Posts Tagged Snowdonia
A long time since I last posted so here’s the first of a few updates to cover what’s happened the past few months. After this I’ll do write ups of
- Summer ML training at Plas y Brenin
- A quick look at new kit – Rab Momentum waterproof and Meindl Air Revolution 3.1 walking boots
- Cwm Eigiau wild camp from Dolgarrog
and I’m planning a tidy up of the background pages to the website. Thanks to all the people who’ve left comments on here and Twitter about the blog. Hope everyone had a cracking Summer!
The weekend before (early July 2010) the start of Summer ML training it felt right to do some walking up high, get some more miles in my new boots and add another day to the logbook. I’d be going out on my own and trying to ignore the increasingly poor conditions predicted for the day, I decided to take a look at different route up Snowdon. Waking up early, I arrived in the pouring rain at an empty car park by Rhyd-Ddu (it’s pay and display) just before 6am.
A deposit of slate to the side of the trail towards the South ridge
Leaving the car park at the North end and across the train track the path ahead is clear, well maintained and ascends gradually. There’s no problem spotting the fork in the trail either that takes you East away from the main Rhyd-Ddu path towards the proper start of the South ridge. The first section along this trail was pretty boggy and often submerged in the conditions but otherwise would make for a quick and steady walk up as suggested by the route I was following (see end of article for a link). At numerous points before reaching the saddle between Snowdon and Yr Aran are reminders of the considerable mining history of the area, with several buildings and huge deposits of slate to the side of the trail.
Making the saddle (Bwlch-Cwm Llan) I took advantage of the wall that runs along it to shelter from the driving rain, to check my non-laminated map (it was retired after this route…) and decide what next. I’d been tempted to go up Yr Aran as part of the route, but given the poor conditions and being on my own on unfamiliar ground, I decided that getting up and down Snowdon as quick as possible and back to somewhere warm/dry made the most sense.
Approaching the ridge from the saddle there’s a sharp gain in height before things settle into a more gradual ascent over a clear trail. Things carried on for a while before I found myself a little off the crest of the ridge (on the Western side) and needed to scramble back up a short section, I’m guessing I lost the main path at some point to end up needing to do this though. After meeting the Rhyd-Ddu path the ridge narrows over Bwlch Main to give some exposure (hard to tell how much as the cloud was so thick), although the strength of the wind (gusting 50mph) certainly added to things.
On this narrower section I met the first and only person I’d seen during the ascent, a quick “Morning, you alright?” between us and I was beyond the ridge proper on onto the final section of ascent, some short ascents on wide rocky tracks. Making the summit I was amazed that despite the weather/time (~ 9am) I was the only person in sight (visibility was about 30m).
Heading back down quickly as there was nothing of a view and the weather was cold/depressing at best, I quickly found the fork after the narrow section of the ridge that goes right and down onto the Rhyd-Ddu path itself. Around halfway down I began to meet others on their way up, looking forlorn and not enjoying the path which now resembled a stream. It’s really hard to tell giving how dense the cloud was but I’d be tempted to suggest taking the alternative route up over the standard Rhyd-Ddu path up would make for a better ascent, anyone done both?
In conclusion it’s hard to make any real conclusion about a walk done in such poor conditions, however, having seen the ridge line in clear weather I can imagine it makes for a spectacular route. I’ll definitely be back, when the sun is out and in with others to enjoy the route another time. Having the summit to myself was a bonus and not something I guess will happen again soon. Getting up and down for just before half 11 meant my pace felt comfortable at around 4km/hour, which was handy to know prior to a week of training. The heavy rain battered my waterproofs and left me pretty wet from the day, so it was out with the waterproofing treatment as soon as I got back.
Fancy doing the route?
- Check out the full route detail on Walking Britain.
With a cracking weekend of weather in store and my Summer Mountain Leader training on the horizon, I was joined enthusiastically by my girlfriend (Laura) for a quick getaway to walk/camp in Snowdonia. The walk would be Laura’s first mountain day and my first in a new pair of walking boots (Meindl Air Revolution 3.1 – my attempt at a lightweight summer boot). Thinking through a few options, I ended up deciding on following a route I’d completed the year before in Winter, around Marchlyn Mawr to pick up the summits of Carnedd y Filiast (821 metres), Mynydd Perfedd (812 metres) and Elidir Fawr (924 metres).
Us on top of Elidir Fawr with the Marchlyn Mawr reservoir behind
Leaving work we were quickly packed and on our way, only to hit the M1 and turn around as I’d left my boots at home, whoops! Further delays hit in the form of roadworks in Wales, so we arrived late at the Gwern Gôf Isaf Campsite near Tryfan on the A5. Setting up the tent we were able to light the disposable BBQ and get food/beer out in the last light (around 11pm), only to quickly retreat inside the tent to avoid being eaten alive by midges. Apart from the obvious annoyance of me being the tastiest thing to midges within several hundred square miles, the campsite was great and I’d definitely recommend it due to location and basic facilities.
