Monthly Archives: May 2014
In a couple of hours we’ll be on a train to Kirkby Stephen to begin our exploration of Mallerstang and Wild Boar Fell.
The bags are packed and ready. Edward’s is 5kg, mine is about 17kg! -but I hope to eat a good chunk of that.
MWIS and the Met Office suggest we’ll do fine with the weather this weekend. I hope to be on the train home before we see rain.
Full report with photos after we’ve returned…
As with, I guess, most of us who’ve been backpacking for several years the kit I use has changed a lot since I started. Some of my kit is pretty new but a number of pieces have been with me almost all the way. I thought I’d write a piece about why, year after year, they keep getting put into my backpack.
My first backpacking tent lasted exactly one trip, broke, got returned to the manufacturer who failed to repair it so I got my money back.
After careful research in Trail magazine and TGO and feeling the merchandise in stores I decided to splash £300 on a Terra Nova Solar 2. I can’t honestly remember why I chose the Solar 2 over the Voyager but I imagine cost, weight and porch size were the key factors.
A close second was the Vaude Hogan but I found it too short (I’m 6’2″).
The Solar 2 has been with me on two of my three Picos de Europa trips, The Pyrenees and the Sierra de Gredos as well as many UK trips of up to a week. I’ve been out in hot Spanish summer conditions where I didn’t need the fly and in winter where I’ve needed to clear away the snow. In all these trips I’ve only had one problem with the tent withstanding the weather.
On the first Picos trip we were camped at Naranjo de Bulnes and a storm blew in, washing away the limited soil. The pegs came out and the porch began flapping about. We decided to pull down the tent and head to the refuge for the night.
Things I like about the tent: its 2.5kg full weight. There are lighter tents but the space in the solar two, especially the porch, mean it’s really comfortable to stay in. Pitching is a cinch. My regular camping friend and I have it down so well we can do it after many beers and in the dark! We can easily fit two 70L packs in the porch and still have enough room to cook or get in/out.
My second backpacking tent was a Hilleberg Akto. When I began to backpack solo more frequently I wanted a smaller, lighter tent. Initially I borrowed the Akto from Hilleberg to review for a website I co-ran many years ago. After a while testing the Akto Hilleberg asked for it back but I loved the tent so much I bought it from them (better than paying postage back to Sweden!). My feedback to Hilleberg was very positive, with a few areas for improvement: the zip on the door was straight, a curve at the top or a hood would improve ventilation without letting in the weather. Although I can sit up in the Akto, a few more centimetres wouldn’t go amiss.
When they updated the tent I was pleased to see they’d added a canopy to the fly sheet door. They’d also made it a little lighter!
Things I like about the tent: It’s so easy to pitch. Even in poor weather it takes no time at all. The pack size and weight are really good. I generally stuff the poles separately to the fabric parts and it squishes up easily. Living space is perfectly adequate for me and my kit. Nice big porch and plenty of sleeping room.
Since my first trip to the Picos (2001) I’ve favoured a multi fuel stove. The one I use is an MSR Dragonfly. I chose this one because I sometimes like to do more than boil water so a controllable flame was very useful. Over the years I’ve used unleaded petrol, white gas, kerosene, ‘essence C’ -which turned out to be a dry cleaning fluid and most recently turpentine. It burns them all very well and without much tinkering needed.
I’ve only had a problem with lighting the stove once. In the Pyrenees on a hot day we tried to light it to cook some couscous for lunch. Because it was so warm the fuel evaporated before we could light it to prime the stove. I’ve maintained it at home before long trips and made running repairs whilst away. The one problem I couldn’t fix was when a weld broke in Scotland. The stove was returned to MSR who repaired it free of charge under guarantee -I was very impressed as the stove was over ten years old at the time.
Things I like about the stove: Can run it on more or less any fuel I can find, field maintainable, variable flame -from candle to welding torch!
For years I’ve carried a Victorinox climber knife. Its got all the essential items, even the strange awl tool. It’s not the lightest knife or the most well equipped but for me it’s the best mix of useful tools.
I have two packs in regular use, both Lowe Alpine. An Alpamayo 70+20L for big trips and an Alpine Attack 50L for the not so big trips. I always rated Lowe packs because they are superbly comfortable and the build quality excellent. The bigger pack is now about 14 years old and showing very little wear beyond a bit of scuffing. It’s not a lightweight pack by any definition -about 3kg empty. I’ve never needed more room than it offered and it’s a very comfortable carry, even with 25+ kg inside it. The Alpine bag is about ten years old and gets used as my day pack as well as for lighter backpacking trips. It’s big enough for a week long trip in summer conditions. One thing about it that I have never liked is the attachment of the floating lid. It always seems to slip down and not stay in one place (the floating lid on the Alpamayo stays put).
