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Yr Aran & Cnicht / 3 days / 23 miles (37km)

OS Route Map → Map Route file →

Date: 07 Mar 2010
Start / Finish: Beddgelert.
Maps: Explorer OL17 Snowdon & Conwy Valley.

Day 1Yr Aran, Cwm Llan & Llyn Llagi9.0 miles / 4340 feet (14.5km / 1322m)
Day 2Llyn Edno, Cnicht & Llyn yr Arddu5.5 miles / 1250 feet (8.9km / 381m)
Day 3Yr Arddu & Cwm Oerddwr8.3 miles / 2340 feet (13.4km / 713m)

A superb 3-day winter circuit of the mountains and lakes around Beddgelert and Nantgwynant.

Solitary backpacker commands Llyn Edno!

The winter clarity in three days of unbroken warm sunshine and very cold nights made this an incredible backpack of crystal clear views and gorgeous frozen lakes. In particular Llyn Edno presented a morning spectacle so magical it surpassed all previous encounters in artistry and scale, one of those defining moments in backpacking when one is in solitary command of the whole wilderness vista and ingesting the atmosphere like a drug. Combined with two dream tent pitches, this is a definite contender for solo backpack of the year already.

The outward leg to Yr Aran from Beddgelert is via Craig Wen, my first attempt at this scarcely mentioned route and therefore an exploratory affair with a frustrating trap for walkers lower down. The route descends via Cwm Llan to cross the Nantgwynant valley to the Ysgafell Wen range and Cnicht, a splendid region of hills and beautiful lakes that begs to be explored at leisure, a backpacker's dream. The third day was planned to recross the valley via Nantmor and culminate at Moel-ddu, both a Marilyn and Dewey unclimbed summit, but thanks to a misstep at Aberglaslyn Hall I ran out of time at Cwm Oerddwr and the hill defeated me for a second time.

Day 1 - Yr Aran, Cwm Llan & Llyn Llagi

The map shows a pecked line ascending northwards between the buildings in Beddgelert, but as expected I could see no evidence of a usable path. I walked NE up the A498 to the only starting point I had seen mentioned for this approach: the public footpath signed from the house at SH 594486. This stony track climbs through Access Land below Dinas hillfort to a gate at SH 591486 approaching Perthi Farm. The contouring public footpath is well signed beyond but how to approach the hill?. The sliver of Access Land running NNE seemed to be a mess of walls and vegetation but then I saw a heartening sight halfway up the field above:- a standard size waymark post with what appeared to be an Access symbol. I went through one gate onto a walled track and through a small side gate into the field and slogged upwards to the post:- the symbol didn't say "Access Land", it said "NO ACCESS". Oh great, they indicate this using the one type of marker that every hillbound walker will immediately make a beeline for!.

There was nobody around so I just continued smartly upwards to the lower flanks of the hill with no obstacles to surmount. If you attempt this southern approach you could try the sliver of Access Land mentioned above which looked rather messy, or leave the footpath earlier before the gate to ascend on the western flank of Dinas (but there may be fences or walls to contend with). The offending "No Access" post is in the field directly above the farm.

Once on the open hill I played it by ear, tending right-ish NNE overall for the easiest ascent, and I saw that the first major wall had a gap just before a steep section where others had clearly walked before and made a thin slanting path beyond, clearly discernible at least for a while. Higher up I easily crossed another wall at a breach and finally joined the curving wall that bends L for the final ascent to Yr Aran's SW ridge. Traversing the subsidiary top of Craig Wen and making the last steep climb to Yr Aran, the views were superbly clear and I reckoned I'd earned them after that long slog up. Despite the cold wind on that last climb there was hardly a breath of wind on the summit, but there were of course a few people, being a Sunday and a particularly magnificent one.

