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A round of 5 Arenigs - a brutal yomp!
by Alteknacker » Sun Jul 09, 2017 11:41 pm
Hewitts included on this walk: Arenig Fach, Arenig Fawr, Carnedd y Filiast (Arenigs), Gallt y Daren, Moel Llyfnant
Date walked: 02/07/2017
Time taken: 10.33
Distance: 36.7 km
Ascent: 2016m9 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Looking at a Hewitts map of Wales and casting around for a possible route containing hills I hadn’t already walked, I noticed the Arenigs group. At least two of them looked from the map to be more than just heathery lumps, and checking out some pictures of them confirmed this to be the case. So I worked out a route that seemed like it could be comfortably done in a day.
I generally prefer not to read other WHRs of a route until after I’ve done it myself, the idea being that ignorance means there’s more to discover and surprise on the walk. Normally this works out; but sometimes it transpires that I’d have been better served by checking out other people’s experience first – and this was certainly one of those occasions .
So I am writing up this walk, firstly, because there are relatively few reports on the Arenigs, but mainly because the route I took is definitely not ideal: indeed I suspect that in every way I took the worst possible route for large parts - about 30% I estimate - of the way, and this is essentially a report on what to try to avoid if you are thinking of doing these hills – unless, that is, you are an out-and-out hill masochist! From the perspective of walkable terrain, this is without exception the toughest walk I’ve done, even including the Rhinogs, which is saying something!
Having plotted the route some time ago, an idea later formed that I should use it to test my fitness in preparation for a quite long round I’m hoping to do in the Highlands when there are signs of fine weather again. And having no idea of the terrain, I thought I’d try to do it in under 8 hours. I even bought a new lightweight day sack and packed light to assist in the endeavour. This assumed significance later, as I made a return time commitment to the CEO, based on this optimistic assumption .
I also decided to leave my bird scarers (aka binoculars) behind on this trip, partly in the interests of weight (they are very heavy), and partly to give me a better chance of seeing something interesting - when I have them with me, I never do...
Bird scarers in action...
And again in the interests of "alpine style" weight reduction, I've brought no water: just a large empty plastic bottle. This concept did not work out well in the Rhinogs - I just hope it works here!
An Auspicious Start...
In order to have a reasonable chance of meeting the time commitment I've made to the CEO, I set the alarm for 03.00am and am heading off hillwards before 3.30am. Until about 20 minutes drive west when I suddenly realise that I haven’t packed my map
=> 40 minutes down before I’ve even started .
Moreover my groin tendons are tender following some overenthusiastic cycling yesterday after a long lay off - just hope I can walk it off...
20170702_054057. But arriving at the Llyn Celyn dam car park, I forget all frustrations: looking west across the lake towards Arenig Fach, everything looks set for a brilliant day!
The plan is to walk along the south shore of the lake. No path is shown on the map, but it can't be that difficult, can it?
20170702_054815. In fact turns out that pretty well all the shore is boulder-lined - whether it's riprap that's been placed there as erosion protection, or it's natural, is not apparent; but it certainly doesn't make for speedy progress.
20170702_061509. No matter: the weather continues to develop nicely.
After a couple of kilometres walking along the shore I cut left up a slight hill, since the shore extends out in a peninsula at this point.
20170702_061616. At the top of this small hill, Simdde Ddu - the start of the Arenig Fawr ridge - comes into view. AF is enveloped in mist on the LHS.
Just past Pen-bryn Mawr farm, I join a track which is a disused railway line and the access track to the farm, and for a short while progress is good. After about a kilometre though, the track bears sharp left, while the disused railway line continues by bridge over a small but steep-sided valley. The bridge is blocked off, presumably because it's deemed to be unsafe for vehicular traffic; but I assume my weight won't make any difference, scale the blocking fence, and cross the bridge. Then straight up the side of Moel y Garth - the going is a bit rough, starting with bracken that then gives way to deep heather and bilberry. Progress is quite slow, but my main concern is picking up ticks in the bracken...)
Once on the ridge, I pick up a clear track heading South East for a few hundred metres, before then turning South West to ascend Simdde Dhu via the shoulder labelled on the map as Gelli Deg.
I've chosen this route because I figure that it will give excellent views of Llyn Arenig Fawr.
20170702_064949. Which it does...
20170702_065212. ... but the terrain is very tough indeed: deep mature heather interspersed with bilberry bushes (as can be seen on this pic), and hidden boulders for much of the way. It's a slow hard slog up to the ridge, with much recourse to hands, and every step requiring a big leg lift... Initially the groin tendons protest; but after a while they settle down, and the "walk it off" approach proves effective.
20170702_072559. Once on the ridge the going improves greatly - there's even the trace of a path; and the excellence of the views back towards Llyn Arenig Fawr...
20170702_072643. ... and south west towards a mist-veiled Arenig Fawr, are more than sufficient to mitigate the trials of the ascent.
On the ridge, the trace of a path becomes clearer next to a fence - it looks rather as if it's been created by sheep coming up against it.
20170702_073521. As the ascent continues, the views back north east towards Arenig Fach ...
20170702_074152. ...and Llyn Celyn lift the spirits.
20170702_080102. The going remains good, and I reach the summit of Arenig Fawr at 8 o'clock, around an hour behind when I'd hoped to . But apart from stray wisps, the cloud has largely cleared the summit. I munch on a marmelade croissant and enjoy the scene for a while.
20170702_080723. Ahead is a short undulating ridge, good and attractive walking terrain...
20170702_080841. ...before it drops sharply to a long rather magical-looking plateau bejewelled with small llynau and rock crags. My route takes me across this before bearing off right (south west) down into the valley between Arenig Fawr and Moel llyfnant - the latter just visible on the RHS in the mist (it's some 100m lower than AF). Again good walking ground, and I make good progress.
Quite an enchanted scene.
20170702_082639. The descent from AF is quite steep and rough, but really no problem. However, once in the valley bottom it becomes pretty boggy and rough...This shot is looking back the way I've come, which is diagonally to the left of the wall that runs straight down the hillside.
Ascent of Moel Llyfnant
20170702_083525. The watershed area is boggy, but perfectly doable - just not quick. Similarly the ascent to Moel Llyfnant: no path, but no real problem. This pic is looking back towards Arenig Fawr, and the tussocky nature of ground is clear in the foreground, and it continues like this up the hillside to Moel Llyfnant.
20170702_085457. Looking back from the summit of Moel Llyfnant towards Arenig Fawr. Very satisfactory! I pause for a short while to enjoy, as I munch on marmelade croissant (breakfast part 2). Happiness is being somewhere like this . It's really hard to grasp the magnitude of our privilege in terms of our freedom to experience this wonderful environment, when one thinks of situations in the world like Syria, North African refugees, etc. I think this almost every time I go into the hills: truly, we are the blessed ones. Difficult to come to terms with the fact that fate deals the cards this way....
20170702_085654. Looking ahead towards Gallt y Daren, the planned route is more or less as the crow flies, passing the plantation on the RHS and heading straight up the hillside, first to Foel Boeth, and from thence to Gallt y Daren.
Moel Boeth and Gallt y Daren
20170702_085457_route. The descent from Moel Llyfnant is not too challenging - essentially it's coarse turf...
20170702_091650. ...but once in the bottom of the valley, again it's pretty boggy and rough - although it does seem as if there's - at least theoretically - an official path here, albeit not shown on the map.
20170702_092737. Once on the ascent to Moel Boeth, it's coarse turf again - not difficult, but not fast either.
Notwithstanding a litre or so of tea on the drive to the start, I'm feeling quite parched now, so it's good to see some flowing water at last. I take the opportunity to slake my thirst, and to take on board a litre of water; it's not at all clear when I'll next find water that looks drinkable... even this is brown coloured. I'm reminded of a trip to Skye with my nephew and brother in law 20 years or so ago, and the first time I filled up with and drank stream water. "What's the brown colour?" they asked in consternation. "Is is sheep's urine?"!!!!
20170702_094834. On the summit of Foel Boeth, looking towards Gallt y Daren, with the Snowdon group in the background - cloud-shrouded, so it was a good decision not to aim too high today .
20170702_094813. Looking just south of west on the way from Foel Boeth to Gallt y Daren, the Rhinogs taking centre stage in the background, and Trawsfynedd power station clearly visible on the RHS. There is a reasonable path on the short stretch from here to Gallt y Daren that runs along the fence - extreme RHS.
20170702_095305. Looking back towards Foel Boeth just shortly before Gallt y Daren - what on earth were they doing putting up a single telegraph pole in the middle of this isolated boggy wilderness??? I didn't see any others.... Aliens...??? Mad millionaires...???
20170702_095413. Anyway: the actual summit!
20170702_095455. Looking out ENE from Gallt y Daren back along the route: Arenig Fawr in the far background, and Moel Llyfnant just in front of it.
