Thursday 11 November 2010

Trip Report: Dolwyddelan Hills – 15/16th October 2010

It probably seems a bit strange to some but I've not really spent much time in Wales. I'd been on a few childhood holidays but recently guilt and loathing had set in and so I thought I'd do something about it by venturing over that way. The first trip was posh camping in our Bell Tent over in the Llyn Peninsula (avec Charl) and a blinking good time it was too – despite the atrocious wind that battered us incessantly for 24 hours!

Bell_tent_Llyn-PeninsulaPosh Camping on on the Llyn Peninsula – Bank Holiday

As soon as we got back I ordered some maps and it was on......

We both took the Friday off and headed over to Dolwyddelan, which turned out to be a lovely little village between Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog. The plan was our usual circular approach and I'd managed to find a perfect two day route from Geoff's awesome resource over at V-G Backpacking in Britain.

We parked on Church street just up from the station, made the usual last minute preparations and shouldered the packs. Its been ages since I wore mine and it took a while to settle down – which was a little annoying.

Our first target was Llyn-y-foel nestled beneath Moel Siabod ,where we planned to stop for lunch, so we headed for the foot bridge at the southern tip of the forest where we'd pick up the landrover tracks and then up to the llyn.

It wasn't raining but there was a chilly breeze and the forecast had promised rain for the afternoon. It was of little concern to us though – we were just glad to be out! We left the road past the pub and followed a faint track through the grass which looked to be heading up into the forest. Over the ladder stile and on to what was the first bog of the day. Fortunately there are stepping stones over the worst parts but it was too late for me as my Roclites revealed a breach. Normally I'd be cursing but at least now I knew for sure that it wasn't just a case of me having incredibly sweaty feet on the last trip!


We reached the foot bridge and from here we could see the clouds just kissing the top of Carnedd Moel Siabod. It was sign of what we had to come.

I had my new Titanium Goat poles and once I'd figured out what was the right amount of tightening, they were proving to be quite.......unnoticeable. The handles are foam and despite my initial reservations were perfectly comfortable and of course very light for an adjustable pole – bloody stiff too.

Soon we were off the land rover tracks and climbing up through the thinning forest following the stream. Here the path becomes less obvious but we checked the maps and kept to the eastern spur which eventually brought us up to Llyn-y-foel. This is an impressive little spot and we decided to take lunch before the rain hit – which seemed pretty imminent.


The ridge above creates an incredible bowl around the water and the sounds just bounce around like an amphitheatre. Paul was going with a simple lunch which meant he was finished by the time my couscous was ready for eating. As soon as I sat down the rain began and it was a case of shovelling food in so I could get the waterproofs on.

It wasn't a short shower either and as we headed along the southern shore of the llyn it began to bounce off the surrounding rocks and puddles. It was just what we needed as we climbed the slippery, rocky shoulder of Daear Du, which at times meant being a little choosy about the ascent route. Through the wind and rain we could hear voices above but it wasn't until we reached the summit cairn that we found a group of about 15 children with two adults, who had taken the slightly more direct route onto the ridge. It wasn't a shock as such but the average age must have been about 9 or 10 at most, and the ascent looked pretty hairy from where we had spotted them making their ascent from the shore of the Llyn. In any case, although wet, they all seemed pretty pleased with themselves and said their farewells and headed back east along the ridge. I think I must be getting old but I'd have trouble getting Charl up the Daear Du route let alone the ascent they'd taken. Just call me Victor!

Moving on, Paul took the obligatory summit photo and we headed off to one of Paul's improvised mountain hip-hop really was annoyingly catchy and would become a theme tune for the trip! There isn't much too it, suffice to say that the words Moel Siabod feature quite heavily!


From here we followed the fence west and down to Clogwyn-Bwlch-y-maen via Moel Gid. Along the fence there are frequent ladder styles, presumably to help avoid the bogs, but today it seemed fine and we stayed on the south side all the way down.

It wasn't long before we reached the foot of Carnedd-y-Cribau, but we were still not making as good time as usual so we pressed on taking in the moody views to the west and the Snowdon Horseshoe.


I knew from Geoff's report that the section following the summit could be boggy but nothing really prepared us for the squelchy, muddy delights that lay ahead. Again, there are ladder styles at various points but life on the other side wasn't always an improvement and it was tiring and time consuming picking our way across. Carnedd -y-Cribau is long and undulating and it seemed to be taking an age to reach Moel Meirch.


Normally it would take an awful lot to dampen our spirits once we're on the move but today the constant stopping, re-routing and bog surveying was getting us down. We still had a fair way to go to reach our planned pitch point and it was already 5.30.

