It’s rare that I have a bad day out in the mountains – there are great days, and even better days! Every now and then though, I find myself on a route that I just can’t wait to get back to. A year earlier I had done a circuit in the mountains of the Carneddau that included the Northeast Ridge of Yr Elen (see post #159) and even before I finished the trip I was longing to be back there.
My planned route for the day was up the valley of the Afon Caseg (Mare’s River) to the small cwm (valley) which held the tiny lake of Ffynnon Caseg (Mare’s Spring). From there I would follow the Northeast Ridge again to the summit of Yr Elen before heading onto the main plateau of the Carneddau to cross Carnedd Llewelyn and Carnedd Dafydd before heading back from Pen yr Ole Wen.
The route starts with a long gradual ascent by the Afon Caseg. This section is almost a third of the total distance for the day with half of the height gain, but the height gain is so gradual that it isn’t really noticed. As the name suggests, many of the wild ponies that live in the Carneddau can be found around Afon Caseg, but the only one seen on the walk up the valley was a collection of bones.
Further up the valley the sides start to close in a bit, and on a first visit you might be forgiven in thinking that the valley is a dead end. Indeed, on arriving at the lake of Ffynnon Caseg, the small cwm appears to be just that, a dead end. There is an escape though, up the Northeast Ridge, otherwise known as the Dragon’s Teeth! Before setting off up the ridge I visited the ruins of the tiny Hafod (summer dwelling) nestling next to the lake.
When it comes to the ridge, it’s a bit of a slog – less than 1 km of distance with a height gain of over 200 metres. The ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ bit doesn’t have any technical difficulty, but the rocky outcrops along the spine of the route add to the interest.
From the summit of Yr Elen, the route is a glorious switchback over the summits of Carnedd Llewelyn followed by Carnedd Dafydd. From there, the most logical route is back towards Bethesda above the Afon Llafar, but I had another mission in mind and headed down to Pen yr Ole Wen instead.
Since I moved to North Wales, the mountain rescue team in the Ogwen Valley (OVMRO) has had a handful of incidents with people getting on to dangerous ground descending northwest from Pen yr Ole Wen down Braich Ty Du, usually in the dark. There was nothing on the map to indicate a problem, but being curious I thought I would check it out – the only realistic way to do this was to take a compass bearing down the intended route and follow it, even though the visibility was perfect.
As with many navigation traps, the route starts off without difficulty, other than an occasional boulder field – when I had to cross boulders I deliberately took a left option, this being the way that would take me nearer to the cliffs of Clogwyn Twll Du. In the daylight it was easy to avoid the craggy ground, but in the dark with a wind blowing from the east it would be easy to drift too far left onto technical and dangerous ground – the drop down to the A5 road below was quite impressive!
Having satisfied curiosity, it was off home by the easiest route, eventually joining the Afon Llafar path. Apart from the heap of bones early on, there had been no sightings of the wild ponies of the Carneddau, but I don’t think I have ever walked these hills without seeing at least a couple, and sure enough I passed a family group on the descent. ‘Mist’ didn’t appear to be much impressed, probably because it was well past her dinner time!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock