Backpacking the Moelwyns from Blaenau Dolwyddelan

by backpackingbongos

It is a dangerous game watching the weather the week before a backpacking trip, especially if you have not decided where you are going.  Each day brought a different forecast and indecision loomed.  I had fancied another trip to the Southern Uplands but there was meant to be a lot of snow on the hills, I did not want to lug around an ice axe and crampons.  A stunning forecast on the Sunday for Snowdonia gave me some focus.  Luckily I already had a two day route in the Moelwyns worked out in my head.

I picked up Rae at lunchtime on the Friday and we bimbled across to Snowdonia.  I needed a new pair of gaiters as mine have had many run ins with barbed wire fences and pennine heather, so a stop off in Betws-y-coed was called for.  I failed to find any that I fancied but did manage to buy a pair of the new Paramo Velez adventure trousers whilst Rae got some Terrocs for a bargain £30.

The plan was then to spend the night in the Dolgam campsite down the road, but on arrival found it was right next to the busy A5 so decided to move on.  I had a vague notion that there was one just past Plas y Brenin above the lake.  I was correct and we decided to spend the night at the very rough and ready site at Garth farm.  Probably the only campsite I have stayed at where there is not one single flat area!  However the situation made up for it with a very alpine Snowdon behind us and the twin lakes of Llynnau Mymbyr to the front.  I had a very nice comfy bongo sleep whilst Rae had a slightly damp Hilleberg Akto sleep!

Ok let’s get on with the backpack, here is a map of the route if you fancy a look.

Day 1 – 7.2 miles with 730 metres ascent

The van was left at the end of the narrow road through Blaenau Dolwyddelan, meaning that we could start the walk right in the heart of the mountains.  The sun was shining and the wind was light in the sheltered valley, it was good to be heading into the hills for a couple of days.  We took the bridleway passing through the farm at Coed Mawr which gently wound its way onto the shoulder of Yr Arddu.  The comfort of the track soon had to be left to squelch onto the main ridge.  Whilst getting our breath back there were great retrospective views back towards Moel Siabod.

Yr Arddu is a long rocky ridge of many false summits, each time we thought we had made the top there was another rise in front of us.  The summit cairn was a great view point giving a different perspective on one of my favourite hills, Moel Meirch across Cwm Edno.  I was very surprised and slightly alarmed at the amount of snow covering the hills around Moel Druman and Allt-fawr.  We would need to traverse those slopes tomorrow, what would the higher Moelwyn Fawr be like?  We had no ice axe and crampons with us.

We crossed rough and boggy ground to the splendidly situated Lyn Edno, which was still fully frozen.  I had been hoping to be able to sit and have lunch here whilst basking in sunshine but the weather was not playing ball.  Instead we sat on the rocks whilst watching the clouds skud across the grey sky which was reflected in the rather grey ice.

Climbing the slopes of Ysgafell Wen the sun broke through the clouds illuminating the snow covered Snowdon group and the Glyders, with the totally white Carneddau bringing up the rear.

The cluster of three lakes called Llynnau’r cwn take up one of the best positions in the whole of Snowdonia (well in my opinion anyway).  One day I will camp there.  We threaded our way between the highest of the two, still frozen and partially snow covered.  Snowdon providing a perfect pyramid in the col.

It has been many years since I climbed Cnicht and I fancied another ascent which would give the opportunity to explore Llyn yr Adar which I have read is a very popular wild camping spot in the summer.  Its frozen shores were deserted today and the shoreline was a boggy morass of melting snow and squelchy spagnum.

Starting the climb onto the ridge of Cnicht our greetings were totally ignored by the first people we had seen all day.  At least their dog was friendly!  The views really began to open up and Llyn y Biswail looked like an inviting place to explore.

Completely deserted the final few rocky tops of the ridge make a great walk with steep slopes falling away on either side.  In front is a view of mountains and the sea which in the pinkish light could have been the west coast of Scotland.

Moelwyn Mawr still had a good dusting of snow but we could see the line of descent we would be taking the next day was snow free, fingers crossed that it would be the same ’round the back’.

