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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock