Part Cambrian Way 2017

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 4 - Days 5 & 6 YHA Llanberis to YHA Rowen


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Day 5 - Tuesesday 8th July - GPS 11.3 miles, 5330 ft ascent

The GPS mileage figure includes 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.

YHA Llanberis to YHA Idwal Cottage via Y Garn, Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach

I got up ready for breakfast at 8am and set off just after 9am. The weather was warm again but with a bit of cloud around. I had turned down the offer of a packed lunch as I had to do some shopping for provisions in the village, so could get things for lunch at the same time. There was a convenience store just as I was coming out of Llanberis onto the A4086, so I called in and started looking round for the things I needed, especially something with which to make an evening meal. I soon found several things for snacks but a man was unloading four big trolleys that were wedged up against the shelf with ready meals and when he didn't seem to be getting any further with the job and went away I was able to shift them a bit so I could get to the shelves. I still didn't have the best access but managed to get a pack of ready made pasta plus a bolognese sauce. I would have preferred dried packets, but had to make do with the extra weight of them having water in - it wasn't really that much extra in the scheme of things.

The route I had planned today was not the normal route, but one designed to make a more interesting route to the next checkpoint of Glyder Fawr. I had decided to take a path up from Nant Peris to the ridge near Y Garn, another of the Welsh 3,000 footers, and from there descend to near the Devil's Kitchen then rejoin the route near the summit of Glyder Fawr. I could have taken a more direct route to the Devil's Kitchen avoiding Y Garn, but there was enough time to take on the extra peak. I know this area well, as it is among my favourite walking places for its spectacular views, though I had always approached it from the north and not from Nant Peris. On the map it looks quite straightforward with a path ascending the long valley in a fairly straight line with an ascent of over 2,000 ft in a distance of about two miles. Unfortunately, the path was not well trodden and was not visible in places, so it was a long, slow climb over rough ground a lot of the way. Climbing is always harder when there is not good firm ground underfoot, and I was still feeling a bit weary from previous walking, so I found it rather a struggle and was heartily glad when I eventually reached the top of the ridge. The only saving grace on this relentless ascent was that there was at least a strong breeze to cool me down.

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Llyn Peris (Reservoir)
Llyn Peris (Reservoir)
Llanberis Slate Quarries across Llyn Peris
Llanberis Slate Quarries across Llyn Peris
Nant Peris and Foothills of Snowdon
Nant Peris and Foothills of Snowdon
Waterfall in Cwm Gafr
Waterfall in Cwm Gafr

There was still another climb of 600 ft to the summit of Y Garn, but at least I had a bit of easier walking before I faced that and it did have a firm, zigzag path to the top. Even so, I had drunk 1.5 litres of water by the time I got to the summit, which didn't leave very much for the rest of the day. This was a convenient place to have my lunch break overlooking the marvellous views. There were a number of other walkers around, as this ridge is quite popular with many taking the Devil's Kitchen route up from Llyn Ogwen.

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Cwm Cywion and Pen yr Ole Wen
Cwm Cywion and Pen yr Ole Wen
Llyn Ogwen and Trefan from Y Garn
Llyn Ogwen and Trefan from Y Garn
Y Garn and Llyn y Cwn
Y Garn and Llyn y Cwn
Summit of Glyder Fawr (Snowdon behind)
Summit of Glyder Fawr (Snowdon behind)

I always think that the views from Y Garn down to Llyn Ogwen and Nant Ffrancon are some of the best around, with bird's eye views of several other small lakes and a stunning view of the very rugged Tryfan, another 3,000 footer. All was going well, and I was taking it steadily thinking I would have plenty of time because of the relatively small mileage of a bit over 11 miles, but this can be deceptive in an area which is very craggy and slow going, so I only stopped for about a quarter of an hour before making my way down to Llyn y Cwn (Lake of the Dogs) ready to start my next ascent, which was Glyder Fawr. As I was climbing the steep, eroded paths up Glyder Fawr I found a little spring of water to supplement my limited supply as, even with a cool breeze I still needed to drink a lot. At times now the wind was getting quite strong but it was still quite bright and not cold.

