Thursday 1 March 2018

Crimpiau, Creigiau Gleision and Llyn Cowlyd

At the eastern end of the Ogwen Valley, above Capel Curig, the sweeping curves of the High Carneddau give way to an untidy jumble of peaks - Crimpiau, Craig Wen and Creigiau Gleision. Of these, only the latter surpasses the 2000 feet threshold to earn itself the status of mountain in Britain but - by way of compensation - you do get two summits above this height along its craggy (and often boggy) ridge.

Pen Llithrig y Wrach, Crimpiau, Craig Wen and Creigiau Gleision just showing in the background.
(Picture from a climb of Moel Siabod a couple of years ago.)

We were looking for some upland walking in Snowdonia last weekend that would avoid the snow and ice still on the higher summits and these outlying members of the Carneddau offered that. They also provide some of the finest views in the national park so, with sunshine and clear blue skies forecast all day on Saturday, it seemed like the perfect day to explore them.

Clogwyn Mawr.
Wanting to get an early start, we stayed overnight in Bangor and made our way to the Moel Siabod Cafe around seven thirty. After wolfing down a fantastic fry-up, we changed into our boots and set off on what would turn out to be a much tougher day's walking than we anticipated.

A short stroll along the A5 brought us to a public footpath sign and from here we began our ascent. We passed a campsite and crossed farmland until, just below Clogwyn Mawr, we joined the main path that runs through Cwm Geuallt.

Heading into Cwm Geuallt.

There was a slight haze in the air, which we hoped would burn off in due course - it was only around half-past eight after all. Looking back as we went along, I took a few snaps just in case it didn't. That proved to be a wise move as the haze became more pronounced to the south of us as the day progressed.

Looking back to the eastern end of the Glyderau.
Looking back to Moel Siabod.

Capel Curig has the highest amount of rainfall in Wales (and some of the highest in the United Kingdom) so it wasn't much of a surprise to find it was quite wet underfoot, and occasionally icy. The path runs roughly parallel to Nant y Geuallt, a stream that flows down the middle of the valley below Creigiau Geuallt. Eventually it brings you to a tumbled down wall at a pass above the Crafnant Valley.

Creigiau Geuallt.
Traffic ahead...
Looking back down the valley. Moel Siabod in the background.
At the pass above the Crafnant Valley.

We left the trail here. We wouldn't be following a path shown on the map now until we were at the far end of Creigiau Gleision. The highest point of Crimpiau was just above us to the west and there were a couple of well-walked tracks heading uphill from the col. We took the closest one. It was also the steepest one so we gained height quite quickly and Crimpiau's craggy summit was soon in view.

A short sharp climb.
Crimpiau's summit.
Crimpiau's summit.

Walking up from Capel Curig, we'd been climbing only very gently and had been enclosed by the hills that form Cwm Geuallt. It was quite a surprise to look down at Llyn Crafnant from this vantage point and see how much height we'd gained.

Across the valley, Craig Wen and Creigiau Gleision stretched out as a series of saddles and crests. Creigiau Gleision translates as "Grey-Green Rocks" and the name made sense when we looked over at the mixture of dark vegetation and exposed crags that make up these rugged peaks.

The scale of them was a sobering sight. In fact, our path was to bypass the very tops of the summits we were looking at but, despite that, the walk was evidently going to be something of a switchback. My plotted route's total elevation of 4000 feet began to make more sense now.

A short sharp climb up a ribbon of stones, mud and ice brought us into a damp, bowl-like hollow just below the summit. This was clearly gaiter-country but fortunately for us the ground was frozen. It wouldn't be the last time that afternoon we'd be grateful for winter making the plentiful bogs up on these tops passable. Once at the very top of Crimpiau we got some of the famed views west along the Ogwen Valley, although visibility wasn't quite what we'd hoped for.

Llynau Mymbyr, the eastern Glyderau and Tryfan.

