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A high level ridge route through the wilds of Snowdonia
by Barnety2000 » Sun Aug 22, 2010 10:09 pm
Hewitts included on this walk: Glyder Fach, Glyder Fawr, Tryfan, Y Garn (Glyders)
Date walked: 24/04/2010
Time taken: 8
Distance: 10 km
Ascent: 1100mRegister or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Being based in the conspicuously flat county of Oxfordshire (the Ridgeway excepted), we are sadly all too far away from proper mountainous country of the north and west of the UK. However being hardcore field geologists, we all have a desire to get out and explore wild and rugged countryside. Plans had been mooted throughout the early Spring of this year to organise a hiking expedition to Snowdonia, and eventually this all came together on the weekend of the 24-25th April. Our party included a small mixture of nationalities. We had two Germans on board (Benny and Niels), one Russian (Nina), and three English folk: Matt, Rob and myself. Two spaces had been booked in the youth hostel at Idwal Cottage, whereas the rest had to camp in a neighbouring small field beneath some lofty pines. Initially only four of us (Benny, Matt, Niels and I) were keen on participating on this mountain adventure. Benny instantly snapped up one of the beds in the youth hostel, claiming he didn’t have any camping gear in the UK. Matt and Niels seemed keen to camp, so with the additional space required for a third tent probably lacking in Matt’s car, I opted to claim the 2nd bed in the youth hostel. About halfway through the week prior to our arranged trip, Rob and Nina also decided that they would like to join us, and inevitably camping for them was the only option.
The UK had been basking in sunshine throughout the week prior to this weekend as an immense wedge of high pressure had laid station over Scotland, dragging in a cool but dry easterly breeze across the southern half of the UK. However an all-to-familiar breakdown to unsettled weather conditions from the west was forecast to take place during the weekend, with rain expected by Sunday. Therefore the walk had to take place on the Saturday.
It was a stunning late April Friday afternoon as we hurriedly loaded up the car with our respective gear, leaving the office near Abingdon in Oxfordshire at 3pm to try and get up the A34 before the inevitable Friday afternoon mayhem broke loose. Even at 3pm, the traffic was heavy as we tried to join the M40, then smoother going as we headed NW up the M40 and onto the M42. Regrettably (and unavoidably) we hit Birmingham at the peak of the Friday afternoon rush hour and had to put up with stop starting traffic for some considerable distance until we joined the M6 and were back on our way. Once into Wales we were flying along in Matt’s Honda Civic and we finally arrived at Idwal Cottage by ~7.30-8pm. Time to set up the tents and settle into the youth hostel before making a healthy dinner in the kitchen, involving far too much rice for 6 people. A few beers and a couple of games of pool later, it was time to hit the sack and refuel for tackling those lofty Snowdonia summits the following day.
Benny and I rolled out of the youth hostel at about 7.30am to a beautifully clear and calm day. Strands of stratocumulus cloud filled the sky high above the summits, through which pierced shafts of bright early morning sunshine. With silence prevailing around the tents dotted between the pines, we decided to go for a short stroll down the road to glimpse for the first time our circular route taking in 4 summits, 3 of which were of Munro equivalent in height. Wedges of snow were still perched in high crevasses cutting deeply into the summit ridge of the Glyders, and we heard from the youth hostel owner that there had been snow down at valley level only a couple of weeks earlier. A sure sign that the winter of 09/10 had been a cold one indeed.
As we surveyed the area, a very new looking black vehicle suddenly rolled up and stopped just across a cattle grid high above a splendid example of a glacially scoured U-shaped valley. Maybe this was a coincidence, or maybe this was part of the plan, however the vehicle slowly drove onto a solid lump of hard metamorphic rock high above this valley, stopped, and the driver vacated. We watched inquisitively and curiously as to what would happen next, as the driver pulled out a large tripod and expensive-looking black camera and starting taking photos of the car perched high above this beautiful valley. Stunning pictures of a snazzy car amongst magnificent scenery. What could be better you may think? Pictures for a magazine or the Internet maybe? We had a quick look on our return but never saw them. Maybe the pictures were just for personal interest after all. I must admit, if I could afford one of those, then I would for sure take it to somewhere equally as stunning and photograph it.
