Attack of the flies: Why not to bivvy without a midge net!

It’s not often that you get perfectly still bright sunny days out in Snowdonia, which probably describes why bringing a midge net didn’t even cross my mind on a bivvy trip me and Lorna did a couple of weeks ago. Bad mistake…

The Saturday was spent enjoying an impressive spectrum of colours and smells in the gardens of Powis Castle with my Mum and Dad, before we all headed to Snowdonia on the Sunday. The plan was for us to do a walk on Sunday and then for them leave me and Lorna there few a couple of days of Alps training. The walk we chose was the popular Carnedd Llewellyn horseshoe from Llyn Ogwen – comprising of the summits of Pen yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Daffydd and Carnedd Llewellyn. It’s a route I know well, but one that Lorna hasn’t done for many years. Unexpectedly, it was quite cloudy and Carnedd Llewellyn – the highest mountain in Wales outside of the Snowdon range – has a whispy covering for most of the day. It was still very hot though, and this made for hard work; by the time we were back at the car I hardly felt like the walk-in to our bivvy spot of Llyn Bochlwyd!

Powis Castle

Powis Castle

Clouds rolling over the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen

Clouds rolling over the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen

We picked the windiest spot we could find for the evening, though that only amounted to the odd breath every now and then. After a quick swim, we settled down for our tea of couscous and quiche, and before too long a black cloud of midges had descended. Even after applying Avon Skin So Soft (which apparently is a good midge repellent, though I’m not so sure I agree now), we were still being plagued, and so headed to bed. Unfortunately for me, the drawstring closure on my bivvy bag (an Alpkit Hunka) doesn’t close properly, and even if you do close it properly it’s very difficult to breathe inside the bag – a bit of a design flaw. This meant that I was still being plagued and after an hour or so of torture I gave in and somehow managed to squeeze into Lorna’s hooped bivvy bag (it’s a good job we’re both thin!) and finally got some sleep.

Lovely sun set

Lovely sun set

 

Main Gully Ridge, 3***

The midges were still out in full force the next morning, and so our breakfast of Sainsbury’s Basics scotch pancakes (surprisingly tasty!) was rather rushed. We dumped our gear around the far side of the Llyn and started the slog up to the base of our route – the three-star grade 3 scramble of Main Gully Ridge on Glyder Fach’s northern face. The route follows a vague ridge line that borders Main Gully on the right, before traversing left across the Chasm Face and joining up with other routes on the face for a few hundred metres of fantastic grade 1/2 scrambling. Even though it was only 7am, it was already very hot work and we had to have a large rest at the base of the route to recover.

The line of Main Gully Ridge, 3***

The line of Main Gully Ridge, 3***

We decided to move together at the start, but after gaining the ridge by an easy groove I was presented with a foothold-less chest high block that I didn’t like the look of. I think the guidebook talked about “pulling strenuously over a block”… I shouted down for Lorna to put me on belay, placed my trusty number 4 nut safely in a crack and awkwardly heaved myself over the obstacle. The next couple of steps weren’t much easier and so Lorna stayed belaying me whilst I worked my way up the difficulties, placing a few slings along the way. After creating a nice belay, I brought her up before pitching the next bit again to overcome pretty much all of the difficulties that the route posed. It is this section that gives the ridge its grade 3 rating.

The start of the grade 1 Main Gully (left) and Main Gully Ridge (right)

The start of the grade 1 Main Gully (left) and Main Gully Ridge (right)

From then on, we moved together, practicing placing gear on the rope between us even though it (or the rope) weren’t really necessary at this point. This style of movement – moving together in “Alpine style” – is different to usual “pitched” climbing in that no belays are taken and both climbers move at the same time. It is generally used on “easier” ground where the chance of a fall is less but still present, and it is typically used in Alpine ascents where moving at speed is imperative. Coils of rope are taken around the chest to leave 10-20m of rope between climbers (depending on how hard the ground is). The leader places gear – known as runners, as the rope runs through them – which the second then removes, trying to keep two or three bits of gear on the rope at the same time. The rope can also be wound around rocks to help increase the friction in the event of a fall.

Moving together at the top of Main Gully Ridge

Moving together at the top of Main Gully Ridge

This initial plan was to then drop down to Llyn Bochlwyd, pick up our bivvy gear and walk over to the base of the Clogwyn y Person arete for the following morning. However, we were both far too worn out (I blame the heat!) and so instead we simply headed down the Gribin ridge and stayed at Llyn Bochlwyd for a second night – totalling an impressive 3km for the first day’s walking! Of course, being the weather as it was, another swim was simply compulsory!