We'd descended a little to what we could see was a large section of grassy bog and after a little testing it was clear that we had to cross the stile. Life on this side was marginally better but as we reached the other side a slight bank became apparent with what was shaping up to be a deep, wide section of the dark brown, gloopy stuff. As usual we split to find our own routes across only this time as I looked back I could see Paul 'bog hopper' extraordinaire being unusually hesitant. We squelched back and forth until I spotted a foot-print just below the opposite bank ahead. It would be one hell of a jump but it looked like somebody had gone this way before and that was good enough for me. Paul however, didn't seem interested, so we continued to test the ground for quite some distance until I finally lost patience and decided revisit the Foot-Print of Temptation! On a good day without a pack it would be risky and to stand any chance of making it across meant committing to a jump with a take off point that offered the rigidity of a sponge and no run-up. I lined myself up, took a step back and hesitated! My better judgement kicked in and I all systems stood down to restore sensibility........Then it rained. Before I knew it, my left leg was on the launchpad and I was airborne. The opposite bank is getting closer and I'm definitely across the bog! Unfortunately the Foot-Print of Temptation didn't tell the whole truth about the ground on the opposite side and I found this to my detriment as my right foot landed and immediately sank 2 feet into pure black sludge! Paul could hardly contain himself through laughing and consequently applied far more caution to his own crossing. Needless to say the rain, wind and the touch and go recovery of my shoe made for a morbid 15 minutes to the base of Moel Meirch.

It wasn't long before Llyn Edno suddenly came to view and with the light fading and the rain getting increasingly heavy we decided to pitch on the most solid section of ground we could find.

The beauty of the Scarp II is the sheer speed of erection. It took about 3 mins between us to get a solid pitch and we dived inside in tandem to escape the weather. Despite being confined to the tent, we had a lot to look forward: two flasks full of White Russians and a Fuizion Foods freeze dried meal each!

As usual, the first thing to come out (after the Neoair and sleeping bag) was the flasks as we organised ourselves and swapped wet clothes for the warmth of the sleeping bags. I've always said this but life seems so much better after food and drink so it was only right that we made friends with the Russians and we were soon talking absolute crap and testing each others meals. I chose Thai Green Curry and Paul had the Sweet and sour Pork. Without doubt these things are a world away from any other dehydrated/freeze-dried meal I've ever tried – and I've tried a lot.

Full and relaxed we just chatted about work and our next trip until the sound of the rain sent me off to sleep mid-sentence! Bog hopping is clearly tiring work.

I woke at some point in the night to the sound of rain or Paul’s incessant snoring. Earplugs were swiftly inserted and I didn’t wake again until gone 7. Overnight the temperature had dropped and it was much colder than before. Paul woke and immediately started dishing out the homemade Rice Crispy cakes but for once we didn’t make tea. I scratted about looking for my breakfast bars but found my cold wet trousers and socks instead!

Through the sil-nylon I could see an orange glow and on opening the zip the sun was about to rise over the grassy mound ahead. It’s at times like this that I realise how fortunate it is to be able to be out in the open, taking in the things you miss when absorbed by the system back home.

Feeling philosophical, I decided that wet clothes, socks or shoes wasn’t going to ruin my day today and I quickly got dressed and packed away. For once, Paul was a little behind so I had chance to rinse the socks before setting off again.

llyn_edno_pitchA chilly start at Llyn Edno

The day was cool but mainly clear and the sun was now blessing Moel Siabod with its bright orange shades.

pitch_&_moel_siabodEarly sunlight on Moel Siabod

We checked the map to survey our days route but despite the weather looking good we decided skip the remainder of the ridge going south and instead opted instead to head north east and over Yr Arddu to save some time so Paul could get back to collect his kids. It wasn’t a problem at all since we’d only be saving a couple of miles off the walk and we could make the most of the fine weather by stopping for brunch at Foel Goch.

snowdon_horseshoe_2Crib Goch from Yr Arddu

Brunch consisted of a boost bar and more home made Rice Crispy cakes which gave a bit of a sugar rush for the knee crunching descent to the forest edge down at Blaenau Dolwyddelan.

foel_goch_tea_breakBeats any Costa(lotforcoffee) any day!

Before long we’d picked up the track and crossed the river and then the railway over the bridge. A short road (on what was possibly the smoothest road I’ve ever walked on) saw us picking up the forest path in what was now scorching sunshine! We were both down to base layers and happily ambling along watching the buzzards circling above. From here Dolwyddelan is just too close and in no time at all we were heading north on the road into the village passing the station on our right but there were no trains today.

It was actually a good outing considering we’d cut the route short by several miles and only really spent one night in the mountains. Despite the bogs and the weather it was good to have been out with dirty trousers, wet socks and muddy shoes to prove it!