By the time we made it back to the youth hostel, the happy campers had arisen from their slumbers and we all headed inside to make a hearty breakfast for an energetic day ahead. Plenty of sausages, bacon and beans sure did the trick. By 9am we had rolled out into the carpark, I had managed to buy some very expensive batteries for my camera, and we were ready to go.
We headed off southeastward up the path just to the east of the youth hostel in the company of numerous other walkers, eager to get into the mountains on such a calm and clear day. The path climbs slowly southeastward at an easy gradient then turns towards the southwest and arrives at the northeastern shore of Llyn Idwal. With not much energy consumed so far, this represented an ideal spot for a group photo in front of the lake. If only we had had a group photo taken at the end of the walk, as it’s always interesting to compare the difference. The southern part of Llyn Idwal ends beneath sheer rock faces supporting the summit ridge of Glyder Fawr (999m), a summit we will traverse later in the day. Higher up and immediately beneath the summit ridge, large yet solid snow cornices hang suspended in steep chasms and covering vast grey scree slopes. I never imagined this landscape in Wales before; this truly lives up to the impressive standard of the Scottish Highlands.
The stop was short and sweet as we continued on the path westward around the northern rocky shore of Llyn Idwal, and then finally started to climb. Significantly. The abrupt steepening of the gradient caught some members of our party out, and height was quickly gained above Llyn Idwal. Spectacular views were observed along the line of the U-shaped valley of the Afon Ogwen towards the Irish Sea in the middle distance. High-level stratocumulus and cirrus cloud hung in the sky, giving us some protection from the strong late April sunshine. Nonetheless, the entire party noticed the conspicuous absence of a cooling breeze as we slogged up the steep slopes towards our first mountain, Y Garn (947m).
We paused on a level gradient at the entrance to an attractive corrie by the name of Cwm Clyd. Several small lakes dotted this boggy saddle beneath the precipitous rocky east face of Y Garn, and while the leaders waited for the rest of the party to assemble, I went over and inspected the lakes at close hand. Perhaps my excitement was too eager as heading towards the first lake, I suddenly and unexpectedly sank into a boggy area of ground and felt the cold penetration of water into my walking boot. Several curses later, I had managed to emerge clear of the boggy section on an elevated grassy ridge, but the damage had been done and I limped dejectedly back to the rest of the group. Fortunately the boots didn’t take long to dry as we progressed on upwards.
The final slog up the NE ridge of Y Garn was relentlessly steep and the party strung out. Matt, Niels and I generally battled it out for pole position, with Benny running steady in the mid-field and Rob and Nina hanging a little further back. However bearing in mind that the front 3 were also comparatively seasoned hillwalkers, this was perhaps not surprising. In fact everyone was up at the summit of Y Garn within about 5 minutes of each other, which was a really good effort for those not used to the steepness and rugged nature of mountain country. I am a stickler for the fact that only actual walking in the mountains can train you for proper mountain walking. No matter how long you spend in the gym, actually getting out there is the best remedy for this type of exercise.
After the heat and sweat expended on the steep climb up, it felt only fair that everyone should be subjected to the snow test on arrival at the summit, whereby lumps of snow are thrust down your back. This was surprisingly refreshing and more of a comfort than a pain. It did the trick though, and this, along with a cooling southwesterly breeze heading in off the Atlantic, finally cooled us back down to a comfortable temperature.
