Until this trip the Welsh mountains were an unknown quantity. I’d already climbed the 3000 foot+ peaks in Scotland and England and was looking to gain wider experience in advance of my Mountain Leader assessment in the Autumn, so why not Wales ?
There are 15 3000-footers in Snowdonia, stretching SW to NE from peaky Snowdon in the south to the grassy, flat-topped summit of Foel-fras in the north. If you’re really keen (and tough) then you can tackle these in under 24 hours, usually starting from Snowdon in the early hours. While obviously needing some serious stamina, this continuous round also requires logistical support since you need transport at either end – and quite possibly a brew-up or two somewhere in between.
I originally looked into a one-way walk from south to north, backpacking over three days. But with a 6-hour drive each way from Scotland and infrequent public transport between the start/finish points, I just couldn’t fit all of this into the three days I had available. Instead, I opted to split the hills into three one-day walks, staying in my van at nearby campsites. As it turned out, this was a great way to climb all of the hills over three days: challenging but achievable. Sure, it meant covering a greater distance given I’d be doing circular walks as opposed to a through-walk (I actually walked 40 miles in all) but at least I wasn’t carrying a heavier rucsac on the notable scrambling routes.
The Welsh 3000s are conveniently located in three groups and this first post covers the first two groups, the Carneddau in the north and the Glyders in the middle. A second post will follow describing my final day climbing the Snowdon trio.
I camped at Rynys campsite for two nights, a hill farm near Betws-y-Coed, which I’d recommend. It has great views and the owners are very helpful and relaxed.
My starting point for the seven peaks in the Carneddau was a parking spot beside the A5 and near the lake, Llyn Ogwen. I took the southeast ridge up Pen yr Ole Wen, giving good views towards Tryfan (to be climbed the next day) across the valley. This area reminded me of Glen Coe: open hillsides and imposing mountains. The hills have the same grandeur of many Scottish mountains but from most summits a nearby town or village can be seen; here, you don’t feel that far from civilisation.
The sun came out to accompany my walk along the high-level ridge from Pen yr Ole Wen over Carnedd Dafydd to Carnedd Llewellyn, the highest peak of the Carneddau. By the time I got there the wind had picked up and I sheltered behind some rocks. Yr Elen is an outlier to the northwest and its narrowing ridge gives it a distinct character separate from the great bulk of neighbouring Carnedd Llewellyn.
From Carnedd Llewellyn three rounded summits to the north make up the seven hills of the Carneddau. It’s around an 8km round trip over an undulating plateau to reach Foel Grach, Carnedd Gwenllian and Foel-fras. There was a lot of distance to cover as it was without the heavy showers coming on and the cloud descending. I donned full waterproofs and got some good navigation practice in. It was a bit grim for a time. On the return leg I stopped in at the mountain refuge on the north side of Foel Grach to get some respite from the rain and wind, sharing the bothy with a couple who had much the same idea. We sat there, gently steaming as we warmed up (!), with rain seeping in through the stone walls of the shelter. These occasions are often as memorable as the views on warm, sunny days !
Back at Carnedd Llewellyn, I descended the southeast ridge to the reservoir and took the access road back to the A5. By now I’d dried out. I’d been walking 26km during 8 hours and my feet were tired. Happy but tired.
The weather improved overnight and I set off from my car park on the A5 in warm, still and sunny conditions. The give hills in the Glyders sit to the south of the main road and offer some rockier peaks with more exposure.
I headed directly up the hillside to the tarn, Llyn Bochlwyd, and from there up the well worn path to the col between Tryfan and the excellently-named Bristly Ridge. My knowledge of the Welsh hills was sketchy to say the least before I started planning this trip but I’d seen and read a lot about Tryfan, one of the best-loved scrambling mountains in the country. It didn’t disappoint.
I enjoyed the hands-on ascent of the south ridge, relieved that yesterday’s wind had abated and the rocks were bone dry. A mountain with a big reputation is sure to be popular and on this sunny Sunday it seemed a small crowd were relaxing and snacking at the summit. (There were few Welsh accents as far as I could make out; most seemed to be from Merseyside).
I passed a group on their Mountain Leader assessment before tackling the aforementioned Bristly Ridge up to the summit of Glyder Fach. It wasn’t so much bristly as slippy as I opted to take the scree path to the left rather than the direct, rocky ascent to the right.
A twisting, high-level ridge runs from Glyder Fach to Elidir Fawr roughly 6km away. There’s a fair amount of height loss/gain along the way and I particularly felt this on the return leg on my final ascent to Y Garn before taking its narrow NE ridge down towards Llyn Idwal. The views are stunning though. I snapped the classic view of the Snowdon Horseshoe with the ‘upstanding’ rocks near the summit of Glyder Fawr. From Elidir Fawr there are great views north to Anglesey and southwest down along the coast. (I made a mental note to study the map a bit more carefully – I didn’t know NW Wales was that shape !).
The best of the weather was kept for late afternoon once most folks had already driven home. The clouds cleared and blue skies appeared. The waters of Llyn Ogwen, which had seemed so dark and menacing the previous morning (see the first photo above), were now a deep blue. Wild swimmers took a dip in Llyn Idwal (in wet suits admittedly) and I overheard the couple I was following comment that the waters looked inviting. They did indeed.