Sunday, 8 December 2013

Walking On The Glyders - My First Venture Into Snowdonia...

Overlooking Devil's Kitchen. Our route down from the Glyderau.
It's been a week now since my friend Simon Worsley and I returned from Snowdonia after my first time in the National Park, and his first experience of wild camping. We didn't quite have time to complete the route we had planned out, but we both came away having learnt a few things and having tested some new bits of gear. Most of all, we both arrived home having thoroughly enjoyed the two days...

We started out on Sunday morning, driving over to Wales via Stoke - on - Trent and then the A5. It was the first time that Simon and I had met up since our climb of Ben Nevis, so conversation flowed as naturally as it ever does when we speak via the internet. Both of us were excited for what lay ahead. I had never been to Snowdonia before, and so was relishing the new scenery and whatever challenges the landscape had in store. Simon, being a Snowdonia veteran; was looking forward to his first wild camp and potentially, one of three last Welsh 3000'ers to complete his ticklist.

Capel Curig was our destination, at least by car; and we parked in the carpark behind the 'Joe Brown' shop. The route was a relatively simple one to begin. Not a theme that would carry through the rest of our time on the Glyders, however.  The views were good at this lowly height, Moel Siabod looked great across Llynnau Mymbyr even with its mist shrouded summit being out of view. Up and along Cefn y Capel and the views reached further onto neighbouring mountain ranges. Simon pointed out ones that he had already summitted, and told me about those outings. He explained to me that the final two 3000'ers on the Carneddau would be the most difficult to reach, as they are right in the middle of the range. Possibly a plan for a future walk?

Moel Siabod.
We started to climb towards Y Foel Goch and as we did so, darkness began to set in quite rapidly. Knowing that it would be quite considerably darker, if not pitch black by the time we had pressed over the summit and to the nearest significant source of water (Llyn Caseg Fraith) so that I could collect some water for cooking; we decided to camp below the summit at around the 600m. I had found some water that I could filter through my Sawyer Mini, and use to cook my diy boil in the bag curry for tea.

Heading towards Y Foel Goch.
We began to pitch our tents on the flattest, least damp patch of grass we could find in the vicinity. The view from camp wasn't at all a bad one. We could see down to Llynnau Mymbyr below, and across to Moel Siabod. Towering above, behind us somewhere was the summit of Y Foel Goch; and the knowledge that it would be an immediate hard first slog in the morning. But for now, we pitched and pottered for a little while. It was Simon's first wild camp, and first time using his new sleeping bag and sleeping mat. He cooked up the chilli he had brought with him for his tea and set about making himself at home in his semi geodesic, North Ridge Sphinx tent. A very good looking tent, with what seems like plenty of head room. A tiny bit lighter than mine, I think Simon had mentioned. By wild camping/backpacking means though - quite a heavy shelter. We were both glad of shrugging off our rucksacks when we had stopped. Heavy they were, but I don't feel overly so. After filling the inside of my tent with my gear, I began to survey my newest gear acquisition. An Exped Synmat UL7 sleep mat. It is infinitely more comfortable than the Gelert Xtreme 3/4 mat I had previously been using. Looking forward to lying down on it later, I began to make my own tea. Again, a new piece of gear - a Primus Alutec pot. It's pretty much a standard 1L hard annodized aluminium pot. Very solid and practical piece of equipment. I was also using a windshield/potstand that I had made myself. It seemed alot more efficient in use than the folding type windscreens that I had previously tried with my Trangia meths burner. Fed and watered, I retired to my sleeping bag for the night. After a customary phonecall to Sophia, I went to sleep.

Camp, below Y Foel Goch.
Morning came around relatively quick, after a very comfortable but intermitent slumber. Having pitch on an ever so slight slope toward the front left hand corner of my tent, the mat slid around a little during the night. Simon had said the same of his mat though, and we agreed that a thin strip of some sort of silicone/seamseal may alieviate the problem. Upon further thought; I may couple this with a thin length of an old foam mat to double up as protection for my new 'airbed' type mat. I did use a thin tarp inside my tent to act as such this time around, but the crinkly noise began to get annoying. We made our respective breakfasts, mine consisting only of coffee and flapjack due to the fact that I continued my morning camping tradition in kicking over the water I had boiled for making breakfast with. After a little photograph taking session, we packed up and were on our way.

A misty morning view from camp. Epic sunrises are not something I am accustomed to.
 A misty start it was, and the immediate slog was just that. We worked to quite a pace however, and soon we were very close to the summit of Y Foel Goch. Given the conditions, it was map and compass time. Simon perfomed exceptionally well over the next few hours with his navigation, it has to be said and so it wasn't long before we were stood at the summit cairn. Taking a new bearing, our next heading was to Llyn Caseg Fraith.