The summit of Y Garn offers fine views southwestward towards Snowdon, still clad in its snowy winter raiment in late April, with 3 rocky ridges leading steeply up to and supporting the summit. Looking to the NE and east is like looking out of a plane window, as far below you the longitudinal water bodies of Llyn Ogwen and Llyn Idwal occupy steep-sided valleys, guarded on most sides by the precipitous rocky mountain slopes. Llyn Clyd nestles into the contours of Cwm Clyd almost directly beneath you, as sheer rock faces plunge over 250 metres off the eastern face of Y Garn into the tight confines of Cwm Clyd. We wisely decided not to enter more than a few steps onto the bank of snow lining the eastern rim of the summit ridge. This may not have been overhanging, however we just didn’t want to take the chance.
The onward route is now apparent, as we descended from Y Garn on a broad plateau for some distance southwards towards Llyn y Cwn. Now the knees started to take the strain, although the slope was thankfully nowhere near as steep as the one we had previously climbed up. All the while spectacular views out to Snowdon greet you to the SW and the scree-ridden pinnacled Glyder ridge becomes ever closer, high above you. The path traverses round the NE margin of Llyn y Cwn and this is an ideal spot to stop and have a rest by the rocky shore of the lake before the steep climb ahead. The waters appeared an ominous bluish-green colour, due to the presence of aquatic plants we hoped, rather than some sort of contamination.
The climb up steep scree-covered slopes to Glyder Fawr (999m, the highest point on the walk) is another slog and worth taking your time over. Up the slope the party strung out, much as formula one cars do during a boring grand prix, however each kept within contact distance of the other. Higher up the slope started to ease off, as Matt showed us some hydrothermal alteration of the rocks here that he studied during his mapping project at uni. On what other degree course can you obtain funding to carry out a project in such a stunning location as this for 5 weeks during the summer? I spent mine in the Cantabrian Mountains, NW Spain and don’t regret choosing that area one bit, but this too is also a stunning area to map. Climbing the mountains each day would also do no end of good for your fitness levels as well.
Several snow slopes persisted in shallow depressions on our approach to the summit ridge and I made the schoolboy error of trekking across one, only to discover that it wasn’t actually supported by anything, and slipped through a small crack in the underlying bedrock. No damage was done and the mild feeling of embarrassment was short-lived.
On arriving at the summit ridge, you are greeted by one of the most bizarre rock features I have seen in the mountains. Numerous upstanding long but thin slabs of rock protrude erratically from the grey bedrock, thin yet providing a solid base for climbing. I’m not surprised that this is called the “Devil’s Kitchen”. There is certainly something ominous and scary about the area, sending unnerving thoughts through the mind. I imagine this part would look particularly scary in the mist. We carried on a little further west to the summit of Glyder Fawr and stopped for a well-earned lunch break in the shelter of a large rock and basked in the warm hazy sunshine.
Our water supplies were all getting drained as we had not had the chance to fill up since departing the youth hostel. Rob however came up with the novel idea of filling our empty bottles with snow from a nearby wedge that was slowly melting in the warm early afternoon sunshine. The trend soon caught on and we were all scrabbling around in the snow patch, ramming the slushy snow into our water bottles with childlike delight. The progressive thawing of the snow throughout the rest of the walk then provided us with a continuous ice-cold and very refreshing drink.
We continued on over the summit ridge eastward from Glyder Fawr and saw some very impressive snow cornices guarding the precipitous northern rim of Cwm Cneifiom. We had seen these snow slopes from a lower vantage point during the morning, yet they were far more extensive and impressive when you are directly adjacent to them. The summit ridge from Glyder Fawr over to Glyder Fach (994m) continues to give impressive views towards Snowdon, whose dimensions change all the time as the mountain is progressively viewed from a different aspect. Beyond Snowdon and to the south, the glistening white waters of the Irish Sea shimmer in the hazy yet warm afternoon sunshine. You can intermittently peer down vast scree shoots and precipitous gulleys to the deep blue waters of Llyn Bochlwyd and Llyn Idwal, which nestle into subhorizontal grass and scree contours far below, yet suspended above the U-shaped valley of the Nant Ffrancon.
