Monday, 9 August 2010

The Carneddau - An Eleusinian Wilderness

There's an umbratic and blissful serenity to be found in the Carneddau that doesn't exist in some of the other honey pot theatres of the Snowdonia National Park. It is closest thing approaching a tenor of real wilderness to be found here and that quality is singularly intensified by pitching a camp within this enigmatic massif, and rising early the next day as the sun crests the horizon & a new day dawns. Sadly, it wasn't until the morning after a torrid and challenging day before that this serenity manifested. The day before was nothing like serene.

I lie in my sleeping bag, cosy and warm, as I write this, reflecting on the days' exertions and sipping hot chocolate. The wind bays at the door of my tent like a pack of ravenous, circling wolves and the rain taps a gentle percussion on its nylon fly. It is now pleasantly cool outside, grateful respite from the murderous, intemperate weather of the rest of the day. At this altitude, some 500m up, and with a maelstrom swirling outside, insect annoyances are few.

The Carneddau has long occupied a place in my thoughts, but none would deny there are sexier, more seductive attractions in North West Wales. Yet, like a quiet and unassuming understudy, with talent aplenty, the Carneddau is content to tarry until Yr Wyddfa, Tryfan and it's "galactico" brethren have been exhausted and conquered. It is a patient massif, comfortable with it's own place in the order of things and content to stagger the unwitting who come here. It has its challenges, rocky scrambles up to Pen yr Ole Wen and Pen yr Helgi Ddu, but it also has great, sweeping stretches of wilderness, open to the elements in the most unforgiving of ways. We started the day parking at Llyn Ogwen and walking along the A5 to our start point at Tag y Llyn Ogwen. We could see the top of Pen yr Ole Wen shrouded in cloud and the rain was already beginning its mischief. We knew the weather was to be less than ideal but we had no idea just how bad it would become.

 It is a robust start to a hike, with serious mileage enough ahead, to climb up to the 978m Pen yr Ole Wen ridgeline over the course of less than 2km. The views, once the heady scramble up the chimney to the summit of the ridge has been negotiated, we realised, were completely obscured by the misty haze that shrouded the whole Carneddau massif in a veil of swirling vapour. The wind, a brawny, relentless siege, intermittently punctuated by short bursts of precipitation, pushed and tugged at us as we threaded our way around the horseshoe towards Fach and Dafydd before making our way along Ysgolion Duon to Llewelyn and the high-point, in more than one sense, of the trek. We proudly tick off two Trail 100 peaks because, as I lay here now, I know this has been another Quality Mountain Day - not just for my progression towards Mountain Leader, but also in my growth as a hillwalker and backpacker. Every minute spent up here enhances my knowledge and skill set. Nothing about this day has been easy - navigation was difficult as the paths regularly disappeared from view as the mist reduced visibility to a matter of metres. The ground, slick with moss and rain, was treacherous underfoot. Every step was intently measured as the ridgelines, with sheer drops that were virtually invisible to us, were sometimes only metres from the path.

 The walk from Llewelyn to Foel Grach and the newly-christened Gwenllian was anything but a stroll - it should have been an untaxing respite from the continuously undulating landscape of earlier in the day but, the ground boggy and rocky in equal measure, the mist blinding us with its ashen mantle and wind wrenching us in every compass bearing, it was arduous. The mood grew Stygian and menacing, the rain coming down hard, and the landscape mantled in dark rock and russet heathland flora. It was as if the sky descended above us, narrowing the space between the landscape and heavens. Summits revealed themselves to us only after great hardship, sudden and without warning. Nothing was visible beyond them. We rejoiced in the shelters they bestowed on us, ducking gratefully out of the wind.

We continued to thread a careful route, both of us shrouded in arcane, mystical fabrics, recalcitrant against the elements, we stayed dry and warm until we dropped below the cloud and the vista opened up, like a ghost slowly materialising through the mist from some otherworldy domain to expose the location of our night's repose - a reservoir below Pen yr Helgi Ddu.

 At the end of a long day, we pitched swiftly, comfortable with our tents as an old pair of shoes and set our diminutive stove to work. Strange that something so miniature could be so stalwart. As I write now, the embers of our sunset flames have died - tribute to its versatility that we could swiftly manufacture an immediate hot drink, followed by a meal for ourselves with one fuel then luxuriously watch the wood-burning fire flames dance around the pot for a second hot drink before bed. We sat in our porches, revelling in the romanticism of it all, protected from unwanted visitors by the wind and rain that had been our enemies all day. We stared intently at the cloud above us, marvelling as the wind pushed it across the mountain tops.

The next morning, the weather of the previous was a distant memory, burned away by the sun, brilliant and lustrous now. The skies, punctuated still by cloud, were otherwise blue and clear. We again sparked our tiny companion to life and drank warm tea and ate thick porridge and brown sugar before beginning our walk down to Llyn Ogwen. Time was not something we had much of and I wish we could have seen the Carneddau - that it had not been obscured by the visitors of the day before - but we will be back to this beguiling realm.


  1. Shhh, we don't want everyone to know how brilliant the Carneddau are. ;)

    I do like a bit of "weather"

  2. I agree - the whole weekend had some drama because of that weather! It's a mental test too, keeping your concentration & micro-navigating because you just cannot see enough to do anything else...

  3. Carneddau is a wonderful place. Been a few years since I last walked it's summits. A well written account and descriptive use of words.

  4. Glad you at last found the majesty of the Carneddau but Robin is right - its a connoisseurs massif so let's keep it to ourselves! Didn't make it up to Wales last weekend though I have some rock-climbing instruction in the Ogwen valley this weekend and I've almost settled on a September week in Chamonix courtesy of Icicle Mountaineering 'Summits & Skills' course. Enjoy the TMB!

  5. You'll be in Chamonix just as we're leaving. Keep in touch and let me know how it goes. Sounds amazing stuff esepcially after the scrambling we did on Pen yr Ole Wen which I loved. I am working out how to post about the TMB - will certainly be after we get back, but 11 posts would seems excessive! I have my imaginative juices flowing...

  6. hi maz

    i'm a newbie to this ole blogging lark but i wanted to share my lickle trip there with yas

    interesting to see it in very different weather, though i recognised many of yr images.



  7. So THAT's what the Carneddau looks like! Fantastic photos David and a nice write-up - no space for comments though which means you're not letting people tell you just how good some of those photos are! The Carneddau felt, even draped in a misty veil, like they were adorned with a completely different atmosphere to the other areas of the Snowdonia NP and that's why I wrote this in the way that I did - you're photos really demonstrate that. Welcome to the blogosphere - check out my Resources and Blogs links for some really good blogs if you have not already. There are some talented people out there writing about the stuff we love.

  8. Glad you at last found the majesty of the Carneddau but Robin is right - its a connoisseurs massif so let's keep it to ourselves! Didn't make it up to Wales last weekend though I have some rock-climbing instruction in the Ogwen valley this weekend and I've almost settled on a September week in Chamonix courtesy of Icicle Mountaineering 'Summits & Skills' course. Enjoy the TMB!