Things I like about the packs: Their volume is what it’s meant to be. They’re both plenty big enough. Very comfortable adjustable back systems on both bags. Really hard wearing fabric.
Another weekend adventure. Its a hard life pursuing logbook days for ML (summer). I had decided that it was summer and packed accordingly. My backpack weight had gone down several kilos to about 11kg, fully laden. I’d changed to a lighter sleeping bag, left out the waterproof trousers and gone as ultralight as possible on the cook kit. The weather forecast was for sunny days, with a gentle breeze -strengthening on the Sunday.
It had been a long week at work, an Ofsted inspection on the Wednesday and Thursday putting everything into overdrive. I was feeling very tired by Friday afternoon but had thankfully perked up when it came to depart. By 8.30 pm I was locking the car at the Walna Scar car park above Coniston. Shouldering my pack I set off along the old access track towards Blind Tarn, my home for the night. A few other people seemed not to have noticed the ‘no unauthorised vehicles beyond this point’ sign and had set up camp, caravans and all, a few hundred metres down the track. There was ample evidence of previous campers -fire rings could be spotted on the flat green borders to the road.
Before long I reached a large flat area which was bounded at the west by the hill up to Blind Tarn and to the north by Goats water and Dow Crag. After a brief search I found a sufficiently dry, flat patch for my tent. Within a couple of minutes the tent was pitched and I was moving in. The evening was still bright enough to see without a torch, despite it being heading for 9.30. Once I’d moved in I got out my tiny stove and heated some water for a hot chocolate. I had pitched the tent so that the porch opened away from the prevailing wind to shelter my stove. This also afforded me an excellent view of Blind Tarn Screes, my first stopping point for the next morning.
Naturally, the wind had completely reversed direction in the time between putting the first pegs in and unpacking my rucksack. I knew the wind wouldn’t get too strong and I couldn’t really be bothered to re-pitch the tent so I just left it. As the evening was so pleasant I took the opportunity to fiddle about with my camera, try to take some photographs using long exposures and remembering to use the mini-tripod I always carry and rarely use.
By half past ten I was tucked into my sleeping bag with the door of the tent closed against the breeze. By midnight I was awake again, feeling cold. I put on some clothes and fell back to sleep. By two thirty I was awake again. I really needed a thicker sleeping bag. I struggled with being chilly and dozed until about 5.30 when I decided that coffee and beginning the day was the best option. The moon shone brightly above the crags, no sign of the sun at this point.
By half past six everything was packed away and I set off, first to the stream to collect some water then on to find Blind Tarn -a small tarn not visible from below, with no outflowing streams. A short climb later and the tarn was in sight, as was a fellow wild camper -a small tent perched near the shore of the lake. I took a few photos before scrambling up the screes onto the ridge. I’ve long wanted to be the first person to the summit of a mountain one day. Today wasn’t it. Ahead of me three walkers, catching up with me a fell runner. The weather forecast was proving to be spot-on. Not a breath of wind, clear skies and not too chilly. I followed the ridge northwards over Dow Crag, occasionally peering off the edge down gullies and over cliffs. After Dow Crag there is a short descent to Goats Hause before climbing again to Coniston Old Man (Or the Old Man of Coniston, if you prefer). By 8.30 I was on the summit of the Old Man, not another soul there with me. On this exposed summit the wind had picked up so I sheltered behind the summit cairn and looked down into the copper mines valley below.
The path down to the copper mines was a manufactured zig zag. Good in terms of preventing erosion but not the most inspiring. About half way down there is the rusting evidence of the industrial past; a toppled pylon, corroded cables and pipes sticking up from the ground like petrified metal worms. A man with a confused face and apparently no map asked me which way the summit was. I showed him and said it would be about another hour to the top. There were more people wandering the various tracks and trails near to the Youth Hostel.
I didn’t have an exact target for the day, just a vague plan of where I wanted to go -towards crinkle crags. To this end I followed the paths which would take me to Levers water reservoir. I sat at the shore of the lake and enjoyed a snack, the view and refilled my water bottle. As I set off again I met a man hoping to fish in the lake. Due to the breeze he needed to go to the far side or else all he’d catch would be the grass behind him. Instead of the obvious path towards Black Sails and Wetherlam I made my own way up over a rocky rib parallel to the main path. It was quite hard work in some places but not technically challenging. I reached the top and turned north east towards the summit of Wetherlam. There were about a dozen people coming down from the summit and when I got there about another forty or so passing by or stopped for lunch.