Much of the walk over the high summit ridge between Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach is easy over loose rubble and scree, however there is one section of relatively easy scrambling over a rocky crest before a sharp descent on the following side. Again, the entire party managed this without much difficulty and within no time we had arrived at the infamous “Cantilever”, a smooth lump of solid rock perched precariously on solid slabs at one end, yet supported by thin air at the other. Numerous walkers inched their way across, the Cantilever somehow taking their weight.
Shortly after the Cantilever, the Glyder ridge comes to an abrupt end and two choices of descent to the bealach between the Glyder ridge and Tryfan arise. The most precarious involves traversing the rugged and very uneven crest of Bristly Ridge steeply downslope. The other, seemingly only slightly less precarious, involves descending very steeply down a vast loose scree slope, with solid rock slopes at the sides to cling on to and add extra support. Matt advised us that Bristly Ridge was the far more dangerous of the two, so we headed slowly and carefully down the vast scree slope for what seemed like an eternity. Some crazy guys overtook us, jogging down the steep loose scree. I hate to think what this was doing to their knees, and what if the scree should unexpectedly slip and take off downslope?
Finally we reached the bealach between Tryfan and the Glyder ridge and took a break, along with some of that ice-cold water that was continuing to melt from the snow that we had collected on Glyder Fawr. A path headed off NW from this bealach and Rob and Nina decided at this point that they had had enough walking for the day, and were going to descend back to the youth hostel for an early beer. However the remaining four of us still had Tryfan to do.
The slopes up Tryfan are steep and rocky and were tiring after all of the walking done so far. The party strung out more and more. Maybe my walking experience was playing into my advantage, or maybe the curiosity was overriding the tiredness in my legs. Whichever it was, I progressed steadily on up to the summit away from the others to be greeted first by the scary spectacle of Adam and Eve. These two twin pillars represent the summits of Tryfan, with Adam presumably being the highest by the smallest of margins. As I reached the base of them, a young guy was hawling himself up onto Adam. I watched in amazement as he braced himself, then jumped the ~1.5-2 metre gap between the two pillars and back again. The pillars must be about 2 metres high with little in the way of footholds. If he failed to make the jump from Adam to Eve, or slipped on the top of Eve, then he would have fallen not only off of the two pillars, but potentially also down the impossibly sheer eastern face of the mountain. A mighty challenge indeed that required some courage. I watched as several other guys from the same party also performed the same feat. Some however looked on with smiles on their faces, saying that there was no way they were going up there.
Soon Matt and Niels arrived, followed by Benny and we all stared in awe at Adam and Eve. In the meantime a couple of young children had dragged themselves up onto Adam to have their picture taken. No one in the party seemed keen to climb to the top, but for me, the summit of Tryfan surely hadn’t been conquered until you were standing on the top of Adam? I made the decision to at least try. My long legs no doubt played into my advantage but it was hard work on tired arms and legs to haul myself up the smooth vertical rock pillar onto the very small standing area at the top. All I can say is if you suffer from vertigo don’t do this! Fortunately the wind was very gentle while I was on Adam, and I had my picture taken without looking as nervous as I may otherwise have been. I stared across to Eve, even contemplating the jump for a second or two, but it looked so much harder up there than from the base. If you didn’t get the jump just right, you would end up doing yourself some harm. Plus the wind was blowing a little harder. I decided to scramble back down. No one else copied me and went up Adam. They were probably the wise ones. It wasn’t for the faint hearted.
Now all we had to do was descend. We descended steeply on a rough scree path down the western side of the mountain. The precise location of the descent I have unfortunately had to guess on the accompanying map. The way was particularly arduous on the knees and we all took this slowly. Matt and Niels went on slightly ahead, whilst I accompanied Benny at the back, discussing what a fantastic day it had been and how we had all benefited from the exercise.
Once off the steepest section of Tryfan, Matt and Niels shot off back to the youth hostel on relatively steep but grassy slopes whilst I accompanied Benny talking about the inevitable topic of work. We both appreciated how good it was to get completely away from it all for a fun weekend in the mountains and how refreshed we would feel at work on Monday.