Up leisurely at around half 8 we were back in the car and soon at the the start of our walk where there’s adequate parking on the verge (Grid reference: SH604627). After surveying the mountains infront of us whilst disposing of some pastries for breakfast inside the car, we began to steadily ascend via the tarmacked road that leads to the reservoir. When the road starts to zig zags we found ourselves presented with a sign for our first mountain of the day… I debate now whether following it was best, with the ground being covered in thistles and requiring a jump over a small river, whilst to the side the road leads closely to the style at the bottom of Carnedd y Filiast, oh well! The ascent is at a good gradient over ground not overly steep on a solid path which still gains height well and has increasingly good views back down over the reservoir and towards Elidir Fawr when you fancy a quick breather (we needed it in the increasingly hot sun). Halfway through the ascent the ground levels off, giving fantastic views over the Carneddau before the final and more rocky section of ascent is made.
The summit of Carnedd y Filiast with Elidir Fawr behind
Walking off the summit of Carnedd y Filiast you slowly descend to the hump that is Mynydd Perfedd and with it increasingly spectacular views down the Ogwen Valley over the rest of the Glyders and to the right the impressive route of ascent up Elidir Fawr. There’s a fence with numerous styles on that can be crossed over to meet the path to Elidir Fawr, so just find the fence and cross where you fancy.
Looking towards the ascent route taking on Elidir Fawr
Following the ridge line to the summit of Elidir Fawr is the last decent ascent section of the walk, which whilst not overly steep was taken at a slow pace given how hot the day had turned out to be. After a short section clambering over rock we were at the small shelter at the summit of Elidir Fawr to enjoy some lunch, a drink and the fantastic views back down over Marchlyn Mawr reservoir. Several groups arrived at the summit looking exhausted, following the climb from the Llanberis valley as part of an attempt at the Welsh 3000s.
After a short walk along the summit ridge of Elidir Fawr there’s an obvious path down a scree slope towards Elidir Fach. Heading North off the summit and down a ridge line a line down towards the road taken on the ascent becomes clear (go a little NNW to avoid finding yourself overlooking one of the small quarries from above).
Walking around Marchlyn Mawr to the top of Elidir Fawr allows you to see a less visited (if not still fairly busy in places) part of the Glyders and enjoy a good day out in Snowdonia, with fantastic views over the main ranges. More than anything I was over the moon to see/hear how much Laura enjoyed the day, having let on halfway through the walk that she’d been a little worried about what the day was going to be like. As preparation for my Summer Mountain Leader training it was great, I’d managed to do in a small part what the ML will hopefully allow me to do more of in the future, show others just how incredible the mountains are.
Fancy doing the route yourself? Want more photos?
Aware of the lack of wild camping experience in my Mountain Leader logbook apart from the night ascent and wild camp on the summit of Helvellyn last year and having left Cadair Idris interested in exploring the ranges outside the main 3 in Snowdonia (so not Snowdon/Glyders/Carneddau), I came up with a plan to check out Moel Siabod (although initially we intended on scrambling in the dark and camping lower with another route the next day…). Hastily arranged after days off and weather looked okay, we were off to North Wales with guide books and kit strewn through the car.
Arriving at the Bryn Glo car park on the A5 before Capel Curig at just after 8pm, there was still plenty of light as we set off out of the car park to the right briefly before turning left over a bridge and up a lane. The second right is taken, I think it’s even signed for Moel Siabod, and a steady climb starts up a tarmacked single lane road. After a while a diversion is directed to avoid the farm which is at the end of the lane, this briefly winds up before rejoining the road beyond the farm. Over a stile the route passes through several fields (full of sheep/lambs at this time of year). It was around now the light steadily started to fade and light rain began to fall.
After a little while we came to an obvious ridge line down off Moel Siabod, from which we would later descend, that we avoided and continued on the trail to the first of the lakes on the route. As we reached the end of this first lake, the rain became stronger, we moved up into the clouds and with this the light went completely, head torches were switched on, waterproofs were put on and we started ascending again.
With several sections of boggy ground and now thick cloud (made worse by the torches) the route became difficult in places to follow, and with only about half a mile to the ridge we found ourselves unable to follow the path further and switched to a compass to guide us down towards the lake (that we almost walked into… whoops!), where we knew another path should be that would lead us more directly to the base of the ridge. By this point the topic of trying to find decent place to pitch the tents was high on the agenda, with the ground incredibly boggy by the lake and strong winds making setting up on higher more exposed grounds a bad idea, we decided to go a in between and look for some shelter just higher off the ridge.
After around 15 minutes of walking together in a line around the base of the ridge we found a suitable spot, with some shelter from the wind offered by a rocky outcrop. After “a couple” drinks we tried to get some sleep. It was now I really regretted throwing the Thermarest out to keep my pack weight low, the ground was freezing and it took quite some time to get comfortable, I’ll not be making that mistake for a while.
Waking up fairly late after a surprisingly good night sleep we packed up and looked up the ridge to the summit. The first section was really simple stuff although there were a few options we picked that were noticeably harder than the main route up, and more so with heavy packs on that made balance difficult. But it’s mainly good fun and quite a lot simpler/less sustained than other grade 1 scrambles nearby, confirming it as an introduction to scrambling which I’d read on the Internet/in guide books prior. After about 1/3 of the ridge is complete, things open up and the scrambling fades into a trail that snakes its way up through scattered rock, with some spots you could climb a little if you really tried.
