuring the tops I'd already crossed.

I've no idea where the exact highest point was on Glyder Fawr. The landscape was an otherworldly one of jagged rock formations, some of which looked too intricate to be natural phenomena - it felt as though I'd been transported to another planet, with strange and unfathomable alien designs all around me. The swirling mist that had rolled onto Glyder Fawr added to the mysterious atmosphere as did the distant, disembodied voices of other walkers that I heard occasionally. I rambled around in the clouds, clambering over the shattered boulders, for a fair while, wondering if I were anywhere near the actual summit point before I found myself out of the clag at last - and looking at Y Garn ahead of me. I had wandered in a circle - or possibly several circles - and was heading back the way I'd come.

On the summit of Glyder Fawr.
On the summit of Glyder Fawr.

I decided I'd had enough of Glyder Fawr's boulders for now and headed south and then south-east, edging around the main bulk of its rugged summit. It was my own fault for not paying close enough attention to where I was going but one consolation was that I was back where I started when the cloud rolled out again and I now had tremendous views to the south and west - Snowdon, the Moelwynion and the Llyn Peninsula. Plus, of course, I could now see where I was going too - always a bonus!

Yr Eifl on the Llyn Peninsula in the distance.
The Snowdon Horseshoe - Y Lliwedd in the background and Crib Goch in the foreground.
The Moelwynion stretch out south of Snowdon.

Eventually, after an easy trot below it, I clambered back up to the main ridge of Glyder Fawr. The outlandish shapes I'd wandered among earlier were few and far between now and the ground underfoot was an expanse of small boulders. A line of cairns pointed the way towards Glyder Fach, which I could see ahead of me, beyond a wide col over which grass maintained a fleeting hold amidst the rubble.

In this photo, the rock points to the start of a line of cairns that point to Glyder Fach in the distance.
The broad saddle between Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach.

Crossing this saddle between the two eponymous Glyder summits thankfully doesn't involve losing a great deal of height, which I was glad of by this stage. The views from here were no less impressive: below lay the hanging valley of Cwm Idwal, with the Nant Ffrancon pass drawing the eye to the Menai Strait and Anglesey; on the southern side of the Glyderau, for only the second time that day the summit of Snowdon could be seen free of clouds - lucky the walkers who'd timed their arrival at the top to coincide with that!

Cwm Idwal below, and the Nant Ffrancon Pass below that.
Snowdon's summit.
A look back at the walk so far (l to r): Glyder Fawr, Y Garn, Foel Goch, Mynydd Perfedd and Carnedd y Filiast.

At the far side of this connecting ridge was the imposing Castell y Gwynt, "Castle of the Wind": a subsidiary top of Glyder Fach, it stands guard over any approach to the summit from the west and offers a scrambling route to it for those so inclined.

Castell y Gwynt - I picked out a route around it to the right rather than scramble over the top.

Finding my way around...
I wasn't so inclined and followed a path around it - I say "path" but the trail frequently disappeared amidst the massive boulders strewn across the top of the mountain and it was a case of picking your own way back up to the ridge. The rocks were large and solid, however, so it wasn't too arduous to hop from one to the other until I reached more level ground.

Castell y Gwynt was behind me now and in front of me was the distinctive summit of Glyder Fach, a small tower of rock that stood out from its surroundings. There was another walker way ahead of me en route to the "tower" and by the time I was beneath it he was on top and clearly enjoying the solitude so I forbore to climb the final few feet and left him to his meditations. When I glanced back afterwards he was still sitting there with Snowdonia's beauty spread out before him.

Castell y Gwynt behind me now, as I reached the summit.
A solitary walker, sitting on the highest point of Glyder Fach and looking across Snowdonia.
Snowdon from Glyder Fach.

Y Foel Goch below - my path down descends from the ridge a
couple of hundred yards before the lake, Llyn Caseg-fraith.
This had been my last mountain of the day and from now on it was downhill all the way. I could see Y Foel Goch and the eastern slopes of the Glyder range below me and it should have been easy to trace a path down to the expansive grass ridge that formed them. Rocks being rocks or me being me, it didn't prove quite such a doddle and I wandered way off course trying to pick an easy route down. In the end, I stopped and set a course straight for where I knew the path was to the north of me and then doggedly made my way to it over whatever stood in my way.

The rocks gradually thinned out as I headed downhill to the saddle between Glyder Fach and Y Foel Goch. I was to join a miners' track here and make a sharp left turn before the lake Llyn Caseg-frath that lay ahead of me. From where I was walking I could see a line of crags towering above the Ogwen Valley and it looked as though my planned route was going to see me simply walking off the side of the mountain.

Heading down to Cwm Tryfan.
Once I got to the edge, however, the path was clear to see and although it was steep in its initial stages it didn't feel exposed at all. Doubling back on the way I had just walked, it wended its way down the flank of Glyder Fach, initially over boulders that sometimes required the use of hands to lower myself to the next section, and eventually to a long, winding path across a scree slope. 

As I crossed this scree at the head of Cwm Tryfan the iconic mountain that gave the valley its name looked particularly handsome, especially when the late afternoon sun lit it up - though I'm increasingly inclined to think Tryfan looks handsome from any angle.

Glyder Fach.
The winding scree path to Bwlch Tryfan.
Tryfan's south face as I approached Bwlch Tryfan.

There was another bouldery clamber to get to Bwlch Tryfan, the "small" ridge that connects Tryfan to Glyder Fach and after climbing a ladder stile, I was now on the home strait. Cwm Bochlywd and its lake were below me and it was simply a matter of following the clear path down to the Idwal Cottage Youth Hostel. It had been a long day and I was walking slower now than I think I've ever walked - I don't get blisters thankfully but the undersides of my feet throbbed and each footfall hurt so that even when I reached the flagged section of the path I couldn't bring myself to pick up speed.

Crossing Bwlch Tryfan.
Heading down into Cwm Bochlwyd
The Nant Ffrancon Pass, with Pen Yr Ole Wen and the waters of Llyn Ogwen below it.

At the end of the walk.
It took me just over an hour to get down to the A5, a distance that should really have only taken around 25 minutes to cover and all-in-all the walk had taken more than two hours longer than I estimated. But I did it (including 5443 feet of ascent overall) with no real ill effects, a few aching muscles and sore feet aside, and that's what counts. 

Considering the clag that had greeted me at the start of the day, I was fortunate to have seen as many amazing views as I did see and even in the mist that returned throughout the day I saw enough of the Glyder summits to know that this is a place that I'll be revisiting and exploring again and again.




Date: July 2016

Walk length: around 11.5 miles

Duration: 10 hours, including breaks

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