The summit areas of both Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach are almost totally devoid of vegetation and consist of a whole lot of rocks ranging from quite small ones to huge boulders, all strewn around in an untidy mess with numerous sharp rock formations standing vertically amongst them like something from another planet. Although there are some fascinating things to see, it is very slow going when trying to avoid tripping over all these obstacles. Glyder Fawr summit has two rock formations close to each other and I have often been unsure which one was actually the highest, so this time I checked with my GPS and found that the southern one was just a few feet higher than the northern one. Neither are all that easy to get to the top of, but I always consider that if your head is higher than any of the rocks, it is sufficient to say you have reached the top.

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Lower Peak from GlyderFawr Summit
Lower Peak from GlyderFawr Summit
Llyn Ogwen and Pen yr Ole Wen
Llyn Ogwen and Pen yr Ole Wen
Path from Glyder Fawr to Glyder Fach
Path from Glyder Fawr to Glyder Fach
Llyn Cwmffynnon and Snowdon
Llyn Cwmffynnon and Snowdon

After clambering over the rocky area near the summit, there is the joyful sight of something that resembles a normal path for about half a mile on the way to Glyder Fach before an even more difficult rock scramble starts. The trouble with routes over rocky places is that it is often difficult to see where the route actually goes. This has been alleviated around here by the building of a series of large cairns to mark the way. The nearest rocky formation is Castell y Gwynt (Castle of the Wind), which just qualifies as a 3,000 footer in its own right. This consists of a lot of vertical rocks and is not easy to climb from the west, but is somewhat easier from the east. Glyder Fach is also very difficult to reach by going along the top of the ridge and the best approach is by a path skirting around the south side until reaching an easier boulder scramble further along, and this comes out between Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fach. The main thing being to avoid the temptation to try for the summit too soon, but keep going round whilst there are still signs of footpaths until the easier ascent comes into sight.

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Castell y Gwynt (Glyder Fawr behind)
Castell y Gwynt (Glyder Fawr behind)
Llyn Idwal and Pen yr Ole Wen
Llyn Idwal and Pen yr Ole Wen
Cantilever Stone, Glyder Fach
Cantilever Stone, Glyder Fach
Tryfan from Near Miner's Track
Tryfan from Near Miner's Track

All along the Glyder Ridge, there are fine views across to Snowdon in the south and down into Nant Ffrancon, Llyn Ogwen and the Carneddau to the north. Another feature just past Glyder Fach summit is the Cantilever Stone, which often has people standing on its unsupported end which protrudes out. The weight of the other end is sufficient to counterbalance that of several people, but some groups do manage to make it rock by jumping up and down in unison. Needless to say, this is not recommended, though it is difficult for enough people to assemble together to cause problems, at least so far, though it is probably only a matter of time before somebody manages to dislodge it.

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Llyn Bochlwyd from Bwlch Tryfan
Llyn Bochlwyd from Bwlch Tryfan
Y Garn and Path to Idwal Cottage
Y Garn and Path to Idwal Cottage
Waterfall near Idwal Cottage
Waterfall near Idwal Cottage

More large cairns mark the route down from Glyder Fach, though the Cambrian Way avoids the steep scramble down towards Tryfan, heading further east before dropping down a less eroded but steep path. This then doubles back towards Bwlch Tryfan and thence down to Idwal Cottage Youth Hostel. Most of this route is steep and tortuous, so progress is quite slow. Some parts of the path from Bwlch Tryfan to Idwal Cottage have already had repair work undertaken, with steps in steeper parts and stone paths in others, but there are still a lot that are badly in need of improvement. I eventually arrived at the hostel at 18.20 and was checked in by the very friendly, well informed and talkative warden. He was saying that locals prefer to take a ridge route up the left side of the valley from Nant Peris, as this avoids walking over all the rough ground and gives better views. I also found that the shop had a whole lot of ready meals, but the warden said that it had just been restocked and stocks can easily run out at busy times. He had a print out of tomorrow's weather forecast, which showed rain first thing, then better weather until thunderstorms arrived by about 4pm, so he advised setting off early.

