In early October I spent two days and a night walking and camping in the Rhinog mountains in Snowdonia. Rugged, remote and not so well known as the rest of the national park, you can walk for days without seeing another person here. Over a couple of days I walked a little over 20 miles, no great distance, though these were Rhinog miles. The going underfoot was relentlessly tough, unassuming short distances on the map disguised a mostly pathless winding route through long grass and thick tussocky heather. Elsewhere steep chasms appeared between huge slabs of rock that required either backtracking and diversions or some scrambling up and down. The Rhinogydd was a place to accept that the going was slow and all the better for it.
Leaving the main road was an adventure in itself, just south of Trawsfynydd a latched gate led to miles of winding single track, Rhinog Fach and Rhinog Fawr turned to silhouettes by a dull dark sky. Just one other car was parked up beyond a further latched gate at the end of the track at the edge of a plantation. The first hour was spent finding a way through a pine forest labyrinth, in spite of the lack of light there was a humid summer temperature and barely a breeze in the air. Where the trees finally ended, a faint track led to more open higher ground. With plenty of light left in the day I took the time to head north and looped around Llyn Morwynion. It was a short distance on the map but in reality a series of deep canyons and heather took hours to meander around. The shores of the lake looked to be a fine place to camp out, for a moment I considered pitching out early and taking things easy but the cloud free summits that dominated the sky were too tempting. The unfamiliar smell of goats cheese hung in the air and the first wild herd of the day were gathered on the rocks above Llyn Du, black horned heads and pale shaggy coats with they didn’t seem too bothered by my presence, and I passed by close enough to catch a glance from their creepy horizontal pupils. The sun broke through occasionally but the day mostly sat in a bank of thick haze, the landscape rendered into a series of dark distant shapes with no detail. The Rhinogs feel utterly magical, barren and beautiful, hidden miniature mountain lakes nestled amongst moss and heather covered rocks. This had been my fourth trip out to Snowdonia recently, the Nantlle ridge in summer, Carneddeau in Winter, The Arans in Spring, each visit prompting a promise to return soon. A rocky scramble led to Rhinog Fawr’s lonely summit, it was still warm and still at the top though climbing higher had brought a thicker smog of mist. It thinned briefly to give an eerie view of a black ridged Rhinog Fach to the south. Climbing higher meant a thicker smog, still calm enough on the summit to boil water for coffee on the top, an eerie panorama.It had felt like evening all afternoon, in spite of the dim lightthere was plenty of time to drop down to the valley and climb higher to the edge of Llyn Hywel. Dropping down the pathless north rocky side of Rhinog Fawr, light pierced the clouds above giving a reminder that it was still day. The views down the valley were a soothing distraction from the trembling knees that came from the steep descent.I camped a little higher on the broad ridge overlooking Llyn Hywel and Llyn y Bi, it was dark by the time I pitched, a windless night meant a restful night, I woke once to absolute darkness and fell asleep easily again, I never sleep as well as I do in a place like this.The morning brought more magical light, dappled gold cloud over a sea of summits, it was still mild and warm enough to sit out on the rocks with a brew to watch the sun slowly rise without feeling a chill. Probably the last time I’ll head out this year without some warmer winter layers. I thought I’d earn my breakfast and decided on a quick run up to the summit of Rhinog Fach, I was already pitched high and was halfway there, there’s no better place to see a new day than a summit. Once again I wasn’t alone and found myself sharing the moment with a lone and unusually tame mountain goat who was kind enough to pose for a photo. A quick run up and down a mountain in a pair of leggings does wonders for the appetite, breakfast lasted for a good hour, porridge, chocolate and hazelnut crepes with lots of black coffee outside the tent in the sunshine went down well. The first few hours of the morning were the finest, a brief steep ascent of Yr Llethr gave the clearest views of the weekend and a chance to see most of the route travelled. The sea came into view, but only just, the haze from the previous day was creeping back in blurring the line between water and sky. The summit of Yr Llethr unveiled some moody skies to the south, more promises were made to return and explore the endless summits and valleys that spread out in all directions.
The last summit of a day often marks the end of a trip, as soon as the descent begins it feels like everything draws to a close, back to the car and thoughts of work, routine and things to do start to find their way in. This wasn’t the case today, once again a short simple walk on the map, passing a lake, through some grassy lowland and back through the woods to end of the track, I reckoned an hour or maybe two of easy walking. About four hours later I got to the car with a pack that seemed heavier than when I’d started out and aching legs, I forgot these were Rhinog miles.