Archive for the ‘arenig fawr’ Tag

Winter in Snowdonia with The Junior Sherpa   8 comments

The evolving tale of my son’s love for the mountains reached a new marker. He’s been wanting to head to hills in proper winter conditions and luckily the Xmas holiday gave us a chance. Heavy downpours of rain and sleet in the Midlands translated to heavy snow in North Wales. Combined with a cracking sunny day forecast it was time to head to Snowdonia and climb a “proper” mountain in the snow. I needed a summit with a big mountain feel but little in the way of objective danger. The Arenigs fitted the bill perfectly and we were away from home before 7 for it’s a long drive. We stopped for a very chilly outdoor breakfast of bacon sandwiches in a picnic area by Llyn Celyn. I hadn’t realised how hot my stove was, clearly hot enough to push the defence alerts up to Defcon 2. We were strafed by fighter jets but they clearly realised we were no threat to western ways of life and left us alone.

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

I was slightly paranoid about what the conditions would be like so we set off with a full complement of ice axes, spikes and crampons which makes for a very heavy pack. After an inordinate amount of faffing about we were on our way. It was a mighty cold day and the brisk road walk to the start of the track warmed us up a bit. It took us a few minutes to reach the sunshine when the snowy mountains revealed themselves. It wasn’t quite the cloudless blue sky the forecast promised. In fact the high tops, including our target were masked in cloud. However the sky was blue all around and the sun beating down. Nothing better than a crisp cold winters day with the crunch of fresh snow underfoot.

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

After a brief detour to the tiny Arenig Fawr bothy – TJS had never seen a bothy before, this one is not the best example – we started up the broad Y Castell ridge. Its not particularly steep but with Llyn Arenig Fawr cradled below it does give it the air of big mountain especially in winter

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

There wasn’t as much snow on the climb  as looked from below but that changed dramatically as soon as we crossed the 600m contour. Suddenly the snow cover was total and up to a couple of feet deep. TJS has never walked in full deep winter snow and wondered what it was like. Now he knew – hard work, very hard work. There were some trails bashed out but it was still tough going. There are no steep sections but it does mean it’s a long plod.

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

As we reached the summit plataeau the wind came into force and it was bitingly cold.

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

We reached the summit and exchanged grins and thought about lunch. It was far too cold so we stuffed in a whole packet of Jaffa Cakes between us by way of both celebration and sustenance and pressed on. The views were magnificent, blue sky and snow-capped mountains spread below us. When I was planning the day I’d had half an idea to take TJS up Snowdon as I’ve been promising to do for a few years. Whilst it’s an easy walk to a summit populated by ill-equipped tourists in summer it’s a serious proposition in winter and I revised the plan. It was a good move as the whole Snowdon range was capped in cloud so we’d have missed the views we were now enjoying.

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

Just below the summit where the ridge narrows to a rockier crest we found a sheltered spot and sat for a good hour to stuff faces, drink hot chocolate and tea and generally feel pretty darn chipper about the day. Full winter conditions seem something of a rarity these days and we thanked our good fortune that it was delivered under a blue sky in a holiday period.

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

Moving on we followed a group of guys down over the rocky knolls and hollows of Craig y Bychau, glad to follow their trail of steps and their locating of the soggy bog hidden cunningly under the snow. I had thought we could take in the splendid summit of Moel Lyfnant as I did on my previous visit, but in deep snow and with a short winter day that was clearly ludicrously optimistic.

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

Instead we settled for an easy stroll down to the very broad col. The sun was already starting to set and created the usual dazzling array of light effects on the drifts of snow. We passed they guys whose trail we followed, thanked them for their hard work and promised to leave them a beer on the bar for their trouble

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

From there it’s a long, in fact a very long walk back down the valley.

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

Word of warning for this route. The path is a well made track for most of the way but around Amnodd Wen it deteriorates into a swamp and the path pretty much disappears into brown sludge. At one point the whole hillside seems to be flowing. We consoled ourselves with some gorgeous low angled sunshine and light effects as darkness crept them swept across us.

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

As we followed the disused railway line back to the road and the car we had a couple of final sunset shots to bid the day farewell. It was pretty much dark when we reached the car. Its a long route this one, over 10 miles so in the deep snow a pretty tough one, probably TJS hardest day so far but he coped easily.

