Wednesday, August 5, 2015

TRAVERSING THE RHINOGS AND CADAIR IDRIS

Sunday August 2nd;

I did my by now customary train and boat train ride and caught the bus from Bangor at 09.18 to Tan y Bwlch and alighted at 10.45 with the plan to traverse the Rhinogs and ultimately climbing Cadair Idris as a fitting finale for what I hoped would be an enjoyable few days. I had brought my tent and enough to eat for a few days so my bag was a little on the heavy side as I set off along the road towards Maentrowg where I left the busy A road and climbed uphill along a little lane before shortly afterwards setting off along the Wales coastal path and then trying to find my way to the dam at the outlet of Llyn Trawsfynydd from where I could finally reach the open mountainside. At least that was the plan but my usual route finding skills were once again to the fore and I went wrong almost immediately and I found myself at a dead end from where I had to backtrack for a fair bit before I could once again regain the course. On the plus side, the weather was pretty good with the odd spit of rain about but nothing too much and it was quite warm and muggy. Even here in these low open hills the views were lovely back along the tidal valley floor whose sides were blanketed in deciduous woodland. To the north the hills rose ever higher where the "giants" further north could be seen with their tops still shrouded in cloud. A long and sometimes convoluted trek eventually saw me arrive on the lake shore just east of the dam which rose above a deep wood gorge. Finally I was ready to strike out for Craig y Gwynt some two kilometers away. That was if I could find a way through the vast swathe of bracken that barred the way. Thankfully a very fine bike track cut right through until it reached some woods near the shore after nearly a kilometer from where I was able to start climbing on steep mostly grassy slopes.
Looking north from near the start

The first job was to cross all that to get to the hills

Moelwyn Bach

Wooded gorge below the dam

From the first top,,,the way ahead

Disused nuclear power station nestles comfortably in the landscape...not!

Even though I was only at just over 200 meters I had walked over eight kilometers and I must have climbed over 400 meters so I was well into my day before I even stepped into the wild. And even though this first top was only 431 meters it was a rough and rugged place that was only to prove a foretaste of what was in store for the next couple of days. On the plus side the weather was just getting better and better and now blue sky and sunshine were the dominant features and even the summit of Snowden was now clear. Not wanting to waste a minute of my good fortune I set off across the rocky/boggy undulating ground towards the next higher top Moel y Gyrafolen at 535 mtrs. From here on some steep rocky drops and rises started to bar progress and some care had to be taken on some of the steps. It was never dull or boring and there was seldom a lengthy stretch where progress was easy. Eventually after a few ever higher and more rugged tops I arrived at the highest point so far Moel Ysgyfarnogod 623 mtrs ( even as I read these names I cannot begin to think of how they are pronounced). Progress got ever more difficult from here as what wasn't covered in rock was covered in heather or billberry with the occasional section of bracken thrown in for good measure. The ground was mostly trackless or at least it was difficult to find and stick to what faint trails there were in this rough ground. Here as well on the crest of the (for want of a better word) ridge the wind was quite strong and sometimes a little care had to be taken on awkward spots (especially with the heavier bag) lest it unbalance one at just the wrong moment. As I said progress was a little on the slow side but I wasn't worried as I had everything I needed on my back and time was my friend as I could choose to settle whenever and wherever I wanted.

Beautiful views towards Porthmadog

Snowdon makes an appearance


Starting to get a bit rocky in places
After several more tops I reached Bwlch Gwylim where I headed in a southeasterly direction towards the little lochlan  of Llyn Twrglas. Around now I was getting a bit weary and my mind started to turn to finding a good spot to pitch my tent for the night. I was also beginning to realize that it mightn't be all that easy to find one as the ground was getting rougher and wetter if anything. My tent was another consideration ( an Alpkit Delta) as it really isn't the best in the wind and I was beginning to regret leaving my Voyager tent at home to save a kilo on my back. This little lake was surrounded by boggy ground and the wind was whipping across it so headed for the nearby LLyn Prefed and while this looked more promising the sheltered spot I needed wasn't to be seen so I elected to continue. A rough tough 2 kilometers followed during which I passed some fairly impressive rock bands that would be of much interest to some of the "rock jocks" I know before I spotted Llyn Morwynion nestling below me. On the northeastern side of this teardrop shaped lake there looked to be a likely camping spot so I backtracked a ways until I found an easier way down to it, all the while praying that the little patch of what looked like grass wasn't actually boggy moss in disguise. It was with considerable relief that I stepped onto dry firm ground beside the waters edge and gratefully dropped my bag for the evening. It was now almost 18.30 and I was a bit weary and hungry as well. The wind wasn't too bad here and I was confident that the tent would be okay. I always love arriving at a new camping spot and the next while was a busy blur of sorting out my home for the night and getting some food on the go. As I had only managed a scanty couple of hours of dozing on the ferry overnight I was anxious to catch up on some sleep so I wasted little time after dinner before ensconcing my myself in my sleeping bag and setting off for dreamland. At least that was the plan until it transpired that the spot wasn't quite as sheltered as I thought and throughout the long long night my tent was pummeled by ever increasingly strong gusts that at times threatened to either flatten it or lift some of the pegs (which actually happened a few times). This coupled with some squally rain ensured I got little or no sleep throughout the night.

