Birthday Weekend – Day 2, Rhinog Fawr   8 comments

After our first superb outing in the Moelwyns we were ready for another day in the mountains of Snowdonia. Sustained by a hearty breakfast at the Brigands Inn we pondered our route. When I say “we”, Jane is happy just to leave such things to me. She doesn’t hit the hills with the same mad dedication as me so it’s unlikely I’ll pick a route she’s done before. Although come to think of it she’d been up Cnicht twice before yesterday’s visit! Anyway as I’d been longing to get into the Rhinogs it was an easy choice so we headed up to the eastern flanks. The best routes according to most guides are from the west but I didn’t have the will to drive all the way round the west coast and up into the hills so we stuck with the eastern approach.

5.9 miles, 1,860 feet of ascent

We parked up at Graigddu Isaf with a plan to head towards Bwlch Tyddiad and take in Rhinog Fawr and Rhinog Fach. Don’t take the direct path from the car park to the farm – best described as a swamp and not suited to trail shoes! The forestry track is a much better option – if only I’d known that at the start.

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Rhinog Fach & Rhinog Fawr

In fact the rest of the route through the trees was not exactly suited to trail shoes either. The “path” is more just a long peaty bog with a few rocks to hop across but it’s still pleasant scenery with glimpses of the wild Rhinogs to keep you going.

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Pistyll Gwyn

After passing the pretty waterfalls at Pistyll Gwyn you emerge from the forest with Rhinog Fawr towering above seemingly much higher than its actual modest height. The sun was shining and the situation was magnificent although it was quite breezy. Just below Bwlch Tyddiad I decided to pick up the path to Llyn Du and here the real Rhinogs began.

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Approaching Bwlch Tyddiad

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Approaching Bwlch Tyddiad

I’ve read in countless books and blogs how rough and wild these mountains are. I’d thought that perhaps the passage of time may have tamed them a little with wider well-marked paths. Not the case. These are truly wild mountains with deep heather, boulders and rock and steep impenetrable slopes. As we climbed towards the lake the path twisted and turned through the micro-landscape of gullies, boulders and heather. Under the blue sky the place was awe-inspiring, unlike anything I’ve seen outside of the wildest of Scottish mountains and totally different to anything I’ve walked in Wales. I’m not sure but I believe they owe this ruggedness to having never been grazed but whatever the reason they have a character unlike anywhere else and I was instantly hooked and strode upwards without realising I was leaving Jane a bit behind (she was suffering from two days in succession in the hills poor love). Llyn Du was breathtaking, a small tarn cradled in the most stunning wild and rock filled hollow.

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Llyn Du

It was here where we really hit the wind with spray in the air as we huddled behind a rock to rest. What a superb place this would be for a wild camp if you could find a dry spot to throw a tent up although almost everywhere is either rock or knee-deep heather.

The map showed a path heading directly up improbable rock and scree on the northern flank of Rhinog Fawr above the lake. We followed the thin path and I was expecting a tough ascent but in fact other than the steepness it was a pretty good route with the birds-eye view down to the lake to hold the attention.

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Llyn Du

The path suddenly emerges onto a broad shelf with a “wow” view – across to Cardigan Bay and the Lleyn Peninsula, Snowdonia and the northern outliers of the Rhinogs. These looked truly wild – a complex mass of summits, gullies and tarns.

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Llyn Du across to the Lleyn Peninsula

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West to Cardigan Bay

Everywhere there were small blue tarns reflecting the sky, one of those views where you’re not quite sure where to focus, every direction every vista holds the gaze. Magnificent.

The wind was now blowing a proper gale making it hard to stand up. The last couple of hundred feet is over more rough boulders and heather before emerging onto the summit. The view was just awesome. The southern Rhinogs came into view with Rhinog Fach looking even tougher than it’s big brother.

Their geography means that each Rhinog is effectively a mini-mountain rather than part of a ridge so the views are lofty. Only problem was it was nearly impossible to stand up and enjoy them. Luckily there was a shelter built in just the right place to protect us so we settled down for a long lunch stop and a the usual fresh brew while admiring the views east to the Arenigs, Arans, Cadair Idris and the Berwyns.

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Jane on Rhinog Fawr summit

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East to the Arenigs and Arans

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Rhinog Fach & Y Lethr

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Tremadog Bay

I’d expected that the sunshine would have seen this as a busy summit but apart from a couple of people low down near the forest and brief “Hi” to a couple rapidly heading off the wind blasted summit we saw no-one and had the place to ourselves. This was turning out to be one rather fine birthday treat. We headed down and I was a little apprehensive about the descent. My map didn’t show a path down to Bwlch Drws Ardudwy and like a clot, I’d forgotten the guidebook. We headed down to the slightly lower south top where the path divided. The right hand one looked more likely but it started to descend an ugly gully so I quickly retreated and tried the other one. It started heading off in slightly the wrong direction but this was just to turn the steep slope the other path had plummeted straight down. All I can say about the descent to the pass was that it was the roughest, toughest descent I’ve done in a while with several steep sections across scree and boulder fields where use of hands and a deal care was required.