The summit is a small rocky outcrop on the Western corner of a plateau, by now there were other groups with us, so we quickly walked up to the trig point, turned on our heels and looked for the way down. Down from the summit you follow the obvious broad ridge down to the East over rocky undulating ground. We moved fairly quickly at first and then I stopped to talk to a group of other walkers, one of whom struck up conversation about my pack/trousers, who turned out to be from Snow + Rock on a long weekend testing gear, who kindly gave me a Mammut baseball cap… result! Back with the other two we continued over the ridge and downward over easy ground.
There’s quite a few rocky steps, as is usual for a route like this, and on one about half way down my knee emitted a loud crack, I winced and hoped it was nothing. The rest of the descent was uncomfortable and my knee continued to hurt on the rocky steps, guess I’m getting a little older! Anyhow, there’s nothing tricky coming down and soon the ridge becomes more grassy until it descends down towards a broken up rock wall which you pass aiming diagonally right, to meet the path we’d taken in and walk back out.
The route taken is well worth taking, but our walk in at night in thick cloud without prior knowledge of where to pitch was far from ideal, we learnt plenty that night! I’d definitely suggest going light and completing the route quickly as the guide books suggest instead of the more leisurely way we came at this. The scramble is, as most guides suggest, really simple and would make sense as an introduction to scrambling. Given the fantastic grade 1s close by (Snowdon Horseshoe, Tryfan North Ridge, Bristly Ridge, Crib Lem Spur) I’d be hard pressed to advise on Daear Ddu ridge first unless you’re keen on taking things slowly and getting a feel for scrambling. However, the ridge itself is fun, there’s less crowds on here the the other well known routes nearby and you still get that fantastic setting, that’s usual for North Wales. On the practical side, I can add another wild camp to the list and learnt plenty from approaching this too casually in changeable conditions. From a light-hearted point of view we’re still laughing about seeing each other sink in the boggy ground in the dark/rain and then pulling each out.
Next up will depend on the weather but a longer route in the Lake District or climbing in the Peak District look fairly promising. I’ve also nearly become “comfortable” in my new pair of climbing shoes so I’ll do a bit of a review in the coming weeks as to how they’re getting on.
Time had been short and opportunities limited to get up high since the winter climbs in early March, so with a glimmer of passable weather and a Saturday morning/afternoon with little going on, I mentioned the idea of a quick trip to North Wales to my friend Pat (who I usually walk/climb with). With little sleep between us we were off in the middle of the night to take a look at Cadair Idris, a mountain we’d yet to see. Losing signal on the way, we were lost in Southern Snowdonia for about 20mins before finding our way to the reasonable sized car park South of Minffordd, to begin the circuit of Cadair Idris set out on Walking Britain.
After a short walk the path climbs gains height quickly on a good path that after a little while opens up and levels off. We then turned to the left into a slightly snow covered Cwm Cau and begin steadily climbing again. The cwm looked like it’d hold some pretty good spots for wild camping when we skirted around it, although without checking the ground properly in warmer months it was hard to be sure. Anyone know?
Up into the clouds, we ascended for short while until to our right a clear ridge emerged that made its way steadily to the top of Craig Cwm Amarch (791m), with I imagine great views on a clear day. As we went higher, the patchy snow steadily became thicker, such that by the top we were on a good foot or so of snow in places. Coming down to a saddle between Craig Cwm Amarch and Penygadair was slippery in slushy snow but we were soon again making our way to the highest point of the horseshoe, with the clouds now rising to give views onto Llyn Cau below us.
As we climbed, the way ahead became clear for once in the walk, with the the clouds thinning and bobbing up/down over the top. Just 50m short of the top the snow became deeper and the climb more steep, Pat and me choosing slightly different routes to the top more for fun than anything else.
A quick stop just below the summit, sheltered from the now stronger winds high up, for some liquids and food, and we were off on a steady descent towards Mynydd Moel.
Once at Mynydd Moel and having joked about the number of people wearing shorts on such a cold day, we laughed our way a little too far past the turn downwards (that’s easy to spot, just look for the fence). Looking back there were people obviously struggling with the snow and in shoes that would mean their feet were not just cold but wet on top, a poor combination! It’s always shocking how ill prepared people arrive for the mountains (in all seasons) but I guess this will never change.
Descending again was slippery in the slush over what was the loosest rock of the circuit from what we saw, but again nothing at all tricky. We were soon at the junction where we’d turned earlier into Cwm Cau and passing a stream of walkers making their way up to the lake for lunch.
The route was simple compared to others recently and the day whilst short, was a good trip out in an area new to us. When the clouds lifted the setting of the walk was as fantastic as anything else in North Wales, and showed clearly why Cadair Idris is so popular. The day was a reminder to look beyond the three main ranges in Snowdonia when planning walks/climbs in the area. Leaving Cadair Idris, I’d decided to make a point of exploring the other ranges and to come back in the Summer to see whether a wild camp was possible and also test the legend about leaving as a madman or poet after a night camping on the summit.
It’d been far too long since getting out to climb, having spent the last few months climbing indoors, getting through Christmas and adapting to life as a homeowner. Sitting at work watching the snow fall outside, I couldn’t help but fire off a quick email to a guide who I’d climbed with the previous Winter to work on winter skills before my trips to climb in the Atlas/Alps, to see if there was a chance of a couple of days climbing in the snow. The reply came quickly, giving a few dates in early March and reassurance that the conditions were fantastic.