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

arenig fawr, bothy, craig y bychau, llyn arening fawr, llyn celyn, Moel lyfnant

A long drive meant a very long day indeed. Pretty much 12 hours door to door with a full on day in the mountains squeezed in between. TJS was well pleased with his efforts. He was a real winter mountain man now and ready for new challenges north of the border

Arenigs circuit – long overdue   10 comments

In a couple of recent posts I’ve alluded to the fact that in my younger days I tended to focus on the bigger well-known mountains at the expense of the less frequented ranges. My experiences in exploring the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons and has taught me the delights of the quieter routes so over the past few months I’ve been keen to try to get to know some of the Welsh mountains I’ve never been to before.

To aid me in my quest I’ve purchased both volumes of the excellent Cicerone guides “Hillwalking in Wales” by Peter Hermon. It describes almost every possible route up all the 2000 feet plus mountains in Wales and in its own right is a very reasonable read for a guidebook. You can use these routes to make your own circuits although each chapter does recommend decent circuits and it was one of these that re-introduced me to the Arans described in an earlier post. If you are looking for a guide-book to the Welsh mountains, this is a great purchase.

One of these ranges that I’d previously dismissed was the Arenigs. For reasons I can’t work out I’d seen them as just a dull massif in the shadow of the “better” ranges in the main Snowdon massif. As hopefully you’re about to read a serious oversight on my part.

The forecast looked really promising for the Sunday a couple of weeks ago so Jane kindly indulged my longing to get out. It’s a fair trek from Hereford so I was up at 6am and away while Madley slept. It was a lovely drive through the Shropshire hills, the Dee valley past Llangollen and down to Bala which was blanketed by mist. As I drove up to Llyn Celyn the views across the lake to Arenig Fawr and Mynydd Nodol were breathtaking so I had to pull over and take a photo or two.

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Arenig Fawr across Llyn Celyn

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Mynydd Nodol across Llyn Celyn

I’d decided on what the guidebook decided was the classic Arenig Fawr circuit also taking in Moel Lyfnant. This involves a bit of road bashing but I found a huge parking area opposite a quarry about halfway along the road stretch to break it up. The weather had been mild but this morning it was cold with a ground frost and decidedly chilly as I set off down the road. Once I started up the path towards Llyn Arenig Fawr I hit the sunshine and the views exploded with sunlight. It was and was going to be a stunner of a day.

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Arenig Fach

The green path along to the lake is a delight with views back across Llyn Celyn and Arenig Fach and south towards the Berwyns and the Arans. The lake surrounded by crags was just sensational and couldn’t believe my luck to have such a stunning day so soon after my day out on Plynlimon.

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Llyn Arenig Fawr

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Llyn Arenig Fawr

Just by the dam of the lake is very cute and very tiny MBA bothy. It’s perfectly situated and has a couple of sleeping platforms (for the shorter person) and a fireplace but really only big enough for two. It would be a great place to spend a solo night but only if you could be sure you’d get it to yourself.

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Llyn Arenig Fawr Bothy

I was keen to get up high to soak up the views so I pressed on up the decent path that wanders up the east ridge. With every step the views just got better and better.

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Llyn Arenig Fawr & Carnedd y Filiast

I paused briefly for a snack at the point where the ridge starts to level out and the summit itself comes into view. You kind of expect the summit would be above the lake but in fact it’s over a km further back.

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Arenig Fawr

The path seems to skirt under the easter flanks so I took off on a more direct route to the main ridge following some pretty good sheep tracks. Suddenly I crested a small rise and got another one of those “wow” moments as the whole of the Snowdonia massif, the Lleyn Peninsula (with of course my friend Carn Fadryn prominent as ever), the Rhinogs and Cadair Idris leapt into view.

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Main Snowdonia massif

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Arenig Fawr & Rhinogs

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Distant Llyn Peninsula

I stood on the stop and just marvelled at the splendour. I shook myself from this stupor and pretty much ran the last few hundred metres to the top for a well-earned rest.

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Your truly on the summit

When I reached the top I realised the complete folly of my pre-conceived idea of what the Arenigs are like. The summit crowns a majestic craggy mountain and because its higher than most of its neighbours and fairly isolated the views were simply magnificent. It was pretty cold and windy so after a few minutes carefully rearranging a few choice stones I had a nice seat out of the wind and in the sun.

