Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Walking the Moelwyns

Walking Moelwyn Mawr and Bach

This weekend was a bit of an big trip for me: A wild camp in the Moelwyns/Moelwynion, with 17 miles of walking and over a mile of ascent. No matter how I try, I still don't feel able to lighten my pack enough, and the strain on my knees was really telling by the end of the trip! The adventurous route started from Blaenaeu Dolwyddelan, up Yr Arddu, detoured to Cnicht, then doubled-back to Moelwyn Mawr and Bach. after a brief camp around there somewhere, I then planned to head back as directly as possible to the start point. 

The weather in the week leading up had been a mix of cold, heavy snow and sunshine. I arrived Saturday, (23rd November) morning at Blaenau Dolwyddelan to temperatures of -4°C in the valleys and beautiful frost. I had packed crampons and ice axe in the van just in case, but on arrival the tops were clear and these obviously weren't needed, so were left behind. The low winter sun shone all day, slowly turning the firm but nicely frozen tundra on the Moelwyns into their typical boggy condition.

Allt Fawr and Moel Druman on a frosty start from Blaenau Dolwyddelan


Ice, formed some days earlier, on Yr Arddu
Looking over to Allt-fawr and Moel Druman from Yr Arddu, 53.032608, -3.984698
Frosty Llynau'r Cwn
I trekked over Yr Arddu, Cnicht, and just about had time to make it up Moelwyn Mawr and Bach before sunset.

A busy Cnicht
Moelwyn Bach and Trawsfynydd on the way up the east side of Moelwyn Mawr
Summit of Moelwyn Mawr - no snow.
Sunset reflecting in the sea beyond Portmadog over Moelwyn Bach.
After arriving back down at the abandoned quarries at Cwmorthin in the almost-complete darkness, I night-nav'ed to find a sufficient camp-site near Llyn Cwm-corsiog. The stars were only partly visible through the broken cloud, but still very impressive, despite a little bit of light pollution coming up Cwm Cwmorthin from Blaenaeu Ffestiniog. It was late and I wasn't particularly hungry, so I drank some more water to re-hydrate (I'm terrible at drinking enough during the day), then settled down for the night without supper, snug in my Rab Ascent 700 down sleeping bag. 

I slept on-and-off between 1930 and 2230, then only stirred thereafter for the occasional curl up until waking at 0615. The temperatures didn't drop below 0 overnight: the ground just remained damp. Dawn arrived with very little fanfare, just a brightening of the grey overcast sky. But at least it wasn't raining, or windy!

A dull overcast dawn overlooking Llyn Cwm-corsiog and Moel Druman. Not as dry as it looked...
I compensated for no supper by making a double-breakfast of freeze-dried roast veg couscous with added chicken and vegetable soup (the soup adds extra calories, fluid, and texture), followed by instant seeded porridge with fudge hot chocolate and dried blueberries. Hot chocolate single sachets are the best way to buy dried milk, in my opinion: they can be drunk alone or added to fortify your breakfast.

Soon, though, my cold, damp, FREEZING feet told me it was time to get a move on! I headed indirectly toward Moel Druman by skirting around the contours to Llyn Terfyn then along the path. After summitting Druman I continued northeast, past Allt-fawr (one peak too many!), over Moel Dyrnogydd, then along the miner's trail and across the horrible, ankle-twisting-tussocked scrub to Hendre Farm and my starting point.

Snowdon & Glyderau Conditions

Conditions in the Snowdon and Glyder massifs looked impressive from the Moelwyns this weekend:
Snow was above 600m, so both Crib Goch, and Crib y Ddysgl were covered.

There was also significant snow cover on the Glyders, although Y Foel Goch (to the southeast) and Y Garn (to the north) did not appear to have any settled frozen stuff.

Saturday's Route View Larger Map

Sunday's Route View Larger Map

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Dinas Cromlech For Beginners

On a sunny Saturday in June 2013, Craig and I went to Dinas Cromlech. It was to be our first multipitch climbing adventure, on our own, without grown-up supervision, so we were considering one or two classic VDiffs to gain experience "out there". We arrived at 8am, a time that we thought would be early enough, at Cromlech Boulders just in time to bag the last parking space. In my pack was my brand-new, shiny, unscratched rack, ready for action: no more borrowed gear for me! To add to the atmosphere and experience, I had decided, in my wisdom, that I should ape, as closely as I could, the gear used by the first ascensionists of these routes. So with my La Sportiva Trango Alp boots on my feet (the nearest I could get to hobnail boots) rather than tight-fitting rock shoes, we started up the access path to the crag.