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Jane descending carefully

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Cwm Nantcol & Moelfre

The path was mostly excellent although you have to keep your wits to follow it. It was by turns, awkward and magnificent. It felt like real mountaineering with a sense of adventure quite out of tune with the beach resorts a few miles to the west. I was loving it but I think Jane found it a little tough and quite rightly took her time (although my dodgy knees have stopped my carefree descents of late). The last stretch to the col was the toughest with a 100 foot descent of massive boulder-field. Jane is just visible in the photo below to give some scale.

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Final scree slope

From the col, Rhinog Fach looked totally impregnable.

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Rhinog Fach from Bwlch Drws Ardudwy

The only line I could see seemed to ascend vertically up the steep heather slopes (a check of the guide-book when I got home told me this was the best ascent route from here). Jane looked beat and whilst I had the energy for the ascent I didn’t have the will for another steep descent so we decided that this was enough for today. Bwlch Drws Ardudwy is a magnificent spot and the walk back towards the forest and the car was a delight.

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Bwlch Drws Ardudwy looking east

We chatted about what a fine weekend we’d had and how lucky we’d been with such great weather. Another new area and another day spent admiring new vistas and planning new days. This is just the beginning of my Rhinogs adventures.

I’ll leave you with this thought:

“When I woke up this morning my wife asked me, “Did you sleep good?” I said, “No, I made a few mistakes.”

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8 responses to “Birthday Weekend – Day 2, Rhinog Fawr

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  1. Superb stuff, and an area to explore at length, usually by necessity!. It’s a pity about that car park at Cwm Bychan on the west side leading to the Roman Steps, without it there would be far fewer people than there are.
    The guide book wouldn’t be of much value descending Rhinog Fawr, there are fragments of path but it tends to lose itself frequently lower down in the rocks and heather. Once you arrive at the true bwlch, there is a just discernible thin line ascending Rhinog Fach through the heather up to the first ‘tier’, after that it’s very easy.
    Make sure you do the splendid traverse from Foel Penolau to Rhinog Fawr one day, extremely few people and a good exercise in navigation!.

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    • It was a top day and long overdue. That northern group looks totally wild – have you ever wild camped in there, looks to be superb if you could find somewhere to put a small tent up by one of the lakes (must go and check out your blog). Jane was telling me stories of when she backpacked through the Rhinogs and I thought she was exaggerating – she wasn’t. True wilderness

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  2. We pitched on top of Craig Wion which is pretty heathery terrain, but you should find a spot by one of the lakes (Llyn Pryfed is just below that summit), see our backpack ‘Rhinogydd East’. Llyn Corn-ystwc is another great spot. The main consideration at many of them is avoiding the rough heather and rocks.

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    • Just checked that blog entry Geoff. Some superb spots and those small lakes in the Rhinogs are stunning. I’m inspired you managed to pitch on the summits, must have been magnificent. I may be able to sneak away for a little overnight trip in a couple of weeks so I may head up that way or check out your posts for some ideas in mid-Wales. I also fancy a camp on the summit of Drygarn Fawr or up on Plynlimon

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  3. That’s one mean looking boulder-field! I’m not sure I ever climbed these hills – more for the to do list.
    Can I do an advert?
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    http://dieseltherapy.co.uk/music/

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    beatingthebounds
    • I think I got my one album from you! It is excellent though and fits the photos quite nicely.

      The Rhinogs are absolutely superb, they are tough but the mix a wild terrain and the small tarns cradled in the rocks is just magical. As per the above comment take a look at Geoffs route, the northern section is particularly dazzling. My knees were objecting after that descent

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  4. Rough, tough and rugged. Enought about me though………….

    You picked two cracking days weather wise, have forgotten what sunshine looks like. Love the Rhinogs, you should try a backpack from one end to another. Can’t get much wilder south of the Highlands.

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    backpackingbongos
    • Don’t build your part up 🙂

      Mean, moody and magnificent the Rhinogs. Llyn Du under a clear blue sky was simply magnificent and the whole area just begs exploration with some much interesting stuff. I had planned a little backpacking jaunt the weekend just gone from the extreme northern end to Y-Lethr with camp by the one of the tarns. The weather put pay to that idea for now, but I have the plan, just need a spare weekend to execute it

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