After a brief, 25 minute, lunch stop I was off again. Heading north east along Wetherlam edge towards Birk Fell. I followed this ridge to the end before descending into the Greenburn Beck valley. My legs were getting a little tired now as they’d gone up and down over several mountains and into two valleys. Checking the map I considered my options. North west was towards Pike of Blisco and Crinkle Crags. West was back along another ridge which would eventually curve back towards Wetherlam. I decided to continue on towards the North. A short while later I was climbing again up onto the ridge which lead eventually to the unfairly named Hell Gill. Before reaching this scary sounding hill I turned and descended again to the Wrynose pass, crossing the road and climbing once more. By 4pm I was walking next to Red Tarn, under Pike of Blisco, looking for a place to set up camp.
By this point my knees had made it clear that they would not support any notion of carrying on to Crinkle Crags. The wind had picked up now and it was blowing directly along the valley which meant I needed to find a sheltered spot. If the ground was flat, it was probably exposed. If it wasn’t exposed it was a marsh. After about an hour of testing potential spots I found a place just big enough for the tent and not a marsh and not in the full force of the wind.
I set up my tent, moved in and made a coffee. I watched the final people descend from the valley and I was alone again. As I had such an early start I spent the evening dozing in my tent before cooking dinner -dehydrated chicken tikka and more coffee. The backpacking meal was tasty enough, hot and filling. For dessert an Alpen bar and a Mars bar. I spent most of my time inside the tent where it was sun-warmed and out of the wind.
Prepared for another cold night I slept fully clothed. It helped but wasn’t the most comfortable night I’ve spent in a tent. By five the next morning I was wide-awake. By five thirty I’d had my coffee and was onto the porridge -strictly speaking, hot Alpen. By six I’d packed and was off to find water. Below me I found two ladies out bivying. You’re never quite as alone as you think in the wilds!
Today I was taking a more direct route back to the car. Much less ascent, descent and fewer kilometres. Back to the Wrynose pass and on up to Hell Gill. The wind was strong on the ridge and cold. I was glad to have my windshirt which I fastened up tight. I was concerned I might lose my hat and so tightened up the chin strap as far as I could while maintaining the ability to breathe. Following the ridge south of Hell Gill I came across a memorial to the crew of a crashed WWII plane. A Halifax bomber. I didn’t linger long it was feeling really cold and I wanted to descend to the sheltered side of the hill where I could warm up again.
South of the memorial the path began to descend on the leeward side of the hill and almost instantly it became much warmer. I realised I’d not seen a single person since the two ladies near my camp site.
Carrying on towards Brim Fell and Goat’s Water I could see groups of other walkers heading for the Old Man. I descended to Goat’s Water where two men were preparing to climb something on Dow Crag. There is a mountain rescue box at the base of the crag containing emergency equipment and a stretcher. There are several of these across the Lake District. This was the second I’ve seen.
The path from Goat’s Water soon joined the Walna Scar path that I’d walked in on the Friday night. Before long I was back at the car, glad to get my boots off and ready for home.
A short walk from the Barroude hut and we crossed the border into Spain once more. The weather was warm and clear and the paths easy to follow. We continued along the HRP down the mountainside over 1000 vertical metres to a tiny village called Parzan. The best thing in Parzan was the cafe at the petrol station. We filled ourselves with chorizo baguettes and beer.
A hostal rural in the village cost €35 for the night for a room for the three of us. We booked in and immediately took turns in the shower, washing ourselves and our socks.
The next day we continued along the HRP towards the Lago de Urdizeto which turned out to be a busy, disappointing reservoir. The road to the lake was dusty, winding and steep. We didn’t stay long at the reservoir, we ate lunch and continued downhill to the refugio de Biados.
The last few kilometres of the walk were hard. We’d run out of water and the day was hot. The final climb to the refuge was exhausting. We arrived at the hut, collapsed to the ground then drank litres of water before finding the (very grumpy) warden and booking in for the night.
We got our first experience of a Pyrenean thunder storm that night. Flashes of lightning illuminating the dorm and thunder booming through the hills. Looking out of the window we saw bolts of lightning striking the Posets massif.
Our next destination was the Estos hut, only another 10km or so further on. The walk started in good weather but a storm broke as we approached a high pass. Quickly donning our waterproofs we moved as fast as we could over the ridge, through the closing thunder. Descending into the next valley the weather improved and the waterproofs put away.
Daz walked on ahead of us and was soon out of sight. Helen and I arrived at the hut after a few hours expecting to see him propping up the bar but there was no sign. We asked the staff ‘have you seen a bald Englishman?’ but they hadn’t. We bought cokes and sat on the verandah to enjoy the view. Way down below us a familiar figure appeared. It looked up towards us and we waved. Daz had missed the path and descended too low! We didn’t laugh too much when he arrived.
