Like everyone in the UK we were all put into Lockdown in March due to the Global Pandemic. During the lockdown, I found a very good way to fill the extra time, which was to plan, plot and scheme. One of these schemes was a big weekend in North Wales combining mountaineering, scrambling, climbing and wild camping. Getting out all the maps, guides, various reading material and planning away helped the time tumble by.
I planned a 3-day trip which was to take place in the Carnedd Llewelyn side of the Snowdonia National Park. It would involve 2 wild camps, several scrambles, graded traditional climbs and multiple summits. I researched routes, calculated the time and distance between each objective. The plan was ready, I only had to wait until my friend Ian and I were free to safely travel.
This is a map of our route over the weekend. On Friday we parked up along the A5 in the late afternoon and walked North from opposite Gwern Gof Uchaf campsite up towards Ffynonn Lloer, which was to be the area for the first camp.
Unbeknown to us, near our wild camp location at the western side of Ffynnon Lloer was the vestigial remain of an aircraft that crashed in 1943. A memorial stands at the site to pay tribute to the 5 men who lost their life.
The forecast for the weekend was “substantially dry”. This became a running joke throughout the day after waking up early on Saturday morning, finding camped in the cloud with strong winds and persistent rain.
After waiting an extra hour in the hope that the sky cleared, which it didn’t, we packed up camp. The plan was to ascent the Craig Lloer Spur, which was now soaking wet, then follow the ridge to the summit. The prospect of an airy traverse & ridge scramble with heavy packs seemed like an avoidable risk. The alternative was to take Broad Gully to the west. The gully thoroughly engaging, we zig zagged our way up with water streaming down being careful not to dislodge any loose rock. Moving slowly up, finding the best route through the slippery rock until, in just under an hour, we reached the top of the gully and headed to the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen. From the summit the southerly wind lashed the “substantially dry” rain in our faces.
From here we stuck to the original plan and followed the main path to Carnedd Fach, Carnedd Dafydd and finally on to Carnedd Llewelyn. Visibility was very poor; the rain and wind didn’t let up for the entire time. On the ascent path to Carnedd Llewelyn a trio of runners, looking very uncomfortable in shorts, can zipping past us. Being a mountain runner, I have nothing but respect for those who choose to train in these abysmal conditions. From the summit we were due to head Craig yr Ysfa but the weather showed no sign of improving. A quick check of the map and a temporary plan change later, we headed NNW to Foel Grach. Just over the summit of Foel Grach there is an emergency shelter which gave some respite from the poor conditions. As we approached the shelter, 2 guys were leaving. They were confident that the weather should improve in the afternoon, but it appeared unlikely to be “substantially dry”.
Reaching the stone shelter was a huge relief. Even in full Gore-Tex jacket and trousers, the layers beneath were damp from sweat and my collar was wet from the rain getting inside my hood. First things first, I hung up my waterproofs and retrieved my cooker to boil some water. Nothing like a strong cuppa to improve a situation. While waiting for the water to boil we discussed the plan. We had intended to camp at the base of Craig yr Ysfa but the updated forecast for the following day was not inspiring. There would be no climbing the following day so instead of having a bad night’s sleep with the prospect of a second wet day prior to a long drive home we decided to leave a day early. There was likely to be good weather in the afternoon, but the original plan was no longer possible.
Several teas later and a good warm up, we donned our waterproofs with a new plan in mind and headed back towards Carnedd Llewelyn. From the summit we walked EES off the summit. As we descended the cloud was getting thinner and thinner and when we reached 750 m the sky opened showing the glorious sunshine with the heavy cloud was sat on all the summits behind us.
Astonished by the surprising change of weather, which in North Wales isn’t that surprising, we stripped off our waterproofs and continued. The views were glorious but now we had a dilemma, surely, we should go home empty handed having carried the climbing rack and ropes throughout the whole journey. Our descent path passed the top of the Amphitheatre Buttress which was due to be our final route off the weekend. The guys we had spoken to at the emergency shelter were right, the afternoon was good but there was more rain in the forecast. The decision was made, we had to finish with a route, so we hurried along to the decent path for the Amphitheatre Buttress. We stashed our bags and prepared the climbing rack and rope.
We hurried down the offshoot from the main path and slowly the looming buttresses of Craig yr Ysfa came into view. Amphitheatre Buttress is a 300 m V Diff route which was first ascended by G. Abraham, A. Abraham, D. Leighton and J. Puttrell in 1905. The entire crag is full of history and it is humbling to think of the first climbers in their tweed jackets and hobnail boots. Not the modern jackets, boots and ropes that we were equipped with.
At the base of the route we tied in and prepared the rack. I was on lead and we climbed the first 100 m together. Stopping only to belay at more difficult sections and to swap gear. Working together we made fast progress up the route.
There were a few exciting, airy and exposed pitches and moves throughout the route. The most memorable pitch being the breathtakingly exposed alpine-esque ridge which passes 2 gendarmes. The following picture is the obligatory shot taken of me triumphantly standing atop of the gendarme on the ridge traverse pitch.
I should also note that at this point we were out of the wind. The result of this was a million midges were crawling all over our heads, arms and faces. You can see them in Pitch 9 in the form of black dots in the clouds. I can assure you; we did not stick around long. From the ridge we were a stone throw away from the top. Elated, tired and still a bit damp from the morning’s exploits, I reached the top and belayed Ian. We sat at the top of the route basking in the satisfaction of completing a truly classic route (and being out of range of the midges). After sharing the chocolate bars, I had in my pockets, we returned to our bags and then headed back towards the car.
Reached the car, we threw down our bags and laid on the floor. The weekend was nothing like the original scheme I had planned back during lockdown, but I will cherish it for years to come. We had an all-round mountaineering adventure utilising a wide range of skills from wild camping, poor visibility navigation and traditional climbing a classic Welsh route. Goes to show, doesn’t matter how well you plan, things always change, and you must be ready to take the changes safely in your stride.