When I was trying to book a bed here, the only things that showed as available were individual cabins at 39 rather than a dormitory bed which is about 20. It was very nice to have my own private room with its own washbasin, but I still think the price is a bit steep for a room that was only about two metres square and has no breakfast included. The problem was that if I didn't take the room, I would have to divert about 5 miles in one direction or the other to find anywhere else, so I just had to put up with the price. I didn't intend to do any washing, but I put anything that was damp or sweaty in the drying room so that it was better for transporting home. My boots were getting into an even sorrier state, but I was just hoping that they could survive for the twenty plus miles to Conwy.

The hostel has a very well equipped self catering kitchen and there was a shelf with some 'free to use' items with which I could supplement the things I had brought with me. It didn't take long to heat up my pasta dish, which was reasonably filling and I then had a few of my snacks to finish with. I had brought my own tea and coffee, but there was a free supply anyway, and I was able to buy a couple of bottles of beer from the shop.


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Day 6 - Wednesday 19th July - GPS 15.4 miles, 5630 ft ascent

The GPS mileage figure includes 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.

YHA Idwal Cottage to YHA Rowen via the Carneddau and Tal y Fan

Sure enough, it was raining when I woke up, so I thought I would set off once it passed over and hope that I could get as far as possible before the bad weather started later in the day. I had brought a packet of Bachelor's Super Rice to cook for breakfast and there were free cereals on the shelf plus free milk in the fridge, so I could get a reasonable meal. The rice packet said 'Now cooks even faster - ready in 10 minutes' so I followed the instructions exactly, bringing the water to the boil then adding the contents of the packet and leaving it to simmer. The instructions said that it would be ready when all the water had been absorbed, but 10 minutes later the rice was still as hard as bullets and hardly any water had been absorbed. I then started boiling it vigorously and kept on stirring it until, after another 10 minutes, the water was all absorbed and the rice was cooked. To my knowledge, 20 minutes is the normal cooking time for rice, so there was absolutely nothing fast about this rice. I wondered whether the altitude of about 1,000ft above sea level might significantly alter the boiling point of water, but when I got home and checked on the internet, this would have only reduced the boiling point by about 1 degree Celsius, which I very much doubt would double the cooking time.

By the time I had eaten my breakfast and got myself ready to go, it was 8.45 and the rain had just stopped, so I set off across the road to where the path starts. The guidebook route avoids the very steep direct climb up Pen yr Ole Wen and to ensure that walkers did not disobey his commands, Tony Drake placed a checkpoint at the far end of Llyn Ogwen to ensure that the gentler ascent along a ridge is used instead. Of course, walkers can ignore checkpoints if they wish, but the idea was that anyone who does so cannot be deemed to have completed the walk.

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A Dismal Start from Idwal Cottage
A Dismal Start from Idwal Cottage
River Ogwen from Road Bridge
River Ogwen from Road Bridge
Path through Boulders at Start
Path through Boulders at Start

Note: There are many more of my photos taken in better weather conditions on the Cambrian Way website

The path by the lake is rather difficult at first as it skirts around a lot of rocks and boulders, but it gets easier as it progresses. The recent rain made it rather boggy in places, but no more that I had found in lots of other parts. I had given up on any idea of keeping my feet dry and just accepted that they would get either damp or wet depending on conditions underfoot. At the end of the lake, the ascent up the hillside started and it was quite easy to follow, with marker posts on the way up, and not too steep a climb. The cloud level was at about 2,000 ft, so visibility wasn't too bad, though the higher mountains were all obscured. After a steady climb, the path levelled off somewhat before the start of a steep scramble up the ridge to Pen yr Ole Wen. Though quite steep in places, it is not too difficult with plenty of hand and footholds on the steeper parts. As I climbed upwards, the cloud level was also lifting, so I still had some reasonable views most of the way until near the summit, where I entered the cloud.

