Up in the Clouds – A Moelwyns Backpacking Adventure   22 comments

For a few years now I’ve been promising to take my son D backpacking with me. The right opportunity hadn’t really presented itself and more importantly I hadn’t yet found a decent camp site. I wanted somewhere with a good situation, fresh running water and not too far from the road as I’d have to carry most of the weight. I know several spots that fit the bill in the Lakes and Scotland but my local hills in South Wales aren’t quite so conducive with a little more effort required to find a good spot. My recent re-introductions to the majesty of North Wales haf however highlighted a whole collection of new possibilities. This was especially true of a recent day spent on the Moelwyns and Cnicht, a vast backpackers playground of rocky knolls, small tarns and streams. I spotted numerous great sites and so we decided finally we needed to give it a whirl.

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Setting off

L, my youngest, wasn’t keen to join us so we had to pick a weekend where we could leave her in the capable care of my parents at their mid-Wales caravan. This meant we had to just take a chance on the weather which as we planned the trip didn’t look to promising. We stayed overnight on the Friday at the caravan after driving from Hereford under gloomy skies and drizzle. The Saturday morning wasn’t much better but the forecast whilst not great could have been a lot worse. We decided that as we may as well just go for it as I’d seen some sites not too far so at least a night spent in the wilds would be fun even if we didn’t get to climb anything.

Jane came along too which made the weight carrying much easier. D carried his own sleeping bag, mat. clothes and food so me and Jane just split the rest which meant we weren’t really carrying much more than if we’d been on our own. I’ve gone to Scotland once a year for some wild camping so I’m used to the heavy pack. Jane hasn’t been for years and was a bit apprehensive but in the end she was totally fine and not too far behind me most of the two days.

We drove up through Snowdonia in a mixture of sunshine and heavy showers. When we arrived in Croesor it had clearly just finished tipping it down and the small car park was nearly empty. We made the final preparations and chatted with a friendly couple planning on doing Cnicht. When I mentioned we were camping wild her face dropped with an “Oh!” that said “are you mad”. Made us smile as we headed off into the wilds.

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The journey begins

D was really excited by the prospect and had been looking forward to the trip for weeks. It was such a shame the weather was so dark and brooding but I hoped that the wild weather might provide some extra excitement to replace the idealistic vision I had of sitting on a warm summit watching the sun go down. We took one of the gentle rising paths along Cwm Croesor towards Bwlch y Rhosydd as I thought this would be an easy way to gain the height. It was a great choice and really nice grassy path the reached high into the wild and deserted old mine workings that dominate this part of Wales.

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Upper reaches of Cwm Croesor

D was enjoying the challenge but clearly not used to carrying a pack but soldiered under my tutelage with the words “this is what backpacking is all about ringing in his ears. The path suddenly climbs the last steep section with a spattering of heavy rain and spray from the wild wind giving the place a serious air even though we were barely 1500 feet up. We picked a disused quarry tramway that took us into the heart of the vast deserted collection of old mine workings. By now were enveloped in the cloud which gave the whole area a spooky and ethereal air.

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Rhosydd quarries

D didn’t agree it was spooky. I think he’s spent too much time watching Scooby Doo so “spooky” means cobwebs, creaking doors and wholly unconvincing monsters 🙂

What was a problem was the fact that visibility was about 20 feet which I wasn’t expecting. Clearly we couldn’t camp up near the summits as I’d planned but I’d spotted a cracking flat site on the previous visit next to the river that flows into Rhosydd quarries from the north. Finding the spot would be easy even in the mist by following the river. Finding a dry route through the boggy wasteland was not so easy. A few minutes were spent wandering aimlessly through the swamps before at a random spot I headed across the grass and there was my little spot waiting for us. We were still in the cloud so we quickly unpacked and put the tent up, a Lightwave T30 Trek XT for the gear freaks amongst you. A great purchase that comfortably sleeps 3 with a huge porch for gear storage and for its size relatively light.

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Our perfect campsite

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My Lightwave tent

We dived in a settled in and introduced D to that great feeling of pitching up in wild weather and then relaxing in a warm dry tent. He really seemed to be enjoying the experience although I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t sit outside and enjoy this terrific little pitch next to a small waterfall. I’d had a worry that this might be a popular spot and been taken already but in weather like this we’d barely seen a soul all day. It would be a superb spot in the sunshine with loads of rocks to scramble on and ledges to perch on.

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Looking down on our pitch

We took a very extended lunch waiting for a break in the weather before heading out for a stroll. The cloud lifted a little so we took a little wander around the local lakes and rocky summits that fill this wild upland area. No surprise that an area populated by lakes is a trifle boggy, especially after the recent wet weather, every footstep seemed soggy as we squelched up to Llyn Cwm Corsiog, and on to little Llyn Terfyn.

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Wind in her hair

Whilst not exactly sunny the cloud had lifted and we enjoyed being out in the late afternoon with the whole area to ourselves. The walk along the low rocky ridge to Llyn Yr Adar is one of my favourites in the UK and I couldn’t help thinking what a marvellous spot for a wild camp it would be in better weather.

