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 slog up that mountain's south face I was drawn again and again to admire the striking crags and ridges on the other side of the valley.

Optimistically, 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 into English as "Cairn of the Female Greyhound").

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

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.

The summit of Carnedd y Filiast still hidden in cloud (r).

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 roughly straight line towards the lower slopes of my first summit. There was no path underfoot to speak of and the ground was wet and uneven, and covered in tussocks of spiky grass, so it was difficult to maintain a direct course across the pasture. 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, tendrils of chilly water slowly began exploring my toes, which put a dampener on my mood again.

Some kind of pipit.
Eventually I came to a steep bank: its muddy sides needed some nifty footwork to descend without going arse-over-elbow but other walkers' boot prints at least showed I was on the right track. Once across the stream, I found myself back on the access road I'd left earlier with much cleaner and drier boots. There didn't appear to be any gates blocking the access road when I looked back so if you're heading to Carnedd y Filiast I'd recommend staying on it rather than going cross-country. It'd provide much quicker and easier passage than the elusive footpath across the wet field.

Grey cloud still swaddled 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. As I gained height, I too eventually disappeared in the mist.

Even in the clag, the navigation was easy.

Needless to say, there wasn't much to look at as I made my way along this rough trod. When the path swung sharply south east towards the final pull up to the summit, however, the ground ahead became increasingly rock-strewn and mysterious shadows began to coalesce in the mist above me.

The summit of Carnedd y Filiast ahead.

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. After a visual diet of grass, mist and sundry sheep, it was nice to have some more interesting terrain to explore.

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. The change in elevation was all very gentle though and the walking was 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. 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 but there was something about those vast sheets of fractured rock that made me want to scale them. They looked deceptively innocuous somehow, almost as if you could simply stroll up the angled rock face, 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.

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, where it'd felt quite muggy, but once I hit the cloud line it became much colder and I was beginning to feel it.

The summit of Mynydd Perfedd.

Next on the list was Elidir Fawr. It added a there-and-back limb to my otherwise straightforward traverse but its striking profile made it too tempting to ignore. 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, as the airy ridge walk up to Elidir Fawr's summit was revealed, the immediate views were even more exciting. It looks far more knife-edged in some of the photos I took than it actually felt 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.

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 probably could've achieved a similar effect by simply standing on a neighbour's rockery on a foggy morning.

Heading back down - Mynydd Perfedd is in the centre but a path
crosses below it to Foel Goch, saving a climb back up again.

I took it slowly going back down the ridge as some of the smooth rocks were quite greasy. Fortunately, there's a direct path that cuts across the Bwlch y Brecan, 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 but generally the going was good underfoot. Climbing Elidir Fawr had made me suddenly hungry so I found a suitable rock along here and sat down to have a home-made pasty. The indecisive cloud was starting 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).

After eating, I carried on across the bwlch. The climb up Foel Goch wasn't nearly as strenuous 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 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 stretching out to its right. The primary peaks of the Glyderau range lay ahead of me, my next target - Y Garn - looking like a bigger version of the summit I was standing on.

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.

Between me and Y Garn was a broad saddle. A fence ran down to some crags below the summit of Y Garn. Crossing a stile halfway along the col, however, I headed away from the edge to join the footpath that by-passed Foel Goch.

Y Garn. After crossing the fence, I headed right here to join a
path that had by-passed Foel Goch.

The scree path took a direct route up Y Garn and it was a real slog. And that patch of ground that looked like the top as I climbed? It wasn't. At this point, I cursed Y Garn's summit specifically and the idea of false summits in general. The scenery wasn't bad though.

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 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.

The sun handily spotlights my route up Glyder Fawr.

Once I'd gritted my teeth and marched down to the saddle between the two summits, it turned out to be a matter of perspective again. From the lake, you could see 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.

It was busy here. I'd barely passed anyone so far but there were plenty of people milling around and sitting by the lake. I even passed a school outing, the pupils listening with varying degrees of attention to a teacher talking about the pitfalls of mortgage applications. It seemed an unlikely topic to discuss at over 600 metres up in the mountains. It was a pleasant and picturesque place to wander around, though, and I didn't rush to begin my ascent of Glyder Fawr,

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

When I did carry on, 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 across the rocks with a 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.

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.

Looking back to Y Garn from the scree path up Glyder Fawr.

I've no idea where the exact highest point was on Glyder Fawr. The landscape was an otherworldly one of jagged rock formations. Some looked too intricate to be natural phenomena at all - it felt as though I'd been transported to another planet, with mysterious alien sculptures all around me. The swirling mist that had rolled in again added to the eerie atmosphere as did the distant, disembodied voices of other walkers I heard now and then.

I rambled around in the clouds for a while, clambering over the shattered boulders and wondering if I were anywhere near the actual summit point. Suddenly, I found myself out of the clag. In front of me was Y Garn. 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 closely around the main bulk of its rugged summit on grassier terrain. It was my own fault for not paying close enough attention to the direction I was heading in. At least there was one consolation to being back where I'd started: the cloud was breaking up once more and there were now tremendous views to the south and west that hadn't had earlier - Snowdon, the Moelwynion and the Llyn Peninsula. What's more, I could see where I was going again - 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, across a wide col on 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 - happy 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 up there for those so inclined.

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

I wasn't so inclined and followed a path around its base - I say "path" but the trail frequently disappeared in 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 much bother hopping from one to the other until I reached more level ground.

Finding my way around...

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 on his way to the "tower" and by the time I was beneath it he was sitting on top and clearly enjoying the solitude. I decided not 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.

This had been my last mountain of the day and from now on it was pretty much downhill all the way. I could see Y Foel Goch and the lesser, eastern peaks 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 quite work out that way and I wandered way off course trying to pick an easy route down across them. 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.

Y Foel Goch below - my path down descends from the ridge about
180 metres before the lake, Llyn Caseg-fraith.

The rocks gradually thinned out as I headed downhill towards 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.

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.

Heading down to Cwm Tryfan.

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.

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

There was another rocky 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 and all-in-all the walk had taken more than two hours longer than I'd estimated. 

Considering the clag that had greeted me that morning, I was fortunate to have seen as many amazing views as I did see and even in the mist that sometimes 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: 18.5 km

Total ascent: 1544 metres

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