Flying Buttress VDiff

Pitch 1, Flying Buttress

We chose to begin on the Flying Buttress. Flying Buttress is a classic route in the true meaning of the word: enjoyable moves, flowing rock, not too difficult, but a tangible sense of adventure (mainly through overhanging exposure). In no hurry, we allowed another pair to go ahead of us to allow us to relax and absorb the atmosphere of the Cromlech City.

Craig led the first pitch, which in reality was a steep and slightly polished scramble. I led the second, which was more of the same, but slightly complicated by a short descending section into a gully at the end. Craig's turn again: pitch 3 begins with an exciting and exposed traverse around the cliff face, before heading upward to the belay point. Then, surprisingly (to me, anyway), he didn't stop. He managed to combine the sinuous (but straightforward) pitch 4 while using a single rope and introducing virtually no drag. I was impressed! This did, however, leave the final angled chimney pitch to me. I used a combination of classic sling usage technique and modern camming (use ‘em where you can!) to gain advantage over the early 20th century gentlemen climbers. It didn't make getting into the chimney any easier though, and I found that a traditional "beast" technique eventually won the day.

Spiral Stairs VDiff (Partly)

Pitch 2, Spiral Stairs: exposure included

Having polished one multi-pitch route off to our satisfaction, we were eager for more. The next VDiff on the Cromlech, heading back toward the path, is Spiral Stairs. This has a scramble for the first "pitch", one that has since become the main access for the famous E1+ routes like Cenotaph Corner and Cemetary Gates. Eager to practice our belay building, we roped up anyway and managed to partially obstruct anyone trying to access the aforementioned famous routes.

After the scramble, the second pitch was again Craig’s honour and again an exposed overhanging traverse. He appeared to be getting quite confident at this point! I cleared my belay and climbed past him and on toward "The Forest". Here we bumped into the team who went up Flying Buttress before us, and assumed that they were again on the same route as us: Spiral Stairs. It didn’t twig that we hadn’t seen them on the first 2 pitches. I waited for them to clear the belay below a very impressive, almost vertical "off-width" crack. At least, I think it was off width: it was definitely wider than a fist, perhaps even wider than a solid, modern, mountaineering boot.

Wrong Way

Not Spiral Stairs!

"Can I lead this one, Craig? You’ve had all the exciting stuff so far!", I begged. And so, with Craig’s resigned blessing, it fell to me to lead what I thought was the next pitch of Spiral Stairs. After the first couple of moves up a short pinnacle, I was having doubts. By the time I’d climbed about 10m with very tenuous gear, limited holds and an iffy sling, I was just thinking about how to get out of there. Can we ab out? No, I’d have to leave something behind. What’s my fall factor looking like? It's okay, apart from that narrow shelf about 2m below. Where are the hand holds? Can you smear in boots? Why are there so many perfect rock shoe holds?! There’s no way I’m calling mountain rescue, I know people on the Llanberis MRT! And they're busy enough as it is without worrying about muppets who exceed their abilities. Time to "Man Up" then!

Eventually, with the mantra “trust the shoes” ringing in my ears, I did indeed "Man Up" and plumped for a boot jammed in the crack, which was only just narrow enough, and stepped up for a positive hold. Phew, what relief! Big boots do have their place, just as they did on the First Ascent in 1931. After then, the climb was relatively simple, completed by my beasting several moves further to the top. Here I found a traditional 1930s belay anchor rock the size of a small car, solid and immovable. I walked the rope around it, clove-hitched in and prepared to belay Craig. He followed up shortly with the words, “there’s no way that’s a VDiff!”. Quite.


Happy clamberers

Once safe, we reflected on the North Wales Rock guide. It appeared that our route finding had been a little off, and in my excitement to see the other climbers I’d inadvertently followed them up Pitch 2 of Sabre Cut (VS 4c), which I have on good authority is "a hard pitch at VS too". Self-sand-bagged!!

After all the excitement, we picked our way delicately back down the loose and potentially lethal descent path. Following a brief chat with a "hypothermic" Stu McAleese concerning the dampness on Cenotaph Corner, we returned to the car then toddled off to the Heights in Llanberis for a self-congratulatory pint for out-smarting Nature and not becoming a Darwin Awards statistic.

Right, when’s the next adventure?

Monday, 19 August 2013

Moel Siabod, by Lizzie, Mountaineer (Aged 7¾)

Candy Floss

Daddy had been saying he would take me up another mountain for ages. Today he suggested Moel Siabod.

I've been on two mountain walks before: Y Fal (Sugar Loaf) in the Brecon Beacons and Devil's Kitchen in the snow.

I hoped it would be cloudy. I've always wanted to taste the clouds. I think they will taste of candy floss. Daddy says they're just wet.


Daddy parked at Bryn Glo, a free car park at the south end of the A5 just as it leaves Capel Curig. He did his jammy trick of finding the last free space again.

