2 underrated hills and a rather too hairy scramble
by Alteknacker » Thu Feb 08, 2018 1:00 am
Hewitts included on this walk: Dduallt, Rhobell Fawr
Date walked: 02/02/2018
Time taken: 7.6
Distance: 34.6 km
Ascent: 1367m8 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).
And then it seemed like there might be another one day break, at least in Wales.
Thursday's forecast for Friday.
One of the great joys of being retired is that you can choose when you go out into the hills: the only limiting factor (if you're a bit of a wimp) is the weather. So I was able to leave it 'til the Thursday afternoon before deciding to get out into the hills the following day.
I plumped for a couple of hills that I’d noticed the last time I was on the Arans – Rhobell Fawr and Dduallt (try pronouncing the last of these!!!). When I checked them out, Rhobell didn’t look that inspiring from the pics, but Dduallt boasted a pretty dramatic cliff that seemed to be inviting a scramble (albeit there did seem to be rather a lot of green that I should have paid greater heed to - more on this later ).
Library pic of Dduallt east face.
In fact both turned out to be much more characterful than might have been expected.
I looked at various route options, in the end opting for a mixed bike/walk route so that I could walk the whole of the ridge on which these two hills are located.
Ideally I’d have started out before sunrise so as to arrive at the walk start just before dawn; but the forecast was for icy roads, and I didn’t want to take a tumble on the steep descent of the single track road from the cycling start point to the main road; so I timed everything to arrive at the start of the bike section at sunrise, about 8 o’clock.
20180202_081456. A traffic-free run sees me parked up just after 8.00am, with Rhobell Fawr showing snow-capped in the background: just the ticket for getting the mojo workin’ !!
I get myself kitted up, and as I head off down the single track road, I soon realise that my fears about black ice etc. are entirely unfounded. The ride along the A494 is straightforward enough, and none too taxing; the minor road after that is a bit more like hard work, with a couple of 1-in-5 sections, but with some excellent views.
20180202_093404. This view is looking north west, about three quarters of a kilometre from my start point, the Buarthmeini waterfall just visible in the background, centre right.
20180202_094142. I stash my bike just beyond Buarthmeini, chaining it to a thick post, and then get going, first looking to get a better view of the waterfall .
20180202_094142. Astonishingly this magnificent cascade seems to have no name!
20180202_094244. On the map there's a footbridge shown crossing the Afon Lliw about 100m south of the start point, which is where I head first - quite an ancient looking construction, but in fact with a deck comprising a couple of moss-covered concrete planks.
20180202_100417. From here a path is shown on the map running more or less parallel to the watercourse (Afon Lliw). It's not particularly obvious, but it's easy enough to orientate oneself by the Afon Lliw. The going, even on the hillside, is pretty boggy. Once up the first rise, the path diverges from the Afon Lliew, and the land flattens out into an even more seriously boggy area which I end up crossing by tightroping along the fence. The better way to proceed would simply be to keep high on the south side of the bog rather than following the putative path on the map - why the path routes one through such terrain is not at all easy to understand.
20180202_103718. Once I realise that the path is useless, I simply follow bearings from the map (just east of south), and before too long am up on to the "ridge". It's a fairly rough mix of heather and turf, but not too slow going. This is the view looking back north towards Moel Lyfnant (LHS) and Arenig Fawr (RHS) - not bad at all!
Suddenly I must have reached a not-very-obvious crest on the gently undulating ground, because within a few paces both my summit goals - Dduallt and Rhobell Fawr - come into dramatic view. (Viewing the pano on full screen gives a better idea of the mighty impressive vista...)
20180202_110657. From here Dduallt east face looks like it could be quite a challenge - 150m ascent at an average slope of around 50 degrees, with some sections closer to 80 degrees! We'll see .
20180202_110713. Looking wider, the Rhinogs are clear to see on the right hand side background, and the Arans on the left hand side background. So far the views have been very fair indeed.
20180202_110304. Rhinogs zoomed...
20180202_112345. The going is still rough, but quite straightforward, and Dduallt quickly begins to dominate the foreground.
When planning the route, it was clear from the contours that the entire area to the north east of Dduallt would be flat and therefore seriously boggy, so I intended to skirt the bottom of Dduallt east face 10 or so metres above the flat area. What I hadn't reckoned with was the size of the stream running across my intended path; and for once I hadn't packed my rubble bags.
I walk eastwards along the bank of the stream to try to find somewhere to effect a crossing; but without much optimism: the stream is wide, deep and slow-flowing. But rather to my surprise the peaty ground comes to the rescue. The stream has eroded a route between a lowish and a highish peat hag that are only a few metres apart, and the difference in elevation enables me to jump it - just! After which excitement, I continue along the bottom of Dduallt east face until I get to a cleft in it, the point at which I'd tentatively planned to start the ascent.
20180202_115854. A short examination of the cleft indicates that it's way too difficult; but the right hand side looks just about doable - I think, "just about...", because it reminds me rather of the north facing cliffs of Y Lliwedd on the Snowdon Horseshoe, where I once spent a horrendous 3 and a half hours trying to pick my way around soggy greenery and sudden vertical faces. And the cliff in front of me now is also very green, and very steep (the picture is deceptive).
I mull it over for a short while. After Y Lliwedd I vowed that I would never again try scrambling up a north facing green cliff. But then this is less than half the height of Y Lliwedd so easier to turn back; and it's east facing, so hopefully drier; and I have my ice axe with me, so locating good hand and footholds amid the greenery is significantly easier. You can see where this is leading.... Not good. The solo equivalent of "group think".
So I take a quick look around...
20180202_115911. ...north, at Moel Llyfnant (LHS) and Arenig Fawr...
... and then set off.
The first third of the ascent isn't too bad. True I hit a few dead ends, discovering that much of the outcropping rock is vertical or slightly overhanging, very smooth, wet and slimy, with little in the way of holds; but it still feels like I can pick out a reasonably secure route. The axe is invaluable in probing the ground for solidity, and, once firmly planted, acting as a secure hand hold. But the ground seems to be getting softer and softer, and I realise that much of the greenery - including the heather - is only lightly anchored with a thin skim of roots and soil covering bare smooth rock: the appearance of a largely heather covered slope is quite misleading. More and more probing with the axe is necessary to locate secure holds and foot placements, and in many places the heather and/or other scrub comes away in my hands, so it's no good at all for either hand or foot placements.
During this increasingly tricky period, I round a slight protrusion of the cliff face while making a rather precarious traverse, and right in front of me is the debris of a mini landslide: an entire block of vegetation about 2 metres square has slid under its own weight off the rock face it was growing on, and is perched on the slope in front of me, soil and roots upwards, supported by heaven only knows what. I retreat: it feels like even probing the greenery with the axe would be horribly risky.
I traverse back and forth on the face, trying to locate a point for further ascent that looks even quarter way safe, finally finding an exposed rectangular block of rock about 5 metres high with a steeply sloping flat face perpendicular to the main direction of the cliff - ie facing north; and it is resting on the west side on another even larger block whose similarly flat face looks east: the 2 faces intersect at a little less than 90 degrees, with a small crack about 50 to 70mm wide at the intersection point. This should mean that, with a bit of luck, I can jamb one foot in the 90 degree angle between the faces of the 2 blocks, and find sufficient axe placements in the main block face to be able to pull myself up. So this is what I start out to do. If you're trying to visualise this, apologies: it would be much easier to understand with a picture, but I was far too nervous about the whole undertaking to think of taking a photo! However, this amateurish sketch gives some idea of the situation...
The problem is that the face of the main block is covered with green slime, and although I can just about get a few foot jambs in the crack at the intersection of the 2 blocks, as planned, it is extremely difficult to get any kind of purchase on the slimy rock face, even with the axe. And I need a good axe placement in order to be able to take the load off my foot and shuffle it up the crack. This is really not easy at all. Every axe placement requires multiple attempts before I find anything at all secure.
