Thursday, 5 May 2011

Wales Wild Camping

As part of building up my logbook for my Mountain Leader assessment I need to record a number of wild camping trips; no great chore as waking up on top of a hill is one of the great joys of being in the mountains. I'm spending three days and two nights walking and wild camping in Snowdonia. Subscribing to the moto light is right I go for the bivi-delux option Terra Nova's ridiculously flimsy and light weight Moonlight Bivi coupled with the flysheet of my one man tent. 

After that effort to cut the weight down I somewhat go and blow it by backing a big heavy SLR and an 800 page tome about the Anglo-German Naval race in prior to WW1 which weighs almost as much as all my food. I need to have a book, it's my first and only luxury when camping reading in the morning and evening in a tent is always a joy.

The hills around Blaenau Festiniog have forever been scared by man, piles of shattered slate tower above the town a landscape where mountains have literally been ripped apart; disemboweled, their guts left to spill from the high fells cascading down onto the valley floor. The collapsing remains of towers, inclines, and track-ways hint at the spectacular sight the mines would have made in their prime; noise, and dust, as thousands of men wrought wealth from the mountain. A century later nature struggles to establish herself in the scars left behind, it's beautiful in it's own way buy also incredibly bleak.

A brooding volcano amid the debris of slate mining.

A mountain of slate shards, testament to the inefficiency of slate mining

From Blaenau it's easy to follow the old access tracks up onto the hills past the crumbling ruins of mining infrastructure; a chapel it's roof collapsed, the beams sticking up like a crown of thorns, tiny cottages reduced to four walls and open to the sky as time and the weather reclaim for nature what man took for himself. The path leads up onto the Moewlems a range I've never visited before, they run from Porthmadog in the south to Moel Siabod above Plas Y Brenin in the north and have a reputation for being wet, the first to catch any precipitation coming in off the Irish Sea.

 The old miners chapel

The housing for a long gone water wheel.

The bank holiday weather is gorgeous, warm, bright sun, with very little wind, a persistent haze fills the horizon hampering the views out to the big hills in the north and the high moorland of central Snowdonia to the south. Although mostly hovering between 500 and 650m the terrain is tough, often pathless, very hummocky, with crag-lets everywhere, and even in the bone dry weather we have been having recently the amount of spongy ground suggests it will be a complete bog slog in the wet. Micro navigation here would be a challenge.

On top of Carnedd Cribau I find a perfect bivi platform perched next to a small summit tarn on which to spend the night. The views over onto the vast Western Corie of Snowdon are spectacular; the great ridges of Crib Goch and Y Lliwedd embracing like great arms Llyn Llydaw.  Now for my favourtite wild camping activity making, and drinking lots or tea whilst reading surrounded by the view.

Snowdon from Fridays bivi

Saturday and I have the crazy notion of doing the Showdon Horseshoe. I daft idea perhaps, I can almost see many of you reading this and rolling your eyes, why would anyone want to go near Snowdon and Crib Goch on a Bank Holiday its a mecca for the incompetent, the overambitious and the ill prepared. Actually it was not that bad, yes there was chaos at Pen Y Pas, a fair amount of inappropriate clothing, and  the summit resembled a bear pit, but Y Lliwedd was almost deserted. 

Crib Goch on a damper day some years ago

Dropping off Y Lliwedd I begin to feel really weak, and fatigued not used to big day carrying a full camping pack. Cyclists have a term called the bonk, which basically is a complete collapse in glycogen (sugar) levels. Your body exhausted of glycogen can't feed itself as it can't strip and convert fats to energy quickly enough to sustain you, and therefore pretty much shuts down. Desperate times calls for desperate actions and there is only one possible course of action; I eat an entire pack of Haribo Tanfast!. A thousand calories later and riding the wave of a massive sugar rush I go shooting down the mountain.

Camp number two

Just above Pen Y Pass and it's deserted as I set up camp beside Lyn Cwmffynnon just above above Pen Y Pass. Legs tired from the day I sit at watch the birds on the lake and the colour changes on the hills as the sun sets behind the hills. the star are out in force during the night giving a wonderful display.

Sunday morning is glorious and soon turns into a scorcher. I climb up Moel Berfedd a small hill above my camp, it's a glorious spot giving fantastic views south to Beddgelert, east to Plas Y Brenin, and of Snowdon itself. After about half an hour on the summit it's on with the work of the day the treck back to Betws Y Coed and the car. Its hot work ascending to old miners track onto the Glyders before turning east allong the broad ridge to Y Foel Goch which gives an excellent view back to Tryfan and Glyder Fach. Following this eastern ridge, an out post of the Glyders massif down to Capel Curig i'm again almost alone, I see three parties all morning despite the brilliant weather and the Bank Holiday.

The Carneddau


Tryfan and Glyder Fach


From Capel Curig to Betws Y Coed runs through a open hillside dotted with gorse and forests smelling of pine in the sun. By the time I arrive back at my car I feel pretty spent but satisfied, three really good days in the hills, no dramas kit worked well and carried just the right amount of food, may go for a smaller book next time though.

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