Yr Aran & Yr Wyddfa from Craig Wen
Yr Aran & Yr Wyddfa from Craig Wen (07 Mar 2010__10:57:03)
The Nantlle Ridge from Yr Aran
The Nantlle Ridge from Yr Aran (07 Mar 2010__11:47:24)
Mynydd Mawr & Llyn Cwellyn from Yr Aran
Mynydd Mawr & Llyn Cwellyn from Yr Aran (07 Mar 2010__11:47:45)
Yr Wyddfa & Y Lliwedd from Yr Aran
Yr Wyddfa & Y Lliwedd from Yr Aran (07 Mar 2010__11:50:59)
Y Lliwedd & Moel Siabod from Yr Aran
Y Lliwedd & Moel Siabod from Yr Aran (07 Mar 2010__11:53:19)

There was very little snow on the upper cone of Yr Aran as I descended the NE ridge but quite a depth in a few places when I turned NW for the final descent to Bwlch Cwm Llan on the shadowy north-facing side: some of the holes were leg deep, but it was all frozen hard and I crunched along quite easily on top of the unavoidable bits (without crampons yet again).

I took the path eastwards from the hummocky bwlch, just a grassy line at first but pitched with stone lower down, which affords a grand view of the peaks from below now dominated by Y Lliwedd. Above I could see a host of coloured figures on the Watkin path, some toiling upwards towards the snow line and some descending. We have never climbed Yr Wyddfa by the Watkin path, probably because we don't want to miss out Y Lliwedd (and Gallt y Wenallt of course, as so many do). There were quite a few strollers enjoying the warm sunshine in lower Cwm Llan, intermingling with the steady stream of walkers descending to Bethania.

Y Lliwedd from Cwm Llan
Y Lliwedd from Cwm Llan (07 Mar 2010__13:29:11)

I walked through the busy car park and took the tarmac footpath SE past Plas Gwynant to the 'waterfalls', which were very modest and not much visible anyway, and joined the narrow lane to the footpath at Llwynyrhwch. Beyond the farm I began a familiar line ascending to Llyn Llagi, a tiring plod after the rigours of the morning and time was getting on. I climbed the steep grassy slopes above to a little broad ridge with a delightful small frozen lake, a dead ringer for a classic pitch with awesome views from the tent door. The temperature was dropping and I was soon pitched and snug in my down jacket ready for a stroll around the lake to soak up the evening colours of the peak-serrated sky. Later the sun sank behind the Hebog ridge and the temperature plummeted in the breeze: I retreated into the frosty tent, wrapped up in the sleeping bag and made a hot drink.

Llyn Llagi
Llyn Llagi (07 Mar 2010__16:05:17)
Lake below Y Cyrniau
Lake below Y Cyrniau (07 Mar 2010__16:40:32)
Tent pitch below Y Cyrniau looking to the Glyderau
Tent pitch below Y Cyrniau looking to the Glyderau (07 Mar 2010__17:08:14)
The sun sinking behind Moel Hebog from tent pitch
The sun sinking behind Moel Hebog from tent pitch (07 Mar 2010__17:59:35)

Day 2 - Llyn Edno, Cnicht & Llyn yr Arddu

A bitterly cold night and a cloudless sky again at dawn. Whoever wrote the song 'I don't like Mondays' wasn't here: how about this for the first view on opening the door on Monday morning as an accompaniment to breakfast and a hot brew?.

Early light on frozen lake at the tent pitch
Early light on frozen lake at the tent pitch (08 Mar 2010__08:14:26)

I packed up my kit and headed across the wild pathless terrain of rocky outcrops, bone-hard snow patches and frozen grass towards Llyn Edno, the edges of the little ice sheets sounding like breaking crockery as I caught them. The lake is roughly the same height as the pitch spot but I ascended and descended quite often to avoid sloping snowfields, though not by much, and I made good progress to the SW end.

I soon realised from tantalising partial views that something really special was awaiting, but I crossed the last stretch of frozen bog and climbed a small rocky knoll a few metres high for a complete elevated view. It was one of those very rare occasions that so overwhelms the senses for a moment that I stood in a trance wondering what to do... oh, camera, right!. The pictures don't do it nearly enough justice, the sense of scale is much diminished and it should really be seen in IMAX I should think. I walked around the eastern shore taking shots from various angles to capture every facet of this rare and transitory wintry jewel.

