For those who don’t know Aran Fawddwy, it’s the highest peak in the UK south of Snowdon and just a mere nine metres short of being in the illustrious Welsh 3000 club. It was also the first mountain I ever climbed. Introduced to summer hill walking by my late grandad, it was here it all started for me. The beauty, the solitude, the grandeur and that feeling of complete insignificance when the weather doesn’t want you there.
Aran Fawddwy is an admirable peak that dominates the skyline when peering southwards down Snowdonia’s largest natural lake, Bala. Its summit is one I have visited many times and was also the location of my very first wild camp. Although a flawless mountain in my eyes and one undoubtedly close to my heart. The lure of the jagged Glyderau, rolling Carneddau and lofty Snowdon’s is normally enough to pull my gaze away for the time I spend in Snowdonia. However, I still always climb Aran once a year to remind me of that first mountain experience I ever had.
Like any mountain, it can be climbed in many ways, but this one only reveals its most attractive faces to those willing to work for it. The higher summits display impressive steep rocky cliffs above attractive tarns. With a sometimes boggy slog on distinctive grassy slopes over the lower summits. It was my annual trip up to Aran Fawddwy last year that inspired this recent camp. It was early winter and we started out to a magnificent day with clear blue skies. I took my girlfriend, Liz, up to the peak. We ascended through a farm off the road to Dinas Mawddwy and came over the lonely Foel Rhudd which lead us round to Pennant and eventually up to Drysgol, the ridge protruding east just below the summit. We got to the top about an hour before dark.
It was then that it happened…
One of nature’s wonders when you are in the mountains. An inversion. This is when you are standing above the clouds and the whole world in every direction looks like a fluffy carpet of snow. The sun began to set. Magical. We stayed to watch the sun set and Liz instantly fell in love. She understood the draw of this mountain and our intimate relationship entwined by the power of nature. After a while our head torches came safely bobbing down one of the main ridge paths to the village of Llanuwchllyn to complete our day with a pint in the fine local pub.
All she banged on about that night was how beautiful and amazing it was. From then until now she has been asking to go back and wild camp to experience it all again so we can stay up and look at the stars throughout the night. With busy schedules and camping trips to the Peak District, Cornwall, Pembrokeshire, Somerset and Dartmoor. We haven’t had a chance this summer, but determined as ever we cleared a weekend and made a plan.
Right from the beginning of the week the weather didn’t look great, but my attitude has always been clear: bad weather is character building! Liz didn’t see it quite that way. Enter a week of desperately outlining all the positives involved and completely ignoring the negatives. Finally, towards the end of the week it looked like we were going to get a decent weather window, at least until sunset on the Friday. By decent, I mean dry with okay visibility. All the way to Wales Liz was dead against the idea. ‘It will be cold and wet and nowhere near like last time’.
“Finally, towards the end of the week it looked like we were going to get a decent weather window.”
Even worse was the fact it started to rain on the way. I had no chance. I had to act fast, so I came up with a strategy. To the pub! My thinking was a bottle of wine and a heart to heart about how amazing the mountains are and what a great experience it would be whatever the weather would do the trick. I even think a cheesy ‘If you don’t enjoy them at their worst, then you don’t deserve them at their best’ quote got thrown in somewhere as well. Whatever got said, it did the job. Or at least the alcohol did! However, time now was getting on, we needed to move, and fast! Sunset would be in an hour and a half. Turns out we had been in the pub a rather long time.
We got moving, planning to head up the main ridge path from the pub in Llanuwchllyn. Secretly I knew we would never make the top. With a half-cut girlfriend in tow and deteriorating light there wasn’t much hope. But we plodded on enjoying the atmospheric views amongst the clouds the higher we got. The bog hopping wasn’t too much fun but I was singing merrily to try and keep her spirits high. It seemed to work, but her energy levels seemed significantly lower than her spirt levels!
I continued to encourage her onwards but I think her pack was filled with that much wine she was feeling the burn. We were about half way up to Aran Benllyn when the sun set came – behind a cloud! It was still a lovely sight to watch the last rays of the day penetrate the edges of the massive cloud before they withdrew to blackness. Not quite what Liz had in mind though. The wind was beginning to pick up the higher we climbed but the clouds visible skidding across the night sky slamming into the distant peak of Aran Fawddwy made up for it. Reduced to a snail’s pace now I figured it was time to find a spot on the leeward side of the hill, get the tent up and some food down us.
We dropped off the east side of the ridge and found a small col between two peat hags that was about as flat as it got. I threw the tent up quickly as Liz popped the wine open. Priorities! We got inside and unloaded our gear. Home for the night. Despite the disappointment of not reaching the summit Liz was in great spirits. I think this was because my side of the tent was somewhat lumpier than hers, or maybe it was the wine?! Nevertheless, we fired up the cooker and got some food down us before we set about draining the rest of the wine.
The wind seemed to have abated a touch and we even got some stars to look at. Not as spectacular as last time but beautiful in a different kind of way. We dozed off somewhere around 11pm and slept like babies until the machine gun fire of the rain woke us at 1am. The wind was whipping around us and the rain became torrential. Sleeping bags were pulled a little tighter and I jokingly told her how privileged she was to be here. Even still, I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else, would you?
When I awoke, Liz was still asleep and morning had already broken. I dozed for another twenty minutes or so and woke her up. I knew we had to get going the forecast was torrential rain all morning and well into afternoon. We un-zipped the tent to fine drizzle and after a quick brew the tent was down and we were on our way.
After five minutes of walking we were pretty soggy, but even the little wine headaches didn’t seem to spoil our fun. We laughed and joked our way down as I pointed out Liz looked like an exotic Lar Gibbon wearing my yellow jacket under her coat. Amusing myself at her expense, she had no idea what a Lar Gibbon looked like. We were treated to some pretty cool views of clouds peeling off the Arenigs across the valley and of the angry lake down below.
Once we were down and safe, it didn’t take long before we were showered and warm, contemplating what we had just done for ‘fun’. Even in the dubious conditions Liz maintains it was definitely type 1 fun and she was happy I convinced her to have a go. It’s true that there is a raw beauty to this alluring mountain even in the jaws of its brewing anger. I would argue this makes it even more enchanting, even if you do look like a Lar Gibbon!
Take a look below at the video of our wild camp. The last part of the video is what we got up to for the rest of the weekend. Blog post coming soon about this day of climbing at Trevor quarry!