We retraced our steps towards Llyn yr Adar and took the right of way south east which we promptly lost soon after crossing Afon cwm-y-foel.  I can remember crossing this area in mist years ago and finding the way difficult though the many bands of low cliffs.  Luckily the clouds were above the tops but were beginning to look more and more menacing with the odd spot of sleet in the air.  As we approached Llynnau Diffwys the clouds lowered over the hills, the wind picked up and it started a cold icy sleety rain.  Typical just as we wanted to get the tents up!  Dinner was cooked that evening in individual tents rather than sitting outside and admiring the view, even though the rain cleared it left a damp chill in the air.  I had a repeat of the stomach problems soon after eating my freeze dried meal that I had on my last trip, time to start dehydrating my own food again I think.  Finally wrapped up in down I lost myself in a book for a few hours before drifting off to sleep.

Day 2 – 10.8 miles with 960 metres ascent

I woke just after dawn with that full bladder feeling.  I checked the temperature on my watch, it was minus 5 celsius inside the tent next to my head.  It would be fair to assume it was much colder outside, especially with the breeze.  The inner tent above my head was frozen solid, so rather than sit up I slid further into my sleeping bag and got another couple of hours sleep.

Meths is not the easiest thing to light in sub zero temperatures and I had to warm up both my lighter and meths before getting it finally to light.  However once going there is no problem, with a brew silently and slowly coming to boil.  My boots were completely encased in a thick layer of ice and were totally unbendable.  It took a fair bit of effort to get my feet into them and even after dancing around (not in the literal sense) I could not get them to give.  Instead they would just have to suck all the warmth out of my feet!  I stood there in wonder with a mug of coffee in hand taking in the stunning views, it really was an amazing location.  Just a shame my feet were cold!

All packed up we headed past the twin lakes on a contouring course towards Bwlch Rhosydd where the aim was to get to Croesor quarry without too much descent and reasent.  We managed it, all the time drinking in the views bathed in early spring sunshine.  The plan now was to get round the back of Moelwyn Mawr, contouring round the hillside to pick up the miners track that leads to the disused quarry below Craigysgafn.  It all started off well until we came across the first snow patch which was on steep ground and was hard as rock.  There was no way that we could kick steps and a slip would probably hurt, a lot.  Luckily there was a wall below us to offer assistance in standing upright and with the occasional bit of bottom shuffling we reached the West ridge of Moelwyn Mawr.  It was here that we picked up the splendid miners track, completely level, grassy and with stunning views.

The original plan had been to nip up Moelwyn Bach but the path ascending its steep nose was covered in snow and in deep shadow.  It would have to wait for another day.  Instead a leisurely lunch was had on the slopes of Craigysgafn before ascending its rocky western slopes.  It’s a great peak with some nice rocky bits to clamber over.

The ascent of the grassy Moelwyn Mawr in the sun made it feel like summer and for the first time this year whilst out walking I took off my Paramo.  Even in just a base layer I was breaking out into a sweat.

However the effort was worth it as the view from the trig point was a stunner, the blueness of the sky and the clarity of the air making it feel like distant mountains were almost within reach.  Even at this height there was not a breath of wind and with the sun beating down it definitely did not feel like Snowdonia in early March.

Looking to the north it slowly dawned that we had a fair way to go to get back to the van and the day was getting on.  Steep slopes descend to the north before ascending the minor north top.  Complex ground then leads down past the Rhosydd quarry to the old barracks below.  This is an atmospheric place, even under clear blue skies.  I have been here a couple of times when low cloud is skudding across the tops of the buildings, the area has felt almost creepy then.

A narrow path leads north from the disused quarries across a boggy area with good views back to the main Moelwyn peaks.

Leaving the path easy grassy slopes brought us to the shores of Llyn Conglog which was still frozen solid despite its large size.  Another lake that I would love to camp next to one day!  Strangely this area had a lot more snow than any we had walked though in the last two days, Allt-fawr still being totally covered in snow.  Already in the areas sheltered from the lowering sun frost was beginning to form.

Since the beginning of the backpack I had been slightly anxious about crossing the snow slopes beneath Allt-fawr without crampons.  We eneded up picking a relatively shallow slope across to Iwerddon which made the going easier, although care still had to be taken.  The snow was rock hard so we sought out the tussocks that were sticking out in places.

