Archive for February, 2010

February 6, 2010

Beaten by the Berwyns – Godor & Moel yr Ewig

by backpackingbongos

The moral of this story is going to run along the lines of, “Don’t park your campervan at the furthest end of a hilly campsite if there is a risk of snow”.  It got a bit messy trying to get home.

Anyway after my equine visit the previous night I had one of those sleeps which only seem possible when out and about in good old fashioned fresh air.  Maybe it was the luxury of Fat Airic or was it two nice big pillows or even those two cosy sleeping bags?  Comfy and toasty is the way to go in midwinter.

I awoke to leaden skies and the odd flake of snow and spent a good while faffing about drinking coffee and getting ready.  All of a sudden the world outside became monochrome as a mini blizzard swept down off of the mountains, big fat snow flakes covering everything.  Within an hour there was a good dumping of fresh white stuff and I was ready to explore.

8.8 miles with 640 metres of ascent

The blanket of snow seemed to have silenced the world and there was not a breath of wind as I headed down the valley.  The snow had a perfect squeak to it and was not deep enough to slow progress.

As I walked through the farm-yard of Tan-y-graig I turned around to keep a careful eye on the barking dogs and stepped on a section of snow covered clear ice.  I was on my back in a split second, the wind knocked out of me.  It’s amazing how quickly you can fall over.  A bridleway leads north from the lane and climbs steadily towards the abandoned farm of Gwern-feilod.  The world again quickly vanished as a wall of white washed over me, the snow coming down thick and fast.  The farmhouse was a sad shell so shelter was sought in the pine forest above for an early lunch and to make a decision what to do next.  Visibility would be down to nothing up in the snow filled clouds.  However luck was on my side as just soon after coffee and food were finished the clouds parted and the sun made an appearance.

I slowly made my way up towards the summit of Godor, threading my way between gates as I was outside of the access area.  At one point I could simply walk over a fence as a huge drift had covered it.

The clearing air gave great views to the lower hills and the Midland plains to the east.

As the unmarked summit of Godor was reached the wind was blowing ,with the ground being a moving mass of spindrift.  Broken clouds were racing past giving the impression of being on a much higher hill.

Ahead of me now the clouds were beginning to build and cover the large empty uplands, miles of snow covered grassy tussocks.  What would have been a friendly landscape yesterday in the sunshine and crystal clear air began to take on a more threatening air.

As I passed Godors north west top the snow started again and visibility did not extend further than a hundred metres.  My field of view was mostly of the inside of my hood and of the ground as wind blasted icy crystals stung my eyes.  Luckily I had a wire fence to follow and for some reason there was a corridor of old rock hard snow following it.  What would normally be slimy peaty dips along the fence were filled in by old snow and often just the top of the fence posts would be sticking out.  I was soon on the 695m summit of Moel yr Ewig where I decided against continuing up to the summit of Cadair Berwyn.  I descended and soon Llyn Lluncaws came into view.

Deep snow covered heather made the short walk to the lake difficult with ankle twisting holes being well hidden, it was more of a lurch than a walk!  The lake itself was mostly frozen and the outflow stream quickly disappeared under a huge snow bridge.

I located another line of rock hard old snow and followed it downstream to where I could pick up a track.  As the snow cleared views came back and in front of me were the impressive cliffs of Craig y Mwn.

As I got closer to the valley bottom I stood and watched figures descending from the top of the waterfall.  It looked to be slow and difficult going over the snow covered icy track I had walked up yesterday.  The clearing air and setting sun gave a great pinkish glow to the cold frozen valley.

I got back to the snow bound Bongo and started to worry about how I was going to get it out the next morning.  I paced the route out to the worryingly snowy road a couple of times trying to find the best line.  Nothing much that I could do about it tonight!

I had another relaxed evening inside the van enjoying the peace and quiet of my location.  Just after dark the owner of the campsite came knocking to see if I was ok and to share some of his flapjacks he had baked that day.  I wish that I had got the recipe as they were amazing.  I raised my concerns about getting out, but he reassured me he would tow me out by mini tractor if I got stuck.

I slept for 13 hours that night, waking to find that the route I had marked to get the van out covered by fresh snow.  All packed up and I did manage to get the van further than I thought before gravity and an icy patch brought me to a halt.  There then followed a good hour involving a mini tractor, a rope and a Bongo.  The tractor struggled at one point which worried me.  But after a bit of distance arm waving between tractor and Bongo I was soon driving down a very narrow lane on virgin snow, never done that before and it was great.