On Left Hand Trinity of Snowdon (Credit: Hightrek)
A friend who I climb with indoors came too, so on the first day we spent a little time covering some basics as a refresher before tackling the right side of Tower Slabs (WI ii/iii) on Glyder Fawr, which whilst a little busy with a couple of other teams on at the same time, was great fun in fantastic conditions. I spent the climb without my camera out, simply enjoying being back on snow/ice, so I’ll perhaps do a short write up in the future.
For our second day, with a good forecast predicated, we made for Pen-y-Pass and up the Pyg track towards Snowdon, aiming to climbing one of the Trinity gullies on Snowdon’s Trinity Face (Clogwyn y Garnedd).
Y Lliwedd and Llyn Llydaw from the Pyg track
The walk in was as it is usually, with a few points where the path was covered in ice that needed a bit more concentration and care. But quite soon we were over the style at the junction for Crib Goch and following the Pyg track, traversing round to where we’d begin our ascent up Snowdon. Occasionally we’d be exposed to cold winds but overall we were particularly warm, as we walked briskly in the sun. The route we’d be taking became more apparent later on and is fairly obvious on the photograph below, with the two dots at the bottom of the shadow in the centre people on their way up the first part of the route to “The Spider” (the snowfield in the centre right).
Snowdon’s Trinity Face from the Pyg track
A short drop down from the path to a saddle (near to a small pond and one of the old copper mines found on Snowdon) allowed us time to look up the first section of the route, put on an extra layer of clothing and rope up. The slope itself was fairly easy going on not too steep snow, although my friend’s crampons kept on balling up with the snow being fairly soft which took him a little practice to spot before getting into a rhythm. A short steeper section of more firm snow and we’d reached the first snowfield (“The Spider”) and looked up the gully directly to our left, Left-hand Trinity (WI i/ii).
Climbing up to “The Spider”
Ian lead the route as he’d done the day previously, with Kyle and me following. Whilst the snow was fairly steep it wasn’t difficult making our way up, although Ian did point out that the route offered little in the way of good protection. I lose count of the pitches but it was somewhere between 3-4 before we emerged from the gully and then another 2 easier pitches saw us up directly onto the summit, with Ian securing the final anchor around the trig point itself, whilst a couple of onlookers watched with a little disbelief that we were appearing from over the edge of the face.
One of the final pitches of the climb
The climb whilst not technically difficult or demanding is one of the most enjoyable ascents I’ve ever made. Climbing up to the very top of Snowdon, a mountain I’ve enjoyed many days on, was really special. That the clouds soon dropped to give us brief views across North Wales was the icing on the cake. The two days reminded me of all that I loved about climbing in Winter conditions and excited me at all the prospects for a lot more of the same next Winter.
A big thank you to our guide Ian at Hightrek, who’s based in Snowdonia and helped pick/lead us on some cracking rotues, if there was something you’d like to work on/towards then I couldn’t recommend him highly enough.
Finally, there’s a Wiki of Welsh winter climbs with further routes being put together now if you’re interested in what else is possible during the colder months. Also worth knowing about is the Cicerone Welsh Winter Climbs guide, Ian referred to as we climbed that I’ve now picked up a copy of which even though a little old is a good reference for most routes.
“Now for something completely different…”. I’ve been meaning to try using video for a while, to show better what it’s like on the walk and to talk through some of what I’d usually write reams and reams about. So here’s the first attempt, which despite some things I’d like to change, I think work okay. I’d love to know what you all make of it, so if it’s worth me doing again let me know, or if you prefer pictures/words then say and if there’s something in particular I’ve missed from the video you think would work well just shout out and I’ll see what I can do! Here goes…
Seeing the weather looked good for Snowdonia in mid September it didn’t take long to decide a day out was in order. All Summer I’d wanted to take a look at the Crib Lem Spur on Carnedd Dafydd and with good weather, a route in the Carneddau would also be a perfect to escape the crowds. So I was up at 4:30am on Saturday the 12th, to drive over to Snowdonia, where I parked in a space in Gerlan (it’s a small part of Bethesda you reach by going West on the A5, driving down a tiny road past mining cottages and then at a sharp right going back up the hill). Out on the road, you just follow it and then over a couple of styles into open ground…
Into the Cwm the path goes from clambering over rocks in boggy ground to a nice easy faint trail. There was one opening to the right I passed which I almost considered but it’s fairly obvious from mid way in the walk that the huge outcrop off Carnedd Dafydd is the Crib Lem Spur. Best piece of information from the Cicerone book was to look for an area with large boulders, with a view up to Carnedd Dafydd like this…
The walk up where I pointed to in the video is actually quite steep and with the sun not hitting the rock yet it was a little slippery on the looser sections. Not much fun. But anyway after a steepish start/middle it flattens out and you quickly ascend around the corner of the crag and up. Then it’s as though you hit a wall where you could climb higher but the trail seemed to take me to the left naturally and there’s an obvious grassy platform going up back out toward the valley, which is what you want to follow. Reaching the end of the spur by taking this you then need to ascend a section of steep grass and some small rocky scrambles to make it to the start of the climbing proper…
As explained by the video above, I stuck to the crest throughout and had fun doing so. There is however a decent trail that runs through the scramble that you can almost always drop down to if you don’t fancy climbing it all. The scrambling is mostly simply stuff, although as usual I perhaps didn’t do things the easy way a couple of times and so found a few moves more demanding, but nothing too bad. Whilst not quite the quality of what you’ll find in the Glyders, the setting of this scramble is great and you’ll feel very much on your own, unlike the other classics which become very crowded. Descent would be fine through the scramble although the walking either side is a little steep and over some loose rock, so if you’re not keen on scree be aware of that.
