Archive for September, 2009

September 29, 2009

A ferry into the wilderness

by backpackingbongos

I finally made up my mind of where to go at the end of October and booked a ferry to Islay.  One thing about travelling to the Scotish Islands is that it is not cheap, Cal Mac really does have the monopoly.  I am only taking the van a few miles across water and it is costing me £108 return, now that is a rip off.

So it looks like a two day backpack on Islay before driving across the Island and jumping on another ferry to wild Jura.  A day walk on the Paps before travelling to the north of the Island for an exceptionally wild and remote 3 day backpack.  I looked at the uninhabited west coast of Jura on Geograph last night and it gave me goose bumps.

Hopefully there will be an Indian summer and if deserted I can walk in my pants again…………………

September 28, 2009

A major change of plan

by backpackingbongos

Up until a couple of weeks ago I was going to send off my application for the TGO challenge, something that I really want to do.  Then I started to think, hang on that will be two and a half weeks of my precious annual leave gone in one trip.  Then I thought that I really cannot wait until next May to go to Scotland again.  A plan was hatched.  I have now booked the last week off in October (after they have finished shooting deer with antlers) and I am going to spend it in the Highlands.  I was there at the end of October a couple of years ago and it was magical.  That means that I can then go back at the end of April for another week, maybe to do the Sutherland Trail or another week long coast to coast in the far north.

Excitedly I have just over three weeks and I will be in the Highlands again with the roaring of stags and everything a golden colour.  I just can’t seem to make up my mind where to go.  I have the campervan but I also fancy backpacking, I also really want to be somewhere stupidly remote.  When backpacking late in the year in Scotland I like to have the security of a bothy nearby just in case the weather goes tits up.  You just can’t tell what late Autumn may bring.  Two years ago I spent a day backpacking in a t-shirt and my underpants as it was so warm – I was in a very remote area of the North west Highlands (I will have to do a trip report at some point) so don’t go thinking that I usually walk in my undies.  On the other hand it could be gales and heavy rain, it’s a bit of a lottery.

I came up with a cracking plan of backpacking the Rannoch area from Kinlochleven, stopping off in bothies with a night at the B&B at the remote roadless Corrour stationhouse.  They are fully booked all that week, so out of the window with that plan.  I now have another idea hatching in my head which involves spending the week on Jura and Islay.  I could do a 2 to 3 day backpack on each Island, there are some cracking bothies on some stupidly remote coastline.  To get to Jura you have to cross Islay anyway so makes sense to have a look at both Islands.  Two short backpacks also means a lighter pack as I can go back to the van and restock food, fuel and clean clothes.  Apart from the Paps of Jura there are no real mountains so I can chill and explore the coast instead of feeling the need to get high (in the altitude sense).

I better get the maps out.

Fingers crossed that this current weather holds as another trip to Snowdonia is on the cards this weekend.  Anyone else out there suddenly find themselves trying to overcompensate on trips at this time of year knowing that there are many months of darkness ahead?

September 26, 2009

Cwm Cywarch backpack

by backpackingbongos

For a map of this route click here.

It was gone 11pm by the time we pulled into the car park at the top of Bwlch Y Groes, the highest road pass in Wales at 545 metres.  We stepped out of the van into a dark, quiet and very still world.  You can’t beat leaving work on a Friday evening and just a few hours later be standing on a dark Welsh hillside!  You just have to get past that sluggish feeling you get after finishing work for the week, the hills are yours to play on all weekend.  I set up a bed in the van whilst Rich wondered off to find a spot to pitch his tent for the night.  Once we were all sorted we stood in the dark with a couple of beers letting the silence wash over us.  We both had a great undisturbed sleep that night.

A good fry up in the morning and it was time to test the vans brakes as we headed south down the exceptionally steep road.  Luckily no oncoming traffic was passed as passing places are at a premium on the steeper sections.  We were soon at the car park at the head of Cwm Cywarch.

Cwm Cywarch is one of the most beautiful valleys in Snowdonia, it is also largely unknown which is a great reason for visiting.  Just over two miles in length the head of the valley is dominated by the huge crags of Glasgwm, towering over the small grassy car park.  We shouldered our packs and headed back down the road before taking the wrong track.  I only noticed when we were heading in the wrong direction and were on someones driveway.  There was a nice mossy gate post though!


A quick bit of head scratching and we were soon on the correct track which leads past Gesail farm and then zig zags up the steep grassy hillside.  I am not sure if it was flu from the week before or just general lack of fitness, but I was knackered within 5 minutes.  Thankfully Rich was in just as poor condition as I was.  We slowly laboured up the hill, but unfortunately the views were very hazy and the clouds seemed to be getting lower by the minute.


The track soon deposited us at a grassy col and we turned south for the short climb to the Dewey top of Y Gribin at 602 metres.  The views by now were pretty non existant and as we headed back down to the col bands of misty rain took visibility down to almost nothing.  On with the waterproofs and we climbed up into the mist onto the southern slopes of Glasgwm.  I had originally planned to follow the cliff edges but there was no point with no view, we followed a fence for a while before getting out the compass and heading north across featureless slopes.  The high lake of Llyn y Fign was a bleak spot today but I would image it could make a great place to camp wild.  As we reached the large cairn on Glasgwm the mist started to clear a bit, we sat for a while watching the clouds swirl around neighbouring peaks.