It seems to take an eternity to slither and crab my way up those 5 metres. I do eventually succeed, but I'm mentally and physically shattered. I definitely should have aborted the whole ascent as soon as I encountered the mini landslide. My new vow is that I will never do another wet and green cliff like this again, whatever direction it is facing!
This block is really the crux point. After this it remains very tricky, but, notwithstanding many other dead ends on the way from which I have to backtrack, I'm able to negotiate a reasonably safe - if very meandering - route to the top.
Routes up Dduallt E Face.
In hindsight it would have been more sensible to take one of the alternative routes that I've shown on the photo...
20180202_123056. This is the view looking just south of west down the east face just after the crux...
20180202_123048. ...and this looking north towards Moel Llynant and Arenig Fawr from more or less the same place.
20180202_125217. Now about three quarters of the way up. The foreground to the right gives a good representative idea of conditions.
20180202_130250. Close to the top now...
20180202_125234. Looking ESE towards Aran Fawddwy. Again, the gradient of the face and the conditions are visible on the RHS.
20180202_131016. Looking down the gully I'd originally planned to come up, from the summit ridge. The decision not to attempt this route was definitely the right one!
20180202_132415. Looking north on the summit, Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala) in the background right, and (yet again!) Moel Llyfnant and Arenig Fawr background left.
20180202_132521. And south west towards my next and final goal, Rhobell Fawr, which is looking quite an attractive prospect.
20180202_132454. The Rhinogs again mark the skyline to the west. Very fine indeed, some slight forestry blight in the middle background notwithstanding.
20180202_133326. There's quite a breeze on the summit and it's freezing cold, so I get out a sarnie to consume on the go, and continue on, my immediate goal being the corner of the forestry to the left.
Once I reach the edge of the forestry plantation I follow a somewhat boggy but clear path just to the east, and latterly to the south of the boundary fence, before taking a waymarked path into the forestry.
20180202_140639. Initially the path is clear and reasonably easy to follow, but towards the end I manage to lose it and end up in a dreadful swamp, characterised by deep muddy water-filled trenches and fallen trees - more indeed in a horizontal than vertical orientation - an obstacle course that would have done an SAS training course proud. I just don't seem to be able to get on with forestry.
20180202_143042. It takes around quarter of an hour to get through the obstacle course, after which I arrive on a forestry road. A 100 metres or so along this in a southerly direction, and then it's up towards Rhobell Mawr. Again, there's some boggy flatland to navigate through (foreground), but then it's on to the much pleasanter east flank of the hill, and an easy ascent to the triple summit.
20180202_145319. The true summit - a metre or so higher than the other - is the pimple on the far LHS: the other two to the right are false summits.
20180202_145329. The lighting is now dramatic, and views in all directions quite superb. This is taken from the southern false summit looking ESE towards the Arans, which are showing off splendidly now that the cloud over their summits has cleared.
20180202_150054. ...while to the south I see a lone figure on the true summit, the first fellow walker I've seen all day, silhouetted against a wild sky and apparently praying to the trig point.
20180202_150142. And to the north a last view (honest ) of Moel llyfnant and Arenig Fawr.
When I get to the true summit the walker is still there, and we chat for a few minutes. It's pretty chilly though, and his Jack Russell is literally shivering even with a dog overcoat on. So we continue on our separate ways.
20180202_151015. Looking back at the 2 false summits to the north.
20180202_153237. My target is the track just visible where the mature forest ends, left of centre. But first I have to get on to a track that contours around the base of the hill at about the 390m level.
20180202_154026. The descent is simple enough, though one would need to take a bit of care in clag - there are some cliffs just before one hits the 390m contour track.
20180202_154838. A last look back at Rhobell Fawr before I bear left into on to the forest track, and back to the car, arriving shortly after 4.00pm. No more pics - I don't like forestry!