Lovely views of Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr

Lovely views of Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr

 

Bristly Ridge

It wasn’t quite as midgey on the Monday night, but I still had to resort to Lorna’s bivvy bag again. The following day, instead of climbing again, we thought it would be a good option to take our bivvy gear with us and walk out to Capel Curig over Bristly Ridge. This proved as strenuous as I had feared it would be with 15 kg of gear on my back (I weighed it when we got home!), but it definitely served good Alps practice. For me, Bristly Ridge surpasses most other scrambles I’ve done – it is such a good quality route for its grade, and there is lots of exposure to be had by taking the most direct line.

The Great Pinnacle. The way down in to the right.

The Great Pinnacle. The way down in to the right.

There are lots of feral goats on the Gylders. It's impressive watching them negotiate the steep rocky steps that us humans struggle with!

There are lots of feral goats on the Gylders. It’s impressive watching them negotiate the steep rocky steps that us humans struggle with!

The walk out seemed to go on forever, made only worse by hoards of horse flies that bugged us (pun intentional!) for most of the descent of Y Foel Goch. After what seemed like an age, we arrived back in Capel and caught the bus to Betws-y-Coed and then the train back to Chester, via Llandudno Junction.

A week in Snowdonia

It felt a bit strange packing ice axes, crampons and full winter gear when setting off for a week in Snowdonia for my summer Mountain Leader (ML) assessment, but such is the weather of the UK! Most ML courses being run last week were actually cancelled, but fortunately Snowdonia First Aid, who were running my assessment, were imaginative enough to think up a plan to still get in all the necessary stuff but whilst (nearly) avoiding the snow. The plan involved a trip to Holyhead Mountain for the “steep ground” day, a small but very complex sub-400-metre-high hill south of Beddgelert and a two-night expedition to the northern Rhinogs.

I headed up a few days before my course began, under the premise of getting some last-minute practise in. However, the lure of the pristine snow-covered summits was too strong and I spent a good deal of my time exploring Snowdonia under a not-insignificant blanket of the white stuff.

The broad northern ridge of Moel Eilio

The broad northern ridge of Moel Eilio

I got a lift to Llanberis with my Mum and Dad on the Friday, and we went for a walk up Moel Eilio, one of my favourite hills in the area. Its gentle slopes are more akin to the Lake District than Snowdonia, but it offers some grand views over to the Snowdon range. Indeed, if you’re feeling energetic, it offers a great way up Snowdonia’s highest peak. There was a good amount of snow and ice, and crampons became necessary for the final part of the ascent. Take a look at the picture of the summit shelter, which was encased in a thick layer of ice – something I’ve never seen before!

Summit shelter of Moel Eilio

Summit shelter of Moel Eilio

Back in Llanberis, we tried the little cafe attached to Joe Brown’s corner shop, called “The Pantri”. I make a point of mentioning this as they served a particularly good cup of coffee, something which is quite a rareity in Wales!

Starting the ascent of Tryfan

Starting the ascent of Tryfan

After a rather chilly night at the campsite in Llanberis, the following day I decided to combine nav practice with a bit of fun in the snow. The fun comprised of the north ridge of Tryfan, whilst the nav practice came the other side of the Glyders, just off the Miner’s Track. There was a veritable motorway of mountaineers ascending Tryfan, obviously all making the most of the Alpine-esque conditions. The route was challenging in places, and definitely warrants its winter climbing grade of I/II, especially with the amount of snow that was about. Said snow transformed the fun summer scramble into a real mountaineering route and made the summit feel a lot taller than its 914m.

Last section of the north ridge of Tryfan

Last section of the north ridge of Tryfan

Impressive drifts in Bwlch Tryfan!

Impressive drifts in Bwlch Tryfan!

The following day, I rather reluctantly decided that I should concentrate solely on nav, and so devised a route up the ridge to the north of the Llanberis path. This ridge would make a fantastic route up for anyone wanting to avoid the crowds up the Llanberis path itself, offering grand views of Snowdon, Moel Cynghorion and Llanberis.

Snowdon from near the summit of Tryfan (no, not that one!)

Snowdon from near the summit of Tryfan (no, not that one!)