Up on top of Carnedd Dafydd I started to see I wasn’t quite so alone on the mountain with people littered across the ridge. Picking up my pace I was soon over at Pen yr Ole Wen and then back over Carnedd Dafydd before a short stop to drink a little more, eat a cereal bar and look at the spur from the side.
I carried on the fairly long ridge walk toward Carnedd Llewellyn where I met another walker intending on a similar list of peaks. On top of Carnedd Llewellyn, with clouds coming in and drinks in particular running low I decided it would be best to just ascend Yr Elen then descend back toward Bethesda, so we walked out together, descending via Yr Elen’s North Ridge that I’ve been up a couple of times this year, which again is a tiny bit steep but nothing tricky at all.
It was a fantastic day and great to finally check out what turns out to be a good, fun route in the Carneddau. I’m not rushing to go back but it makes for a nice change from the more crowded peaks/routes in the region and so is well worth doing. I was a little disappointed to not see the 3000s I’m yet to ascend, but the day felt fairly long and the weather did close in when we descended, so I guess I wouldn’t have seen much of them had I carried on. My watch recorded (most of) the day at over 8hrs, more than 13 miles of walking and with over 5,000ft of altitude gain, so a pretty good day out! With a lot of running coming up (I’m preparing for the New York Marathon) I may be a little quiet for walking in the coming month or so, which means a couple of posts relating to bits from my past, but don’t be too surprised to see photos/videos of me being battered by sideways rain on Snowdon… you can’t beat it.
Once again, let me know what you think to the videos and slightly shorter version of the post (it’s meant I could get this up a lot quicker). Cheers, Ian.
Working out how best to train and prepare for the rigours of spending 2 weeks trekking in Nepal, at times over 5,000m is hard to work out for most who attempt the trek. Being one of the truly classic routes to trek in the world, a lot of people get their first taste of altitude walking to Everest Base Camp and go to Nepal not quite sure what to expect from it all.
I’d heard a lot about what to expect and some very different thoughts on training. I wasn’t sure if I’d done enough, so even though I know this isn’t going to completely clear doubts from someone who’s never attempted similar, I hope it at least give pointers as to what helped in the build up.
The majority of my training was quite simple really. I ran a couple of times per week during the 6months I had prior to the trip and spent weekends away walking up anything high I could think of and realistically get to.
Advice on training as an “Executive Summary”
(i.e. if you’ve seen the size of the article and don’t fancy reading it all)
- If you’re worried about your fitness, then do more. Don’t find out in the Himalaya that you can’t walk uphill for hours and hours each day.
- Don’t leave it until the last minute, I’d suggest building up slowly over 6 months.
- Mix your exercise/training so you don’t get bored.
- Walk in the mountains as much as is possible, with as many consecutive days as you can manage.
- Find a regular walking partner(s) for the days out to make it more fun.
- If you pick up a tweak/slight injury then stop and let it heal.
- Every time you’re exercising and feel like stopping for a breather, go a little further just to break down those mental barriers.
- Learn to walk uphill slowly as you’ll get AMS if you run up the hills in Nepal. Don’t get cocky through being over fit and ruin the trip. Pace is important!
- Learn to hydrate whilst exercising. I got used to carrying a couple of litres of water whilst walking and drinking it all and also running with a drink.
- Walk after little/no sleep (when it’s safe to do so!) to get used to switching off and ploughing through the miles.
- For all the physical training you do, remember a lot of what you encounter will push you mentally as well, be prepared to cope with discomfort but know when enough is enough.
- Enjoy yourself and remember why you’re doing it all… to go to one of the most incredible places on earth!
The Longer Notes
As a guide I left for Nepal on the 14th November, and began the trek on the 16th, making Everest Base Camp on the 23rd.
When I booked the trip, I’d just started running, in order to ready myself for my first ever road race, the BUPA London 10k in May 2008, which I completed in 56mins 42secs.
Throughout the year I then ran the Sherwood Pines 10k, Lichfield 10k, Walsall 10k, Mallory Park 5k, Shugborough Hall 15k.
Finally on October 26th, just weeks before the trip I built up to running what turned out to be a very undulating Birmingham Half Marathon in 2hrs 6mins.
Whilst the running helped build overall fitness, actually getting up into the hills and walking was by far the best form of training for the trip, in particular when we strung a couple of days together with little sleep between. Looking back it was also experience in a variety of different environment and conditions that really helped test out kit and prepare us mentally for what was in store.
