Saturday, 26 August 2017

Tryfan

I was in two minds for a while about whether or not to write up this walk as I'd never actually intended to climb Tryfan when I arrived in the Ogwen Valley in April of this year. I don't mean I set out to climb a different mountain and inadvertently found myself eye-to-eye with a seagull at "Adam and Eve" - I won't deny there's a reason why I call my blog "Occasionally Lost" but I've never quite gone that far astray. It was my first time at the top of the iconic Welsh mountain, though, and I suppose that should be marked with at least some sort of post, even if the weather didn't make for great pictures and my circuitous journey there isn't one I'd recommend or want to repeat.

Tryfan.
Our overnight trip to Wales had been booked for several months, for non-walking purposes, and I'd optimistically plotted myself a walk in the Carneddau to do before we returned home. In the morning, however, as we left the Llandudno Travelodge it soon became clear that the day had no intention of being... well, clear. I was determined not to leave Wales without some sort of hike but I was forced to write off the one I'd planned when we arrived at Llyn Ogwen and saw the clag that shrouded the mountain tops to the north of us. The Carneddau traverse was a walk I'd wanted to do since last year and I had no intention of squandering all that effort to wander through the sort of mist that I'd grown used to seeing when I open the curtains at home in the Peak District.

Looking back along the Nant Ffrancon Pass, the Gylderau were at least cloud-free as were the glacial, hanging valleys along their rugged northern side, so I decided to spend the day wandering around these slopes, much of which I had only seen from above on previous visits to the area. I bade farewell to Rich by the Idwal Cottage and set off up the gradual and well-maintained National Trust path.

The Nant Ffrancon Pass.

As I walked I toyed with the idea of heading to Capel Curig via Bwlch Tryfan and Y Foel Goch, partly because I'd be taking in the eastern reaches of the Glyderau range that I'd missed off my traverse last year and partly because having a cafe at the end where I could wait to be collected seemed an attractive prospect. I'd only just had breakfast and my bag contained the lunch and sundry snacks I was still to eat but as someone that regularly wakes in the morning half-dreaming about dinner later, these provisions did nothing to stifle my gluttonous thought processes.

Ahead of me, a large group of what seemed to be teenagers on an "outward bound" course, had stopped for a boisterous rest beside the path so I decided to make a brief diversion to the peace of Cwm Idwal until they'd moved on. As I made my way up to the lake, I was tailed for a while by a curious wheatear, who'd perhaps learnt to associate the walking community with all sorts of tasty morsels not otherwise readily available in the hills. He would've been better taking note of the teenagers breaking out their drinks and snacks to the east and possibly that's where he flew off to in the end, disappointed and indignant at the lack of food from me.

Wheatear.
Wheatear.
Wheatear.

When I arrived at the lake, even on that grey murky day, Cwm Idwal proved to be as idyllic and beautiful a location as it looks in all the pictures you see online. It was peaceful too - aside from the passage of a Hercules transport plane along the valley - and the only other person around was a photographer on the far side of the lake who seemed oblivious to my presence. I hadn't travelled very far but I stopped here for a break, taking my own pictures and soaking up the atmosphere. Gazing across at the Devil's Kitchen, it didn't take much imagination to place myself in front of Tolkien's Misty Mountains wondering whether to go over their peaks or deep into the dark, abandoned tunnels of Moria.

A transport plane briefly disturbed the peace.
Looking  west across Llyn Idwal to Cwm Clyd, another glacial hanging valley, below the summit of Y Garn.
The Devil's Kitchen.
A tiny island in Llyn Idwal.
Idwal Slabs.

While I was having this entirely undeserved sit down by the shoreline less than an hour into my walk, I took a look at the map. There was a path marked on it that headed up to the lower levels of the Y Gribin ridge and then down again to Llyn Bochwlyd, another glacial lake and one noted for its vague resemblance to Australia in outline. Enjoying the solitude around me, I decided to take this course next instead of returning to the relatively busy main path below. There was something enjoyable and - for me - novel about not having a pre-planned route to follow and I set off upwards on the obvious, though not paved, path that climbed the hillside above the lake.

"Blimey! Look at the progress I'm making!"
This was where I took my eye off the ball, relishing the gentle incline of the trail and pausing from time to time only to congratulate myself on how far above Llyn Idwal I was now standing for such little effort. I suddenly realised I had wandered way too far south. Having probably missed the turn for the little-used path I wanted, I'd been following a well-trodden route that I suspect is used by climbers to access the popular crags and Idwal Slabs east of the Devil's Kitchen.