Moel Cynghorion glistening away in the sun

Moel Cynghorion glistening away in the sun

I dropped down to the Llanberis path later in the day, mainly to marvel at the masses of tourists attempting the ascent in their trainers and jeans, with no gear whatsoever. A scene of chaos was ensuing just below the Clogwyn station, where the path steepened and the cramponless tourists where desperately slipping and sliding all over the place. I hasten to add that, for me at least, crampons were necessary at this point, where hundreds of boots had trodden the snow into a lethal icy slope. I hung around for a while to make sure some struggling parties descended safely, before making the decent myself. Unsurprisingly, and to reassure you that I wasn’t exaggerating, Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team were called out that evening to assist a group that were stuck on the same slope.

For a bit of comfort and relative luxury, I booked myself into Pete’s Eats bunkhouse for the ML assessment itself, and it was there that I stayed on Sunday night. I was impressed by the place, which was very clean and which boasted a self-catering kitchen (hobs and microwave, no oven), large flat-screen TV and importantly, nice and powerful showers.

The next day – the first of the assessment – was spent seeking out little contour features and the like on Moel y Dyniewyd. Our instructor, Steve Howe from Snowdonia First Aid, gave us each features to navigate to in turn, whilst the others tried to follow the legs blind and point out where we were at the end. Although a bit nerve-wracking at first, I soon settled into it and started to enjoy the challenge of navigating through the undulating terrain of this little hill.

Day two of the assessment focused on “steep ground” work at Holyhead Mountain. This covered everything from managing groups up steep rocky or grassy terrain, through to confidence roping nervous individuals and setting up impromptu belays for emergency situations. The ML award is seeing a diminishing amount of rope work, due to the argument that if an ML is using a rope they are out of their remit area. However, I would argue that the basic skills taught are invaluable should a leader find a member of their party needs help on ground that is definitely within the ML remit, which from experience can sometimes be the case. The kind of ground I am talking about is easy scrambling such as Striding Edge, or just steep scree slopes such as that to the east of Bristly Ridge. As a climber, I’m glad to have learnt these techniques that can be used without a harness or indeed any other gear than the rope itself.

South Stacks lighthouse on Anglesey

South Stacks lighthouse on Anglesey

The remaining three days and two night were the “expedition” part of the assessment. In an attempt to avoid the snow, we traveled down to the northern Rhinogs and the Wednesday morning, and Helen took over from Steve in assessing us. That day, we followed a similar pattern to day one, each taking turns to navigate to certain features. We also got assessed on picking a suitable wild camping location (which proved harder than we initially thought!) and general “campcraft” skills. Our chosen location for the first night was beside a partly-frozen Llyn Caerwych, the ice on the llyn hinting at how cold it was! That night, we were assessed on our night navigation, in a similar fashion to the daytime navigation.

Llyn Caerwych - the campsite for night one

Llyn Caerwych – the campsite for night one

The terrain around the northern Rhinogs is very complex and made for great testing ground. The area is truly beautiful and also unfrequented – a refreshing change to the hustle-bustle of central Snowdonia over the Easter weekend. In the whole three days we were there, we only saw two other people. Because of the snow (which is definitely outside the summer ML remit), we didn’t head up onto any of the summits, which has definitely given me an incentive to revisit the area and explore some more.

The second day of the expedition was similar in format to the first. The night nav this evening was a bit more challenging, or the terrain turned from the boggy grassland it had been the previous evening to heather-covered fields strewn with boulders and crags to negotiate – which I’m told is quite stereotypical of the Rhinogs! The following morning, we walked back out to the cars and were back in Pete’s Eats for our debrief at 1030. Helen commented that it was one of the coldest ML courses she’d been on, and I agree – my insulated jacket didn’t come off for the entirety of day two!

Campsite for night two, by Nant Steicyn

Campsite for night two, by Nant Steicyn

I’m pleased to say that I passed the assessment and also learnt quite a lot from the week and the people who were on the assessment. Anyone’s progression through the outdoor world is an ever-learning one and I look forward to learning and experiencing much more in the years to come – be it when leading groups, with groups of friends, or just out on my own.

Snow, in Snowdonia!

