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