Another night in another hut and we were ready for our final day in the mountains. We took the GR11 path down the mountains to Benasque, described in the guidebook as ‘the fleshpots’. We didn’t see much evidence of that but there were several nice bars, a good campsite and a bus station.
After a night on a commercial campsite we packed for the final time and went to the bus station and bought a ticket for Zaragoza, the nearest town of any size.
After a rest day in Gavarnie where we enjoyed restaurant food, ice cream and beer we packed once again and joined the HRP towards Barroude. The path climbed steeply up towards the Refuge des Espuguettes then dropping down along the Western wall of the Cirque d’Estaube. Plodding bored down some switchbacks on the road we were surprised when a British registered Nissan SUV stopped and asked if we’d like a lift.
We certainly did.
We were driven down to the valley and deposited at the campsite near Chapelle de Heas. We thanked our countryman and booked into the campsite.
The mist rolled in and we headed for an early bed.
The next morning we left Heas and climbed up towards the Aguila hut. The visibility was still poor and we decided to make a short day of it to see if the weather would improve. We settled down in the hut and played cards for the remainder of the day before spending the night there.
After Aguila we set off for the Hourquette de Heas to take the path to Barroude and the hut there.
The path was unclear. Part misty, part snow covered and all over a jumble of rocks. We weren’t confident we’d be able to stay on the right path so we decided on an alternative. Descending to the bottom of the valley we could follow an easier path and reclimb up towards Barroude.
A few hours later we were back on the snow, following boot prints to the hut. Walking the last few Km through the mist we felt as though we were on a wide open plateau -we could see nothing.
We booked into the hut and sat down for a coffee. The mist outside briefly lifted and the Barroude wall appeared. This is a long high wall forming a barrier beyond the lac de Barroude.
We were some of the first guests of the refuge this season, the hut had only reopened the day before. We paid for dinner and waited excitedly for it to arrive. To date, the food we’d had in refuges had been excellent; tasty, plentiful and restoring. We were keen to see what we’d receive in Barroude.
Steaming bowls of a rich tomato soup and plates of bread arrived and were scoffed quickly. The warden brought us a large kilner jar of homemade pate. Delicious.
Time passed and our hunger grew. What would be the main course? A stew? What delight awaited us?
Time continued to pass and we muttered amongst ourselves “I think this pate is IT!”. “Thats no good, I want something more”. “Well, if thats all there is, I’m going for it!”
I tucked in to more of the pate. Then more. Then dinner arrived! A stew of beef and vegetables. I felt bad that I’d eaten so much of their pate. Leaving too little pate for them and too little room for my dinner.
One of the places in the Pyrenees I was most keen to see was the Breche de Roland. A gap in the wall between France and Spain. Legend has it that when Roland was fleeing the Moors he smashed his sword against the rock in an attempt to smash it. Instead, the rock broke and he and his soldiers escaped into France.
Geology tells a less exciting tale. The rock broke because it was weak.
I’d seen many pictures of the Breche in guidebooks and on websites and I was excited to see it. We left the Goriz refuge at the head of the Ordesa canyon and set off for the border. As we climbed the snow cover got deeper. It was firm and not icy so it was good to walk on without crampons. The sun shone down on us keeping us pleasantly warm in our shorts and T shirts as we walked over miles of snow.
The final approaches to the Breche were steep and a fall and a slip would have been a very long slide. We kept to the foot-worn path and made it safely to the border. There is a chain bolted to the rock wall to help the ascent but this was buried deep under the snow.
The French side of the Breche is the Glacier du Taillon which slopes down towards the Cirque du Gavarnie. We slid down the glacier on our backsides, the cold ice strangely refreshing against our shorts-clad selves. We stopped at the Soldats hut for a drink and a sandwich before carrying on down to Gavarnie where we stayed for 2 nights at the same campsite as before.
Friday 25th June
A relatively easy day. After the traditional breakfast of coffee and porridge we packed up and followed the path towards Ordesa. Crossing the Bujuaruelo bridge we turned right and followed a pleasant forest path. As the rivers are in their full snow-melt guise one of the stepping-stone crossings was more fun than expected. Boots off, sandals on and away we went.
After a few Km and hours the forest became a dirt road and a trudge for the rest of the way. We arrived at San Anton, paid to camp for the night, pitched, ate and walked a few Km into Torla where we enjoyed a cold beer and browsed in the shops. Afterwards we picked up some food and returned to our tents. Our neighbours on the site were an older British couple walking the range for a few days.