Of all the big mountain ranges in the UK, Snowdonia seems to suffer the worst winter conditions, and any snow that does fall there doesn’t tend to stick around too long. This winter has been quite an exception, and I’ve been enviously eyeing up the “Snowdonia Winter Conditions” thread on UKC, jealous of all the talk of Parsley Fern Gulley and “full winter conditions” on Crib Goch and Tryfan’s north ridge. I’d all but surrendered to the fast that I’d missed out on these great conditions in Wales this winter, and so it was a complete surprise on Sunday to find my wading through the white stuff up one of my favourite mountains – Moel Siabod.

Within the space of a few hours on Saturday evening and another few hours on Sunday morning, a very considerable amount of snow had fallen, rendering Pen-y-Pass impassible to my Aunt and Uncle, Paula and Pete, whom we were meant to be meeting in Pete’s Eats that morning. We hastily rearranged our meeting location to Ogwen cottage and our walk, which was meant to be up Moel Eilio, to Moel Siabod instead.

Our route was from Pont Cyfyng, but instead of the usual Daear Ddue ridge (see my post dated January 12, 2011) we headed up the broader north-eastern shoulder and onto Siabod’s north-eastern summit ridge. This final ridge, whilst not being narrow enough to feel much exposure, offers a good bit of easy scrambling and is in such a fantastic position and was covered in so much snow that it had a really mountaineering feel to it. Add the white-out and wind, and for a moment you could have mistaken yourself for being in Scotland.

Siabod’s north-eastern ridge

Said white-out necessitated a compass bearing from the summit, which lead us to the “tourist” route back down to the Afon Llugwy near Plas-y-Brenin. We walked back along the river to the cars, before popping by the Tyn-y-Coed for a well deserved pint of Purple Moose’s finest! All-in-all, a fantastic day out and it was great to eventually be out in Snowdonia in the snow.

Summit photo!

A wet Snowdonia with LUHC

A few weekends ago, from 15-17 June, the Hiking Club had its annual Big Weekend Out to Capel Curig, Snowdonia. Last year, we headed to south Snowdonia and had a complete mix of weather – on the Saturday it chucked it down and on the Sunday it was beautifully sunny. This year wasn’t much different!

It was already pouring with rain when we arrived at Bryn Tyrch farm in Capel on the Friday evening, and after quickly pitching our tents we retired to “The Palace” (Mark’s rather large tent) to discuss walk options for the following day.

The rain stayed with us through the night and, with this in mind, most of decided that going for a wet scramble was preferable to traipsing over wet bogs. One group headed off to explore the ever-popular north ridge of Tryfan, whilst the rest of us chose the infamous Crib Goch as an airier alternative. A few decided it wasn’t walking weather and hid in their beds until it cleared up a bit!

Crib Goch was good fun, and the wind and rain certainly added another dimension to the ridge. The original plan was to carry on over the rest of the horseshoe, but by the time we’d got to the summit of Snowdon we were all so wet and cold that we decided instead to head down the railway track to Llanberis.

Crib Goch

Heading up onto the ridge of Crib Goch

Crib Goch

The ridge of Crib Goch shrouded in the clouds

Back down in Llanberis, we spent the next few hours in Pete’s Eats drying out and drinking copious amounts of coffee. Team Tryfan also met us there and by accounts they also had a fun day scrambling in the wet.

That evening, a few of us drove to a free talk given by climbers James McHaffie, Hazel Findlay and Jack Gerald. The talk was about recent routes and expeditions they’d completely, from free climbing El Capitan, to onsighting E8s. Some of the pictures they showed us were seriously impressive and the talk was very interesting. It was at a little café/bar just outside of Llanberis called Caban, and the place was packed!

Unfortunately, I aggravated an ankle injury which meant my Sunday was spent shopping in Betws-y-Coed whilst everyone else was up in the hills. One group headed off for Snowdon, some went to explore Idwal Slabs and the others went for a walk up Devil’s Kitchen and up Y Garn, before heading back down to Ogwen Cottage. By all accounts they had a great day! The weather had really cleared up and the sun was even making the odd appearance.

Despite the weather, we made the most of the weekend and still had a great time. Fingers crossed it’ll be better for the next Snowdonia trip next term!

Convoluted scrambling up Siabod

Moel Siabod is often overlooked, falling short of the 3000 foot mark but only just, standing at 2861 feet. It is no less of a mountain than its taller counterparts however, and boasts a number of interesting and varied ascents with arguably some of Snowdonia’s most rugged and interesting scenery. The best of this scenery can be seen via the ascent of the mountain’s east ridge, Daear Ddu (Black Earth). The ridge offers a variety of different paths, mostly scrambling of lower-end grade 1 difficulty, but this can nearly all be bypassed. It is a great introduction for those less experienced.