The strange thing is that once out of the valley 3 miles away at Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant there was hardly any snow.  It had not been forecast anyway…………………

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February 2, 2010

Pistyll Rhaeadr and Post Gwyn

by backpackingbongos

It was one of those weekends when I just could not make up my mind what to do, but I just had to get outside.  I fancied Wales but did not want too far to drive, but then to backpack or have the winter luxury of the Bongo?  I settled on the Berwyns as a destination as they are the first big hills when you enter Wales from the east, I still had a few of their heathery summits yet to climb.  A quick search of Google and I found the Pistyll Rhaeadr campsite which promised a wild and peaceful place to stay.

It was late morning by the time I arrived at the campsite and the woman who checked me in at the café thought that I was slightly mad camping in this weather.  She guaranteed that I would have the place to myself!  I parked up the van in a splendid spot with a view down the valley and with Craig y Mwn towering above.  The day was slowly ebbing away so I had to head into the hills sharpish………………..

6.3 miles with 590 metres ascent

It is a short walk from the cafe to the towering Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall which is a dizzying 240 feet high.  It would be a splendid sight after a few days of heavy rain or during a really cold spell.

A path leads through beech trees above the public loo’s and on to open hillside.  The crags of Cerrig Poethion still had large cornices and the track upto Llyn Lluncaws looked tempting, I would be descending that way the next afternoon.

I passed a couple of guys lugging a camera and tripod who warned of the icy path ahead, one showing his ripped trousers gained from a fall.  Indeed higher up the path was a sheet of clear ice and it took a while to gingerly pick my way across it.  A simple descent through pine woods lead to the unfenced top of the falls.  All the rocks in the vicinity were covered in a thin dusting of snow over ice, I kept well away from the edge!  Further upstream there is a succession of pools and small cascades which would make great spots to while away sunny summer afternoons.  Not today though.

The river now turns into the Afon Disgynfa and heads into the heart of the Berwyns.  An easy mile or so leads to a large sheepfold which provided me with an opportunity to have a sit down and take in the views in the remarkably clear air.

Further upstream and a hop over the river leads to a sketchy path heading uphill which soon gets lost in the heather.  Now if you don’t know the Berwyns they are all about heather.  In some parts it comes up to the waist and can result in much bad language and makes you want to sit down and sulk.  Luckily here it is the usual knee deep stuff that tries to remove your gaiters and untie your shoelaces.  Thankfully there were still large patches of deep rock hard snow which made progress easy, although every now and then it would try to eat a leg.  The view towards Cadair Berwyn and Moel Sych was rather nice though, although it looked like my nice new crampons would not be needed the next day.

A blast of freezing cold air greeted me at the large summit cairn and one of the most extensive views I have seen for some time, the air was amazingly clear.  The northern horizon was dominated by the Snowdonia peaks glistening white against the winter sky.  Snowdon could be clearly seen but it was the Carneddau that stole the show and looked like having the most snow, a perfect unbroken blanket of white.

To the south and east low hills gradually merged with the plains of the Midlands, the green fields contrasting with the white hills.

My original plan had been to visit the hill fort of Craig Rhiwarth and the 608 metre top Glan-hafon to the east but time was beginning to run out.  Instead I walked around the small forestry plantation and to a small rise with views up the length of Nant y Llyn.

An easy descent leads to a track that contours above the broken cliffs of Craig y Mwn where there was a long line of icicles on a large peat hag.

It was evident that at this time of year this side of the valley receives little or no sun and peering over the cliffs half of the Rhaeadr valley was still frozen under a dusting of snow.  Unfortunately my campsite for the night was on the frozen side!

I got back to the van with half hour of daylight and plans to put up the Tentipi in which I would build a small fire.  I started off measuring out the pegging points and then realised that I could not be bothered erecting it.  The ground was frozen solid and I had forgotten to bring a chair to keep myself off the snowy ground.  I cheated and bundled into the van and put on my Blackcat heater instead!

Later I popped my head out and noticed a clear sky full of stars and the brightness of a moon just beginning to rise over the hill top.  A frozen half hour was spent trying to photograph the scene but the wind kept rocking my camera which was set on a 15 second shutter speed, everything coming out blurred.  This is the only one that came out ok.

Back in the van and just about to fall asleep I heard my washing up bucket rolling around, surely it was not that windy?  I opened the door to be greeted by a friendly face that popped its head into the van!

I had only been in Wales for less than 12 hours and I was already feeling very very relaxed!