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Moel Druman or thereabouts

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Llyn yr Adar

As we returned towards the tent for tea I got a little confused between which lake was which involving us in a little detour across some exceptionally boggy ground. Still it only added a few minutes to the return the trip and that’s not really a problem is it? Unless of course you’re within sight of the tent the heavens open. What felt like a wall of water descended on us while we scrambled back into the tent. I foolishly decided to fill the water bottles and pans for the evening during which time the rain came down ever harder. I was absolutely soaked. Looked like the outdoor activity for the day was over. We settled in for our tea again enjoying that cosy feeling of warm tent with the rain battering on the roof.

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D eating his tea

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Happy campers

After a hearty meal we relaxed and asked several rounds of quiz questions from a  couple of books we’d downloaded to Jane’s Kindle, a great way to pass a sociable and fun couple of hours. With light fading I went out for a wander in just my flip-flops. I scrambled up the rocks above the tent (no mean feat in flip-flops) to little Llyn Clogwyn Brith and the weather brightened and cleared quite a bit.

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Rhosydd quarries

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Looking out to the Lleyn Peninsula

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Llyn Clogwyn Brith

I spent a few minutes trying hop from tussock to rock to avoid wetting my feet before realising it was much easier to paddle through the bog. It wasn’t as cold as I thought on the feet so I just padded about in the fading light. Magnificent.

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From above

I returned to the tent and we all settled down for a wild night in the Welsh mountains. The weather even put on a very brief fiery sunset for us before we turned in for the night

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Fiery finish to the day

The forecast promised a better day on Sunday and when Jane answered the call of nature in the night the sky was clear. By morning it was raining again so we lazed in and were surprised to find that when we stirred again it was 9:30! Time for a breakfast. Regular readers will be aware of my search for a suitable breakfast for backpacking. After much experimentation I’ve now settled on what I think is the perfect solution. Bacon Sandwiches! (Thanks to Pete over at writesofway for pointing out the obvious). We were in the cloud and rain, a thoroughly miserable day but what could be finer than lazing in a tent on a Sunday morning with a fresh cuppa and a bacon butty – marvellous. We hung around in the tent for a couple of hours and eventually decided that if we were going to get anything out of the day we may as well pack up and get moving. It was 12:00 by the time we were ready but it had given time for the cloud to lift and it was a half reasonable afternoon.

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Jane and Moelwyn Mawr

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D and Cnicht

We decided to make a round trip by traversing Cnicht, a proper mountain by any definition. From our campsite it was an easy gentle climb past the lakes onto the NE ridge. Even Snowdon was out of the cloud which pleased D although he was finding the rucksack a bit tiresome (he was actually coming down with a virus which laid him low for the rest of the week).

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D, Llyn yr Adar and Snowdon

The stroll to the top was pleasant but windy although we did manage to find a sheltered spot on the summit for lunch and a brew.

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En route to Cnicht

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Lunch on Cnicht

D was quite proud that he’d backpacked over a mountain and it was fitting finale to what had turned out to be a cracking weekend.

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D attains Cnicht summit

Truly making the best of a bad weather lot. Had we been at home we’d probably just have festered in front of the TV all weekend, instead here we were closing out an exciting little mountain adventure. All that remained was the steep descent of Cnichts fine SW ridge in a blustery gale and we finished the whole day without any further rain. Not without further incident mind as I slipped off the last stile and gave myself a couple of nasty hand sized bruises on both my inner thighs.

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Cnicht SW ridge and Tremadog Bay

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Jane descends Cnicht – slowly

We reached the car a little after 4:00, tired but exhilarated. Me to enjoy a fine backpack again, Jane for the first time in several years and of course D his first time. Needless to say he wants to go again. He’ll get no argument from me

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22 responses to “Up in the Clouds – A Moelwyns Backpacking Adventure

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  1. Without doubt one of the best backpacking regions in Wales, endless possibilities for excellent pitching (I recognize that knolly area by the small waterfall, I’ve often perused it from a distance).
    Thr Rhosydd quarry sure feels strange when it looms out of the mist. I imagine it would be easy for the unwary to end up at the wrong lake in mist!.

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    • Thanks Geoff. It was a great trip despite some ordinary weather and a great adventure for D. I’d much rather have camped up high in the sunshine but the spot by the river was a good one although a bit close to the path. Some of the other spots I’d looked at were pretty squelchy after all the rain. Such a great area for just wandering about and there muste be endless small sites tucked in amongst the numerous knolls.
      The Rhosydd quarries are fascinating and very atmospheric, judging by the extent of the ruins it must have been sizeable operation at its peak.

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  2. Thanks for the post, it has further convinced me that I really need to come and explore Wales! (having not yet been). Looks like your son had a fab time!

