2 Days in the Southern Carneddau

I stood outside Llandudno Junction station waiting for Rich, due a few minutes after me, little realising that Lee was already there sitting in his car about 100ft away. Rich arrived and we stood around like spare parts waiting for Lee to turn up and luckily he realised we were there when, bored with the wait, he checked his twitter timeline. In any case we were soon in the car and off to the hostel.

Plas Curig describes itself using words such as “luxury” and “premium” and, whilst these adjectives are conceptually somewhat at odds with a hostel, it was certainly the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in. The beds were decent, each with their own power socket and curtains and furnishings that haven’t been nicked from a job centre. There was no rickety swaying as you attempted to scale the north face of the bunk, as they’re all built-in. The kitchen was clean, modern and well-equipped. There was also a nice sitting area where we proceeded to get on the outside of the selection of ale that Rich brought with him.

Nice though it was, we’d arrived after 9pm and so it was no time at all before we were out of there again and on our way to the start of the walk.

On the way to Crimpiau with Lee and Rich

We left the car and took the path signed for Crafnant, and it wound its way round the lower outcrops shielding Crimpiau from Capel Curig, before we struck off to climb directly onto the hill. We reached the summit and took a few moments to enjoy the views back towards Moel Siabod, west to the Glyders and onwards to our next target. And for Lee to wrestle once more with Viewranger which currently had his route showing as 240 miles long and growing exponentially. Rich pointed out some wild ponies below.

This was also to be a trip where one of the themes was looking down into stunning valleys at lakes, and on the top of Crimpiau we had our first occurrence – the view down to Llyn Crafnant nestling between the wooded slopes of Mynydd Deulyn and Creigiau Gleision.

Llyn Crafnant from Crimpiau

We stood on the summit inspecting the terrain between Crimpiau and our next target – Craig Wen – and agreed on the route to take, as there are no paths of note marked on the map, and the paths on the ground weren’t terribly distinct either. We made our way down and squelched our way across the boggy depression to climb up through the heather to arrive just below the summit outcrops. We skirted round looking for the route up, and eventually followed a narrow sheep track which took us through heather, over slippery rocks and mud to the summit.

Looking south west to the Glyders from Craig Wen

The extra 250ft or so of height now opened up the views towards the Glyders a bit more, and brought Tryfan into view properly for the first time. This started off a thread of conversation that was to continue for the rest of the trip. Lee, having never really got on with Snowdonia before, due mainly to a combination of views hidden by cloud and Snowdon tourists, was now quite taken with this most distinctive of Snowdonia’s mountains, especially when he learned that what appears forbidding and unwalkable from a distance and from the road is actually perfectly accessible if you’re prepared for a bit of a scramble. Which needless to say, he is.

Tryfan seen from Craig Wen

Tryfan would have to wait for another day though, as ahead of us lay Creigiau Gleision, which would be the last climb of the day. Another descent to a boggy decline and then we were again climbing back up through heather, detouring right to pick off the subsidiary top of Craiglwyd before tackling the main part of the mountain. described by John Gillham in his “Mountains of Snowdonia (Vol 1)” as the finest of the Carneddau, today a colourless sky, damp underfoot and cloud rolling in made it difficult to see why. We reached the top and with the short autumn day rapidly hurtling towards darkness, and a less than attractive forecast for the night, we’d already decided that we would head down after Creigiau Gleision to find a more sheltered spot to camp. We undulated (is that a verb ?) our way along the ridge to the north summit, rising above glistening pearly white outcrops of quartzite.

Creigiau Gleision from Craig Wen
On Creigiau Gleision

The cloud broke to reveal Llyn Colwyd lying serenely below, reminiscent of Wastwater lying below Whin Rigg and Illgill Head in the Lake District, and with scree slopes falling steeply to the shoreline to match.

Llyn Colwyd from Creigiau Gleision

The rain started as we made our way down, making wet what terrain wasn’t already soaking in the first place. We squelched our way through bogs before we found the sheep track we were looking for that would take us down to the end of the lake.

