Ras y Moelwyn

Last Saturday, 21 April, was the Ras y Moelwyn (Moelwyn fell race) and as a bit of a last minute decision I decided to give it a go. I’ve wanted to do it for a few years now but have always found myself busy.

The weather was very fitting for April and waiting around at the start in Blaenau Ffestiniog we got a few short sharp showers. We were all very glad when the race actually began! The showers carried on for the first half-an-hour or so but it subsequently cleared up. It was the 25th anniversary of the race and the organisers had put on a bouncy castle and climbing wall which were both proving quite popular with the kids.

Start

A rather quick start to the race, in the pouring rain! Photo courtesy of Andrew Harrison.

The route (of around 9 miles and 3,300 ft of ascent) follows a large track up to the Cwmorthin and Rhosydd quaries. A very fast pace was set and maintained along most of this stretch and I was glad when the proper uphill sections arrived and the pace slowed somewhat! A grassy slope took us to the top of the highest point of the day – Moelwyn Mawr at 770m (translated as the great white hill) – and then over Craigysgafn to Moelwyn Bach (little white hill). This section was a little airy in places and very good fun. A steep grass and bog gully led us down to Llyn Stwlan. The llyn is used as part of a small hydro-electric power plant in the Vale of Ffestiniog.

Finish

Me very near the finish - I'm a lot more worn out than I look!

My fell running shoes – a four-year-old pair of Inov-8 Mudroc 290s – have pretty much no tread left on the balls of my feet and because of this I really had to slow down on the descents. I have ordered a new pair, but they haven’t arrived yet!

From Llyn Stwlan we headed up Moel-yr-hydd and then straight down its northern gully to Llyn Cwmorthin. The pace back along the track to Blaenau was again relentless and definitely the most physically draining part of the race! I finished in 1:43:30, just over 20 minutes behind the winner (Ifan Richards) who finished in 1:21:37. 124 took part and I think I finished in 37th.

Next week it’s the Three Peaks fell race, so from now until then I will be mainly trying to do as little exercise as possible!

Fell running on the Glyders and Carnedds

It dawned on me last week that I only had two weeks to go until the Three Peaks fell race and that the last long run I did was the Edale Skyline fell race a good few weeks ago – time to put some proper training in! I’ve also entered the Welsh 1000m Peaks race in June and so I thought I’d use the opportunity to recce the only part of the route I’ve never done before – Y Gribin ridge onto the Glyders.

I did the run yesterday as a variation on what could be described as the “Ogwen Horseshoe” – along the Gyders, down to Llyn Ogwen and back up onto the Carnedds. The variation I chose came out at 15 miles with 7000 feet of ascent. I parked at the base of the north ridge of Tryfan and headed up to Llyn Bochlwyd before picking up the obvious track up the Gribin ridge. I had a quick look to see if I could spot the Cneifon Arete (translated as the nameless arete) that I’ve fancied doing for a while now, but couldn’t pick it out of the mass of crags lining Cwm Idwal. From the top of the ridge it is less than a kilometre to the summit of the highest mountain in the Glyders – Glyder Fawr, standing at 1001m.

The ridge is down as a grade I scramble, though I definitely think it is at the lower end of the grade as most of the difficulties can be bypassed.

Pen yr Ole Wen

The view of Carnedd Dafydd from Pen yr Ole Wen, taken on one of the few runs when I chose to take my camera with me, over the Carnedds in the April of last year. The weather was quite a bit worse yesterday!

Until late 2010 the listed height of Glyder Fawr was 999m and as such it wasn’t included in the Welsh 1000m Peak race. However, new GPS measurements found the height to actually be 1000.8m and so a decision was made to include the mountain in the two fell running categories of the race. This year, the “elite” mountaineer’s categories will include the summit as well. This addition makes the long fell runners class (A) race a grueling 20 miles with 9000 feet of ascent – why did I enter this!?

From the summit of Glyder Fawr, I headed down to Llyn y Cwn and then onto Y Garn, before taking the eastern ridge straight down to Ogwen Cottage. The past few times I’ve been down this ridge, a new path was in the progress of being built, and it was a relief to see the new path fully in place yesterday – it certainly made the descent easier than the boggy/grassy mess it was before!