August 2nd – Peak District
Our first proper training walk was close by in the Peak District, in early August 2008 (so only 3 abd a half months before we left for Nepal). We ascended Mam Tor (517m) and then completing a ridge walk around Castleton. Putting extra weight on our back (6litres of water which put packs up to just over 8kg) was perhaps foolish, but sitting on top of Mam Tor we both realised how out of shape for walking up hills we were. We walked around 12miles that day and felt it the next.
Pushing yourself too far and scaring yourself with the idea of failure through lack of fitness is perhaps a good idea, as long as there’s time left to rectify that!
August 10th – Rutland Water
To get miles under our belts we then walked the main 17mile circuit of Rutland Water in hot weather. Whilst lacking the ups and downs we’d really benefit from, the walk was good for trying out some new kit and getting a long walk done together.
August 23rd/24th – Snowdonia
A real watershed for us was getting to Snowdonia and scaring ourselves to death in bad weather on Tryfan and then Crib Goch. We’d naturally picked the routes that were listed as the hardest in the guide books to push ourselves but got more than we bargained for. Tryfan started well but veering away from the main scramble we soon were out of our depth on the terrain and the weather closed in. After getting to the top we made a hasty descent and had a long talk about being more prepared/responsible about how we tackled mountains in the future. This was as we sat in the car, watching our tent get blown apart by strong wind… we slept in the car. And then the next day had it pulled out of the field it’d sank in.
After a quick breakfast we were at Pen y Pass to have a crack at the Snowdon Horseshoe, which despite the day before we felt confident about. Unfortunately weather again turned as we neared the top of Crib Goch and with wind pinning us to the rock at the start of the main ridge, we descended the shorter North Ridge which was a lot less windy, back into the Llanberis Valley. We walked to the car without much said and abandoned our plans for the next day. Beaten by Wales.
We saw the potential for mountains to turn lethal quickly and realised some of our kit was nowhere near good enough for bad weather. It was a wake up call beyond for the mental side required to be up high when invariably the conditions are far from perfect.
September 13th/14th – Lake District
With a selection of new kit to hand (and on foot) and new found respect for the mountains, we went to the Lake District for the weekend.
Our first day was spent doing a a long walk up Helvellyn via a very cloudy and quite wet Striding Edge, which we felt really comfortable on with the bad experience on a far more exposed Crib Goch still fresh in our minds. Then over Helvellyn Lower Man, White Side, Raise and Stybarrow Dodd before descent toward Glenridding. Shattered from a long day we went back to Kendall to the youth hostel where we were staying… and then out for the night around bars/clubs.
Next day after a short sleep and hung over, we were on our way to Wasdale, from where we walked to the top of Scafell Pike. The route we took was fairly direct, lacking much excitement and helped mentally prepare us for ascent when we felt like doing nothing other than sleeping.
Probably the best weekend of walking we did prior to the trip, as it combined a long walk with plenty of ascent on the first day, a poor night’s sleep (self inflicted but a lot of fun) and then another long day trudging up hill.
September 20th – Highlands
Then the next weekend we flew to Edinburgh, and made our way early on Saturday to Glencoe where we grabbed a few bits and then started up Ben Nevis. We made our ascent in thick cloud that from time to time broke. After a really long trudge we made it to a particularly cold and foggy summit. We had some food/water, took photos and then starting to really feel just how cold it was, hastily made our way down.
Wearing nearly all the layers we’d presumed we’d need for Nepal, yet still feeling cold was handy. Getting out in less the ideal conditions really help test our kit and the way in which we used it. Combined with a long walk up, it was again a really useful weekend.
October 4th – Snowdonia
Not wanting to be beaten by Snowdon, having reached the top of Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis, and despite warnings of bad weather we went back to Snowdonia. With bad weather already in the valley as we got near we decided to stick to the Miners Track but soon people we passed told us of lots of water on the path whilst others told us the path had disappeared. We kept going with wind gusting over 60mph and sideways rain to about the point where the Miners and Pyg tracks meet before slow progress and light fading forced us to call it a day.
Despite not making the top as had been the goal, we were pleased by how much we’d learnt since then, we never felt uncomfortable and turned back at the right time. Our kit for the most part also withstood what was really awful weather in Wales.
I’d scrambled up Bristly Ridge a few weeks before and enjoying myself so much, hadn’t taken any photos and on returning couldn’t shut up about it, to friends who climb with me. It was inevitable I’d be scrambling it again soon enough.
With the solstice weekend, came the promise of good weather for Snowdonia. So plans were made for a very similar trip to the one I’d undertaken on my own. Then the weather turned at the last minute to low/thick cloud cover so we delayed our start, and began our ascent of Tryfan at 10:30am on 20th June.
This time the climb was made in changing visibility and occasional rain, that made it more like my first time on the mountain. As we were both happy on the terrain, we eschewed the path at almost every opportunity we had to scramble. My alarm hadn’t gone off, so I’d set off late and had to have breakfast in the layby. The brioche I hastily consumed down at the foot of the mountain made me feel quite queasy going up, but the fun scrambling soon helped me feel fine.
It was the first time I’d completed the North ridge properly, as on previous days I’d always ended up on the East face coming up one of the gullys. This time we stuck to main ridge, following the crowds and had great fun despite some very wet and polished holds.