Descending Creigiau Gleision

We got down to a reasonably sheltered level, looked for a flattish and dryish patch to pitch the tents, then got them up as quickly as we could in the increasingly heavy rain. This was easier said than done as we were on stony ground and rocks were required to bash tent pegs in, sending big sparks flying alarmingly close to the fabric of the Scarp in my case. One peg wouldn’t go in beyond halfway, so was supplemented by a rock. I stood up and saw that after all of the effort of penetrating the only bit of firm ground we’d been on all day, the quality of my pitching could have been better. The Scarp usually takes this sort of thing quite well, but today it resulted in the fly and inner touching in one place, with spots of moisture already attempting to sneak through.  Rather than a re-pitch, I adopted a lazier option of sticking the crossing poles on. I’ve found these very good at increasing the separation between the fly and inner, and with a night of constant rain ahead, this seemed like a useful thing to do. A bit of extra robustness in the forecast wind wouldn’t go amiss in any case.

Lee went off to get water, returning with with a bottle full of suspicious cloudy brown liquid. But I didn’t have enough left in my Camelbak from the day’s walk, so headed off myself, finding an outflow pipe running fast over a rock, pooling below in a reddish-brown pond. Not ideal, but all there was. I filled my containers and was pleasantly surprised to get something quite clear and without obvious bits. Back at the camp, it transpired that I had got my water from the same spot as Lee, so goodness knows why there was such a difference in the visual quality.

The rain continued steadily and without let up, making sufficient noise on the fabric of the tents that conversation was impossible. Darkness fell soon after 4pm and we retired to our tents to wait out the next 16 hours before sunrise.

In an attempt to save weight and pack space, I had once again brought my Caldera Cone, and as is the custom, once again I cursed it and wished I’d brought the Trangia. Not helped by misjudging the amount of meths to boil my first load of water, meaning a refill was needed halfway through. But eventually my spag bol was being wolfed down and washed down by a cup of tea.

Lee annoyingly seemed to have a decent phone signal, and moreover good enough to tweet, but 6 ft away mine was very patchy, so I spent my time reviewing today’s and tomorrow’s route and watching a film. Lights out around 9pm meant a long night was ahead.

I woke just before 3 as the wind picked up and bashed the tent about, exaggerated by the shadows in the not quite pitch black darkness, so that it seemed worse than it actually was. Nearby the flapping of a Laser Competition in the wind helped keep me awake as, so it transpired, it did its occupant. I half dozed my way through the rest of the night.

The overnight camp near Llyn Colwyd

Morning came, and just as I was emerging from my multiple layers of nocturnal wrappings the aroma of frying meat hit my nose. Sadly this wasn’t room service arriving, and I had to content myself with porridge whilst Lee ate his smug fryup. Karma sorted this issue out later when it turned out that his rucksack rain cover had done a runner in the night.

We’d agreed that being a bit behind plan, we’d set off at sunrise at 8am, but 8am came and Rich was still in his tent. A 6 hour sleepless spell during the “weather” resulting in the inevitable end of night coma. He emerged from his shelter complaining about internal dampness to add to the flapping.

With the overnight rain a distant memory, but a stiff breeze in our faces, we set off along the side of Llyn Colwyd, and looking across at the slopes of Creigiau Gleision it was even more like looking at Wastwater. Indeed, Llyn Colwyd is the deepest lake in north Wales making another comparison with Wastwater.

Walking along Llyn Colwyd

As we climbed up from the lake, a strange yellowish sphere shone through the clouds and lit up patches of the hillsides, casting dark shadows over others that would make for more challenging photography during the rest of the day. The cold dark blue of the water contrasted with the autumnal sienna and umber colours of the mountainside, and I knew this would be a day for getting some inspiration for some future paintings.