Plenty of ups and downs yet to come

Impressive walls to match the landscape

Typical tough walking ground

Some good rock climbing to be had here

Please let that be a patch of dry grass

Home not so sweet home.
Monday August 3rd;

Between gusts of wind I actually managed to doze a little bit around dawn and at just after 6am I decided to get up and face the day. I was bone weary but there seemed little point in staying in my rickety home so I had a quick wash in  the lake and set about making my porridge. The clear skies of the previous day were gone and cloud scudded across the rocks little more that seventy meters above. Still it was dry and I enjoyed a nice bite to eat. Just as I set about making a brew the rain arrived and I hurriedly retreated into my tent. I don't know if it was the sound of the rain or what but the next thing I knew it was almost 10 am so guess exhaustion had finally had its way. I was quickly up to finish making my brew and I was packed up and on the move by 10.30. It was a double blessing to have had the extra rest as the cloud had lifted a fair bit and the top of Rhinog Fawr could now occasionally be seen. I climbed back up to point 490 mtrs and made my way down to the track that crosses through Bwlch Tryddiad from where another clear trail wend its way around and up to Llyn Du. It was nice to finally be on a defined track after the predominantly trackless ground of the previous day and it continued all the way to the summit 720 mtrs. The wind was definitely stronger today and as the views weren't extensive I had little reason to linger so I set off for the next peak, Rhinog Fach at 712mtrs. There wasn't a track marked on the map so, fearing (if the ground of the previous day was to be an indicator) that there would be considerable rock barriers in my way I set off in a southwesterly direction where gully/fault line headed southeast towards the pass some 370 meters below. This proved to be somewhat of an error as once the cloud cleared and I got lower to get a better view I could see it would have been easier to head east and then south from the summit. Still I got down all right and now all I had to do was follow the trail to the summit 360 meters above which passed surprisingly quickly.
Looking back from the slopes of Rhinog Fawr

Looking ahead to Rhinog Fach



In a perverse sort of way the going was easier today than yesterday even though the climbs were longer and the ground higher. Rough pathless ground really saps the energy both physical and mental so I was I guess more relaxed today. I followed the impressive stone wall (one of many magnificent constructs throughout the area) to the gap just 170 mtrs below where I replenished my water supply from the picturesque Llyn Hywel. Above to my right I could see a very nice looking ridge that would make a very nice line to the summit. Ahead of me the path continued to what would be my highest point of the day Y Llethr 756 mtrs where the nature of the terrain changed considerably. Gone was the rough boulder strewn rocky ground and replacing it was more gentle peat uplands.It made for a wonderful change and it was nice to stretch the legs on this easy ground. The weather had remained mainly dry with just occasional short bursts of rain and the cloud stayed predominantly clear of the tops. I was really enjoying myself and I think I benefited from the unplanned extra sleep earlier. I had covered only about six kilometers but had climbed almost 1000 mtrs but I was now buoyed by the knowledge that almost all the climbing was over. The next few kilometers to my final summit Diffwys 750 mtrs was a delight of easy ground and great views and passed all too quickly. All that remained now was to get down towards the broad tidal Afon Mawddach river far below and find myself another place to call home for the night. After my experiences of the previous night I was resolved to find a low and sheltered place tonight. Before I could do that however I had to get down. I followed a wall/fence down a fair ways before I set off down steeper ground so I could join a trail in the valley to the east. I quickly found myself negotiating horrible leg breaking ground of rocks covered by bracken and heather which really slowed progress. It was with great relief that I finally reached the track and I ambled down until it reached a road at Hendre forion where I turned east intending to pass over the nearby hill with its disused mine to reach the next glen which I could follow right down to the river. I would then see how far I would go that evening. Shortly after turning east I came across an excellent stop to pitch my tent which was sheltered and alongside a stream so I decided not to pass it up even though it would make for a longer day tomorrow. It proved an excellent choice and I enjoyed a peaceful evening followed by a long much needed nights sleep.
Easier ground ahead

Looking back at Rhinog Fach with the interesting ridge on it.