20170702_095507. And to the route ahead, north along the ridge. It should feel bleak, but it doesn't. Everything is bright green, the weather is perfect, and I'm nigh on a couple of hours behind schedule... but what the hell! This is a fine place to be.
20170702_095640. Another strange sculpture to accompany the telegraph pole (which can actually been seen in the background); 2 pieces of rail cast in concrete.... Perhaps the Welsh equivalent of the hedgehog installations on some of the Glen Lyon summits....
20170702_100945. The walk along the ridge is not too bad, though quite boggy in places. This is looking back along the route towards Gallt y Daren from Bwlch y Bi...
20170702_100959. Also from Bwlch y Bi, the route ahead, still north along the ridge towards Moel y Slates (yes, this is what it's called ), with Arenig Fach in the background, showing the tussocky and boggy nature of the ground.
20170702_102447. After half a kilometre after Moel y Slates, I bear off right down the hillside. It is very tussocky and boggy indeed, and hence slower and more of a slog to traverse. But the next goal, Arenig Fach is clear to see, and looks pretty good from here => injection of motivation!
20170702_104816. The ground gets rougher and much more boggy as it flattens out, and the tussocks become higher with bigger drops between; but after about half an hour I reach the disused railway line I'm aiming for. This pic is looking back at much of the route traversed so far: Arenig Fawr to the extreme left, then Moel Llynfnant, and Gallt y Daren just out of sight on the extreme RHS. The pic is slightly blurred, but you get an idea of the terrain.
20170702_104939. The disused railway line is clearly an official path, though not shown on the maps: there are waymarkers and stiles all the way along it. It makes a pleasant change after the long bog slog, and progress is now good for the next couple of kilometres.
Lost in a spectacular swamp
Then I make a fatal error. I become a little bored with walking down the disused railway line (never satisfied ), and from the map there appears to be a short path through a wood – not even a detour, but running more or less parallel to the disused railway line.
I'd planned this in the route, but I should have looked more carefully at the map, in particular the contours and watercourses! In hindsight it is pretty obvious that this area is totally flat and swampy!
And this is what it proves to be. The “path” is great for the first 20 metres, but then rapidly disappears. I persevere for a while, but it soon becomes clear that the area is a plantation that has been created by ploughing parallel furrows every metre or so, and planting trees on the soil cast to one side from the furrows. Every furrow is a pool of uncertain depth, and in some cases has become a much larger stream ☹. After about 10 minutes of meandering in a roughly Easterly direction I’m stopped dead by a large stagnant pond, and have to try to find an alternative route. This is beginning to feel like a scene from "Deliverance"!!! What's lying in wait for me here...??? Friendly locals...???
I decide to try to get back to the railway line, but am thwarted time and again by the furrows running East-West and low branches of small conifers – maddening . Navigation is surprisingly difficult because visibility ahead is only a few metres, and without a compass it would be very difficult to remain orientated. Moreover I have no desire to end my walking days disappearing forever into a muddy morass....
I can see my promise to the CEO to be back early coming under serious threat ☹. In the interests of decency I draw a veil of politeness over the next 20 minutes and the associated unrepeatable language. Eventually I emerge a mere 400m along from where I started.
Ascent of Arenig Fach
Again it seems I chose the route with the worst possible terrain - my reasoning was that I would get the best views of Llyn Celyn from Y Foel (the shoulder before Arenig Fach itself).
Ascent route for Arenig Fach via Y Foel.
Although the ascent height to Y Foel is not that much – about 230m - it is quite tough.
20170702_120930. I get the great panoramic views of Llyn Celyn and Arenig Fawr, but at the expense of a yomp through pretty deep heather - again big leg lifts for every step, slow and tiring.
Near the top I hear what at first sounds like the call of a peregrine, but then the bird swings into view, and it's a kestrel. The bird count is doing quite well actually - to be expected in the absence of bird scarers...
Glass half full perspective: at least there is no bog! If one wanted an easier ascent, though without the same dramatic views, it looks as if a route heading first more north and then cutting up east to AF might have easier terrain - but I can't be sure. Maybe all ascent routes of this one are tough
. 20170702_122919. Although the lack of formal paths indicates that this route is not often walked, as I approach the summit it appears that some visitors are already there...
20170702_122149. From the summit the previous 3 summits can be seen in dramatic panorama.
I stop for a bite to eat on the summit, and enjoy the views, before heading East towards the cliffs, where I hope to get a good view of Llyn Arenig Fach. I'd also planned on descending via the north east ridge for what I expected to be developing views of both the Llyn and the crags above it.
