#284 – Cwm Eigiau in the Eastern Carneddau

Craig yr Ysfa in upper Cwm Eigiau

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back – go on, it really does work!)

2020 is going to go down as one of the strangest years ever – and that’s me being polite! April, May and early June were blessed with the best UK hill and mountain conditions for years, but due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the mountains were out of reach unless you actually lived within walking distance of them. Sure, we got to know our own local hills a bit better (see posts #275 and #276) but Snowdonia was out of reach despite being only 40 km (25 miles) away from home.

The Carneddau

The route in blue, anti-clockwise from the cap park (the red alternative to Foel Grach was abandoned)

As the end of 2020 came racing towards us, I realised that I hadn’t been on my favourite Welsh Mountains, the Carneddau, for almost two years. A favourable sounding weather forecast held the promise of a good day out, so Chris and me (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’) set our sights on Foel Grach, one of the easier mountains on the east side of the Carneddau range.

Looking towards lower Cwm Eigiau, near to the start point

First snow of the winter at about 600 metres on Cefn Tal Llyn Eigiau

A rare photo of the author!

Coming off Cefn Tal Llyn Eigiau to the Gledrffordd plateau ….

…. where the weather starts closing in

The road to the start point of the walk must be one of the narrowest in North Wales, a land with more than its fair share of narrow roads. The plan was to follow a route we have taken before (see post #134) following the broad Cefn Tal Llyn Eigiau ridge to a low plateau at Gledrffordd, then up to Foel Grach on the rough line of a Right of Way path shown on the map. We would then follow the RoW path down to Cwm Eigiau and return to the car by the old quarry track. Well, that was the plan.

The refuge on Foel Grach, seen on a visit in June 2013

The refuge isn’t obvious as it blends in with the rocks (June 2013)

Chris getting comfortable (June 2013)

Not big – but big enough to escape a storm (June 2013)

At an altitude of 977 metres (3205 ft), Foel Grach (translates as ‘bare, scabby hill’) is fairly unremarkable despite being the eighth highest mountain in Wales. The main highlight of the visit is a small but substantial stone shelter, where it’s possible to escape the wind and rain to enjoy dry sandwiches. That aside, the shelter has probably saved lives over the years, as the Carneddau Plateau is wild, open and exposed.

Difficult snow and iffy weather – it’s decision time!

It’s just a 10 km hike to complete the Gledrffordd /Cwm Eigiau circuit, leaving an option of an extra 3-4 kms diversion to and from Foel Grach. As we reached the 600-metre contour, it became obvious that Mr Snow had paid a visit – at first it was soft and slushy, followed by powdery, which slowed down progress more than a bit.

Taking the detour to the descent to Cwm Eigiau

The main problems came with the frozen sections – several metres of good, hard snow would help us pick up the pace a bit, but just as we came to trust the frozen crust, it would collapse. Time was slipping away, so it wasn’t a difficult decision to miss out Foel Grach, and to head straight to the descent to upper Cwm Eigiau.

The first view of the climbers’ crag of Craig yr Ysfa, hiding in the murk

Craig yr Ysfa in full view as we descended into the cwm

Closer view of Craig yr Ysfa

The navigation was a doddle, even with poor visibility. There are two ring contours at around 730 metres on the Gledrffordd plateau– a rough bearing of South West followed the faint snow-covered path, and the two ‘bumps’ indicated where we were. When we started to gain height for the third time, it was time to ‘hang a left’ and to follow the contour. The GPS came in useful towards the end, where the descending RoW path to Cwm Eigiau is vague at the best of times, but the sight of the climbers’ crag of Craig yr Ysfa, confirmed that we were on the right track.

The last bit of the descent to the remains of the old quarry in upper Cwm Eigiau

Looking back to Craig yr Ysfa, with the sun just about to go down

The descent to the remains of the old quarry buildings was as soggy as I have ever seen it, probably due to meltwater as much as rain. The sun was about to go down as we took the quarry track back to the car, but the light remained good all the way back – more’s the pity, as I like a night walk. More importantly, the rain held off, and I only felt the first drops as I took one last photo of the night creeping in – now, that’s good timing!

The walk out of the upper cwm – time to head for home

Night creeps in just as we get back to the car

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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5 Responses to #284 – Cwm Eigiau in the Eastern Carneddau

  1. Andrew says:

    Great walk. I called into the Foel Grach hut on my way down from sleeping in the wind shelter on Carnedd Llewelyn when I walked from Norfolk to Bangor in 2019 (write-up and pics on my blog if you’re interested 😉 ) That was in June so no snow but the hut was incredibly damp inside so I was glad I hadn’t slept in it. As you say, a potential lifesaver in a whiteout.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve says:

    You found your beloved snow then buddy, and maybe had some at home too in the last day or so. Enjoy mate……. another great post by the way…….with superb pics as always!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: #297 – Return to Foel Grach – with a difference | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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