Suddenly lovely easy walking

Towards Diffwys

All I had to do is get down to the valley

Pretty but difficult ground

And more to come

Cadair Idris offering promise for tomorrow

Beautiful countryside

A more sheltered home tonight

Nice evening sun

Tuesday August 4th;

Well rested I arose to the worst weather day thus far. Strong winds drove frequent showers of heavy rain and the cloud looked settled at around the 500 meter mark. Ah well perhaps it would improve. I managed to eat in a dry spell and almost managed to get packed before some heavy rain arrived again. I followed the wet boggy trail up a 100 mtrs or so over bleak ground and descended to a delightful hazel and oak wood and followed a little lane until it joined the A496. After the seclusion of the previous couple of days the busy road was not somewhere I wanted to linger but thankfully respite was literally just across it as I joined the little road that led to the delightful Penmenpool Bridge which I had to pay a hefty 20p to cross. There is a trail that leaves the road from here and climbs up into the woods and eventually joins the road that leads to Kings hostel. This is a bit longer and has a bit extra climbing so I opted instead to walk the two and a bit kilometers on the road. This was also a mistake as the road is pretty busy and has no margins so I often had to edge to the sides as two cars passed. Thankfully it was soon over and I turned onto the lane to Kings and the trail that led towards my final destination for this trip Cadair Idris. I had often heard about this popular mountain and had resolved to visit it some time ago but alas today it was completely blanketed by cloud. Still I was here now and despite the weather I was going to climb it anyway. I followed the trail as far as the hostel and another trail led to Ty Nant which is the starting point of the pony track that leads to the summit. It is well engineered lower down and heavily cairned higher up and as the name would suggest it offers an easy route to the top. I wish I could be more descriptive of the landscape but it was heavily veiled from view and I was too busy keeping my balance in the strong wind that carried the kind of rain that sometimes gives you a clatter in the head even through the hood.

Beautiful wooden surface and booth

I just can't seem to escape the railways.

Who said enterprise is dead

Even the sheep had more sense than to be out in the weather

High summer on Cadair Idris

Beautiful once again below the cloud

That's better
 Before I even reached the start of the pony path I had covered about 9 kilometers but the four kilometers that led to the 893 mtr summit passed quickly and I arrived at the very civilized hour of 13.00. The only creatures I had for company in this very inhospitable spot were a couple of sheep that had the good sense to take respite in the summit shelter. I didn't disturb them and left immediately to begin my descent down the trail that drops to Llyn y Gadair. This is a horrible mish mash of loose scree and rubble that requires care to safely navigate and I wouldn't recommend it as a way up. That said I didn't get anything except the most ghostly glimpses of the rock cliffs that are to be found on the northern flanks of the mountain so perhaps the views would compensate. Soon enough the grey waters of the lake appeared alongside me and easier ground followed to the lower lake Llyn Gafr. Here a very swollen stream had to be crossed but it was do-able by the outlet of the lake. Shortly thereafter a much more considerable barrier was reached another river. I was beginning to think that this would prove too much of an obstacle but after walking a few hundred meters upstream where there were a couple of grassy islands mid stream I was able to carefully cross. It was something of a comfort to have my walking poles to use as balance for a couple of the steps. After that there were no more nasty surprises and the track offered lovely views to the wooded valleys below. The weather was also on the up and by the time I was on the road and walking the three kilometers into the pretty village of Dolgellau the sun had made an appearance and down here the winds were gentle.  It felt great to change out of my sodden clothes in the village public convenience. While I waited for my bus connection to Bangor I was able to reflect on the previous few days. I had gotten to see some new areas of the wonderful Snowdonia national park and over this time I almost had the hills exclusively to myself. The Rhinogs are wilder and rougher than their bigger neighbours further north. Cadair Idris I won't comment on until I get the chance to actually see what it is like close up. It only brought home to me just how much more there is the this area than the 3000ers. I must explore some more. Now all that remained was the bus-train-ferry-train home.