#314 – Yr Elen and the Dragons Teeth

Yr Elen, seen from Carnedd Llewelyn (Photo from 2015)

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

Yr Elen from Foel Grach (2014)

Readers of this blog might well think that I have moved to live in Scotland, based on the number of posts on Scottish mountain trips over recent months (10 out of 12 to be exact) so time to redress that with a post featuring a Welsh mountain.  We did this route in July 2021, and on the timeline, this should have been published between post #304 and #306, but finally it’s time for the lovely Yr Elen to step forward into the light of day.

North Wales, with the Yr Elen route on blue at the centre
The mountains of the Carneddau, with the Yr Elen route in the centre in blue
The Yr Elen route, clockwise starting from Gerlan near Bethesda

The mountain is often approached from Carnedd Llewelyn on the north-south ridge of the Carneddau – as Yr Elen is one of the fifteen 3000 ft peaks (915 metres) of Wales, hikers following the Welsh 3000’s Challenge route have to divert out and back to tick it off, adding 2.5 kms and 250 metres of height loss and gain.  Not for us on this trip though – our route for the day was the quiet, lonely ascent from Gerlan, near Bethesda.

Setting off up the valley of the Afon Caseg, with the clouds down on the Carneddau
Carneddau ponies, not worried at all by clouds, humans, or Border Collies
The clouds lifting a little, but still brushing the top of Yr Elen ….
  …. but clearing more as we headed up the wide valley
The valley narrows ahead

We set out heading east up the wide valley of the Afon Caseg, which translates as ‘the Mare’s River’.  Clouds were covering the tops of the Carneddau, which didn’t seem to bother a small group of Carneddau ponies, who live on the mountains here all year round. The valley stays wide for about 5 kms, at which point it starts to narrow – by the time we reached the narrows, the cloud was almost burned off the hills by the warm sun.

Looking up towards the Northeast Ridge of Yr Elen (the ‘Dragons Teeth Ridge’)
Wet, mossy hollow by the Afon Caseg
The entrance to the hanging valley of Cwm Caseg, our route over on the left, just to the right of the stream
Looking down to the small lake of Ffynnon Caseg (The Mare’s Well)

Our route was to the small hanging valley of Cwm Caseg, then up the Northeast Ridge of Yr Elen, also known as the Dragons Teeth Ridge, a route that I had followed before with Border Collie ‘Mist’ (see posts #159 and #186).  On the way, we passed a wet, mossy hollow that I had not seen of previous visits, probably because this time I had taken a slightly easier line of ascent for Chris and for a Border Collie who is now officially an old girl – the upshot was that we arrived in the cwm above the tiny lake of Ffynnon Caseg (the Mare’s Well) instead of next to it.

What we missed on this trip – Ffynnon Caseg …. (as seen in 2015)
…. and the small, ruined hafod (2015)
Heading up the steep slope.  Beware, dragons teeth ahead! (as seen in 2015)

It is said that Ffynnon Caseg is where Carneddau ponies go to give birth to their foals. It is one of the loneliest and quietest places in Wales, with the only sign of human activity being the ruins of a tiny hafod (summer dwelling). Above the lake, the slope heads steeply upwards to gain the crest of the Dragons Teeth Ridge – once on the crest of the ridge, the drop on the other side of the ridge suddenly becomes obvious.

‘…. the drop on the other side of the ridge suddenly becomes obvious’ – looking down to the valley we had walked up
There’s quite a drop below as well (image from 2014)
More teeth to come (2014)

The ‘obvious drop’ was straight down to the valley we had walked up, and Chris was a less than happy bunny about the amount of fresh air below us – the views up and down the ridge were equally airy.  Chris would normally have had my undivided attention on steep ground, but as mentioned earlier, we had an old, though enthusiastic, Border Collie along as well.

A younger Border Collie ‘Mist’, waiting for me to catch up on an earlier trip (2014)
Higher up the ridge, but still waiting for the human (2014)

Collies are a bit like some humans, and ‘Mist’ isn’t ready to accept yet that she doesn’t have the physical strength of a young dog.  That usually isn’t a problem – on difficult ground I now attach a long leash to her harness and stop her before she tries to climb awkward steps, followed by a shove up the bum to clear the obstacle.  This is exactly what we did, then having got ‘Mist’ through the rocky section, I returned for my other ‘client’, who was waiting patiently below.

On the summit of Yr Elen, with Foel Grach (left) and Carnedd Llewelyn (right) beyond on the skyline
Team pic #1 – Chris, with Carnedd Llewelyn behind
Team Pic #2 – Rare shot of the author plus dog
Team Pic #3 – ‘Mist’ at the start of the descent route

Without too many dramas, we all regrouped and followed the last easy section of ridge to the summit, and there was time for ‘Team Pics’ in the sun before we prepared for the descent down to Gerlan.

Looking down towards Foel Ganol, with Gerlan and Bethesda in the valley below

The way down was steady and a complete contrast to the drama of the Dragons’ Teeth.  A faint path crosses Foel Ganol (‘Bare Hill in the Middle’) and a lower un-named peak, before heading down to a crossing of the Afon Caseg to get back to the outward path.  Stream crossings can have their moments, but the water level on this occasion was low.  I spent a couple of minutes looking for an easy crossing point for ‘Mist’, and having done so I looked across the stream to see the old dog already across and grinning back at me – she has a few more miles in her yet!

Time to head for home

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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7 Responses to #314 – Yr Elen and the Dragons Teeth

  1. David Freeman says:

    Great post Paul. I’ve only done Yr Elen from Ogwen. Great views from there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s so lush and green! Beautiful area

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great photos – haven’t done that ridge for years! It was my idea though and that was back in the day when I was a feartie but I don’t remember being worried on the way up the ridge. I thought the descent was very steep though!

    Good to see there are still wild ponies in the mountains of Wales

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can hardly remember a day on the Carneddau when I haven’t seen ponies.

      As for the ridge, it’s not what I would scary – I think it fazed Chris a tad when she popped her head over the crest and found herself looking down 300 metres to the valley below 😦

      Liked by 1 person

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