As I write this now, I find it hard to describe in words the elation I feel sitting on a summit with no-one else around taking in a full 360 degree view like this. It really does make me feel alive like nothing else and helps me put the everyday grind of daily life into perspective. Sometimes problems that were preoccupying me the day before seem to melt away. There is just so much to see up here, from the big mountains right down to a particular patch of sunlight on a slope or the glimmer of a distant tarn. I normally find myself planning infinite numbers of routes for my next visits and reliving routes I’ve done before from the recent and distant past. Today it was the Moelwyns that were catching the eye and I had the maps out planning a grand circuit from Croesor taking in the Welsh Matterhorn of Cnicht. Bit of cliche I suppose but this is my natural high

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Moelwyns

As I sat there my first sign of life for the day appeared over the south top. We chatted as he arrived on the summit and it turns out he was doing my route in reverse having just come from Moel Lyfnant. We both admired the views and exchanged some reflections on the day and our plans for the rest of the day

P1040907

Moel Lyfnant & Rhinogs

He looked like he was struggling to find a decent spot to enjoy the views so as I’d been here a while I thought I do the gentlemanly thing and gave up my little constructed seat in the sun for which he was very appreciative. I launched off down the grassy south ridge towards Craig y Bychau a stunning area of small rocky knolls and glistening tarns.

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Craig y Bychau

The walking was awkward, twisting and turning between bouts of rocks, tarn and bog but there were sheep tracks through most of it and it was a real pleasure of micro route finding. It would be a great place for a wild camp if you could find a dry spot. I walked right the way to the final knoll (it was too nice not to) before plunging down the grassy slopes towards the col below Moel Lyfnant.

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Arenig Fawr from Craig y Bychau

The col was hard work with a mixture reeds tussocks and the inevitable squelchy bog to trap unsuspecting hikers with holed North Face boots (not that I’m bitter about that). However it only took  a few minutes to get across before I started the climb to Moel Lyfnant up it’s steep and grassy east face. There was a grassy rake that lead up to the ridge that was exceptionally steep but on a day like this I barely noticed it. The ridge above was equally steep but the views back across to where I’d come from were great – I like a decent view back to my previous footsteps. There were some surpring little rocky sections that added some interest to the final climb onto the grassy summit.

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Moel Lyfnant from the soggy, boggy col

Moel Lyfnant doesn’t look much on the map but it’s a terrific summit standing alone above the moors with even better views across to Snowdonia than Arenig Fawr. It was no real surprise to find it deserted and it feels like a summit that’s not often climbed.

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Moel Lyfnant summit

Having taken a load more photos (the afternoon light was as stunning as the morning effects) and as is my want, I spent a few minutes searching out the best spot and then settled down for some more quiet reflection, this time on my own private summit. Another great spot for a summit campsite if you can haul some water with you

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Posing again

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Cadair Idris and Rhinogs

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Arenig Fawr

Eventually I had to concede defeat to the clock and start to head down (I’d promised Jane I’d be home to carve the meat for Sunday roast tea). I looked at the map and realised I still had a long way to go. Off down the easy angled and grassy north ridge with Arenig Fawr towering above me to the east.

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Snowdonia Massif from Moel Lyfnant north ridge

I passed the ruined farmhouse of Amnodd Bwll and on to the even more ruined farmhouse of Amnodd Wen. From there it looked like an easy path back to the road, had it not been ankle-deep in bog for the first mile I’m sure it would have been easy. The last part of the walk was a pleasant stroll along the track and back along the road to the car. As I dropped out of the sun the temperatures dropped again and it was a pretty cold and very tired Andy who reached the car after an absolute stunner of a day.

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Arenig Fawr

It was 11 miles and 3000 feet of ascent so quite a taxing day when rolled into a 5 hour round trip drive but well worth it. The Arenigs are up there with the best of what Snowdonia has to offer and the fact that I saw one of other person on a day as stunning as this is testament to its solitude. The whole range has plenty of great routes so I’ll be back to explore further butif you’re looking for aclassic mountain route away from the crowds this should be high on your list

And to think as I approached the Bala turning on the A5 I nearly carried on to the “well-known” peaks of Snowdonia. Lesson finally learned 🙂

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