I had been planning on topping my water bottle at Ogwen Cottage and so had drank everything I had before I got down to the little takeaway stall in the car park. Unfortunately however, the little takeaway stall refused to fill my bottle up and so I was left with a choice of either water from the outlet of Llyn Idwal or water from the sinks in the toilets that was specifically marked as not drinkable. I presumed that the sink water was marked undrinkable as it was also from the outlet of Llyn Idwal and as I didn’t have much choice I filled up from there. The Carneddau are notoriously dry and I didn’t fancy my chances of finding a source higher up.

My route up Pen yr Ole Wen was via its south-western ridge, a route I’d never done previously. It was a drag and my legs started aching, but a bit of scrambling and the odd bit of steep scree added enough entertainment to keep me going. There was a good deal of snow about on the summit and I chose to eat this instead of drinking the water from down at Ogwen.

I followed the ridge along over Carnedd Dafydd and Llewellyn, before heading over to Pen yr Helgi Du and Pen Llithrig y Wrach and finally down to the A5. The weather closed in on the final section and for the first time all day I was forced to put my windshirt on as it started snowing. By the time I was down at the A5 this snow had turned to persistent drizzle and by the time I got back to the car I was drenched through. I can’t really complain though, as most of the run had been cloudless and with sunny intervals. The run took me 4 hours 30 minutes altogether.

My legs ache now but not too much and yesterday has definitely boosted my confidence that I’m (just about) fit enough for the Welsh 1000m Peaks race. I ended up drinking the water from my bottle and as of yet (touch wood) I haven’t fallen ill!

Sun and snow on the Isle of Skye

Seeing as my last post was well over a year ago, I thought I’d best make an effort to keep on top of this blog from now on! I might even add some posts retrospectively if I get the chance.

This post is about a trip to the Isle of Skye from Friday 30 March to Tuesday 3 April. The aim of the trip was to have a look at parts of the Cuillin Ridge and get a general feel for the place. Skye is completely different to any other mountain range in the UK, feeling distinctly Alpine but with Scottish island weather to contend with. For this reason, it offers difficulties and challenges that the mainland Munros don’t – the fact that Cicerone’s Walking The Munros book has a separate introduction to the Skye section outlining the seriousness of mountaineering in the area says it all!

The shear quantity of exposed gabbro rock makes the mountains extremely attractive to mountaineers and scramblers, and some fantastic fun can be had on many of the exposed and intricate ridges of the Cuillin range. They are often regarded as the finest mountains in Britain.

Friday

Imogen, Lorna and myself set off from Burneside at just gone 10am, in rather dull and cloudy weather. The further north we got, the better the weather became and by the time we stopped at Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond for lunch, the sun was out in full force and it felt like the middle of summer.

We stopped once more on the A82 over Rannoch Moor to make the most of some stunning views by Lochan na h-Achlaise. It’s usually either pitch black or awful weather when we’re driving over the moor and so it was nice to see what this beautiful area looks like in the sun!

Loch na h-Achlaise

Loch na h-Achlaise by the side of the A82. Most scenic road in the country?

Seawater-erosion

Interesting erosion on the beach at Elgol.

Upon reaching Skye, we detoured to the scenic harbour of Elgol in the south of the island. It had turned a bit cloudy and the views over Loch Scavaig to the Cuillin Hills was particularly dramatic. There was some rather interesting seawater-erosion in the cliffs on the beach, where the water had eroded the rocks into circular hollows. Eventually, we got to the campsite in Portnalong at just gone 7pm and pitched our tents, made tea and got an early night. The others (Alex, Charles, Daniel and Alex’s Dad, Don), arrived at just gone 1am.

Elgol

Looking out over Loch Scavaig to the Cuillin Hills from Elgol.

Saturday, the Cuillin Ridge

The Inn Pin

The Inn Pin

The weather forecast was surprisingly good for the day and so we all got up early to try and recce as much of the Cuillin Ridge as we could. We headed to Glenbrittle and the initial plan was to have a look at TD gap (widely regarded as the trickiest step on the ridge, graded at VDiff but apparently much harder), King’s Chimney (Diff) and possibly the Inaccessible Pinnacle (Sgurr Dearg). The In Pinn is graded a Mod climb and the only Munro that needs a rope to ascend.

