The Cambrian Way 2010

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 11 - Days 20 and 21 - Bryn Gwynant to Pen y Pass


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Day 20 - Sunday 20th June - GPS 9 miles - 4,080 ft ascent

Bryn Gwynant to Pen y Pass Youth Hostel via Snowdon and Crib Goch

The GPS mileage figure is what I recorded from accommodation to accommodation, and includes any small detours, meandering around, and errors in route finding. In general this is about 5% to 15% greater than the mileage calculated from a map, depending upon the type of terrain, but in some cases is considerably more.

I got up at 7.30 to another lovely day, with a view of the lake out of my dormitory window. There were plenty of things available for breakfast when I went down at eight o'clock. The YHA seem to have made an effort to improve the standard of their breakfasts, as they used to fall far short of those on offer in most B&Bs, whereas the ones I have had this year have been on a par with them.

I set off at 9.10, making my way along the road for about a mile to rejoin the main route at the start of the Watkin Path up Snowdon. The hostel driveway was almost a quarter of a mile long, such is the size of the grounds, and there was a pavement by the side of the road for most of the way to the Watkin Path. The start of the ascent is fairly gentle and, although I wasn't feeling all that fit, I was able to keep up a steady pace on the wide track past the waterfalls. It was hardly surprising that, on a Sunday in summer with a very good weather forecast, there were many more people heading the same way, although what did surprise me was that there were also quite a few people coming down. Whether they had already been to the summit or whether they had just been up to the waterfalls or mines, I was not quite sure. Despite the fact that the track was as wide as a minor road, there were still a few large groups that ambled along taking up the whole width of the track, making it difficult for anyone to overtake them.

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Llyn Gwynant from Bryn Gwynant Youth Hostel
Llyn Gwynant from Bryn Gwynant YH
Watkin Path to Snowdon
Watkin Path to Snowdon
Bwlch Main route to Snowdon Summit
Bwlch Main route to Snowdon Summit

Lower down, it was getting quite hot, but when the track levelled off a bit beyond the waterfalls, there was more of a cooling breeze. Somehow I managed to miss the turning off the Watkin Path leading up to the Bwlch Main ridge. I could see where I wanted to be, but kept looking out for the Gladstone Rock, which is where the path goes off, and then found that I had obviously missed it and gone too far. As I had already climbed somewhat higher, I decided not to turn back, so I headed across to join the ridge further along. In some ways this was an advantage, as I left all the crowds behind and had the mountainside to myself for a while. There were mine workings to explore on the way and the only sound was of a trickling waterfall, as I stopped for a 20-minute rest and a drink before the ascent to rejoin Bwlch Main. There was a fine view of Yr Aran, the distinctive small peak to the south of Snowdon, and I could just see tiny specks of people making their way up the Watkin Path across the valley. As I was now further up the valley, the ridge was considerably higher and steeper than it was further down, so I had something of a scramble, which was not the easiest, to reach the top.

As I finally struggled up over the edge onto the path, my peace was shattered as I emerged into the middle of a large group of people. I counted seventeen ahead of me and eight more further back. At every obstacle, the whole lot ground to a halt before crawling slowly on for a short way, then stopping again. It was just like being in a motorway traffic jam. I wasn't in a rush, but I found this infuriating. A bit further on I took my chance when an alternative route with a scramble up a rocky slope came up, allowing me to overtake twelve with one quick burst of energy. Another similar situation got me past another four, and I passed the remaining one where the path widened a little. After that, there were not quite as many people, with just a few couples spaced a way apart on a wider path.

From the ridge, there were some marvellous views, with just a bit of haze obscuring the more distant features. Soon the summit came into view with its new visitor centre and mountain railway terminus. I had been up Snowdon on a few occasions whilst it was being built, but this would be my first visit now that it was completed and opened. The building work got about a year behind schedule, as severe weather conditions caused more disruption than had been anticipated.

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Garnedd-goch and Moel Mynydd from Snowdon
Garnedd-goch and Moel Mynydd from Snowdon
Crib Goch and Llyn Llydaw from Snowdon
Crib Goch and Llyn Llydaw from Snowdon
Snowdon Visitor Centre
Snowdon Visitor Centre

I am always fascinated by the altitude readings on my GPS on long, steep ascents, which lag a long way behind the actual altitude. This is a legacy from the days when the American military, who control the GPS satellites, used to put a deliberate wobble into the satellite data to reduce accuracy for all but those who had a special key to decode the correct data. The effects of this were more noticeable on altitude readings than on other readings, so some manufacturers of GPS receivers incorporated software to smooth out the random fluctuations. This seemed to work on the basis of mistrusting any altitude changes that were not accompanied by much lateral movement until enough time had elapsed to confirm that the changes were genuine. Several years ago, the deliberate wobble was abandoned, partly because it was becoming too much of a hindrance for civilian use, and partly because potential enemies had found ways of circumventing the errors. However, this still left older GPS units with their software that was still trying to compensate for it. My GPS was generally giving a reading that was well below the true altitude, except when it lost satellite signals for a while, in which case the reading would jump up when reception returned, then back down again shortly afterwards, eventually settling at some figure which may or may not be the correct one.

I reached the summit at 12.25 (checkpoint 33) and struggled to find standing room with the hordes of people who were already there. This was in such stark contrast to most of the days earlier in the walk when I hardly saw more than a handful of people all day, and some days when I saw nobody at all. True to form, my GPS stubbornly insisted that Snowdon had shrunk by over a hundred metres to 980m, until about five minutes later, when it decided it was 1095m, a reasonable enough approximation to the 1085m official altitude. There was quite good mobile reception near the summit, and I received Fathers' Day text messages from both of my daughters, so I gave them both a call once I had found a sheltered ledge just down from the summit away from the crowds.

I then had a wander around the Visitor Centre and by the railway terminus, where I was surprised to see that there was no train waiting there on such a busy day. At one time, in the old Visitor Centre, once described by Prince Charles as the highest slum in Wales, you could at least buy a pint of beer to quench your thirst after a long climb, but now I could only see soft drinks and tea or coffee. Presumably this is on the grounds of health and safety, as they don't want people attempting Crib Goch after six pints of Guinness. I was a bit unsure about the design of the building when it was under construction, but now that it is finished, it looks quite good, with a number of stylish features, and is not too much out of place near the top of a mountain.

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Bwlch Main from Snowdon
Bwlch Main from Snowdon
Snowdon Visitor Centre
Snowdon Visitor Centre
Snowdon Mountain Railway
Snowdon Mountain Railway

At 13.40 I set off again, just as another train was arriving carrying more visitors, though in fairness, most of the people at the summit had arrived on foot, as the trains just do not have enough capacity to carry that many people. As it was such a nice day and I had plenty of time, I decided to take the Crib Goch route back down. It also had the advantage that not as many people go that way, though from the erosion of some of the paths it wouldn't seem that way. As I was not feeling very energetic, I just made my way steadily along without taking any risks. After a steady ascent to the summit of Garnedd Ugain, Snowdon's twin summit, there are a few tricky scrambles on the way to Crib Goch. I stopped for a drink and a rest just before Crib Goch itself at 14.45.

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Crib Goch from Garnedd Ugain
Crib Goch from Garnedd Ugain
Llyn Llidaw, Glaslyn and Y Lliwedd from Garnedd Ugain
Llyn Llidaw, Glaslyn and Y Lliwedd

I was surprised by the number of people with small children attempting Crib Goch, as it is rated as one of the most precipitous ridges in England or Wales. However, if the children are sensible and are correctly supervised then there is no reason why they shouldn't be as safe as many adults.