It is not difficult to follow the route in mist so, after a short rest at the summit, I continued towards Carnedd Dafydd, the next 3,000 footer. Although I was in mist most of the time, it occasionally cleared a bit to give me some views down Cwm Lloer to Ffynnon Lloer, the lake below, albeit rather drab ones. By the time I reached the summit, the cloud had lifted further, bringing Carnedd Llewelyn, the highest mountain of the day, into view as well as considerably better views of everything around. As it was nearly 1 pm, I stopped for a lunch break half way between Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn at one of my favourite points along this ridge, with a long view down the valley to the northwest where Afon Llafar meanders its way down the long valley deep below.

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Ffynnon Llugwy Reservoir and Y Braich
Ffynnon Llugwy Reservoir and Y Braich
Ascent of Carnedd Llewelyn
Ascent of Carnedd Llewelyn

Note: There are many more of my photos taken in better weather conditions on the Cambrian Way website

I took the opportunity to ring my wife, as I had good reception and, as we were speaking I suddenly stopped in my conversation, as there were rumblings of thunder echoing around the mountains. I had seen lots of dark clouds developing to the south and east, but it was still reasonably bright where I was, so I hoped the bad weather would pass by without affecting me. However, I thought it would be best not to linger and to make as much progress as I could. I met three other walkers who were out bagging a number of 3,000 ft peaks and they were heading, like me, towards Carnedd Llewelyn. Just as I was starting the steep ascent towards the summit, I felt raindrops, so decided that it was time to but on my waterproofs to prepare for the worst, and the other walkers decided to do the same. They went ahead of me to the summit and then over to the west towards Yr Elen, which was the next of the peaks they were going to climb.

The clouds got darker and darker and the rain started coming down in huge drops, whilst the thunder kept rumbling and echoing around. Most of the time there were no visible lightning flashes, but then the storm came closer, with flashes of lightning followed by thunder a couple of seconds later indicating that it was about half a mile away at its nearest. Being near the summit of the highest mountain in the Carneddau is not the best place to be in a thunderstorm, but there was not a lot I could do other than press on. Fortunately, there was little wind, so the rain was falling vertically rather than driving into my rucksack and though my waterproofs, but it was very heavy at times as it came over in waves. I met another lone walker who had come up from Llanfairfechan with the idea of bagging 3,000 ft mountains and, rather than heading back, he was thinking of continuing south towards Carnedd Dafydd. There is a mountain shelter on Foel Grach that he had stopped in for a while and that was where I was thinking of stopping too, arriving there at around 3pm.

At least I could have more of a rest than I had managed previously before venturing again into the mist and rain. Not long after I set off, I met the lone walker again. He had come to the conclusion that it would be more sensible to head back rather than venturing into unknown territory in mist and rain. He headed off at a quicker pace and I just continued trudging onwards, starting to feel a bit weary. Route finding was not really a problem, and I had my GPS to follow if I was in any doubt, but after a while the rain eased off and the cloud lifted so there was then quite reasonable visibility for a while. I made my way beyond the next two 3,000 footers of Carnedd Gwenllian and Foel-fras towards Drum, which is about 500ft lower. After a couple of small ups and downs, the route descended more steeply towards Bwlch y Ddeufaen, the pass where the main National Grid overhead power lines cross the mountains on the way from Wylfa Nuclear Power Station on Anglesey to feed the towns of North Wales. The power station was decommissioned in 2015, but there are plans to build another one. There is also a car park close by and this is the first place since Llyn Ogwen where there is easy access to the route. However, my destination was Rowen Youth Hostel, which was nearly three miles further along. This involved a steep climb of about 600 ft up to Foel Lwyd, then a lot of rocky walking towards Tal y Fan, which was the final mountain at just 2,000 ft high.