Heading down from Crimpiau.
From the top of Crimpiau, we took a path downhill to the north west. After twisting around a bit, it eventually settled into a straight course alongside a dry-stone wall.

Before the recent cold spell had struck, a stream had obviously been trickling down the path and this had now solidified into a gleaming strip of ice. This meant we had to walk beside it on the frozen turf. It was tricky maintaining our balance on the hard, frosty ground and we were concentrating so hard we missed our turning point about halfway down the hill. A certain amount of grumbling through gritted teeth marked our discovery of this error.

After we'd corrected ourselves (the climb back was actually easier than the descent), we crossed the wall and from here the path was much clearer. It wound its way down to a depression between Crimpiau and Craig Wen, over which loomed a small crag,  Castell y Gwynt (trans. 'Castle of the Wind').

There were some Carneddau ponies on the path beside it, warming up in the morning sun. These wild ponies have lived in isolation on these mountains for centuries and their DNA signature shows that they are a unique breed.  After staring at us for while, they moved unconcernedly further uphill, where they set about their breakfast, not even glancing in our direction as we passed them.

Carneddau ponies.
On the way up the side of Craig Wen.
Passing below the summit of Craig Wen.

Although the route up the side of Craig Wen looked fairly imposing from Crimpiau, it proved to be not that strenuous. The path skirts around a huge wall of rock at the top of the climb and then runs north just beneath the summit proper. Even with less than perfect visibility, the views were still good enough to take your breath away.

The Ogwen Valley.
The High Carneddau.
Looking back from Craig Wen to Crimpiau.

The path took us down to the next broad saddle, which lies between Craig Wen and Moel Ddefaid, another rocky hilltop in this particularly knobbly corner of Snowdonia. We could see where the path climbed again on the other side of the col but between here and there the trail petered out into another bog.

Taking a deep breath, we picked our way across it. Water welled up around the base of our boots and the ice creaked and cracked alarmingly beneath us but we made it across without sinking or getting significantly wet. I made a mental note not to re-do this walk unless it's (literally) freezing cold or we're in the middle of a prolonged drought.

Moel Ddefaid and the boggy col linking it to Craig Wen.

Moel Ddefaid's prominence hides the rocky peak of Craiglwyn, where we decided to stop for a break. The Creigiau Gleision ridge was in full view ahead of us from here, its southern peak the highest point of the day. There was (of course, there was!) another descent and another climb before we'd get there, however. Drinking our coffee, we gazed at the dramatic eastern face of Pen Llithrig y Wrach (which translates as 'slippery peak of the witch') and enjoyed our first clear view of Snowdon in the distance. I say "clear" but "less obscure" might be a fairer description, if I'm being honest.

Creigiau Gleision.
Pen Llithrig y Wrach.
Snowdon in the background.

There was another col to cross to get to the summit of Creigiau Gleision but it was a surprisingly dry one (at least compared to our previous experiences) so we were able to relax, chat and take in the scenery as we wandered over it.

The northern Carneddau - Foel-fras and Drum on the horizon.

After a short pull-up a heathery and rocky slope (the path was easy to follow), we found ourselves at the summit of Creigiau Gleision before we knew it. "It's all downhill from here!" I cheerily remarked to Rich, momentarily forgetting the undulating ridge ahead of us and the 1000 feet ascent we'd need to make from Llyn Cowlyd before we'd get back to Capel Curig.

Looking north west from the summit cairn on Creigiau Gleision.

Next was Creigiau Gleision's North Top, around half a mile away at the other end of the ridge. The summit comes in at 2224 feet and the North Top at 2080 feet but you descend around 360 feet on the way there so the ridge ends with a bit of a climb again. There were clearly some boggy patches along this route but again the ground was pretty much frozen so the walking was actually quite pleasant.

The North Top (r).
Tryfan and the Glyderau.
Llyn Cowlyd and Pen Llithrig y Wrach, with Carnedd Llewelyn behind.