It was difficult to know what was the best thing to wear along the ridge, as on the top where it was exposed to the wind it was quite chilly, but when sheltered from the wind just below the top on the southern side, it was quite hot in the sunshine. I had been wearing my fleece so far, but now took it off, as I was resting in a sheltered spot. A few people came along every now and again, but otherwise it was very peaceful, with lovely views of the lakes below with Y Lliwedd and Snowdon behind and the coast at Porthmadog in the distance. I set off again at 15.20, tackling some hard scrambling over the Pinnacles at the start of the Crib Goch ridge, but then it was not too difficult, so long as I went slowly and had hand holds along most of the way. An elderly rock climber I knew told me that, when he was young, an initiation rite was to walk along the length of Crib Goch with no hands. This would not be too difficult with a good sense of balance and without a heavy pack, but the consequences a slip could easily prove fatal. This is something the young don't worry about, or if they do, bravado overrules their fears. I was taking no such risks, and made plenty of use of my hands all the way along.

Once the ridge is traversed, the problems do not end, as there is the matter of dropping the best part of 2,000ft down a very steep slope. I found the best and safest way down the steepest parts was to go down backwards, so I had the confidence of good hand holds all the way. All along the ridge and its descent, there are many different route options, and it often happens that, after making some very difficult climb or scramble, it turns out there was a much easier way around. Near the bottom of the main ascent, there was a point where there seemed to be no reasonable route down, and I was pondering for a while as to which way was the least difficult, when a young chap came along and pointed out a little ledge under an overhanging stone. This was not easy to spot and a little awkward, but not too much so, and it saved me from taking a more difficult route. At last I came to the point where the slope eased off and I could walk safely on two feet rather than on all fours, as the steep scramble gave way to a normal path near the bottom. Even then, this path is not the easiest in places as it makes its way to Pen y Pass. Coming through the car park, I was horrified to find that it now costs 5 for up to four hours and 10 for over four hours to park a car. Most people are unlikely to make the summit and back in less than four hours, so end up paying the higher price.

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Steep descent from Crib Goch
Steep descent from Crib Goch
Pen y Pass Youth Hostel
Pen y Pass Youth Hostel

It was 17.20 when I checked into the youth hostel, with plenty of time to order a meal and to freshen up. As it was a Sunday, the hostel was very quiet, with most people either having left at the end of the weekend, or not yet arrived for the week. As the evening progressed, a number of others arrived, so it was not as quiet as I thought, but was far from being full. I had soup and fish and chips with salad plus a couple of beers from the Purple Moose Brewery; Celebration Ale and a honey flavoured beer. I then went off to bed for a rest, but fell asleep in my clothes, so when I woke up, I changed into my night things and went to bed properly. There were several more in my dormitory, all in bed early, with one next to me being renowned as a champion snorer, though I think I must also have been snoring by the feeling around my nose and mouth. The thing that tends to disturb others most is not snoring in a regular rhythm, but when every snore is slightly different from the last one, and the chap in the next bed was snoring this way, like campanologists ringing out all the changes. It didn't disturb me too much, as I spend much of my time awake and just resting.

In the early hours of the morning, there was a lot of activity outside, with vehicles coming and going. At this time of year, with maximum daylight hours, a lot of people take part in challenge walks such as the three peaks of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon. There are also others who attempt all the Welsh 3,000ft mountains in 24 hours, so some of those could have been setting off at first light.


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Day 21 - Monday 21st June - GPS 6.8 miles - 2,353 ft ascent

Pen y Pass to Idwal Cottage Youth Hostel via Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach

The GPS mileage figure is what I recorded from accommodation to accommodation, and includes any small detours, meandering around, and errors in route finding. In general this is about 5% to 15% greater than the mileage calculated from a map, depending upon the type of terrain, but in some cases is considerably more.

I realised when I was checking in the hostel at Trawsfynydd that the date on my watch was one day ahead, and I thought that it had just been accidentally moved on, but on checking through my notebook, I found that it must have been like that all the way throughout the walk. In fact, on the first day of the walk, I thought I had set my camera to the wrong date and readjusted it to the same date as my watch. I now set both watch and camera to the correct date, but most of the photographs I have taken will have been dated one day ahead. Also, wherever I have been staying, I have been putting the wrong dates in visitors' books and registration cards etc.

