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