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    • Hi Roxyboots, welcome to my blog and glad you enjoyed the post. Wales has some superb areas for walking. Make sure you don’t neglect the quieter spots like this one. Possibilities are limitless. I’ll pop over to your blog in a minute and add you to my blogroll and feeds.
      My son had a whale of a time and he’s really got the outdoor bug now which is great – just need to work on my daughter now 🙂

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  3. Looked like a really good first backpack for D – got any ideas for where you’re taking him next?

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    • He absolutely loved it (and so did I). Evcen though the weather was a bit dreary we did get that sense of real adventure. He wasn’t impressed with the old “rolled up clothes for a pillow” idea, made worse when I produce an inflatable one for me. I’ve told him if he behaves I’ll buy him one 🙂
      I’d love to take him to Scotland for some wild camping but he may need to carry a liitle more weight for that – always a tougher walk in. For now I’ve got my eye on some summit sites in Mid-wales nearer to home if we ever get anything resembling a summer

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  4. He has my sympathy – I’ve never liked the ‘rolled up clothes for a pillow’ either…For years I used a down jacket stuffed into a stuff sack, which I liked. (I have to confess I like a nice down pillow at home), but have now moved on to the inflatable Exped pillow. Did I spot one in your photos? Is that what you use?

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    • It certainly is – money well spent. I hate uncomortable pillows, the Exped one is great and weighs practically nothing. An impulse buy while I was looking for something else. I’m like a kid in sweet shop when it comes to gear

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  5. What a great video! A thoroughly wonderful start to D’s backpacking career. I remember taking my two boys (who were 13 & 7) from Langdale to Wasdale Head and then to Great Moss and back to Langdale. We had wind, rain, snow and river crossing and they loved it. The eldest boy ended up doing Outdoor Education & Environmental Studies at Edinburgh and the younger the Marathon des Sables and Triathlons.
    🙂

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    • Thanks Alan, he’s really into all things outdoors now and he’s as fit and fast as the adults. The weather gave it a real sense of adventure that perhaps wouldn’t have been the case on a nicer day. Especially so when we were swallowed up by the cloud. Still such a shame the weather has prevented too many trips this year 😦

      It’s real sense of pride when you see your kids enjoying everything about the outdoors that we love ourselves and taking it to another level. The only trialthlon I’m any good at is walk-drink-eat 🙂

      Sorry I’ve not been commenting on your blog lately, having some real hassle getting Blogspot to accept any of my identity logins to leave a comment. I’m going to try and fix it again later

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  6. It’s been a very long day today – what a perfect way to wind down: with a preposterously strong Belgian beer and your tale of D’s first wild-camp.
    Some thoughts: two bruises on your inner thighs – could have been much worse! ‘Like a kid in a sweet shop’ with gear – not half, you must have more tents than GM has fleeces! The latest model looks very spacious.
    It looks like you had a great trip, despite the iffy weather. More power to your elbow for getting out there and making the most of it when you had the chance.

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    beatingthebounds
    • “Mmmmmmm – Belgian Beer!” I hadn’t really bought much hiking outdoor gear till the last 12 months but I’m back in the zone now. How on earth I managed not to give myself a vasectomy with that slip I’ll never know, impressive bruises though.

      It was a great couple of days, bad weather gave it a different feel and of course we hardly saw anyone so had the place to ourselves – mighty fine.

      Don’t forget to ask TBH for a pass for a liitle stroll in the hills next week in Wales 🙂

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  7. A top outing for the start of a backpacking career. You probably already know my opinion on the Moelywns so I will not start wxing lyrical again………..

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    backpackingbongos
    • An opinion well deserved, they are magical, peace and quiet and a fascinating mix of natural landscape and industrial heritage. I could wander those many tops and tarns forever. Amazing that I’d never set foot in the area until a month ago

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  8. Andy, when I think back to my first backpacking when I was 11, it was a magical trip and I am sure your son thought the same. Hopefully he will join you on further trips. My sons always enjoy getting away, even when they pretend it will be a wrench from being away from their X-Box 🙂

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  9. Thanks Mark. I’m trying to remember my first wild camp now! I think it was Styhead Tarn back when I was at University, May weekend but there was snow on the ground. For me there is nothing better than a spot away in the mountains with a setting sun and cuppa, or just laxing snug and dry in the tent listening to the rain. I should make the effort to get out more but it’s tricky with the family and work – and with such an awful summer.

    D had looked forward to it for months and was really worried whne he thought the weather might scupper it. I’m glad we took a chance on the weather as it turned into a memorable trip. I’d love to tale him to Scotland now. The photos from your recent trip were inspiring but Scotland is another step up in toughness. I think he’s ready though if I can find a route that’s suitable for my regular trip over Easter

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  10. Andy, know how you feel about work and family. I think you are sensible to keep to simple routes to start with and build up his confidence from there.

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    • Sound advice, last thing I want to do is put him off by over-doing it. A trip to somewhere up in the Cairgorms in decent weather would be ideal. Uper Glen Derry is one of my favourite spots

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