I got up at 7.30 for breakfast at eight o'clock. There were a few others down for breakfast, including a chap who looked Korean with two teenagers, a boy and a girl. Out of the window was a fine view of the steep ascent to Crib Goch, and the teenagers were complaining that they didn't want to climb all the way up there. The father pointed out that they weren't going up there but up Snowdon, which was hidden from view, but what he failed to point out was that this involved climbing even higher.

Each morning, my body tells me that I should just be lying down and relaxing for a change to give it a break, but then, as soon as I get myself going, I am fine and manage to muster up the energy to keep on going, though some days I feel fitter than others. Yesterday was quite a short day in mileage, but there was still a lot of ascent, especially having taken the Crib Goch route instead of the main route down the Pyg Track. It was another beautiful day, so that was enough to encourage me onward, though there was no hurry, as I had even less distance to cover today. However, it should be good to just wander along over the Glyders, stopping whenever I feel like it and lingering over the views.

It was 9.30 by the time I set off, just at the right time to meet Richard outside the hostel, having just been dropped off there by his wife. He had a couple with him today and I thing they were ones I had met before, though his constant changes of walking companions got me confused. I went off ahead of them up the steep path from the hostel, which was fine for a while until it started to peter out. I had obviously drifted off the main route, which is a little indistinct in places. Not to be deterred, I kept on going onwards and upward, making my way gradually over to the west until I rejoined the main path further up. Even though I had no path to follow, it was not too difficult over the grassy slope with a number of rocky outcrops and, as long as I was gaining height and heading roughly in the right general direction, it didn't worry me. I eventually met up with a path, but I was still unsure as to whether it was the right one, as it was not very well trodden. I put this down to the fact that most people approach the Glyders from the northern side, where there is the more spectacular route via the Devil's Kitchen and a number of other routes.

I stopped for a drink and a rest at 10.30, with views across to Crib Goch, and Snowdon's summit now visible over the ridge. There had been no sign of the others for a while, though I could hear voices below at times, and then they eventually reached me. Richard had had quite a hard day over the second half of the Rhinogs to Maentwrog and didn't get there until 19.40. He had been worried, when I last saw him the day before then, as to whether he would be able to finish in time to get a meal where they were staying. In the event, his wife made arrangements to have something that could easily be kept warm until they arrived. I set off again at 10.45 and the next bit was up a steep buttress and there was no confusing the path now, as it was quite eroded, whereas on more gently sloping grassy parts there was enough regrowth to overcome any erosion. The steep climb didn't last for very long and there was then a steady ascent to the summit.

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Crib Goch and Garnedd Ugain
Crib Goch and Garnedd Ugain
Glyder Fach from Glyder Fawr
Glyder Fach from Glyder Fawr

The Glyders never appear particularly attractive mountains to me, though they do have a strange fascination, with lots of jagged rock formations sticking up all around and some near vertical rock strata. When there has been more rain, there is at least a bit of greenery between the stones and boulders, but today the whole plateau looked barren and lifeless. However, despite the weird landscape of these mountains, they command magnificent views of the surrounding mountains and the valleys below. There had been very little breeze today, so I was getting quite warm on the way up, and my back was soaked in sweat. Even on the summit there was only a gentle breeze, but with most of the climbing over for the day, that suited me well, as I could have a leisurely time along the tops in the warmth of the sunshine.