Rich wasn't bothered about standing on the North Top so he stayed on the path while I nipped up to take a look around.

Below me was Llyn Cowlyd. Until I plotted this walk I'd always assumed this was a man-made reservoir but in fact Llyn Cowlyd is not only natural but also the deepest lake in Wales - and that's still the case if you disregard the 40-odd feet the water level has been raised by the dam. The lake and the valley even appear in the Mabinogion, where King Arthur consults the Owl of Cwm Cowlyd while he's on one of those time-consuming quests people were always getting lumbered with in days of yore.

Our next target, the dam across Llyn Conwy.
Looking north towards the end of the ridge, our route down.

Until this point, the tracks up here had been pretty easy to spot and to follow, even though they don't appear on the OS map. Ironically, a path does show on the map leading down from the North Top but the further down we got, the less distinct it became.

Pen Llithrig y Wrach (l) and Carnedd Llewelyn (r).
The descent.

In the end, it became a squelchy thrash through heather and tussocks before a track suddenly appeared again. This took us very easily down to the reservoir dam, where we sat on a concrete wall and had our lunch. The view as we munched our butties was ample repayment for all the bog-trotting we'd had to do to get there.

On the map, in aerial images and, indeed, from our walk across Creigiau Gleision, the two-mile loop back along the western side of Llyn Cowlyd looked a doddle. And it started out quite flat and easy to walk too, even if sometimes we had to leave it and pick a route across the hillside to avoid the more water-logged sections.

After a while, however, the broad track narrowed to a uneven and rock-strewn strip of mud that really slowed us down. This slippery surface pulled at ankles and knees and it took some concentration not to go flying.

I suppose it also didn't help that we'd already done around 3000 feet of ascent by now. What's more, from a personal point of view, I was in a fierce battle with the urge to have a post-lunch nap, a challenge worthy of any ancient myth.

Cwm Cowlyd is a lovely location, quite wild and isolated in feeling when you look south or when you're far enough along the trail for the rather ugly, industrial-looking dam at the northern end to disappear from sight. Despite all this, my gaze kept being drawn to the head of the valley, which stood over the southern end of the lake with what seemed to be an quite unreasonable amount of height.

Creigiau Gleision.
Looking back along the lake.
The realisation dawns that we're going to have to gain some height.

It was a bit of a grim walk - physically and mentally - to the top of the valley, where a stream tumbled through rocks on a noisy journey down to feed the lake. Pen Llithrig y Wrach looked particularly handsome from here but we were too focused on getting back down to the cafe to spend much time lingering over the new perspectives that last 1000 feet of ascent had provided.

A new angle on Pen Llithrig y Wrach.
The stream that feeds into Llyn Cowlyd.

"Well, it really is all downhill from now on," I remarked optimistically and - I hoped - convincingly. We crossed a small footbridge and set off across farmland in the direction of the A5 below.

It was quite a desolate landscape around us as we descended, coarse grass and marsh, occasional brooklets waiting in hiding to soak an incautiously-placed boot. The track we'd joined soon faded away but a series of little wooden bridges over the wetter sections acted as a reliable guide as to where to head.

I've plotted a route over Pen Llithrig y Wrach and Pen yr Helgi Du for the summer that uses this path for the initial ascent, so it was good to find it wasn't bad walking, even in water-logged, wintry conditions.

The A5 and Capel Curig just coming into sight...
Back in Capel Curig, below Clogwyn Mawr.

By the time we got back to the Moel Siabod Cafe (which someone seemed to have moved much further away down the A5 in our absence), we'd been walking for over eight hours. And it felt like it. This might not have been the highest or most technically-challenging terrain  in Snowdonia but it certainly packed a punch in terms of sheer stamina. It was a fantastic day, though, aches and pains aside, and definitely somewhere we plan on returning to.

Date: February 2018

Walk length: 17 km 

Total ascent: 1217 metres


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