The ridge of Iwerddon leads down to Llyn Dyrnogydd which is spoilt by new looking electricity pylons.  Moel Dyrnogydd stood in the way of the van so was climbed.  I am glad we did as we were treated to a winter sun descending and turning the surrounding hills pink.

We picked up the old miners track that had come from the Crimea pass and contoured round the hillside on it so that we could pick up the right of way.  However there was no sign of that right of way across the tussocky moorland below.  It was getting dark.  We gave up looking for it and continued down the track until we came to the air shaft that serves the railway in the tunnel below.  It was now very dark and the map was consulted by torchlight as we had lost the track.  For some reason this area is awkward being split over various sides of maps, we had to get two out and lie them side by side on the ground to make some sort of sense of the darkness around us.  Thankfully we located the track and descended by headtorch listening to the hidden stream crash down into the valley.  All was well until we passed through Hendre farm and got a bit lost, waking up what sounded like every farm dog in Wales.  I always find farms difficult to navigate through at the best of times!  After backtracking out of a dead end courtyard we were soon back on track and at the van which had been waiting patiently for us.


17 Comments to “Backpacking the Moelwyns from Blaenau Dolwyddelan”

  1. Another great report as always! Yet another place to add to my list of locations to go backpacking.

  2. I recognise plenty of very familiar walking there as you know!. Missed you by a day.
    I remarked that Allt-fawr seemed to have more extensive snow than the much higher peaks except the Carneddau. Fortunately elegance is not a requirement when descending Moelwyn Mawr!.

    I don’t know how people eat that rehydrated food, one of several reasons I never cook.
    In winter I often have to thaw my boots over the stove before I can get my feet into them at all.

  3. I forgot to say: the old mine track north of Moel Dyrnogydd can easily be followed all the way to the railway underpass where you just turn right, still on the track, through Hendre farm, a lot easier than trying to follow the line of the footpath.

    • It would have been good to have bumped into you on the hills Geoff, I am sure that one day our paths will cross. It was weird that Allt-fawr had so much snow compared to the rest of the hills, it felt colder there than anywhere else as well. I dont think I will be having the same food again, althoug I cannot imagine not cooking on a backpacking trip, one of the best bits is sitting in the evening eating hot food.
      We did stay on the track in the end although we lost it a bit in the dark, shame that you need two sides of a map in that area.

  4. The tarns north of Cnicht are magical. Somewhere I want to camp in the future.

  5. Cnicht is stunning. The tarns up on the whole ridge offer so many wildcamp spots. Great walk James and photos.

  6. Thanks Robin and Martin, the tarns in that area are magical with so many great places to pitch the tent. I love that area.

  7. Nice report and piccies as always, but why on earth don’t you keep your boots in the tent on cold nights (even on hot nights to avoid slugs!)? If in doubt, shove them into your sleeping bag. Having cold feet is no fun and is easily avoided. Isn’t it?

  8. Martin I did sort of keep my boots in the tent, well the porch anyway! To be honest I did not expect it to quite so cold, I did bring my water bottle into the inner and that managed to freeze. Maybe next time I will just keep my boots on!

  9. Slugs visit tent porches!
    You could take a plastic bag and put your boots in your rucksack, or in extreme cold (eg high in the Himalayas) stuff them in your sleeping bag. But don’t leave them on, that’ll make your feet smell.
    To where will we all be transported on your next exciting trip?
    Keep it up!

  10. ‘Make my feet smell’, they already do after a day in wet boots. Don’t worry only kiddin about keeping my boots on at night Martin!
    In a couple of weeks time I will be taking you all on a trip to the Southern Uplands for a week in a nice little cottage…………

  11. Just been out for cracking backpack up in the Moelwyns, they really are a superb spot for a wild camp. I may even get around to writing it up at some point 🙂

  12. Hi all! Does anybody know if there are any streams along the route to get some fresh water??

    • Hi, yes there are plenty of streams along the route, at the very worst you would need to drop down a bit either side to find water. Just look for the blue squiggly lines on the map!

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