Frozen Llyn Edno
Frozen Llyn Edno (08 Mar 2010__09:19:02)
Frozen Llyn Edno
Frozen Llyn Edno (08 Mar 2010__09:20:06)
Frozen Llyn Edno
Frozen Llyn Edno (08 Mar 2010__09:25:12)
Frozen Llyn Edno
Frozen Llyn Edno (08 Mar 2010__09:39:47)

The distant clear views dominated again as I walked the ridge southwards over the Far North and North tops of Ysgafell Wen. Further along it seemed that the northern Moelwyn range retained a surprising extent of snow cover given its modest height, Allt Fawr looking almost as gleaming white as the Carneddau.

I passed the first familiar lake of Llynnau'r Cwn and left the ridge at the North top to weave through the hard snow fields down to the second lake, another pair of ice encrusted gems in the landscape dominated by Cnicht ahead. Sheltered from the light north-easterly breeze the sun was very warm, and on hearing the sound of running water I felt a strong summery thirst: I broke through an overhanging hard snowdrift to expose the ice cold flow and drank copiously. Onwards over the frozen creaking boggy ground to Llyn yr Adar, so beloved of wild campers in summer but deserted today, a fine icy sight with more artistic swirly patterns.

Hebog, Nantlle Ridge & Yr Aran from Ysgafell Wen ridge
Hebog, Nantlle Ridge & Yr Aran from Ysgafell Wen ridge (08 Mar 2010__10:51:45)
First frozen lake of Llynnauír Cwn
First frozen lake of Llynnauír Cwn (08 Mar 2010__11:01:38)
Cnicht from Ysgafell Wen North Top
Cnicht from Ysgafell Wen North Top (08 Mar 2010__11:09:16)
Second frozen lake of Llynnauír Cwn
Second frozen lake of Llynnauír Cwn (08 Mar 2010__11:20:36)
Second frozen lake of Llynnauír Cwn
Second frozen lake of Llynnauír Cwn (08 Mar 2010__11:21:50)
Frozen Llyn yr Adar
Frozen Llyn yr Adar (08 Mar 2010__11:38:38)

Ascending to Cnicht via its gentle north ridge above Llyn y Biswail, the excellent views resumed and a few people were settled at the summit, including one lad who admitted that his pack was overkill for a day walk - it looked around 65l, considerably bigger than my multiday LiteSpeed backpack. I had wondered about the rocky descent of the steep south ridge that gives Cnicht its Matterhorn appearance and whether I would need crampons, but there was very little ice and snow and no difficulty on the largely dry rock.

I clambered down the last rocky groove to the cairn at the foot of the ridge just as a group of kids arrived from Bwlch y Battel below, supervised by two leaders and clearly enjoying their trip as they assembled for a group photo and looked apprehensively at the steep cone of rock ahead.

Llyn y Biswail from Cnicht ridge
Llyn y Biswail from Cnicht ridge (08 Mar 2010__12:07:04)
Moelwyn Mawr from Cnicht
Moelwyn Mawr from Cnicht (08 Mar 2010__12:37:25)

The gully leading down NW towards Bwlch y Battel was packed with snow but the adjacent slope a few metres away was a better line. An intermittent faint path develops that traverses or swings around some little rocky ridges before losing itself in a complex and increasingly rough series of drops. I knew from past visits in the opposite direction that I should ultimately aim for a point a short way north of the shallow lake at the bwlch, where the sketchy path resumes around the flanks of the hillside to arrive at the lakes of Llynnau Cerrig-y-myllt, looking excellent with the snow-flecked mountains as a backdrop and one of our favourite spots.

Cnicht from Bwlch y Battel
Cnicht from Bwlch y Battel (08 Mar 2010__14:15:37)
First lake of Llynnau Cerrig-y-mwllt
First lake of Llynnau Cerrig-y-mwllt (08 Mar 2010__14:29:17)
Second lake of Llynnau Cerrig-y-mwllt
Second lake of Llynnau Cerrig-y-mwllt (08 Mar 2010__14:36:37)
Second lake of Llynnau Cerrig-y-mwllt
Second lake of Llynnau Cerrig-y-mwllt (08 Mar 2010__14:47:07)
Second lake of Llynnau Cerrig-y-mwllt
Second lake of Llynnau Cerrig-y-mwllt (08 Mar 2010__14:50:41)

I ascended SW over the familiar saddle and descended to the fine Llyn yr Arddu, another beautiful and colourful location for the second pitch of the trip, dead calm in the warm sunshine and totally silent except for the occasional shlooping sound of little wavelets breaking on the shore. It was so warm I sat outside the tent on the rocks to eat my final meal of the day, gazing out over the blue waters with the snowy peaks peeping out above the heather-clad bouldery cliffs. When the sun disappeared behind the rocks the temperature dropped sharply in seconds and I retrieved my down jacket to watch the darkening evening sky from the tent.

