August bank holiday weekend isn’t exactly renowned for great weather but with opportunities running out it was exactly the right time for us to crack out our tent for the first, and probably last, trip this year. As for destination we ran through a whole host of possibilities before settling on Beddgelert in Snowdonia. Just down the road from Snowdon itself this is the ideal base camp from which to launch an ascent of the country’s most walked mountain with the added bonus of being surrounded by some truly dramatic scenery.
As can be seen above Saturday dawned very promising indeed and whilst cloud still obscured the higher peaks it was forecast to burn off soon enough. A good excuse for a leisurely start if nothing else and by the time we hit the road conditions were definitely heading in the right direction. In fact the lighting along Nant Gwynant valley was so spectacular that I just had to pull over and take it all in.
Directly in front of us the lower slopes of Snowdon looked inviting but already a constant stream of people could be seen heading along its paths. And that’s the problem with Snowdon, a victim of its own popularity that meant we had to actually queue on our very first ascent. Certainly a new experience for this hillwalker and all the more surprising considering the weather that day was particularly dire. Quite what it would be like on the busiest day of the summer therefore I daren’t imagine so we had our sights set instead on neighbouring Ogwen valley. Less well known but equally spectacular it’s a good starting point for an ascent of Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr, plus Tryfan if you’re feeling a little more adventurous. We planned to tackle all three via a circular route but even here the sheer volume of visitors took us by surprise. With cars lining the roadsides it quickly became apparent that we weren’t going to be able to park at our intended departure point of Idwal cottage and in the end were forced to pull up over a mile away. Not to worry as with so many paths available it was quite simple to modify our route slightly and the walk down to the cottage could hardly be described as uninspiring.
The search and rescue helicopter based here was already doing the rounds and it didn’t surprise us to hear that across the weekend they’d been called out several times. Not something we wanted to experience personally but good to know they were there just in case, particularly as sections of our route ahead would involve a degree of scrambling. For now though the going was easy, a well laid path taking us up from the valley floor and onwards to Llyn Idwal. There we found a family group of Goosanders and just a tease as to the kind of landscape we’d be enjoying throughout the day.
Despite how busy it had been down at road level the mountains have a great way of absorbing large numbers of people so it was just us and a couple of other small groups heading up. That is of course unless you count the forty or so climbers dangling half way down a rock face to our left, their agitated calls only reinforcing my instincts that it’s far from a relaxing hobby. Someone called Mike seemed to be having it harder than most though with their group leader shouting down the ominous sounding phrase –“Don’t undo anything else until someone comes to check your harness”! Hopefully he made it back ok in the end.
Winding our way alongside the lake we soon started to climb steeply with our first major challenge being a bridge that was missing pending replacement. Slightly earlier than intended it was time for our first scramble with hands and bums being requisitioned to see us safely across. They were back in action a few minutes later as the path became almost vertical forcing us to pick our way between large boulders and loose footings. All worth it though for the simply fantastic views back the way we’d come and for the sight of Devil’s Kitchen ahead.
When conditions are right a column of steam can be seen rising from this black cleft in the rock at which point it is said that the devil is cooking. Legend only I’m sure but we certainly wouldn’t be going that way today instead peeling off to the left arriving at an incongruous style over a length of stone wall. There was more climbing on the other side, first up to a grass plateau beneath Y Garn and then across very steep shale slopes bringing us finally to Glyder Fawr.
I wouldn’t be lying in saying that this was easily the toughest section of the day, not for its technicality but more for the fact that it felt like any slip would see you sliding right back to the bottom. Thankfully that didn’t happen and we were left to explore a landscape punctuated with rocky outcrops the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Everywhere we looked the skyline was being pierced by these strange knife like protrusions, Wheatears, Ravens and Skylarks dotted amongst them.
Needless to say the wider views were equally as impressive, in particular across to Snowdon which although still had its peak obscured was clear enough for us to watch the mountain railway in action.
No rest for the wicked though and we were soon on our way once more heading for Glyder Fach visible in the distance. Walking there was relatively easy going but getting up to the peak itself? Another matter entirely. Instead of a nice cairn or trig point the summit was marked by a jumble of huge chaotic slabs of rock, thrown together in a manner for which the word random was surely invented. Even so I simply had to get up there and through a series of leaps, scrambles and probably far too risky manoeuvres I managed it the end. A great sense of achievement but certainly an energy sapping one.
And that was probably my only mistake of the day. The time and effort taken meant that we bypassed our opportunity to pose on the ‘diving board’ and instead carried on towards Tryfan, our final destination. Its distinctive form has been popping up in photos throughout this post but upon seeing it at close quarters, or more accurately the descent required before even starting to climb, we just didn’t fancy taking it on. Time was ticking after all and the weather looked to be closing in so we took what was probably the more sensible option and headed back down via heather filled slopes to the car. If nothing else it means that we have a great excuse to head back here soon as Tryfan is just crying out to be climbed. The less said about the midges though the better.
So how to sum up? Two spectacular peaks rightly considered classics of Snowdonia and which I’m very happy to say that we’ve now climbed. The day also served as a timely reminder as to just how much I enjoy being up in the hills, something I really need to try and make a more regular occurrence. So much so in fact that we headed back into the mountains the very next day, albeit this time with a twist.