There has always been something quite special for me about the sprawling Carneddau. Mystical even. Known as ‘the Alps’ of North Wales and Wales’ answer to the ‘Cairngorms’ it’s easy to see why.
Maybe it’s an encounter with the famous Carneddau ponies that make it so special. Or maybe it’s just because the largest mountain range in North Wales is so overlooked. On a busy summer bank holiday, or bluebird winters day for that matter, the nearby Glyderau is always crawling with climbers and walkers. But just across the road you can practically walk the entire 200 square kilometres of the Carneddau and never see another soul. The reason I love these mountains. Not only is it vast and beautiful but contains some of the highest and most enchanting peaks Wales has to offer. It is solitude we crave when we run to the mountains and it is this quality that is given in abundance by the mighty Carneddau.
So recently, I made a plan to walk a few of these lovely peaks and make a day of it. The route was to be a sort of lollipop where I summited Pen ye Ole Wen first, continuing on to Carnedd Dafydd, across the plateau and up to Carnedd Llewelyn. From here I could skip across to Yr Elen and back to Carnedd Llewelyn before heading off to take refuge in the shelter at the top of Foel Grach to eat lunch. This would be the start of my lollipop’s handle, here I could march off to Garnedd Uchaf and then beyond to Foel Fras coming back again until I was back standing on the roof of the Carneddau that is Carnedd Llewelyn. This would then allow me to descend east down to the access track near Gwern Gof Isaf.
I arrived just before day break and was treated to the most idyllic sunrise over the calm waters of Llyn Ogwen. I began my ascent up Pen Ye Ole Wen climbing the short but punchy grade 2 scramble ‘pinnacle ridge’. The morning seemed perfect. I could make out each individual cwm in the Glyders opposite, taking in atmospheric panoramas of the entire range from Tryfan to Elidir Fawr.
However, with every footstep suspect looking clouds were beginning to roll in from the west a lot lower than I would have liked. By the time I had bagged my first summit of the day, the visibility was poor and spits of rain had now become intermittent. But nevertheless, I had great fun on the large mountain boulders that litter the summit slopes of Pen Yr Ole Wen, hopping from one to the next, jumping and scrambling my way at speed. Next, my journey took me off to the second highest peak in the Carneddau, Carnedd Dafydd.
It was here I had a scare….
On my own, early in the morning, poor weather conditions. I could have been lying there a very long time. It must have been the showers, I hadn’t realised how dense that fine rain can be, in my short stop on the summit, those rocks I had been hopping and jumping on had become almost as slippy as ice. I stepped up onto a fin of rock and bounded off across to a rock with my right foot, landing with my left on a sloping boulder. But there was no friction. I slipped. Hopelessly, I flailed my arms in mid-air as I fell backwards. Hard. Luckily my bag took the worst, wedging me in between two television sized rocks. My arms were throbbing from where they had taken the impact on two jagged rocks each side. Shook silly with adrenaline I wriggled free, when the realisation hit. My head had missed a huge rock by literally centimetres. If it wasn’t for my bag it would have been a lot more serious. I took five minutes to come to terms with what had happened and tried to slow everything down. I seriously debated turning back for a while and calling the whole thing off, it shook me that much.
I collected myself and decided to carry on. Cautiously. I made it up to Carnedd Dafydd without incident and headed east along the top of the cliff edge above the magnificent ‘black ladders’. I always enjoy this part of the Carneddau, especially in the winter when the high plateau is covered by a blanket of snow, it really gives the feel of being in big mountains. I headed off in mist and cloud to press on until I was confronted by what is known as the plateau, a large flattish expanse of open space high up in the mountains. I was hoping to get my first glimpse of the ponies here but it seemed they had all gone in search of a better view, or drier grass!
The wind had really picked up on the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn and I spent a good ten minutes sheltering in the rocks before I braved the gales and stood on the summit cairn. From here I headed off west to the lonely peak of Yr Elen. The intention was a quick kiss of the top and back. It didn’t happen.
“From here I headed off west to the lonely peak of Yr Elen. The intention was a quick kiss of the top and back. It didn’t happen.”
It definitely didn’t go that way. On my way over, for the first time the cloud broke. I’ve been up high in the Carneddau many times over the years, wild camping, in the snow and on fine summer days but whatever the conditions it never fails to take my breath away. I suppose that’s why we do it! Suddenly, I was peering into vast endless cwms and magnificent green chasms, I stood there in awe soaking it all up. Spectacular. Oh, and ponies! But way, way down below, I guess getting that dry grass.
Back on Carnedd Llewelyn, I didn’t linger, straight off to Foel Grach – time for dinner. The little emergency hut was a welcome break out of the wind and rain. It’s really quite a quaint little thing with tiny wooden benches and … errrr well that’s about it! But all the same it was a place I could take my coat off and relax with my sandwiches. After lunch the journey over to Garnedd Uchaf from here was a pleasant one. Occasional views out to the coast and amazing views down into the cwms back from where I’d come from. You could see the line of Llech Ddu Spur, or Crib Lem as it’s called, over the hills and then the rest of the sprawling ridgeway out in front.
Just before the summit I ducked back into zero visibility and I felt every step of the boring yomp over to Foel Fras; legs growing steadily heavier and not much to look at only soggy green marsh. Better still, the rain had gotten worse.
My spirits were suddenly lifted…
greeting me out of the mist, the ponies suddenly revealed themselves, a small group grazing quietly on the hillside. I approached them to take a few quick photos and watched them for a while before I left them to their business. Privileged as ever, feeling rejuvenated I reached the summit of a very wet Foel Fras and trapesed back over the summits to stand for the last time that day at 1064 metres, the roof of the Carneddau. The fatigue was starting to make itself known now and I was longing for a cup of tea and a cake in Siabod cafe. I was definitely at the point where I had really enjoyed a great day out but needed to focus on getting down safely now. I’d had enough.
I made my descent out of the clouds and once again was treated to wonderful views across Ogwen valley with Pen Yr Helgi Du draped romantically in cloud. I finally hit the tarmac access track and I was as good as home. Thumbing a lift down the A5 back to my car wasn’t a problem, after about seven cars had passed me a fellow climber in a van picked me up and after five minutes of merry conversation I was in my car en route for cake and tea!
Take a look at the video I put together of my little adventure.