I arrived at the summit of Glyder Fawr at 11.25 (checkpoint 34), which the guidebook said was 1.5 miles from Pen y Pass, whereas my GPS said I had done over 2.5 miles. Admittedly I had drifted off the route for a while, but not enough by any means to account for the difference. It is on steep ascents where the greatest differences occur between distances measured from a map and those actually traversed on the ground. The meanderings of paths in steep places cannot be seen on a map, and there is also a discrepancy between the distance covered along a slope and that covered on the two dimensional view represented on a map. However, I have mixed opinions about guidebook distances. In his guidebook of the Pennine Way, Wainwright added extra miles to allow for the difficulty of the terrain in certain sections, and this could make planning confusing, especially if people were also building in their own adjustments for this, as would be the case when using other guidebooks.

With the advent of GPS, however, there is the opportunity to make more accurate measurements of actual walking distance along winding paths and over hilly terrain, rather than adding on extra by guesswork. Some of the newer guidebooks make use of GPS measurements, whereas many others do not, so it is important to know what method has been used when planning a walk. With walks over gentler terrain, there is not nearly so much discrepancy, so it is not really a problem, although a GPS will generally show a slightly higherfigure even then. At twelve o'clock, Richard and the others arrived at the summit, and he was also complaining about some of the discrepancies he had encountered, though he didn't use a GPS himself. One of his companions had measured the distance from Maes-y-garnedd to Maentwrog as 16 miles on his GPS, whereas the guidebook shows it as only 13.5 miles. This is perhaps one of the worst cases, as the route over the Rhinogs is particularly tortuous and almost impossible to measure on a map, but it does illustrate a point.

Today, Richard was going beyond Idwal Cottage to cut down a bit on the final leg of the walk tomorrow. He was intending to walk to the other end of Llyn Ogwen and be picked up on the road near there, adding about two miles to today's officially quoted 4.8 miles and reducing tomorrow's 18 miles by about 1.5 miles. They had not brought any lunch with them today, so they didn't stay long at the summit, pressing on towards Glyder Fach and then down. Shortly afterwards, three chaps came along doing all the Welsh 3,000ft peaks. They had set off at 4.30 and were now on peak number six out of thirteen. The total ascent when they finish will have been 11,000ft, not including Snowdon, which they climbed last night. The challenge is to get from the first summit to the last summit in less than 24 hours, so they camped overnight on Snowdon.

After a while at the summit, I made my way to the edge of the mountain, overlooking Nant Ffrancon with Pen yr Ole Wen and the Carneddau rising up above and Llyn Idwal down below. With this fine spectacle before me, I settled down on a nice little ledge of grass and moss, which made an ideal spot for sunbathing. Some cloud came over from time to time, but with only a gentle breeze, it wasn't cold even then, and in the sunshine it was really hot. I could still just see the summit of Glyder Fawr from where I was, but only noticed a few people coming and going, otherwise I had the whole place to myself, with just the buzzing of flies and some seagulls for company, and the occasional sound of a fighter plane overhead. At 14.00, I decided to move along the ridge for a change of viewpoint and to make a little more progress, though with only about an hour and a half's walk left, I intended to stay up in the mountains for a while longer on such a lovely day.

I made my way gradually past the unusual rock formation Castle of the Winds and over towards the Cantilever Stone, near Glyder Fach's summit, where I made the scramble over boulders to the summit at 15.10 (checkpoint 35). Before scrambling over the boulders, I took off my pack and left it by a rock, but I came back down by a different route and then spent a while searching for it, as it was hidden amongst the boulders. There were quite a few more people about now, some taking photographs of each other on the cantilever stone, and others heading for the summit. There were also three sheep wandering around looking for grass. At the best of times, the vegetation here is very sparse and now even that was mostly dead or dying from lack of rain. There was plenty of grass further down the mountainside, but they were up here scratching around amongst all the stones and rocks instead. Still, sheep never have been renowned for their intelligence.

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Castle of the Wind with Snowdon and Glyder Fawr behind
Castle of the Wind
Cantilever Stone on Glyder Fach
Cantilever Stone on Glyder Fach
Llyn Caseg-fraith and Y Foel Goch from Glyder Fach
Llyn Caseg-fraith and Y Foel Goch

I carried on along the ridge towards Bwlch Caseg Fraith, where the route takes a gentler path than the direct descent towards Tryfan, which is a rather nasty scramble. Stopping for a ten-minute rest and a drink just before the path doubled back, I had a fine view of Tryfan, which was now towering above me. Even this gentler and less used route down has suffered considerably from erosion and also from landslip, so I had to take care not to slip on loose stones as I made my way down. The one disadvantage of this route is that it drops down lower than the ridge between Glyder Fach and Tryfan, so this height has to be regained on the way to Idwal Cottage, though with a short and relatively easy day, this is not much of a problem. The final descent was rather steep, with some scrambling over boulders in places, but there have been pathway improvements for a lot of the way to make things easier. Near the hostel, there was a lot of scaffolding and a temporary bridge over the stream, whilst the old bridge was being repaired.

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Llyn Bochlwyd from Bwlch Tryfan, with Y Garn, Elidir Fawr and Foel-goch
Llyn Bochlwyd from Bwlch Tryfan
Repairs to Footbridge near Idwal Cottage
Repairs to Footbridge near Idwal Cottage

I arrived at the youth hostel at 17.20 and checked in. There was a young, temporary warden in charge, and he was having quite a few problems as he didn't know where things were and he was having difficulty with the computer system. The hostel is self-catering only, but on previous occasions had a well-stocked shop with microwave meals and many more things available. After a shower, I took a look at the shop to see what I could buy for an evening meal, breakfast and packed lunch. All that was available was on display, apart from bread and butter, which were in the freezer, and I was appalled at the limited selection of things to choose from. There were tins of tuna, jars of ragout, boil in a bag rice, tins of vegetables and soup, tins of fruit, tinned puddings, milk and cereals plus a lot of sweets and chocolates and a well stocked bar, of which the warden was very proud. The only concession to non-vegetarians was the tuna.

Confronted with the lack of anything substantial, I pondered for a while and asked the warden how I was supposed to get an evening meal, breakfast and lunch from what was there. His eyes then lit up, as he had the perfect answer - a list of 'nearby' pubs in Capel Curig or Bethesda, both of which were about five miles away. He had just checked me in and seen me in walking gear with a large pack. I replied 'Walking' and his smile turned to a frown, as he had to admit that it wasn't a very good option on foot. I then struggled to think of what I could buy, and got tuna, ragout, rice, tinned pudding, milk and cereal plus two bottles of beer for the princely sum of 14. It took ages for him to look each item up on the computer, and he also kept checking the date code of each tin out of the display cabinet in case any were out-of-date. I would have liked some bread, but he couldn't work out how much to charge per slice. A disabled lady was sitting nearby and she said 'There's nothing I can eat here.' She also wanted bread and there was a promise that he may be able to provide some in the morning.

Sometimes there is food left by others in the hostel kitchen for anyone to use, but there was precious little there today, so I set about making ragout mixed with half the tin of tuna plus a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce from the free supplies and, to my surprise, it was quite tasty. I followed it by the tin of treacle pudding, and this managed to fill me reasonably well. I was keeping the rest of the tuna to make sandwiches in the morning if I managed to get any bread.

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Rhaeadr Ogwen Waterfall near Idwal Cottage
Rhaeadr Ogwen Waterfall near Idwal Cottage

After my meal, I wandered down by the waterfalls just a short way from the hostel near the road. There were lots of children about outside the hostel, but I wasn't sure whether they were staying there or at the nearby outdoor activity centre, as I hadn't seen any in the hostel. I returned to my dormitory, which had now filled up with three Italians. It was only a tiny room with two sets of bunk beds, so with four of us and all our rucksacks, it was crowded to say the least and there was nowhere to put anything other than on the floor. Considering that the hostel was almost empty, it seemed silly to crowd us all into such a small room. One of the Italians spoke very good English and told me that they were touring around Wales and doing some walking. They came from Central Italy in the mountains, and had suffered an earthquake last year with one of them losing his house as a result.


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