Saturday 26th June
Up at 7, left at 8.20. We walked the 800m back along the road to the mouth of the Ordesa canyon. Once in the canyon the footpath avoided the hairpins of the road, instead taking a steeper route through the forest on the southern side of the canyon. The first few Km were thick forest, which excluded most of the view. The forest thinned and occasionally gave way to clearings which allowed us to see the canyon walls towering above us. The path climbed and joined with the river and the crowds of visitors.
We passed sign after sign advertising waterfalls and viewpoints, great numbers of people milling about. We left the path to side beside the river to cook some lunch. Cous-cous. I couldn’t manage to prime the stove as it was too hot. Everytime I let some fuel into the stove it evaporated before I could get it lit. Cous cous abandoned, we set off again hungry.
Climbing steeply once more we found ourselves at the broad end to the canyon, a large meadow with huge walls to three sides. Pushing through the crowds of day-trippers we crossed the bridge and joined the scree path up to the canyon-side. A steep climb and a couple of hundred metres we were at the top -ish. We followed the path around above cola de caballo waterfall and along the side passage towards Monte Perdido and the Goriz hut. Although the map showed the linear distance from waterfall to hut as about 1Km it seemed interminable. Guarded by two loose scrambling sections and a steep slog the hut sits between Ordesa, Monte Perdido and the Breche de Roland. After almost 8 hours of walking we finally made it!
At a height of 2180m this was our highest camp to date. From where I sit to write this Ordesa is far below, Monte Perdido is behind and above.
The two Brits from last nights camp site made it here a while after us.
We ate dinner twice this evening, to make up for the lack of lunch.
Tomorrow it is through the Breche and back to France
We spent the night camping on a rocky area near to the Goriz hut under the slopes of Monte Perdido.
I’d never been up Ben Nevis before and had heard mainly bad things about the ‘Tourist Route’ -recently rebranded the ‘Mountain Track’ to imply a level of seriousness and to reduce the number of mountain rescue team callouts.
A bit of research led me to the Carn Mor Dearg Arete route (CMD arete). This route takes a more scenic and challenging approach from the Northern side of the mountain and an extended time on a high ridge.
I followed a route from the Walkhighlands website. It began at the car park for the Glen Nevis visitor centre (Parking £3 for the day).
The route begins along the river then picks up the main ‘mountain track’ as far as the ‘Halfway Lochan’. Here the tourist herd turn right and my route turned left.
I wouldn’t see another soul for over an hour after this point.
The path contoured around the end of the mountain before entering the valley between Ben Nevis’ North face and Carn Mor Dearg.
After a while I reached the CIC hut, a private bothy for climbers.
From here it was a steep climb over loose scree, boulders and up a snow field. Eventually I reached the ridge and stopped to admire the view. On my living room wall I have a large, framed poster of the North Face of Ben Nevis. Until today I’d never seen it. Now, the scene before me was the same as the poster. The famous ridges and buttresses spread out in front of me.
The ridge was mostly clear of snow, only patches below the top remained. I was equipped with an ice axe and crampons but was glad not to need them. The scrambling wasn’t too difficult and the conditions were perfect; not a breath of wind and bone dry rock.
Reaching the summit of Carn Mor Dearg I stopped for a brief lunch before continuing on descending first then re-climbing to the edge of Ben Nevis.
Between me and the summit now was a steep boulder field without clearly defined paths. I scrambled, clambered, walked and shuffled upwards and towards the top. After an eternity I realised that the view ahead of me contained more sky than rock. I was nearing the summit! Spurred on I sped towards the blue.
After hours alone I reached the summit and the hordes of tourists enjoying the May sunshine.
There were dozens of people sat, wandering, being photographed, exploring the summit. The trig point was crowded, the ruins surrounded. There was even what appeared to be a fridge strapped to someones backpack!
The weather forecast had said there would be rain later in the afternoon and I didn’t want to wait for it on the summit of the UK’s highest mountain.
After ten minutes I was off again.
As part of my preparations I’d marked my map with the bearings and distances for the safe descent in poor visibility.
I could clearly see the way down but for interests sake I followed the compass bearings to see how it compared to the ground in front of me.
The route taken by the masses closely matched the bearings I was following, so I followed the people and the footprints.
The descent route was still very deep in snow so I used a ‘ski-less’ skiing technique to get down quickly. Slipping, sliding and skidding down the snow field to the zigzags of the mountain track.
The snow cover extended far past the top of the zigzags and so I decided to keep on sliding, skidding and slipping down the mountain. Most of the crowd had by this time returned to following the zigzags but a few of us remained on the snow.
The direct route over the snow saved so much time over the tedious looking zigzags I was back at the halfway lochan in no time.
Stopping to remove my gaiters and have a drink I looked back up, impressed at the ground I’d covered.
