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.


16 Comments to “Cwm Cywarch backpack”

  1. Cracking wildcamp, and walk. Those cliff faces in the last photo look amazing. Wales is on my to re visit list – just when? Reading that does motivate me to go visit.

  2. great write up and great pictures. Looks like you had a brilliant time and as you say, you can still find quiet but stunning corners of Snowdonia.
    Nice one

  3. Fantastic and quiet area and a grand outing despite the mist. We find ourselves returning there time and time again.
    Llyn y Fign is indeed a great camp spot, we did so on a couple of our trips as you have probably seen.
    There is a well graded path down into the valley from Pen yr Allt Isaf, we ascended that way on one of our routes.

  4. Martin – you must find the time to revisit Wales, it really is great backpacking country.

    Dave – thanks, yes you can still find quiet corners of Snowdonia (and the Scenery is stunning!).

    Geoff – That path you mention, is it the one marked on the map leading south? The one we wanted really did not exist or I missed it!

  5. Always interesting to know where the less frequented bits of Snowdonia are. That’s why I like the Carneddau on the NE side. The trouble with the Glyders and Snowdon, fine mountains though they are, there’s too many people. Snowdonia is more difficult to plan sensible walks than the Lakes because of its layout, so it’s interesting to read how others have fashioned worthwhile trips.

  6. Thanks. I highly recommend this area Robin. In some ways it is good that most people flock to Snowdon and the Glyders as it means the rest of the hills are quieter! There is loads of backpacking to be had in Snowdonia as it covers a huge area. You should check out the Rhinogs – they are awesome!

  7. A second vote for the Rhinogs!!!

  8. Dave I will give the Rhinogs a third vote – where else can you spend 8 hours walking and only manage 4 miles whilst getting crag bound every 10 minutes? Robin should try them out!

  9. Looking back at our log notes, it wasn’t quite as I thought: we didn’t ascend to the summit of Pen yr Allt Isaf, we took the gradual path up the flanks of Cwm Terwyn (the right of way on the SE side of the Nant Terwyn).
    You have to keep on the NW side of Waun Goch to avoid the bogs!.

  10. I am glad you wrote that Geoff as I was beginning to doubt myself. I had a good old search for that elusive path and it never turned up. Did see the path that you took but we were already commited by then! We always find the bogs when it is too late!

  11. Hi,

    we were at Cwm Cywarch last month. We had to leave the car in Dinas as the roads were snowblocked. It is a stunning valley and yes not a soul was seen.

  12. Hi Bob, it is indeed a stunning valley and I bet it looked even better in all that snow. Did you get up into the hills?

  13. Hey guys, great site, I stumbled across it while looking up Google Images for Drws Bach.
    I backpacked similar parts of the Arans to you in September 2010, but going the other way. It was good to look at your photos and read of your experience. I too had to negotiate the bogs on Waun Goch.
    There IS a path in Cwm Terwyn, it is the right-hand one of the two shown on the 1:25,000 map, that contours the slopes. The bad news is the line of the path is thick with rushes making it almost impossible to walk on.

  14. Thanks Howard, good to see you visit the blog. The Arans are a great range of hills, somewhere to return to soon I think!

  15. Fantastic read. Brought back lots of memories for me. Used to stay in this valley on family holidays from the late 60’s through to the early 80’s. Live in New Zealand now so although I’d like to visit again, might be some time away. Thanks.

    • Thanks Trev. Its a lovely wild valley, have thought about a holiday cottage there myself a few times. However New Zealand is not too bad a replacement for wales!

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