Back at the youth hostel, a welcome beer was in order. The other folks were all waiting for us with beers when we returned, and it was only a matter of minutes before we joined them. We all admired each other’s suntans, and Nina had even managed to get a bit burned.
Then it was time to set up Matt’s portable BBQ in the camping area and stretch out and relax beneath the pines. A long and energetic day was over and we all felt the better for it. We knew we would sleep well that night. Indeed we were all in bed before 10pm.
The Sunday dawned grey and drizzly as we packed up our gear and did one final walk past the campsite to our viewing area, where we had seen the vehicle being photographed the day before. Hazy rays of sun pierced through the sky and lit up Llyn Ogwen briefly before disappearing behind another shaft of grey drizzle. A swirling grey mass had descended onto the summits of Y Garn, the Glyders and Tryfan, with the precipitous rocky slopes disappearing upward into a grey void. I certainly wouldn’t have liked to be standing on top of Adam on that morning that’s for sure.
Nothing was left but the ~4 hour journey home. The inevitable tiredness and effect of the fresh air soon kicked in on the way back, and it was only a matter of time before some of us were asleep in the back of Matt’s Honda. Fortunately Matt stayed awake for the drive home. We eventually made it back to Abingdon at 4pm, delayed for some time through Oxford. A good time was had. But depression started to set it. It was back to the grindstone at work tomorrow.
by malky_c » Mon Aug 23, 2010 9:16 am
Looks like you had a good day out. Probably one of the top 5 routes in N Snowdonia, although I've not done the whole thing often. Living close by when I was younger, I tended to go out for shorter walks more frequently.
by skuk007 » Mon Aug 23, 2010 12:41 pm
by Barnety2000 » Mon Aug 23, 2010 6:51 pm
This was my first walking experience in Snowdonia and I will definitely be coming back sooner rather than later
Just a couple of points - the summit of Glyder Fawr isn't where Devil's Kitchen is - if you look at your 6th photo - there is a rake going to the left in the very middle of the crags in the photo which takes you up to the col (bwlch in Welsh) - that is the Devil's Kitchen walking route - the actual kitchen is the vertical cleft to it's right in the middle of that pic. Also, you don't just have those 2 choices leaving Glyder Fach - a much nicer one is to descend the East ridge to 'The Miner's Track' which you can see on your map crossing the end of Glyder Fach. This track then winds back NW under Glyder Fach to Bwlch Tryfan - it's a really lovely track and far better than scrabbling down all that scree. I also think you were very brave to descend the West Side of Tryfan - I've looked at going up that way before but thought it looked too loose and horrid!
- mountain coward
by susanmyatt » Wed Aug 25, 2010 8:20 am
- Adam & Eve
by Barnety2000 » Wed Aug 25, 2010 8:10 pm
Sue- that picture is amazing! I also read your report on Tryfan and Glyder Fach and saw you did Bristly Ridge- how did you find it? It looked like it could be quite an interesting experience from where I was!
Maybe on a fine day with absolutely no wind, then I would jump from Adam to Eve...but I would probably take some convincing
by Graeme D » Wed Aug 25, 2010 8:23 pm
by Barnety2000 » Wed Aug 25, 2010 8:57 pm
Graeme Dewar wrote: Anyone for a Walkhighlands meet down there next year?
Hehe it's a great area, certainly up to Highland standard, I'd be in
As for Adam & Eve Susan - your mate must be nuts! I would never make that jump due to the small landing and the consequences if you get it wrong! Having said that, watch out on the 'outside Scotland' page sometime in the not-too distant future for a report where I'm doing a very similar jump but with only around a 30 foot drop! And me a mountain coward Wouldn't be so funny if the usually brave Richard dared do it - but he won't!
- mountain coward
by susanmyatt » Thu Aug 26, 2010 6:57 am
by mountainstar » Thu Aug 26, 2010 1:02 pm
PS I'm up for WH meet
by walk aboot » Mon Aug 30, 2010 9:26 am
Yup, me too, Snowdonia meet .