Back on the mountain track I was back at the car in a little over an hour.
Overall I’d been out for 8 hours 10 minutes. The guide reckoned 10-12 hours!
Travelling over the snow had definitely been worth it.
I’ve visited Snowdonia several times over the years, never backpacking and never in the Carneddau. Always went to the South side of the Ogwen Valley road.
During the ML training we spent two days wandering around the Northern end of the Carneddau. It really whetted my appetite for a further exploration.
Maps were ordered, received and studied, Google Earth was zoomed, panned and tilted and a plan was formed. I realised that I could take the train to the North coast and make a four-day circuit of the area, taking in many of the main peaks.
Easter weekend became the obvious choice of dates, four non-working days where my wife would be able to look after the children without taking any of her precious leave (which she ran out of months before, the perils of a ‘normal job’). The return train ticket from Bradford to Llanfairfechan (a short distance before Bangor) was about £45, not too far off the cost of diesel in the car and without the hassle of finding a suitable parking spot for four days.
From Llanfairfechan I could be into open countryside, climbing into the mountains within 2 miles, it was the ideal starting point. Excitingly I discovered en route that Llanfairfechan was a request stop and I needed to speak to the guard to ensure the driver knew to stop! The departure required me to flag down the train to get on board -I never knew this was ‘a thing’ that one could do in the UK.
Day 1: Llanfairfechan to Dulyn Bothy
My only previous experience of the Carneddau was in the Llyn Anafon area – an attractive spot a few miles inland from Aber Falls. My first day’s walking took me over some familiar ground into the mountains. From Llanfairfechan I followed a good trail to the west of the Anafon valley over Foel Ganol up to Drum. The sun was shining and the air was warm -quite unlike my last experience of North Wales which was positively Wintery. I stripped to baselayers and fixed the solar panel for my PowerMonkey charger onto the top of my backpack. A few Km into the walk I came across a group of three Americans, exploring the area before heading off elsewhere on a European tour. They were holding up a guidebook and trying to fit its sketch maps to the view in front of them. “Hi” one of them said to me, “Is this Drum?” he continued, pointing at a hill to the East. “No” I replied. “Drum is a few Km further on, you can’t see it from here”. I took my OS map from my belt pack and showed them. “Wow, you have a topo!” he said, sounding genuinely impressed. I showed them Drum and we all carried on together along the track chatting. After a few hundred metres more we’d separated, they stopped for photos and I carried on ahead.
As I wandered alone I began to daydream. I thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool to bump into Chris Townsend (Backpacking legend) when out in the mountains’. I looked up from my thoughts and heading towards me was a familiar face. Not Chris Townsend, but Dan English. A friend I’d met on the ML training months before and had since been backpacking around Helvellyn with. “Hello!” I said, with a broad smile and most likely a surprised look. “Hi, fancy seeing you here” he replied. We walked together to the summit of Drum, from where Dan had recently left. We sat and chatted a while, discussing our plans and discovered that we planned to wild camp in the same place the next night. After a short break we said good bye and went our separate ways.
From Drum I left the clearly marked trail and set off on a bearing across the hillside towards Dulyn Reservoir. The ground was generally fine for walking, tussocky grass with only the occasional boggy part. After a while the reservoir came into view, bounded at its Western edge by the cliffs of Craig y Dulyn
As I approached the reservoir I kept my eyes open for a suitable place to pitch my tent for the night. There were a few spots here and there above the lake I made a mental note of one or two as I passed. Before pitching I went to check out the bothy, an old mine building a few hundred metres from the lake.
As I took the trail for the bothy I saw the perfect wild(ish) camp site. An area of perfectly flat ground -obviously man-made not far from the lake shore. That was the place for me!
The bothy is a small hut, containing two rooms, one sleeping and one communal cooking area. There was a small dome tent pitched on the front porch area. I opened the door and received a friendly greeting from the occupants. About 5 people were there, all set up for the night. They asked if I was going to join them, I told them no, I would camp near the lake.
I left the bothy and returned to my perfect camp spot.
I put down my pack and got out my Hilleberg Akto. Within a few minutes it was up and I was moving in. The weather was perfect for wild camping, clear skies, not too cold. The ground under the tent was a little hard but the pegs went in deep enough for me to be happy -perhaps not too happy in a storm!
After I’d got myself set up and a brew on a group of five more people arrived, looking to camp. They told me there were now about ten people in the bothy. That would make for a warm night in there!
Dinner was ‘look what we found’ meatballs and a pasta mugshot (tikka). It tasted fine and was the heaviest meal in the bag so I was glad to eat it first.
As the evening went on I wandered on the hill above the reservoir took some photos and watched some of the wild ponies graze. As usual, I was in bed before 10pm.