All too soon we’d made it to the summit, where we grabbed a quick drink/snack and laughed at the ironic cheers from those sat up on top, when a tiny amount of sun broke through the clouds.
Looking back to Tryfan from the start of Sinister Gully.
After a descent off the Southern ridge of Tryfan, we were soon ascending again beside a stone wall and then off to the side to the start of the scramble up Glyder Fach via Bristly Ridge.
The Route – “Bristly Ridge” ascent of Glyder Fach
You can either approach the start of the scramble which begins in Sinister Gully (cool name, no?) by following the trail up to the side of the wall and then going across 10 metres to the right (as we did) or up an obvious scree slope directly to find the gap, neither are tricky so it comes down to your preference.
The gully is between 1/2 metres wide in most places and has a fair amount of loose rock on the floor, so care is needed as you traverse inside the gully, that you don’t cover those behind you in rocks.
The climbing isn’t too tricky but it requires you to be confident. As we entered the gully, we spotted a group using a rope (likely a course I guess) which we thought was odd but given conditions it was sensible for people not used to the terrain. Most sections benefit greatly from being on one side of the wall you’re climbing, so have a quick think before rushing headlong at the next problem… which admittedly I sometimes do!
This time it being wet certainly made the gully more of a challenge and it showed, with several people slipping quite badly around me. The route was really busy with quite a queue forming, but quite why people insist on being so close to the person infront is beyond me, there were several points when I was worried a few people were going to end up falling into each other and down the gully. Maybe I’m different but I talk to people around me on routes, especially when it’s busy, as it seems courteous to me to warn those around you of problems or for example if you cross loose rock above them.
Helping point out holds to the next person coming up the gully.
Upon reaching the top, I was a bit shocked to see splatters of blood on the rocks and then the owner of the blood, a chap who’d slipped on the route and had cut above his eye quite nastily, a further reminder how serious it can be.
The gully is the most technical part of the route though, so once you’ve exited it there’s just a couple more decent pitches and exposure left to challenge you, the rest is really just a lot of fun. It’s a case of sticking as close to the top of the ridge as possible and enjoying yourself. Often a small path is available that sidesteps a problem, but there’s nothing as tricky as before in the gully so stick at it. And on the occasions when you look over a spike to a big drop, needles to say that’s not the way, so check to the side a bit for a decent and easy climb down.
Ascending Bristly Ridge to the summit of Glyder Fach
The route sadly has to end but it does so gracefully, coming up on top of Glyder Fach and fading as a line of rocks that point toward to the rocky summit and the Cantilever (see photo on Wikipedia article on Glyder Fach to see what this). We carried on to sit near the top for another drink, before scrambling over Castell Y Gwynt and then down the Cribin Ridge (listed as a Grade 1 scramble, we took a line off the main ridge which was okay for descent but not much fun) to enjoy views back from where we’d been over over Tryfan and Glyder Fach to our right, and the Carneddau infront.
Tryfan’s West face from the Cribin Ridge.
At the moment, Bristly Ridge when combined with Tryfan’s North Ridge is my favourite route in the UK. Doing it in wet conditions amongst a crowd showed me another side to the route, one that’s more challenging and also worrying, with too many people caught out of their comfort zone. But enough of the serious talk, the gully is great fun and the ridge airy enough at times to make you double check your footing. And the setting whether it was clear as before, or this time with clouds breaking around, is simply stunning. This is not a route to be rushed, get up early and enjoy it!
Always carry my cicerone guide to “Scrambling in Snowdonia” by Steve Ashton which I’d recommend you’d take for any route in the area. I also posted links to details of scrambling on Tryfan/Glyder Fach on my previous day on the route.
Note: The first, third and fourth photos used in this article were taken by my scrambling partner for the day (Adele). So big thank you to her for letting me use the action shots!
I’d wanted to re-vist Tryfan for some time, having had an eventful but not particularly enjoyable first experience of the mountain, when the weather turned badly as we neared the summit. With the weather good during the week and following my now routine check of the MET Office for Snowdonia’s weekend weather, which read “high risk of sunburn”, I decided I had to go.
Knowing that a nice day in Snowdonia = crowds, I decided to make things more interesting by getting to the mountain before or as close to sunrise on the mountain (sunrise being at just after 4am at this time of year…). So a plan was hastily formed to wake up just after 1am and go for the North Ridge of Tryfan (grade 1 scramble) and then up Bristly Ridge to Glyder Fach (grade 1/2 scramble), before legions of walkers ascended the peaks.
Unlike previous weekends when I’d weighted a pack down, I decided to go much lighter this time. So a couple of litres of water, some food, sunglasses and waterproof if the good weather turned rainy/windy. Having worn my new Sportiva Nepal Evos the weekend before up Pen y Fan on soft ground, I decided to wear them again to see how they coped on rock. Whilst not suited to scrambling, they ended up performing well; fit continues to get better and impress me more.
Stringing together the North Ridge of Tryfan and Bristly Ridge up Glyder Fach is one of the more famous continued scrambles in Snowdonia, so documenting it is pointless. The Cicerone guide to scrambling in North Wales does a great job of covering the route and then there’s lots of websites covering each (listed at the end).
Arriving at 4:40am I quickly got changed and took a couple of photos to prove I’d made it to start so early. When I arrived there was only one other car in the layby, my plan had worked and I’d have the mountain almost to myself.