The weather was Sunny, clear and warm. Not too hot or humid, nor too cold: just right.

First we walked carefully along the busy road, then over a very old bridge called Pont Cyfyng. Daddy says "pont" is Welsh for "bridge". He doesn't know what "Cyfyng" means. We watched the water pouring over the waterfalls for a bit and played Pooh Sticks.

A little way along the road, we turned up a track that became a path. This was a bit steep and I was soon tired. Daddy bribed me with Haribo Tangfastics, and this kept me going until we reached the old quarry. We stopped here for a little snack (it was lunchtime). Daddy showed me a special place where you can look right along the surface of the quarry pool. We found a geocache near here, almost without looking! There was a small doll travel bug in it that had buttons for eyes. I didn't like it because it reminded me of "Coraline".

Exploding Volcanoes

Llyn Y Foel, a Caldera, Moel Siabod.

We carried along the path toward the big lake called Llyn y Foel. Daddy said that this is a caldera, which is a hole left when a volcano explodes. This one was made when the side of Siabod blew up, millions of years ago.
About now, a big cloud formed over Siabod. I might get to taste cloud! It did keep us cool though, and kindly didn't rain on us at all. We headed across the boggy paths past the lake. I was so light I didn't leave any footprints in the bogs. Sometimes Daddy sunk in to his ankles!

Walk, or Climb?

Now we reached the Daear Ddu (Daddy's translation: "Black Earth") ridge. It is a big rocky ridge, with an easy path up the back of it.

Daddy asked: "Walk? Or climb?" I wasn't sure.
Daddy said, "When you're back at school, and someone asks, 'what did you do this weekend?', your friends will say: 'we went shopping'; or 'visited granny'; or 'played in the park.'
"You can say: 'I climbed a MOUNTAIN!' "
Then Daddy asked again: "Walk? Or climb?" I said: "CLIMB!"

At the top of my first pitch! Daear Ddu, Moel Siabod
And so we put our climbing harnesses on. Daddy shortened the rope, so that I was always in view and didn't have too much distance to climb to him. Before we started, Daddy taught me the commands: "Safe!"; "Climb when Ready!"; "Climbing!" And then we were ready. Daddy went up a bouldery but grippy rock slab a little way and made himself safe. Then I climbed up to Daddy while he body-belayed me, and when I reached him he made me stand in a safe place.

We did this for the whole ridge. After each climb, Daddy asked, "the same or harder?". I kept saying harder! But we reached one section that I just couldn't climb. Daddy had already climbed it and tried to "climb like a small person", keeping his arms short and taking very little steps. But he didn't climb it small enough, so had to winch me up! Daddy said, "Are you ready? One, two, three..." then pulled. I half-climbed, and was half-pulled a little way up. He said it again, and I moved up a little bit further. He said it a few more times. Each time I moved up a little more, until I could see him and easily climb over the top of the big rocks. After that, Daddy didn't make it any harder. At first I had been scared, but afterwards I decided that this bit had been fun!

Seconding like a professional, Daear Ddu, Moel Siabod.
Near the top of the path, the ground became flatter. Daddy decided to use the whole 35m rope length to cover the ground more quickly, but he was worried about leaving me standing on my own. Daddy decided that I should "belay" him, like a proper climber. Daddy put a big sling around a rock, then attached me to it on a carabiner: I was going nowhere. As Daddy climbed, I "belayed" him, paying out the rope bit by bit and making sure it didn't get tangled. When Daddy reached the top, he set up a belay where he was, then I "seconded", dismantling the belay and collecting the sling and other gear as I went.

On Top Of The World Mountain

On the top, YAY! Moel Siabod.
The last little bit to the top was an easy scramble/walk so we didn't need the rope any more. I made it! YAY! At the very top of Moel Siabod is a trig point: a little stone tower that Daddy said they used in the olden days to measure how big all the mountains were. I had to stand on the trig point because it was the highest place on the mountain and Daddy said it didn't count unless I did. Daddy rewarded me with some more Tangfastics.

Left to right: Glyder Fach, me, Y Garn, Tryfan, Pen Yr Ole Wen.
The views from here were brilliant. It was a bit hazy, but we could see all of Snowdon and Tryfan and the Glyders, and even the Carneddau. All we then had to do was walk down the path on the other side of the mountain. I found this difficult because my legs were getting tired, but we did it carefully and actually very quickly.

Heading down the north path toward Capel Curig, Snowdon in the background

Soon we were walking back through the shade of the trees in the woods and along the stream. Daddy couldn't resist stopping to skim stones, and we both had a little paddle! The last bit of the walk was through flat fields and nice soft grass. Soon we crossed back over the bridge to the car park. When we got back I had a whole extra bag of crisps and daddy had a big flapjack. While we sat there a cheeky robin came toward us. Daddy threw some of the flapjack on the floor, which the robin ate and then it flew away.