The irony was that the top of my intended path had been clearly visible from below, a kind of gully strewn with scree, but I'd not been paying enough attention. There was no way I was going to lose the height I'd already gained so I set off diagonally north-eastward across a slope of tussocks, heather and rock. It was slow work and hard going in terms of effort, and by the time I found myself below another steep scree chute only halfway to my target, I decided to cut my losses and head up that one instead.

"I'll get up there in no time..." - it was steeper than the angle of the lens makes it look.
Cwm Cneifion (The Nameless Cwm), with Idwal Slabs to the right.

A very welcome perch.
It was as grim and unforgiving as you'd expect a steep scree slope to be and the ground around the rocks offered little to nothing in the way of respite either. The only opportunity I got to take a breather without sliding back down to where I'd come from like a Snakes-and-Ladders counter was practically at the top. Here a small crag provided a solid surface and a rock big enough to wedge myself behind - I was nearly on the top of the spur but I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to have a much-needed rest and to cool off a little.

After a few minutes of panting and slurping water, I realised my travails had left me ravenously hungry, which spurred me on to make the final pull up to the broad ridge above me. From here, Llyn Idwal looked tiny below. As I scouted about for a suitable rock to sit on and have lunch, I was distracted from my rumbling belly by the superb views this new vantage point provided - above me, Y Gribin narrowed and grew rocky as it swept up through the mist to the saddle between Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach; across the valley, the eastern fringes of the Carneddau were visible, though the higher central peaks and Pen yr Ole Wen's summit were lost in cloud, which reassured me that I'd made at least one sensible decision today in abandoning my original plans.

Llyn Idwal and behind it - Y Garn, Foel Goch and Mynydd Perfedd (l to r).
The start of Y Gribin's rocky ascent.
The eastern Carneddau - Pen yr Helgi Du and Pen Llithrig Wrach.
Pen yr Ole Wen across the valley.

Seemed like an okay spot for lunch...
Eventually, I found a place to park myself and, with some apprehension, took out that unknown quantity - the shop-bought sandwich. Reassuringly it looked and tasted as uninspired as the butties I usually make for myself at home. I had a decent view into Cwm Bochlwyd and pondered the upside down outline of "Lake Australia" as I ate. My eyes were continually drawn to Tryfan though, which aside from a few passing wisps, had remained free of cloud so far that morning. This was the point, I think, when I first began to mull over the idea of climbing it - and by the time I'd packed my bag and descended to the lake below I was dead set on ticking it off my list.

I lingered a while by the shores of Llyn Bochlwyd however. Cwm Idwal might well have made it into a Radio Times poll as one of Britain's top ten natural wonders but this neighbouring valley was just as impressive to my eyes, watched over as it is by Tryfan and the intricately shattered cliff faces and ridges of Glyder Fach and Y Gribin. I'd passed through the cwm before, on my way down from the Glyderau, but it'd been at the end of a very long day and I hadn't really had the energy or inclination to take in the scenery; on this visit, however, I made the time to enjoy it.

Glyder Fach from Llyn Bochlwyd.
The Y Gribin ridge.
One of the fascinating rock faces of Glyder Fach.
Tryfan.

Making my way up to Bwlch Tryfan.
Although still possessing a rough-hewn might, Tryfan looks rather squat from this angle - even, dare I say it, not quite as handsome as it does from practically every other point of the compass. In outline, if not in the detail, I could see my route up the south ridge to its boulder-strewn summit, and I set off uphill again, leaving the cwm and the lake behind. The path, which I'd walked before, is mostly easy going. Partially paved, part eroded, at other times rocky, it offers nothing in the way of challenges apart from sensibly watching your step, and relatively soon I was at Bwlch Tryfan. A substantial dry stone wall runs the length of this saddle, connecting the base of Tryfan's southern slope with the aptly-named Bristly Ridge, a grade one scramble onto the Glyderau.

Tryfan from Bwlch Tryfan.
Bristly Ridge from Bwlch Tryfan.
Looking east along the Ogwen Valley: Pen Llithrig y Wrach (l), Creigiau Gleision and Craig Wen (centre),
and Gallt yr Ogof (r).
The eastern Glyderau - Gallt yr Ogof and Y Foel Goch.

I could see a rough path heading north up the mountainside from where I was standing but it was clear that this was soon going to give way to rock underfoot, where route-finding would be less straightforward. There were two blokes making their way down so I decided to wait and watch as they negotiated a course over, behind and between the huge boulders above my vantage point. Some of these rocks were quite distinctive in shape, which helped me commit some key turns to memory before I headed up myself.