A nocturnal need had me getting out of them tent at about 2am. I saw the most amazing night sky. So many stars! I’m always happy to have woken up when that is my reward.
Day 2: Dulyn to Ffynnon LLugwy (Easier typed than said!)
The second day dawned cool and clear, another cloudless sky.
After a quick breakfast of Alpen I packed my kit away and set off uphill towards Melynllyn, a smaller lake slightly higher than Dulyn. A clear track, presumably used by the miners led the way to the second lake. The bothy was clear to see back down the valley and the calls of birds could be heard.
At Melynllyn I took out the map to decide where I was going next.
I had an idea of where I wanted to go, just not exactly how I was going to get there. Looking across the lake I saw the mountain walls that I needed to be on top of. The most sensible approach was to climb up the shorter hill to the left and then circle around the lake from above.
After a short climb I followed a stream onto the top of the hill. The views were excellent, back to the North from where I’d come and down to the South West towards Carnedd Llewelyn and South to Cwm Eigiau. Studying the map I decided to head towards Llewelyn and from there take a ridge to the South East towards Pen yr Helgi Du.
It was easy enough to get to the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn as the weather was good but the ground was fairly featureless from this side, it could be a different proposition in mist or darkness.
The views South West from the Llewelyn summit are amazing. The black ladders (Ysgolion Duon) of Carnedd Dafydd look imposing from across the valley.
The ridge SE from Llewelyn looked fantastic walking. Undulating a little, with sheer cliffs on the Northern edge, terminating with a scramble up the edge of Pen yr Helgi Du.
The walking was great, comfortable terrain, great views, great weather. I looked ahead at the scramble up Pen yr Helgi Du, hoping that it was ‘just’ a scramble and I wasn’t going to get stuck halfway up and need Ogwen valley MRT to come and unstick me.
The ridge walk was fairly quiet, in fact, I’d not really seen anyone since I left camp in the morning. The Carneddau really are the quiet side of the Ogwen Valley -unjustifiably so, there is great walking to be had here.
After a while I came to a steep downward section of ridge and I needed to put away my poles and get my hands on the rock. I love scrambling but it really is a lot better when you’re not carrying a heavy backpack.
I was getting closer to Pen yr Helgi Du and I was confident that I could make the summit without issue. There was a path off to the side if I needed a last minute change of route.
Keeping my poles strapped to my pack I began the climb up the edge of Pen yr Helgi Du. The rock was firm and dry, the sun shining. It felt great to be scrambling alone, hardly a soul in sight as I ducked and weaved between overhanging rocks to the summit.
I gained the summit and found I had the whole plateau to myself. Taking advantage of the solitude I dropped my pack, took off my boots and socks and lay down in the sunshine.
After re-fitting by boots I carried on, following a compass bearing towards Pen Llithrig y Wrach and a col between the mountains.
I stopped for a lunch of Primula cheese, Chorizo, Tuna and Pitta breads on the rocks of Bwlch Tri Marchog. Looking at Pen Llithrig I thought it looked uninspiring and debated whether or not to bother with it.
I decided to climb it, for completeness sake, but without my pack.
I stashed my backpack behind some rocks and set off unencumbered to the summit. There and back was less than an hour and I was right, it was uninspiring. Decent enough views down the far side though!
Returning to my pack I now set off contouring around the hillside towards Glan Llugwy and the track to the lake. I followed faint animal tracks through the heather and then climbed onto the Southern spur of Pen yr Helgi Du.
Ffynnon Llugwy came into view far below and I needed to pick a route to get down. Directly beneath me were steep rocky drops so I walked South a little way to a boundary fence and descended to the access track to the lake.
As I was hoping to meet up with Dan this evening I thought I’d best chose a pitch which would be visible to him on his approach. I checked the map and decided where I thought his most likely approach would be. I pitched the tent on a finger of land which lead into the lake. It was decently flat and not too exposed as the forecast was more increasing wind and some rain.
I got the tent up, made a brew, boiled some water for the evening and went for a lie down in the tent. A short while later a familiar voice outside asked if anyone was home.
Dan pitched his tent near to mine and we set about making our dinner. I went for the gourmet option of a packet of Mediterranean vegetable cous-cous to which I added some chunks of chorizo and chopped up dried apricots. It tasted fantastic! We joked about our last trip where I’d experimented with a packet of mixed grains with Quinoa. I somehow managed to burn this and leave it cold! It was horrid. I’ll be sticking to cous cous or pasta in future.
The evening grew chilly so we both took to our tents, continuing the chat through sheets of nylon. There were three other tents pitched about the lake that evening. Unsurprising really as it was a short walk up from the road.