Llyn yr Arddu
Llyn yr Arddu (08 Mar 2010__15:15:19)
Tent pitch at Llyn yr Arddu
Tent pitch at Llyn yr Arddu (08 Mar 2010__15:47:11)

Day 3 - Yr Arddu & Cwm Oerddwr

Another cloudless sky at dawn, but although it felt cold the temperature was not low enough to freeze the lake. I packed up and climbed to the 388m top of Yr Arddu, a typical summit for this pocket of Wales consisting of extensive white boulders and slabs interlaced with deep heather. We have climbed to this tortuous top several times, but looking from above, the descent NW to the forest corner is anybody's guess: any route involves at least some steep and very rough heathery terrain. I watched for a flat grassy area that I remembered from a previous visit: from here there is surprisingly an intermittent trodden line down the rough rocky heathery gullies that emerges from the maelstrom by some wayward rhododendrons growing in a tangle of boulders just south of the forest corner.

Summit area of Yr Arddu
Summit area of Yr Arddu (09 Mar 2010__08:03:51)

From the forest I descended steeply through the wood to the lane and crossed the Nanmor via the footbridge to join the valley footpath to Carneddi farm. From here a surfaced track descends to the road through Nantmor and on to Pont Aberglaslyn.

The plan was to take the public footpath from the A498 into lower Cwm Oerddwr: all started well on the woodland path but a short way up I saw a National Trust waymark pointing to the R of the first crossing stream - I didn't see any other waymarks. I lazily assumed that this was a minor realignment of the footpath, but after much upward zigzagging it turned out to be a separate constructed NT path up to the Bryn Du viewpoint at the top of the forestry land. Scanning around the visible peaks Moel-ddu was 180° behind me - it left me on the wrong side of the forest. At least it was a pretty good viewpoint for such a modest climb!.

Bryn Du viewpoint at the top of Aberglaslyn woods
Bryn Du viewpoint at the top of Aberglaslyn woods (09 Mar 2010__11:06:12)

Wondering what to do next I surveyed the tangled options. I noticed a trodden line outside the forest wall, perhaps others had been faced with the same decision. I followed the easy line alongside the wall around to a higher corner and resurveyed: there was no obvious best line in the confusing landscape so I just set off SW, negotiating tussocky patches and walls mixed with bouldery domes and often encountering little vertical cliffs that required retreating and walking around. Eventually I reached easy grassy terrain and joined the familiar bridleway below the flanks of Bryn Banog that took me to the head of Cwm Oerddwr.

The stone walls here are high and well maintained even on the very steep sections. I crossed a wall and started the steep ascent, but looking at my watch and appraising the climb ahead, I decided to call it a day. The climb is probably less effort than it looks judging from the map, but it would have to wait. Moel-ddu has defeated us before due to lack of time on a previous trip: Moel-ddu: 2 Us: Nil. The views should be worthwhile when we finally make the summit, even from here they were good.

Moel-ddu
Moel-ddu (09 Mar 2010__12:41:12)
Bryn Banog & Moel Hebog from Cwm Oerddwr
Bryn Banog & Moel Hebog from Cwm Oerddwr (09 Mar 2010__12:41:29)
Cnicht & the Moelwynion from Cwm Oerddwr
Cnicht & the Moelwynion from Cwm Oerddwr (09 Mar 2010__12:42:11)

I returned to the bridleway for my route back to Beddgelert, the same one I followed on a previous trip and just as potentially confusing even on a second walk: once again I found my map skills tested, using the magnifier on my compass to pick out the finest detail to make sure I was on the correct line. In the last short section through the woodland down to the level crossing and cemetery by the A498 (starting at the gate in the wall at SH 586474), the path seems to have disappeared and there is boggy and tussocky ground to negotiate: just aim NNE for the opposite wall and weave through the trees and tussocks!.