The ascent was quite steep and clambering over rock used muscles that don't normally come into play when I'm out in the hills but it was really exhilarating to gain height so quickly and enormous fun. The "Australian" outline of Llyn Bochlwyd was obvious from this viewpoint, and beyond it stretched the western Glyderau: Y Garn, above Cwm Idwal, Foel Goch, and behind that, a cloud-capped Elidir Fawr, Mynydd Perfedd and Carnedd y Filiast.

The western Glyderau.

Eventually I reached a fairly level area, just below the Far South Peak. I had a breather here and contemplated the huge slabs of stone between me and the summit. The closer I got to the top of Tryfan the more it felt like I was traversing a giant heap of rocks rather than solid ground, as though some race of giants had built the mountain as a huge cairn to guide them across the landscape. A few people were making their way down across these boulders and it appeared to be a case of simply finding whichever route suited you the best, which I did, bringing myself to the col below the Far South Peak. The upper reaches of Bristly Ridge on Glyder Fach looked no less alarming for being on a level with them, while to the north, the summit of Tryfan itself rose from a crown of rock that gave me pause for thought.

Glyder Fach to the south.
The summit of Tryfan to the north.

I watched a couple of people cross the boulders and heave themselves up the most obvious and least exposed route but they were taller (and no doubt fitter) than I am; with my short arms and legs I doubted I was going to be able to recreate their gymnastics. This left me with the only other option I could see of climbing onto a very exposed ridge of rock and accessing the summit this way. It was broad enough to walk along (as someone subsequently demonstrated) but for me it was a shuffle on my arse and a very cautious one at that.

It served its purpose, though, and there I was by the twin rocks known as  "Adam and Eve", eye-to-eye with a seagull and very firmly decided against trying to gain "The Freedom of Tryfan". For those not in-the-know, this is gained by jumping from one of these boulders to the other - a gap of several feet above a lethally precipitous drop; long legs probably help as does an ability to stare death in the face without becoming a whimpering wreck. I contented myself with a snap of the seagull.

Adam and Eve.

I didn't stay long. Several people were already milling around or eating their lunch and we were soon joined by a school party who'd seemingly climbed the North Ridge. A bank of cloud was beginning to settle too and I didn't fancy descending through the boulder field in mist if I could possibly avoid it, so I set off back the way I'd come.

About to head back down...
I was glad I took pictures of the views on the way up.

Although I still wasn't prepared to walk it, the small ledge I'd shuffled across earlier didn't seem quite as unnerving now I knew what to expect and I began my descent across the boulder field. After a brief and unintended diversion too far west, I began to make my way out of the swirling cloud and down the "path" (using the term in its loosest sense) I'd climbed up earlier. I pretty much knew where I was heading but the mist was a little disconcerting and I was relieved to finally see the wall on Bwlch Tryfan beneath me.

Bwlch Tryfan appears below.
A glance back up as I made my way into Cwm Bochlwyd.

From here, the journey back to the Idwal Cottage was straightforward and uneventful, albeit something of a trudge. I was in finer fettle than the first time I'd walked this route down last year, though, and still buzzing from having finally made it to the top of Tryfan. Once I'd carefully negotiated the steep path alongside the Nant Bochlwyd waterfall, I realised I was probably going to be back at the car park before the cafe/kiosk closed for the day, which in itself provided a new-found determination to keep going.

Below the waterfall, Nant Bochlwyd weaves a course across the hillside to Llyn Ogwen. 
A look back up at the waterfall.

As I sat on the wall back down by the road, tucking into a cracking cheese-and-onion pasty and even more delicious cherry-and-almond slice, my mind wandered to the fish and chips we were going to have in Conwy on the way home I reflected on the day's walk.

Conwy Castle.
It had been decidedly murky throughout, which muted the rich variety of colour on this side of the Glyderau and made for rather dull pictures. And my route had been an odd one, following my nose rather than having a clear vision of where to go in mind, at least until I decided to summit Tryfan. But I was pleased to have finally reached the top of that iconic Snowdonia peak, one that had allured me and made me apprehensive in equal measure for quite a while, and I left it behind me with the knowledge that I would definitely be returning to it again.

The view from Conwy quay.
By the time we got down to Conwy, one of our favourite places in North Wales, the skies were clearing (or perhaps they always had been cloud-free down here on the coast) and we had a wander along its lovely quayside and a pint before heading to the always-excellent Fishermans Chip Shop for tea.




Date: April 2017

Walk length: 4.5 miles

Duration: 5 hours including breaks.

* The pictures from Conwy are actually from the evening before when we arrived in Wales, as I didn't take any photos after the walk.


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