I'd imagined that it would be a reasonably straightforward - albeit steep - descent. It is anything but straightforward ... . As can be seen from this pic....
20170702_124845. .... the slope is densely covered in bilberry shrubs, with concealed boulders underneath, necessitating considerable care with foot placement, and hence very slow and painstaking hard work. Still, as also can be seen from this and the next pic, the views are indeed good .
Looking at the map and my pics, I rather suspect that an ascent from the south would be better, but again I can't vouch for this. No paths are shown on the maps.
Carnedd y Filiast - the brute!
Looking east north east from Arenig Fach, it's not absolutely clear which of the pimples in the far distance is Carnedd y Filiast: there are several apparent high points on the skyline (For some reason I didn't take any pictures of this - perhaps it just appeared too bleak!). Eventually I satisfy myself as to which it is; but with the relatively gently slopes, it looks like the summits would anyway disappear from view on the ascent. Moreover, I'd plotted a route that involved rounding a shoulder, and this is a sure fire way to go adrift with route-finding.
So I take a far more careful bearing than I usually do, and then line up a number of physical features along the bearing against which I can hopefully maintain orientation.
It works pretty well - though I'm sure the outcome would have been less predictable in clag.
Half way up the ascent, a large raptor rises to the right hand side, and for one brief exciting moment I think it might be a harrier. But it's not far enough away to fool myself, and anyway the forked tail is a dead giveaway. But still - not bad at all.
An hour later, I am rounding the shoulder pretty well exactly where I'd planned to be.
20170702_140731. The going for the ascent has been tough to very tough - as can be seen from this pic close to the shoulder: deep heather and bilberry scrub. The shot is looking back WSW toward Arenig Fawr and Arenig Fach - rather fine .
Once round the shoulder there's a 50m or so descent to a stream before the final pull to the summit of Carnedd y Filiast. Not far, and no great ascent; but it's some of the most energy-sapping terrain I've ever crossed. It is characterized by clumps of very tall heather at about 1 metre spacing. What's special about them is that they seem to be floating on double springs, so that every step involves a massive leg lift, with every step sinking more than knee-depth before I can lift the other leg. And just as I lift the next leg, the leg I'm bearing on suddenly drops a further 20 or 30 cm. It is completely exhausting, both physically and mentally. I've never encountered anything like this before. It's like certain kinds of deep snow, but feels even worse. It certainly does not improve the purity of my language. I count every step on the basis that each step is a step closer to the summit....
20170702_144836. And eventually - inevitably - I do get there. Afterwards I wonder how . Notwithstanding being horribly behind the schedule I need to maintain to meet the return time I'd promised the CEO, I sit down and draw breath for a long 5 minutes...
The direction back to the car park is almost exactly due south, but the track heads a 100 metres or so north before doubling back on itself. I can't bring myself to start off in the wrong direction, and so decide to yomp across the rough to intercept the track. Looks like I'll never learn . It's definitely 2 or 300 metres shorter on plan, but again the going is tough and slow. The track is clearly visible centre pic in the background...
20170702_150437. After this it's a very simple to follow 4x4 track...
Unless you're a bit of an idiot.
There's a clearly marked path on the map that bears off from the track...
.. which I very sensibly follow until the last few hundred metres - when, because I can see the car park where my car is, I think it will be quicker to cut straight down.
It isn't. I end up battling the last few hundred metres through gorse, followed by way over head height bracken and brambles in dense woodland.
My advice: stick to the path!
I'm now horribly late, so no time to replenish liquid loss at an establishment of cultural, historical and architectural distinction: I just need to get home...
Finally: the bird count - not bad at all!
blackcap (heard, not seen)
goose (poo only )
Conclusion: these hills are well worth doing in their own right; but it would be good if someone could work out a less taxing route .
3 D view of route
by Halo » Wed Jul 12, 2017 10:50 pm
by simon-b » Thu Jul 13, 2017 9:27 pm
by Broggy1 » Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:48 am
by Alteknacker » Sat Jul 15, 2017 11:03 am
simon-b wrote:Some very good if hard earned views there, AK. You didn't say what your upcoming Highland route is, but that sounds like a good training day for a long round of pathless Corbetts.
The plans (actually there are 2) are to do: a round in the Ben Alder area; and the north Kintail ridge.