What Next?

We drove back home along the Ogwen Valley toward Bethesda. Passing its most imposing resident, Daddy pointed to the mountain and asked, "Tryfan next?" Without hesitating, I said, "Aw, go on then!". I hope it will be cloudy...

Moel Siabod via Bryn Glo and Daear Ddu Ridge View Larger Map

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Wild Camp & Scramble in the Carneddau

A wild camp in the shadow of Ysgolion Duon (The Black Ladders) followed by a scramble up Crib Lem Spur then a bimble over the Northern Carneddau. What can go wrong? Well, nothing sinister, but the Northern Carneddau are bigger than you (or rather I) thought. And trekking across thick gorse, heather, bracken, reeds and bog on a hot sunny day from Y Drum to the Sychnant Pass was not our idea of fun! So, having mentioned it, let's talk about what, actually, was fun...

Walking in to Ysgolion Duon, Cwm Llafar, Carneddau

Walking into Ysgolion Duon was painless: we left my friend's house in Bethesda and walked through Gerlan until the road ran out and the paths began. We were welcomed by a friendly Jack Russell as we crossed the paths across fields to the CROW land. We made light work of crossing from the north to the south bank of the Cwm Llafar near the derelict dam. The weather was clear and bright, but humid and warm, making progress slow. We arrived at an adequate camp location a few hundred metres short of the Llech Ddu wall shortly after sunset, but we still had sufficient light to pitch our tents. Having done that, we set up and cooked by a huge boulder half in the Afon Llafar itself: Craig cooked his instant noodles on his solid fuel stove, while I boiled water, poured half of it over instant hot chocolate in my mug, then emptied packets of couscous and instant soup into my pot and let the heat do its work. Eating, waiting for nothing and watching the light fade. We briefly had company from a medium-sized rat: evidence to take even bio-degradable waste (e.g., apple cores) home.

Sunrise on The Llech Ddu wall, Cwm Llafar, Carneddau

In the morning, the clouds were brooding over Carnedd Dafydd. The sun briefly lit up the Walls of the Ladders and Llech Ddu below the clouds, before rising above them to re-establish the humidity. A few spots of rain indicated that now was the time to move, so we dismantled and packed up and made our way up the path to Crib Lem.

The scramble itself was uneventful but very entertaining, as Crib Lem so often is. The exposure was there as usual, especially with the cloud level well above the peaks. The wind was kind to us, allowing me to walk down most of the slab pitch, and the rain remained at bay, making the rock warm and dry and easy to negotiate.

Craig at the top of the slab, Crib Lem Spur, Carnedd Dafydd, Carneddau

Once on the top, we paused briefly to absorb the hazy view across Ogwen Valley to Tryfan, the Glyderau and the Snowdon Horseshoe. We then made our way toward and down the Bwlch Cyfrwyw-Drum, blatantly aware that the horrible slog  up Llewellyn lay ahead of us. Resigned to the misery, we picked a conversational pace and plodded and chatted on. Surprisingly, this tactic rendered the ascent impotent and time passed unnoticeably as we occupied our minds with inconsequential discussion.

Following a brief pause at the top of Llewellyn, we gained speed down toward and across Foel Grach and Carnedd Gwenllian (Uchaf, recently renamed after the only true Princess of Wales), pausing slightly while I dropped my bag to properly claim the "summit". That done and heading across to Foel Fras, we chose a more direct route than the frequented path with the intention of hitting Bwlch y Gwryd more quickly. The tedium of the route had begun to set in, and we were just trying to get to the car at the other end!

Shortly after arriving at the Bwlch, we stopped before the top of Y Drum for a short rest and refreshment. The once clear valley of Afon Anafon was now filled with sea fog, the southwest-bound ocean cloud battling against the prevailing north-westerly winds, and losing, making great swirls of vapour in the sky. But soon, as we summited Y Drum, the fog was winning: a chance to practice some poor-visibility navigation! Craig and I pulled out our maps and compasses and measured paces to cairns, fences, corners and any feature we could find on the map. This exercise enlivened our journey for the better until the fog cleared as we headed down Drosgl toward Bwlch Y Ddeufaen.

Sea fog versus wind: wind winning! Y Drum, Carneddau

And from here (as I began) was where the tedium set in. Variable fog, heat, humidity; no more accessible water; and a flat but heavily vegetated trudge toward the Sychnant Pass. At least we can say we've done it. I don't think I'll be doing it again in a hurry though!

Route map, from Bethesda to Sychnant Pass over the Carneddau View Larger Map