I received both Nuttall’s books for Christmas and as Siabod was one of the first mountains I ever climbed (at the age of 5) I decided it would be the first walk from the books I completed. I was certain I had never done this exact route before, but I’m now having second thoughts as I recognised a good deal of it. I did the walk  today on my own – I saw a brief spell of good weather on the forecast and decided to go for it. I was hoping for a bit of snow but unfortunately it had all thawed.

Start point: Pont Cyfyng, SH 735 571
Summit: Moel Siabod
Distance: 6 miles / 9.7 kilometres
Ascent: 2400 feet

The weather forecast wasn’t entirely accurate as the first mile of my walk was in pouring rain. It did clear up slightly but there was still a considerable amount of cloud about, hence the lack of photos.

From Pont Cyfyng, a tarmac track crosses the river by the Cyfyng Falls. A signposted footpath branches off this and winds its way up to the disused Rhos Quarry first of all, and then the natural lake Llyn y Foel. The path is very well defined and well used right up to the start of the Daear Ddu ridge itself. From here it’s theoretically as easy as following the ridge right up to the summit, picking the difficulty of route you wish. However I made the mistake of branching off too far to the west on a path that seemed to be skirting right around the southern aspect of the mountain. I decided to leave this path and as a result ended up heading directly north onto the summit (instead of north-west along the ridge), a route that involved some pretty tricky scrambling. So, a word of warning, it is by far best to stick as close to the ridge as possible!

The summit itself was very icy, but with only the odd patch of left-over snow. I stopped for lunch in the small shelter and managed the below photo in a momentary break of cloud.

Summit of Moel Siabod

A rather icy summit of Moel Siabod

A compass bearing led me off the summit and down to Coed Bryn Engan, a small forest with a network of different sized tracks that eventually led me back to the A5, albeit about half a mile further down the road than I intended.

Winter on the Clwyds

This is a walk I did with my Dad on 21 December 2010. The initial plan was to head to Snowdonia for a walk over the Glyders but snow was forecast for the afternoon and we were worried that our car would get snowed it. As it turned out our route back, the A470 through Llanwrst, was described as barely passable and so it was probably wise we decided to stick closer to home.

Start point: Cilcain, SJ 177 652
Summits: Moel Famau, Moel Dywyll, Moel Arthur
Distance: 14.9 miles / 24.0 kilometres
Ascent: 3390 feet

Whilst I’ve been up Moel Famau and along the ridge to Moel Arthur countless times, I’ve never carried on over Moel Arthur before, so this was a first for me. Starting in Cilcain we headed straight up Moel Famau past the water station and the smallest of the reservoirs. This brings you out at cross-paths at the edge of a forest.

Signpost on the way up Moel Famau

A signpost at the cross-paths on the way up Moel Famau

From here it’s just a short walk up by the side of the forest to the summit.

The summit of Moel Famau

My Dad on the summit of Moel Famau

As you can see the snow conditions weren’t bad at all – just soft and powdery stuff that was easy to walk on. From the summit we carried on along the ridge (on the Offa’s Dyke path) via Moel Dywyll and then dropping down to the road before Moel Arthur before carrying on over. Surprisingly considering we live so close, this was my first time on the top of Moel Arthur. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t very good and hence I didn’t take any photographs.

The Offa’s Dyke path carries on past Moel Arthur. We took this route, which after a short decent to another road rose up alongside a forest that I’m informed is a good place for mountain biking. It then opens out and eventually leads down to a small track. It is here that we leave the Offa’s Dyke path and head south west, skirting around the ridge until eventually bringing us back to the road to the south of Moel Arthur. The trek along this track was hard going, which I’m putting down to the ever-so-slightly uphill gradient and fast pace we were going at.

From Moel Arthur it was back down a forest track leading right off the road, taking us past two “viewpoint” car parks and eventually back into Cilcain for a well-deserved pint at the White Horse Inn. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk, probably one of the most rewarding I’ve been on over the Clwyds. The weather stayed good in the end, and although it was very cold we even got a slight hint of sun in the afternoon. I plan to run this route before I head back up to university.

Me on the summit of Moel Famau

Me on the summit of Moel Famau