It turned out we had walked into the wrong corrie (Coire Lagan) however and were too far along the ridge for TD gap and the King’s Chimney. We slogged up a scree slope to the left to gain the ridge and scrambled northwards towards the In Pinn, for the most part sticking to the ridge. Dependent on what guide you read, the ridge proper for this section gets the grade of Mod or even Diff, but our scrambling didn’t seem that difficult and so I can only presume that on the odd occasion we strayed from the ridge we were missing out the difficult sections. I probably enjoyed this section more than any other part of the ridge and it felt great to be soloing such an exposed ridge with such good rock and fantastic views.

Next came the In Pinn and Dan led the eastern ridge (Mod), which I found surprisingly easy. There was plenty of exposure and a bit of a wind made it entertaining in places. An abseil off the western face brought us to the main summit area of Sgurr Dearg, where we picked up the ridge and scrambled onwards towards Sgurr na Banachdich. This time the scrambling was much easier, at its most difficult around grade 1. From the summit of Sgurr na Banachdich, Lorna, Imogen, Dan and myself headed down the ridge over Sgurr nan Gobhar, whilst Alex and Charles carried along the ridge over Sgurr a Ghreadaidh. Another scree slope led us down to grassy slopes above the Glenbrittle Youth Hostel and we sat down basking in the warm evening sun.

The Cuillin Ridge

Looking back along the Cuillin Ridge and towards Sgurr Dearg from near Sgurr na Banachdich

We had a bit of an altercation with the campsite owner (I won’t go into the details!) that evening and so decided to move to the Glenbrittle campsite the following day.

Sunday, rain!

The weather was pretty miserable when we woke up and after moving to Glenbrittle we decided the best option was a coastal walk. It didn’t really brighten up all day, though it was nice taking in some sea air and giving our legs a rest after the previous day. That evening a few of us headed to the Old Inn in Carbost, a lovely little pub with log fire, decent beer, Scottish music and a very cosy feel.

Monday, Bla Bheinn (Blaven)

Bla Bheinn

Walking across to Bla Bheinn's south west summit

It was rather windy on the campsite when we woke up and Lorna, Imogen and myself decided the initial plan to recce TD gap and King’s Chimney wasn’t such an attractive idea anymore, and so we decided to do a walk up the only Munro on the island not on the main Cuillin ridge – Bla Bheinn. The others still went ahead with the initial plan.

The weather was actually quite good and it soon turned out that the wind was purely a localised effect on the campsite, as it seemed rather still everywhere else. The route we took up with via Bla Bheinn’s south-eastern ridge to a col between there and the Corbett Clach Glas, followed by a short scramble onto the summit. It is reckoned that Bla Bheinn offers some of the best views anywhere on Skye and it was easy to agree with this as when the clouds cleared we were greeted with some breathtaking views out of the sea and across to the Cuillin ridge. The fact that you are looking right down to sea level makes the views even more impressive.

Our descent was down the south-eastern ridge of Bla Bheinn’s south west summit and then back down Coire Uaigneich the same way as we came up. We stopped for a painfully-cold paddle in Allt na Dunaiche on the way back, which definitely helped revive my weary feet!

It started raining again that evening and so once again a few of us retired to the pub. Unfortunately, this time, they’d ran out of draught beer!

South west summit of Bla Bheinn

Lorna and Imogen on the south west summit of Bla Bheinn

Tuesday, snow!?

We were initial planning on staying up until Wednesday, however particularly strong winds during the night resulted in a few bent tent poles and so we decided to head home early. Also, rather surprisingly, we awoke to a thin layer on snow on the ground in the morning. Driving back it became clear just how much snow Scotland had received – the north-western mainland had a very thick covering and the mountains looked fantastic. A stark contrast to the sunny and warm weather earlier on in the week!

A82

The view from the A82 on the way back. It couldn't be much more different to earlier in the week!