A Snowdonia Solstice Backpack

Total Distance 49.3km Height Ascended 5017m

Sunday began with a small mountain of fathers day pancakes, the main course of a breakfast date with the wee mountain goats and their mum, but there’s only so much fried batter and maple syrup a man can consume. So with a light pack and some blocked arteries it made sense to press on and head for the hills to spend midsummer walking, scrambling and camping high around the Nantlle Ridge. Despite racking up an excess of miles and summits, this trip felt positively lazy, a feeling no doubt created by an ever present reminder that summer was here. Long warm hazy days made for ideal slackpacking weather and encouraged regular extended tea breaks next to cool clear streams in the sunshine. Glorious sunsets melted across the horizon on both nights and it stayed light till 11pm making those chilly pitch black late afternoon bedtimes with frosted tents and frozen solid boots seem a world away….give it a few months

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The car was ditched in a quiet layby outside of Beddgelert before a shaded muddy hike up through the pines where the chest high waxy green bracken was peppered with pink foxgloves. A path which grew fainter with height snaked up the steep eastern side of Moel Hebog, the steepness seemed to only increase as the summit got closer.

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The summit of Moel Hebog was calm and balmy warm, a good opportunity to lay down and take in the views, another meteorologically auspicious trip, not to tempt fate but I’m not sure I’ve had to get my waterproofs out of the pack this year.

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With plenty of light left there was time to head down to the nearest pass to collect water before making for Moel yr Ogof where there were almost too many places to choose to pitch and sleep. As the light faded, thin wisps of mist coloured yellow by the dipping sun clung to the summits and hung above the valleys.

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A calm windless night gave way to a morning choked with cloud, the summit was entirely thick with grey, so instead of running about taking photos of sunrises I stayed in the tent drinking coffee and eating budget chocolate croissants enjoying the fact that it was Monday morning and there were other places I would usually be.

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The mist had more or less burnt off by the time I was packed up and headed to the lower summit of Moel Lefn before making for a narrow steep slated gully to Cwm Pennant, along the way I found a lonely looking shelter  that made use of an enormous stone slab as a roof. It was far too nice to huddle inside for a tea break but a few miles away in the valley the ruins of an old building served as a perfect venue for a more al fresco brunch (ginger nuts and cup a soup).

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SONY DSCThere couldn’t have been a finer day to explore the Nantlle Ridge, the rough climb out of Cwm Pennant was well balanced with expansive sun soaked landscapes made of majestic gentle green slopes and dark jagged summits whilst a few cotton clouds drifted overhead.

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The long grassy climb up to the ridge arrived at a thin rocky path that undulated between the summits along the ridge dropping and climbing hundreds of feet along the way. The benign conditions made walking the ridge pretty easy going, I’d imagine it to be more of a challenge on a cold, wet, windy day with poor visibility, it involved a little scrambling and there were few moments when there wasn’t a steep drop either side. The route down from the Obelisk at Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd was particularly narrow and the overhanging drop from Trum y Ddysgl looked fearsome in the afternoon light, protruding from the ground like a capsized ocean liner.

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The hills remained entirely void of people all afternoon, the only company I had was during the approach to Mynydd Drws-y-coed where scores of swallows darted about near the summit. The silence was also occasionally broken by a few military aircraft doing the rounds as they often seem to when the weathers fair. SONY DSC

A wild camp was considered down at the head of one of the corries beneath the ridge, they were still fairly high and a remote enough to spend the night, but something drew me further east, the dark mass of Snowdon and its surrounding summits and ridges had been sat within clear view for the last day, it seemed rude not to pay them a visit whilst I was in town.

A brief detour along the road and through Rhyd-Dhu and I was back on the hills, the occasional ‘choo choo’ of the steam train and the most people I’d seen all day coming down the main path from Snowdon was a stark contrast to the total isolation and constant silence of the Nantlle Ridge. It was getting late, the groups of walkers thinned to nothing and again I had the place to myself and set out along a path edged by mounds of slate to camp high on Yr Aran.

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Finding the right place to camp took a little longer as the ground was either very wet and boggy or sloping at such an angle that I would have been falling out of the tent, after a long day on my feet more climbing higher didn’t really appeal, but sometimes you’re rewarded for your efforts (cue the nicest photo I’ve ever taken)SONY DSC

The sun set slowly over the ridge and the light reflected in Llyn-y-Gader only seemed to make the air feel even warmer. Although I packed light, when you drop your bag after a day of carrying it on your shoulders there’s a quiet liberation that goes with the weight loss. So no excuses not to run up to the top of Yr Aran with a flask of tea to watch the sun set over the sea then.

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In contrast to the tranquil summers day the wind blew absolutely wild in the night, I woke a few times when it got really gusty but there was no danger of insomnia after such a long day on the hills. There was no real plan for the day but the forecast was clear, the idea of joining the queues on Snowdon was a little repelling after the solitude on the ridge but again it seemed a shame to not head up such an iconic summit at all. I figured it was early enough to get up and around the Snowdon horseshoe before it got ridiculously busy and set about packing up. The morning was fresh and cool, a blanket of yellowish grey clouds hung around a while, casting an appropriately eerie feel onto Y Lliwedd.

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I actually had the summit of Snowdon to myself, though it was caked in cloud and there was no view. The curious station cafe was just opening up for the day, the lights of the vending machines flickering into action, as tempting as some proper food was I dropped my litter in the bin and left the cafe behind just as the first train pulled in. Fantastic to allow anyone who can’t make the trip on foot to have the means to get to the summit but that is one ugly building.

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It felt calm and clear enough to head to Crib Goch and scramble over, probably not a great idea with a big pack on any other day but far too tempting to walk past today. It was great fun to find a way over, hands were used as much as feet to clamber around the smooth sandy coloured pinnacles with vertigo inducing drops on each sides. A busy corner of the national park probably isn’t a great place to come backpacking and try and find a sense of solitude, but it’s popular for a reason. SONY DSC

 

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Hordes of walkers were making their way up the Pyg track by the time I came off the ridge, the peculiar acoustics of the cirque meant that you could hear the conversations of people who were seemingly half a mile below. After a quick lunch by a hidden waterfall I took a quiet track up to the empty ridge of Y Lliwedd where the steep flanks cut up like a row of sharpened teeth.

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Everything felt remote and empty compared to Snowdon where scores of people queued and huddled on the summit all day long, perhaps a place best appreciated from afar. A track down to Cwm Llan started the walk out, though the car was some miles and several hours away, I never need my arm twisting to stop and drink more coffee. A broad slab of rock next to a stream was a grand table for one and gave time to reflect on two contrasting days.

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7 thoughts on “A Snowdonia Solstice Backpack

  1. I almost feel tired after reading that route! Amazing photos. Haven’t done the Nantlle Ridge, but I have been over Crib Goch, although I will freely admit that it wasn’t my favourite ever walk. I’m well out of my comfort zone on knife edge ridges!

  2. Looks like a lovely few days in the hills. I loved the reverse Snowdon Horseshoe – I’ve never thout of doing it starting from the summit!

    Thanks for sharing. The photos made me smile. 🙂

    Jell

    1. Thanks for that Jell, I hadn’t planned on doing more than the Nantlle Ridge but the conditions were so good it seemed like a good opportunity. I look forward to heading back that way to backpack round the Moelwyns and the Arans.

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