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Shelter on Foel Grach
Shelter on Foel Grach
Afon Anafon Valley to Aber Falls
Afon Anafon Valley to Aber Falls

Note: There are many more of my photos taken in better weather conditions on the Cambrian Way website

By this time the weather closed in again as the cloud descended, though there was not much rain, just poor visibility, waterlogged ground and wet, slippery rocks making progress rather slow, especially after the draining effect of the bad weather conditions earlier. After Tal y Fan, the route follows the ridge for about half a mile to where the hostel route parts company with the main route and descends down the hillside for about 1,000 ft towards the hostel. The final little challenge is that, once down to the same level as the hostel, there is no right of way across and it is necessary to drop about 100 ft further down to reach a gate onto the very steep road back up to the hostel. I staggered in there at about 8pm looking like a drowned rat and feeling exhausted. However, I was heartily glad that I had decided not to walk the whole way to Conwy, which I have sometimes done in the past. This is difficult enough in good weather, but would have been that much worse today.

Rowen Youth Hostel is a small, self catering hostel mainly run by volunteer wardens, who generally spend a week at a time there to deal with checking people in and out, cleaning, changing bedding etc. in exchange for free accommodation for themselves. This is one of the ways that these small hostels have avoided closure, as they are not economically viable otherwise, which has led so many of them being closed in the past. The great thing about these places is that they generally have a much more friendly atmosphere, with hostellers and wardens enjoying the communal experience that has been lost from many larger hostels.

When the warden and some other hostellers saw me come in, they rallied round, offering at first a cup of tea, which changed to an offer of a beer. My boots were taken away to the drying room and some of the checking in formalities such as proof of identity dispensed with. I asked what time the pub down in the village stopped serving meals, but nobody knew and, as it meant descending another 400 ft with subsequent climb back up again, they suggested eating in the hostel taking advantage of the various free food that was available plus things that others were very generously offering me. Someone had put together a salad, there was a packet of pasta and a jar of pesto to go with it from the free food, plus chocolate biscuits and other snacks given by other hostellers. One couple who were staying had a little boy of about 5 years old and he offered me a Barney Bear, describing to me what it had inside. He went through all sorts of sweet ingredients and then said the middle was filled with stew! After that I said he had really sold it to me and I would have to accept the offer.

The warden said later that they were all feeling rather bad about staying in the hostel to avoid the bad weather and when they saw me, who had crossed the Carneddau, they got a touch of guilt, which is why I got such a good reception. She and her husband were saying that they had done a similar stint in Pwll Deri hostel on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. It is in the most spectacular location high up on the hillside overlooking the bay. I have not stayed there, but passed it when I was walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in 2001 and also earlier this year on a holiday in Pembrokeshire. Apparently, though, there is now a serious shortage of volunteer wardens, which is threatening the existence of these small hostels. The turning point came when the YHA changed their system with bedding. Previously, it was up to hostellers to put on the sheet, duvet cover and pillowcase themselves, whereas now all the beds have to be made up by the wardens. In hostels where there are a lot of one night stays, such as those near long distance trails, this involves quite a lot of work which, in addition to the other things that the wardens have to do, makes the whole thing less appealing.

There were already three or four people in bed sleeping when I went up to my dormitory, which was quite surprising as it was not very late. It appears that they were workmen who were working on some water treatment plant nearby and they started work very early in the mornings. I tried to avoid disturbing them by not switching on the light and trying to be as quiet as possible, though they had various phones and a laptop that kept pinging whenever messages arrived and this didn't seem to bother them. Sure enough, at 6am various alarms went off and they got themselves ready for work, leaving me in peace. I then noticed that this dormitory had been recently refurbished so that each bunk had its own little bedside light with a socket next to it for charging phones etc. In addition, the room had a set of lockers for storing personal belongings. This is what I have always felt that most hostels lacked, even many of the larger ones.


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