The really energy-sapping parts of the Arenigs are the deep deep heather/bilberry scrub sections; and the long bogs. I've never encountered anything like it (yet) in the Highlands.
RTC wrote:Judged by your previous reports this "brutal yomp" must really have been hard going.
PS. I can recommend a good dentist the next time you are up in Scotland.
It certainly was hard going! Not sure it's as bad as the dentist, but in any event my molars are pretty well worn away after this...
Broggy1 wrote:Great effort over testing terrain.
Actually - ref your recent Skiddaw round, it's not at all unlike the ascent of Carrock Fell, just that the scrub is deeper, the amount of terrain like this longer, and it's combined on other long stretches with serious bog that's partially concealed by deep rushes.
Very character building.
It'd be a piece of cake for you, though .
by trailmasher » Sun Jul 16, 2017 4:38 pm
by Alteknacker » Wed Jul 19, 2017 11:06 pm
trailmasher wrote:Another great day, photos, and report Alte and despite the clouds a decent weather day with plenty of sun to boost your interminable slogging over rough ground Hope that the CEO wasn't too hard on you when you got back
Thanks TM. Yes, it was a very respectable day weatherwise, and although I did moan a bit in the report about the very slow going, this was mainly a result of concern about not keeping my promise to be back home at a reasonable time. In fact it was pretty nigh perfect from the walking perspective: not too hot, and uncloudshielded sun only infrequently.
And - yes, I did get somewhat beaten up on my return... .
by johnkaysleftleg » Fri Jul 21, 2017 10:44 am
by Chris Mac » Fri Jul 21, 2017 9:37 pm
Good decision to leave the bird scarers at home, that was some haul of sightings you got by doing so.
You are a genuine trailblazer and I salute you!
by malky_c » Sat Jul 22, 2017 12:41 pm
by Alteknacker » Sun Jul 23, 2017 10:56 pm
johnkaysleftleg wrote:A Hugely entertaining and well written report. It certainly looks like you found the wrong way to ascend many of these hills Hope you didn't get in too much bother when you returned home.
Thanks for the kind words, JKLL. Some of it was definitely more entertaining in hindsight than at the time
There was a bit of bother when I got back - the lesson being: don't be over-optimistic about timings!
Chris Mac wrote:Hahaha brilliant, what an adventure of misfortune! I love your reports Alteknacker, always very entertaining over large areas of terrain, different crazy routes from everyone else and with endlessly entertaining happenings, top stuff, especially the not listening to your own advice, the bog trap, ignoring maps, I could go on...!!
Thanks Chris. It's some compensation for my repeated idiocy if there's a little entertainment to be had in telling the tale .
malky_c wrote:Some good hills in there, and some less good . All strung together in a rather interesting round that even I would consider a bit desperate . At least you got a view from Arenig Fach - more than I've ever managed, and it has a reputation of being one of the best viewpoints in Central Snowdonia. Gallt y Daren, I have to say, barely deserves more than a cursory walk up from the high road to the south, so well done on persevering with such a long route out to it!
Interesting it surely was at times! And yes, the view from Arenig Fach was pretty fine.
I do think you're being a bit harsh on Gallt y Daren, though. Quite apart from the lonely telegraph pole, and the "pair of rails" installation, it's not such a bad ridge to trog along: a bit boggy, but quite a relief after some of what went before And some pretty fair views also.
by Walk cycle » Mon Jul 24, 2017 8:19 pm
by Alteknacker » Fri Jul 28, 2017 12:21 am
Walk cycle wrote:Great report - I had the map out the other day and looked at these hills with interest and next day there was your report on the Arenigs! A very visually imaginative report.
Thanks WC. If the report helps you pinpoint the best bits and avoid the worst, then I'll be very happy: this was a key motivation in the level of route detail I tried to give in the report.
In hindsight I make it sound worse than it really is, I think. The rough bits are exceptionally hard work, but I hope you see from the pics that there are some very good bits as well. I think I was probably adversely influenced by the realisation that I was going to be late home...
by mattcymru » Sat Feb 10, 2018 12:53 am
by Alteknacker » Wed Feb 21, 2018 10:57 pm
mattcymru wrote:very tough i can imagine... but is it as bad as the horrors of cyrniau nod and the hirnants?
Ohhhh! I wish I hadn't read this - I've just planned out a route from Glyndyfrdwy near Llangollen, to Llanwchllyn, notwithstanding some reservations about large forestry areas on the way, having forgotten everything about my first foray up into the Berwyns 10+ years ago.
Sounds like it might not be that entertaining....