SUMMARY: I found this route much more rewarding than I'd really expected, and indeed, had I taken a more reasonable route up Dduallt, it would have been excellent. My impression is that both these hills are underrated.
3D view of route.
by larry groo » Thu Feb 08, 2018 7:43 am
Really enjoyed it. You're a brave man to continue up that slope!
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by malky_c » Thu Feb 08, 2018 10:36 am
Sadly I've only been up these hills once, and I didn't see a great deal of anything. Shame as I was looking forward to seeing the crags on Dduallt. Nice start too - have cycled over the high road between Trawsfynydd and Llanywchllyn a few times
I have managed to pull a couple of descent routes out of the Tremadog and Cwm Silyn climbing guide to do as scrambles before, usually with hair-raising results. I'm not sure that this area even gets a mention in there though.
by Mal Grey » Thu Feb 08, 2018 11:50 am
Otherwise looked like a grand day out!
by HalfManHalfTitanium » Fri Feb 09, 2018 8:50 am
So it's good to see it at last.
Great photos - and a great account of quite an adventure!
by Sgurr » Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:11 pm
altenacker wrote: My new vow is that I will never do another wet and green cliff like this again, whatever direction it is facing!
Easier said than done. We got to this summer to make a repeat vow NEVER to go up anything that we couldn't immediately come back down. But it has been vowed before, and we shouldn't have needed to get to av age 78 to have to make it again. Why can't we get sensible? (That was in Wales too).
by dav2930 » Fri Feb 09, 2018 8:21 pm
by johnkaysleftleg » Sat Feb 10, 2018 1:19 pm
by Alteknacker » Sat Feb 10, 2018 3:01 pm
larry groo wrote:Exciting stuff!
Really enjoyed it. You're a brave man to continue up that slope! ....
I think it was more foolishness than bravery that I continued!!!
malky_c wrote:I think that will go down as one of the most off-the-wall ascents of Dduallt ever . I've just been reading Lionel Terray's 'Conquistadors of the Useless', and this is like a bargain bin UK version with added choss!
I nearly was "off the wall" more than once. Definitely this was a useless and pointless ascent, about which I feel rather embarrassed. I hope that putting in writing will help remind me in future that I need to turn back when things get randomly dangerous.
malky_c wrote:Sadly I've only been up these hills once, and I didn't see a great deal of anything. Shame as I was looking forward to seeing the crags on Dduallt. Nice start too - have cycled over the high road between Trawsfynydd and Llanywchllyn a few times.
I've just read your report, and I see that it was a bit of a clag fest. A pity - as I hope you can see from the pics - these were more interesting than their reputation would have suggested they would be...
The start was definitely nice - that old Trawfynydd road is brilliant.
malky_c wrote: I have managed to pull a couple of descent routes out of the Tremadog and Cwm Silyn climbing guide to do as scrambles before, usually with hair-raising results. I'm not sure that this area even gets a mention in there though.
Not surprised if my experience is anything to go by!
Mal Grey wrote:Good grief. Even without expanding the picture I thought "that looks like a tottering pile of choss".... A braver man than me!
Yes, in hindsight it is fairly obvious. I thought that pic had undergone a severe working over with Photoshop, and as a result it probably looked much worse than it really was. Not brave, but foolish not to turn back when I could see how bad it was
Mal Grey wrote: Can't beat a good exploration of an interesting looking route, and it took me 2 such experiences to learn that lesson too! I remember even considering putting crampons on to get a grip on a none frozen bit of falling away grass/earth/heather but was too gripped to want to attempt that on a steep slope. Hopefully my own lesson will remain learnt...
I hope the same for my lesson - part of the reason for committing such an embarrassing episode to print...
by Mal Grey » Sat Feb 10, 2018 7:20 pm
Alteknacker wrote:I hope the same for my lesson - part of the reason for committing such an embarrassing episode to print...
Oh, I wouldn't say embarrassing, merely educational for all of us! It would be embarrassing if you were still there.... :