Creigiau Gleision rising from the waters of Llyn Colwyd

We reached the southern end of the lake and looked for a way up onto the south ridge of Pen Llithrig y Wrach, eventually following sheep tracks up through the heather to a ruined sheepfold. As we climbed, I looked back frequently as I was enjoying the views of the valley on this colourful autumn day.

The eastern side of Pen Llithrig y Wrach

We gained the ridge and slogged our way up, in particular me who not having been out for a hillwalk since the Lakes in September, was feeling a bit out of condition. Lee and Rich patiently waited for me to catch up, and did a really good job of making it look like they needed a rest too.

Climbing the south ridge of Pen Llithrig y Wrach

As we got higher on the ridge, the Ogwen valley in general, and Tryfan in particular came into view again, rising above the ridge of Y Braich which was to turn into our exit route today. A snow-capped Carnedd Llewelyn poked into the view too. We reached the top and stood there for a few minutes looking back down on the lake and across to the rest of the Carneddau.

Looking across to the Glyders beyond Y Braich
At the summit of Pen Llithrig y Wrach
Carnedd Llewelyn in the distance

We’d taken it really easily but it was already afternoon, and the completion of the whole route was looking to be a challenge. We made our way down to Bwlch y Tri Marchog, enjoying the sight of Cwm Eigua and its lake below. Then began the slog up onto Pen yr Helgi Du.

Llyn Eigau
Heading for Pen yr Helgi Du

We got to the top and squatted on the rocks by a low cairn near to the summit. It was clear that we wouldn’t make it all the way to Pen yr Ole Wen today, and so Lee proposed a quick out and back to the snow on Carnedd Llewelyn, before a romp for the finish line down Y Braich. It seemed like a reasonable plan, but one sight of the scramble over Craig yr Ysfa killed it – there was no way that we’d get over that and up to Carnedd Llewelyn and back in the hour that was all we could allow. On the plus side this sight did momentarily distract Lee from Tryfan, and he turned to Rich, pointed towards Craig yr Ysfa and said “when we do Tryfan, we’re doing that too.”

Craig yr Ysfa and Carnedd Llewelyn

We turned our backs on this wonderful sight, and headed for the down escalator. Given the, in places, dangerously slippery ground underfoot, we steamed down the long ridge of Y Braich.

The way down the Y Braich ridge of Pen yr Helgi Du
A last look at Tryfan

To our left, yesterday’s walk was spread out, whilst to our right a drama was unfolding on Tryfan as a rescue helicopter hovered below the south peak.

Looking back to the start of the walk – Creigiau Gleision, Craig Wen and Crimpiau

We reached farmland and a no through route at the fence, detouring away from Capel Curig to reach the A5. Briefly tossing up a road walk or a potentially boggy path, we took the path south of the main road which turned out to be largely stony track affording a quick pace. We arrived back at the car as darkness fell, and all realised we’d made the right decision not to attempt the detour onto Carnedd Llewelyn.

Lee drove us back to Llandudno Junction and we parted to make our ways home.

The route

S005 route annotated

Trip stats

Total Distance 16.24 miles (26.13 km)
Total Ascent 1,258m
Total Descent 1,260m
Total Walking Time 11 hours 58 mins
Average Speed 1.36 mph (2.18 kph)
Flat-Equivalent Distance 24.63 miles (39.63 km)
Flat-Equivalent Speed 2.06 mph (3.31 kph)
New Trail 100s 0
New Marilyns 2
New Hewitts 4
New Nuttalls 5

Hills Bagged

Date Hill# Name  T  Ma  Hew  Nw  Dewey
24/11/12 7508 Crimpiau
24/11/12 3347 Craig Wen 40
24/11/12 2029 Craiglwyn 47
24/11/12 2013 Creigiau Gleision 63 153 48
24/11/12 2025 Creigiau Gleision North Top 154 49
25/11/12 1989 Pen Llithrig y Wrach 64 155 50
25/11/12 3684 Clogwyn Llech Lefn (Bwlch y Tri Marchog Top)
25/11/12 1982 Pen yr Helgi Du 156 51

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