Simon stood at the summit cairn on Y Foel Goch.
When we finally reached the small collection of Llyns over the other side of Y Foel Goch, we pressed on towards Glyder Fach. I didn't actually take water from Llyn Caseg Fraith, but one of the smaller Llyns. I filtered the water through my Sawyer Mini filter. This was the first time that I had used this also. I found it alot better than the Water - To - Go bottle that I have been using before this camp. The flow rate is so much better. It allows filtration directly into a hydration bladder in pretty quick time. With the Water- To - Go bottle, it takes an age to squeeze the water from the bottle. There is a big risk of dirty water leaking from the bottle where the cap screws on also (as I experienced when in the Lake District.) It seemed difficult/fiddly to fill the 16oz pouch that I got with the Sawyer, however. Everytime I submerged the pouch and it began to collect water, it seemed like the pressure from the surrounding water forced it back out again. There is probably a knack to it, as I have not heard of anyone else complaining of the same, but I am notoriously impatient and so I grabbed my mug and filled the pouch with that and then filtered into my hydration bladder.

Using my Sawyer Mini Filter for the first time.
Once we got to Glyder Fach, my first Welsh 3000'er, it immediately struck me how strange and alien the terrain became. It was impressive! Very odd shapped, ridiculously sized boulders strewn everywhere. Given the weather, they were very greasy underfoot - which actually led to a bit of a fall for me later on. Nothing too serious, although I did snap one of my walking poles. We trudged onwards, clambering over rock. Using hands today over this were certainly a must. The clag was thick and unyielding, so there were no grand views to christan my first Welsh 3000'er. But I didn't mind. I got to play on the cantilever stone, and we stopped at Castell y Gwynt for a few minutes. Climbing on this wouldn't have been a good idea, so we resisted temptation.

Strange, alien landscape atop Glyder Fach.
I had to take a picture, didn't I?
When descending Glyder Fach, we came across a couple with their dog who seemed to be lost. They were coming up from the direction of Glyder Fawr, trying to find Glyder Fach. Having come over from Tryfan, they thought that they had been heading the right way initially. Infact they were going in the opposite direction. Simon explained how to get the the summit from where we had met, and finished with "You'll be alright having a map and compass.", to which the woman replied "Oh, we don't....but we have the dog...". It does absolutely baffle me how they thought what they were doing was a good idea. That they were unfazed by having no means of navigation, in winter, in such terrible conditions in terms of visibility. Always take map and compass, and the knowledge needed to use them properly! These are your lifeline! We did happen to see them back in their car later on, luckily for them.

The time was certainly getting away from us at this point. We knew that the sunset would be at around 4pm, and so made the decision not to press on further than Y Garn. This meant that Simon would not summit Elidir Fawr, one of only three remaining to tick off of the Welsh 3000'ers for him. I felt disappointed for him, he didn't show as much annoyance as I probably would have if I was in his position but the hills are always there another day as we seem to retort to each other sometimes.

Due to the time, we decided to head quickly over Glyder Fach. The views were still non existant, but Simon made a point of us reaching the true summit so that my beginnings of attempting to summit all of the Welsh 3000'ers wouldn't suffer. While descending Glyder Fawr, I fell foul of how slippery the rock was and took a bit of a slip, trip and fall. It wasn't serious, only a slight scrape and bruise on my right albow really. One of my walking poles suffered a worse fate - breaking cleanly in two. The descent was steep in all fairness, but if care is taken, it need not be dangerous.

We made a stop off above Devil's Kitchen to have something to eat, and revel in the clearest views we'd had all day. Once there, we watched as a helicopter came back and forth, bringing rocks up onto the hills to rebuild the paths. It was noisy, and sort of took the 'wild' feel away from the rest of the day. It was entertaining to watch the pilot, highly skilled, negotiating between the outcrop of rock in which the bags were being placed.

Pen Yr Ole Wen, from above Devil's Kitchen.
While eating our lunch, we made the decision to descend Devil's Kitchen as it provides an entertaining scramble down from the Col. It never seems too much though, even with our full rucksacks, and provided a very steady route down. I enjoyed looking over to Pen Yr Ole Wen, it struck me as quite a mountain from this angle. The route up looked trecharous, but Simon said it is certainly possible and that plenty of walkers head up that way. Definitely one for the future. Definitely! Working up quite a sweat, maybe it had something to do with the fact it was the kitchen of the devil that we were in (?). We finally got to the bottom, noticing some climbers making their way up one of the faces to the side of us. We made our way towards the road, passing a group of Green Beret Royal Marine Commando's. We both laughed that our loads probably weighed the same as their bergens! The sun went down, and we faced a long walk down the A5 back to the car in Capel Curig. My body hurt more after an hour and a half on tarmac than it did after hitting the rock up on Glyder Fawr. Glad of a shopkeeper re-opening his doors for us to grab a drink, we both grabbed something with more taste than the water we'd been confined to while out on the hill and began the long journey home.

I had an excellent first experience in Snowdonia, and Simon and I are actually planning our next forray. All being well, it could be before Christmas. The new equipment of mine served me well, and I'm definitely happy with my recent purchases. Simon also had a good first wild camp, with a few adjustments to his setup to think over. But then, I have them too. I never really come away without anything to think, or at least wonder about. But I shall save my next "experiment" for another post.

I have to thank Simon again, for giving me another opportunity to stamp over ground that I otherwise couldnt! Top driving Si........well, apart from that one thing... Haha.!

The view coming down the Devil's Kitchen.