A fence leads north down steep slopes towards a boggy col.  By now the clouds were above the tops of the hills and we got a great view down into Cwm Cywarch.


The next section from the col to the summit of Waun Camddwr was pretty boggy but the going was made easy with planks of wood over the worst bits.  In some places the wet peat was so deep I could push my walking pole all the way into it with no resistance.  I would not recommend jumping into the bogs here!  We spent a while figuring out the highest point of Waun Camddwr as it was the only Nuttall I had not done in this range of hills.

We left the path and headed east across a shallow boggy valley underneath Gwaun y Llwyni before climbing up towards Drws Bach.  The sky was now clearing and shafts of sunshine were lighting up the hills to the south.  It was also getting fairly late and we realised it would be dark in a couple of hours.  We had spent hours going not very far at all!


From Drws Bach we decided not to take the path following the fence but scrambled up easy rocky pathless slopes.  We could see the trig point of Aran Fawddwy towering above us and then suddenly the clouds and mist descended again.  Typically there was no view at the top and we stood in a grey world next to the summit trig.  For a few minutes there was a strange effect as we could see the outline of the sun above us faintly through the mist, but soon even that was gone.

We descended to a fence at a col and briefly toyed with descending down a gully though the cliffs to the lake, which from our position did not look too bad.  However experience has taught that appearances can be deceptive in the mist on mountain so we ascended the north peak before descending steep grassy slopes towards Creiglyn Dyfi.

The flat grassy patches we had spotted from higher up were not quite as flat as hoped when we reached the valley bottom.  We each found an ok pitch a short distance apart and joined each other on the stoney beach of the lake to cook dinner in the gathering gloom.  As darkness fell we went our separate ways to our tents where as soon as I put on my tent clothes I dozed off for an hour.  I woke up to a steady rain, zipped up the tent, read for a bit then had a great nights sleep.


The morning broke to swirling mists which were soon lifting to reveal a blue sky above the crags and peaks.  I took my stove down to the lake and Rich soon joined me.  Now this is what backpacking is all about, sitting in the warm sun by a mountain lake whilst cooking breakfast.  We whiled away a good couple of hours, eating, drinking and skimming stones before wondering around camp to take a few photos of where we had spent the night.





As we were packing up we could hear some dogs barking and howling above us.  We watched for a while as a pack of hounds ran above the crags making a right old racket.  They were large dogs, definitely not domestic animals and they did not look like sheep dogs, perhaps fox hounds?  Within 30 minutes every single sheep had run away and left the valley in all directions.

It had gone 11.00am by the time we has packed up and started walking.  In contrast to the day before the sun was hot and we were soon working up a sweat as we contoured above the west shore of the lake.  The whole area was scattered with the wreckage of an aircraft, with one large piece laying in the upper Llaethnant valley.


We managed not to lose too much height as we crossed the head of the valley and started ascending steep grassy slopes to the summit of Drysgol.  This gave great views back to the lake and the length of the Aran mountain range which stretches for miles down to Llanuwchllyn.


Drysgol stands at the head of the Hengwm valley which has an incredibly steep headwall, a spectacular sight.


To make the walk a little longer we ignored the well engineered path into the valley and headed across moorland to the minor summit of Waun Goch.  From here the aim was to head towards the ridge of Pen yr Allt Isaf which looked pretty straight forward on the map.  I went one way whilst Rich for some reason headed in another direction, he managed to find a really boggy bog!  He got wet feet and I felt smug as I got the camera out………


We were soon on the ridge above the deep Cwm Terwyn, contouring to get the best of the views.  The map shows a path leading down into the valley from the end of the ridge, but the map makers had failed to actually look at what was going on the ground.  There was a distinct lack of a path, just very very steep short cropped grassy slopes.  My knees and toes were soon feeling very sore and the descend went on for what felt like eternity.  The views towards the crags above the head of Cwm Cywarch were stunning though and it felt like mid summer as we reached the shelter of the valley.  This is such a stunning area, which once again was free from the crowds you can get in other parts of Snowdonia.


September 21, 2009

A mountain breakfast

by backpackingbongos

This photo was taken on Sunday morning and for me encapsulates why I go out backpacking.  A full trip report later this week.


September 16, 2009

Saturdays wild camp spot

by backpackingbongos

I think that the flu is finally out of my system now, although I have been a bit of a zombie at work this week.  I have been itching to get in a nights wild camping before the nights really start to get shorter.  Therefore it has been out with the maps to search for a great spot that does not involve alot of effort if we are feeling lazy this weekend.  I remembered a spectacular spot from a few years ago in a high mountain Cwm, somewhere I have fancied returning for another night.  A winning combination of high level lake and a large imposing crag – do you know where it is?

Wild camp

It will be the usual wait until rush hour has passed on Friday, pick up Rich and drive into the wilds to kip in the campervan somewhere.  Saturday and Sunday will be a short backpack with a great many hours sat staring at the lake, eating food and reading a book.  You don’t have to be mile munching weekend heroes to enjoy yourself in the wilds!