The ascent itself isn’t too demanding and route finding a breeze for the most part, you soon gain height and there’s plenty of options to make it more tricky (i.e. fun) if you want to.
As I started to make may way up onto what is a very broad North Ridge, the sun started to creep up over the Glyders, striking the shattered rock around me (and a group of goats who were up early too) to make the setting really breathtaking.
After finding a band of quartz and then moving up and slightly to the right I was at “The Cannon”. To my surprise I found the owner of the other car in the layby, wild camping just below the outcrop, which made me jump a bit as I’d got quite used to having the whole mountain to myself.
Reaching the summit just before 7am I hauled myself up the first summit pillar, had a bit of breakfast, took some photos and then with it being quite cold exposed to the wind, down-climbed (making a mess of it and hurting my ribs doing so, too early, doh!) and sat in a more sheltered area briefly.
Coming down on the South Ridge toward Glyder Fach I was joined unexpectedly by someone I’d chatted with on Twitter for the scramble up Bristly Ridge. Enjoying it so much I didn’t take photos, so I guess I’ll need to go back and do it again…
The two scrambles strung together make for an absolutely stunning time in the Glyders and with the routes so quiet in the early morning the feeling of adventure you often lose to the crowds was retained. I’d probably suggest that Bristly Ridge is my favourite route I’ve yet to scramble in North Wales. I can’t wait to go back and do it again (and document it properly given I like it so much)!
Links to route information
After spending the previous weekend on the Snowdon Horseshoe with hordes of other walkers, I felt in need of a quiet route to try out my new 70litre Arc’teryx Naos pack. Having walked in the Carneddau during early 2009 in the snow, I fancied another look at the group of 3000ft+ peaks that made up the Cwm Llafar Horseshoe. So on the 3rd of May I went back to Snowdonia.
As mentioned I was testing out my new 70l pack so I packed extra kit than was needed and 8 litres of bottled water to begin with to take the total weight carried to around 11-12kg (knowing I need to build up to being strong at 15kg for Aconcagua). Remembering the route area had plenty of rivers and with rainfall over night I stuck with my Scarpa Mantas to keep my feet warm and dry. I also took an OS Landranger 115 map given we were in a more remote area for the day.
Getting there/The route
First thing is to get to Bethesda and park if you’ve drove. And then up to the top of the town to an area called Gerlan which is marked on the OS map. There’s something of a crossroads on the road out, we took the road to the East which stays North of the Afon Caseg. Going South-East you find a trail that follows the Afon Llafar.
The road continues past some houses and winds its way upwards, it was around halfway that my calves told me 8ltrs was a little optimistic on top of the extra kit I’d packed. So I quickly drank some and poured the rest to leave me with 6litres of water, and a couple of litres in Lucozade. Coming to the top of the road it’s fairly obvious where the trail heads which is along the side of a ridge to staying high to avoid the marshy ground found near the Afon Caseg. We had a go at a more direct route to Yr Elen but quickly found ourselves in really boggy ground and soon went back up to the main trail. We crossed over Afon Wen and made our way up steeper ground into the Cwm on its left side, with Yr Elen looming to our right. Again on the steeper ground, I felt the weight on my back a lot more, so we stopped and I had a drink “to hydrate” (and reduce weight).
Once into the Cwm properly and with it levelling out, we crossed between a small lake and a little rise toward Yr Elen. We were soon traversing up onto the North Ridge which I’d been up earlier in the year in the snow. In normal conditions it’s not all that exciting really, there’s some scrambling if you really want it but not a great deal or prolonged and with the heavy pack I was just interested in getting up. The view/feeling of remoteness make up for the lack of excitement of the route though and coming up at the top, it’s quite a sight looking out toward Anglesey and the sea.
After resting on top for some food/drinks whilst checking out the view, we made our way off the summit and down to meet the ridge that joins onto Carnedd Llewelyn. The route now really clear is easy to follow to the top, which was covered in a sprinkling of snow when we were on top.
Then back onto a short ridge to Carnedd Dafydd, where I ditched the excess water given we’d be descending from then on and literally skipped over to Pen yr Ole Wen for some more food/drinks whilst looking out over the Glyders.
Coming down we ventured once again too close to the rivers after descending by Carnedd Fach (it’s the cairn between Carnedd Dafydd and Pen yr Ole Wen). It’d be much more sensible to cross over the ridge going up Carnedd Dafydd and into the Cwm earlier than we did to avoid the marshy ground and jump over a barbed wire fence.
The route, like the Carneddau as a whole, has a remote feeling, much more so than others found in Snowdonia. If you’re after a nice steady but long walk in, for a quiet and simple ridge up high, then it’s great. But with exciting (i.e. busier) ascents nearby it’s not perhaps the best option. I’ve heard plenty of good things about the Crib Lem Spur up Carnedd Dafydd so that may be the best for an exciting day in the range, so I’ll be checking that soon…
In terms of training, the extra weight was tough given I usually pack as light as possible. Whilst frustrating and realising I’ve got a lot to do, the real pain was felt in my lower legs which I can strengthen. Overall I felt strong coming back down and could’ve walked on. So I’m positive, whilst knowing I have a lot to do.