Day 3: Ffynnon Llugwy to Afon Anafon
The next morning brought light showers and a breeze. We packed quickly and set off our separate ways. Dan had originally thought of joining me on the first few Km of my walk towards Pen yr Ole Wen but changed his mind when he realised he could instead head for the Moel Siabod cafe for a fry up! We parted company at the road head and I began to climb up and over Craig Llugwy towards Ffynnon Lloer and Pen Yr Ole Wen.
Many times I’ve seen Pen Yr Ole Wen from the campsite in the valley (Gwern Gof Isaf) and fancied walking up it, especially something scrambly but I’d never got around to it.
Approaching ‘Ole Wen’ from the East I could see the rocky spur where I’d find a route to the summit. Arriving at the lakeside I found what looked like a path heading up into the rocks. It looked like a sensible scrambling route so I put away the poles, adjusted the pack and set off upwards.
The scrambling was great fun. Good holds, good foot placements and brilliant views. One part was a large, smooth slab with nobbles of quartz poking out. On a wet day a slip here could have been very serious I thought as I scrambled up.
After a while I reached the summit and enjoyed the views back over the Ogwen Valley. Familiar peaks of Tryfan and the Glyders. I made a note to climb Y Garn next time I’m here it is a very attractive mountain.
The weather forecast today predicted poor visibility and strong gusts on ‘exposed ridges’ -much like the Carneddau ridge that I would be on in an hour or so.
Ironically, the poor visibility was easy to see, a wall of mist creeping down from the North East and I was walking straight towards it.
I set off towards Carnedd Dafydd and before I was halfway there I was in thick mist. The wind, as predicted picked up and I was suddenly very cold. I made a quick stop at a cairn shelter to add layers, check and set compass bearings and was on my way again. I got to Carnedd Daffydd in a short time and reset the compass. There was a family of about six people taking shelter and deciding what to do. I set off into the mist, all too aware of the sharp drop from the black ladders to my left. Typically, that was the direction the wind wanted to push me so I kept a fair distance from the edge, but close enough that I could see it and use it as a ‘handrail’.
After what felt like hours I got to the ascent up to Carnedd Llewelyn. This felt like hard work. I was hot in my layers, but would have been cold without them. I got to the summit about midday but didn’t want to hang around to eat my lunch. I rechecked the map, reset a compass bearing and strode off towards Foel Grach. A voice behind me caught my attention. A man from a group of three friends and a dog asked if they could walk with me as they were unsure of the way. I said they could but made no promises as to competence!
Finding the path was tricky, the limit of visibility was perhaps 10-15m and the best I had to go on was a bearing from the day before, when it was clear.
We walked a little way, found a faint track which was close enough to my expected bearing so we followed it, chatting as we went. After a few hundred metres I began to doubt we were on the right track. I stopped, checked bearings, contours and all the other bits on the map. We had drifted slightly to the East and downhill.
I set a new bearing and we started off, regaining some of the height we’d lost. The going was OK, terrain fairly firm and grassy. After fifteen minutes or so we arrived at what we believed to be the rocky summit of Foel Grach but there was no sign of the shelter I’d been expecting to find there. We searched a small area but to no avail.
I was certain we were at the summit, but where was the shelter?! I took out my smartphone and used an app to get a grid reference. A minute or so later our location was confirmed. We were at the summit, only about 20m from the shelter. We walked towards where the map said the shelter was and almost missed it. The mist thinning just enough to make it out.
We piled into the shelter glad to be out of the wind. It was small and dark, really not a place to spend a night except in an emergency. I ate a quick lunch and we put on the packs, locked the shelter behind us and walked off towards Foel Fras.
After Foel Fras the wind abated and the mist lifted (or perhaps we descended below it!) We could now see the hills in front of us and some of where we’d come from.
Drum was the next hill and we passed with only a brief stop at the summit. We continued down the track where I’d begun my journey. My fellow travellers were heading for Rowen and a well-earned pint.
I said good bye and set off to Pen Bryn Du and a descent into Afon Anafon. I was aiming for an old sheep fold where we’d stayed on the ML course. It was flattish ground and the walls made a good wind break. Following a stream down into the valley floor my home for the night came into view.
The night was peaceful. I spent a lot of time just soaking up the views and drinking coffee and hot chocolate.
Day 4: Afon Anafon to Llanfairfechan
The next morning was calm and clear. I felt no urgency to hurry so I made a brew, ate my breakfast and enjoyed the morning before packing away.
The track out was easy walking and each step gave better views to the North and the coast.
After a few hours I was on the coast. The last few miles on the North Wales Coastal path back to Llanfairfechan and the train home.