The mountains of the Carneddau make up the largest land mass higher than 750 metres (about 2500ft) south of the Scottish border, and a crossing of the plateau in one trip makes for a big day out! It’s also a route that deserves the tag ‘Classic’. I had been putting this walk off for a couple of years, but the recent prolonged spell of good weather had removed the last excuse. The first problem, however, was getting there ….
It must be said that the logistics for the trip are a pain. The two car solution is possibly the easiest answer, but collecting the spare car at the end of the day would be a bit of a bind, and would delay the celebratory pint. As it was, my mate John wasn’t available on the day, so it was Plan B, a solo crossing using public transport. When I first worked out the timings I was looking at a June-August trip, but the sudden decision to ‘go for it’ in September revealed an unexpected problem – there are less buses to choose from once ‘Summer’ is officially over!
I left the car at Conwy, and started the two-bus journey to the start point at Ogwen. After looking at all the options, the earliest time I could get on the hill was about 1230, with 28 kms (18 miles) and 1544 metres (5065 ft) of height gain ahead. My estimated time to complete was 9½ hours, and with sunset timed at 1930 it didn’t take a mathematician to work out that I would have a couple of hours in the dark at the end of the day – better check I’ve got the spare head-torch batteries then.
The first mountain of the day was Pen yr Ole Wen. I had aimed at a lightweight crossing, but it’s surprising how the grams start to add up. I kept the water down to 2 litres, not enough for the whole trip, but enough to get me to a known water source just after Tal y Fan – a ‘Steripen’ and a ‘Nalgene’ bottle didn’t weigh much, and would enable me to purify enough water to finish, but water for the dog was a different matter. I also carried a short rope and harness to protect ‘Mist’ on a short rock section on the ascent of the East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen.
Last time we came this way, ‘Mist’ had struggled a bit getting up the rock obstacle – I can now report that her rock climbing standard has gone up by at least a grade, and at one point the dog overtook me, making this her first lead on a rock route! I used the safety equipment for less than five minutes, including fitting, and having used it I then carried it all the way to Conwy – this is how a lightweight pack creeps up to 10 kgs (22 lbs)! Despite this, we arrived on the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen about 15 minutes ahead of our estimate.
The next summit lurking in the haze was Carnedd Dafydd at 1044 metres (3425 ft). On the way we picked up another spare five minutes, and I started to consider if I was perhaps going a bit too fast – the pace felt good though, so it was on towards Carnedd Llewelyn. The ridge joining the two peaks is usually good for water if you know where to look, and ‘Mist’ seems to prefer water that I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole! A slight diversion cost five minutes, but gave the dog a chance for a good drink, meaning that I wouldn’t have to give her too much of my precious two litres.
The summit of Carnedd Llewelyn marked the end of the first of three sections. The first section had included the greater part of the height gain for the day and the two highest summits, and the next section was to be an undulating wide ridge, with a more modest total height gain. On Foel Grach I cashed in fifteen minutes of the time I had gained for a bite to eat and some coffee – using the small stone refuge just below the summit meant that I didn’t have to faff about putting on a warm layer during the break. Then it was onwards again.
I had given ‘Mist’ some of my water at Foel Grach. Two weeks earlier we had found water at the col between Foel Grach and Carnedd Gwenllian, but this time all was dry. I had anticipated this, and the plan was to go slightly ‘off-piste’ on Carnedd Gwenllian – the summit there is flat, dry and stony, but within a couple of hundred metres there are murky, peat-coloured pools of water, just the thing for a thirsty Border Collie.
After Carnedd Gwenllian I set my sights on Foel Fras. The haze made an optical illusion, where the hill seemed to have a significant height gain – in reality the height gain was a mere 40 metres ascent over 1.5 km, which was never going to feel hard and in the event didn’t. From there it was mostly a long descent before another 40 metres height gain to the summit of Drum – I had started with no intention of trying for a fast crossing, but the long descent tempted me into a jog in places.
Drum is the last major summit on the plateau, and many take a left turn here to follow the pretty way to finish at Abergwyngregin. I was after a purer crossing though, and I headed instead for Tal y Fan, one of the outlying hills of the Carneddau. The only issue here was that I had to drop down to the old Roman Road (now the North Wales Path) losing over 300 metres in the process, before regaining over 200 metres of height to the summit of Tal y Fan via Foel Lwyd. At the Roman Road I decided that I had earned a ten minute break, so dog and I had a quick snack before starting on the last section of the trip.
The route up Foel Lwyd from the Roman Road was possibly the steepest bit of the trip, but a slow, steady plod demolished the height gain. Tal y Fan came and went, and I raced the sun down to the standing stone at Maen Penddu where I knew I would find water – it came at just the right time, as my two litres was just about to run out. There didn’t seem to be much point in dashing off in the twilight then having to stop to go into night mode, so I had another 15 minute break here to finish off the coffee and to set up my headtorch.
A mere 8 kms (5 miles) lay ahead, with a modest height gain of 120 metres – height loss was a more impressive 510 metres, which meant that this was virtually downhill all the way, and on good tracks. Being near to the end of the day there was no need to keep a bit of energy in reserve, so I fairly motored down to Conwy. The trip took 8¾ hours instead of the estimated 9½, though I wasn’t in a rush to finish and took several breaks on the way. The only negative aspect of the day was indifferent light for photography – perhaps I’ll have to wait for a cold, crisp, winter day with good lighting and do it all again!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock