Date: 03 Mar 2006
Start / Finish: Llanuwchllyn. Small free car park, also roadside parking.
Maps: Explorer OL23: Cadair Idris & Llyn Tegid.
|Day 1||Moel Ffenigl & Craig-y-Llyn||3 miles / 1800 feet (4.9km / 548m)|
|Day 2||Descent via Moel Ddu||3m (4.9km)|
A short trip to enjoy the only heavy snow this winter so far. In the event it was even shorter than planned, due to the very deep snow which was absolutely exhausting with a winter weight pack and made progress excruciatingly slow. It was soft and knee-deep not far above valley level and thigh-deep in places higher up, and made even more laborious by the fact that it was virgin snow with no trace of any previous trail. For all this effort we were compensated in abundance by the magnificent snow scenery and views, a superb pitch and a cracking sunset.
After the snow and heavy frost of the previous night, the external car thermometer reading dropped to -11°C as we drove through Wales where much of the recent snowfall had been reported. There was a bitterly cold mist in Llanuwchllyn as we set off up the farm track towards the N ridge of Aran Benllyn, and it seemed that the reports had been conservative as we ploughed through the calf-deep soft powdery snow. We were soon above the shallow valley mist and the sun shone with a Spring like warmth as a vast landscape of dense white came into view with the gleaming Arenigs dominating the scene across a sea of mist.
Rounding the shoulder of the first knoll, the snow became deeper and progress slower and more arduous, and before long we were fighting upwards through virgin knee-deep snow with every move a step into the unknown. Every few yards through the blanket snowfields was a major effort, not helped by concealed icy rocks, and packs made all the heavier by the crampons which were totally useless in the conditions yet again. In less than a mile our experience told us that a drastic change of plan would be appropriate: rather than a circuit via Creiglyn Dyfi as envisaged, we would do an out-and-back on this ridge, which would give us ample flexibility in the distance and schedule with plenty of time to find a pitch and enjoy the splendid conditions.
With the urgency eliminated, we continued the slow and exhausting ascent through the deepening snow towards the crags of Aran Benllyn, looking magnificent with the Cadair Idris range beyond but seemingly unattainable today. Somewhere around Craig-y-Llyn after floundering through a couple of thigh-deep areas, we had practically nothing left and called it a day, retreating to a small plateau which had grass peeping through the snow. Clearing the deep snow aside to make an area for the tent, there were fortunately no troublesome rocks hidden beneath and it proved to be a very comfortable pitch. We remembered to fill the narrow gap between the fly and ground with snow to prevent the ingress of spindrift which was now being whipped up by the breeze. Water for the pitch came from melting the fresh top snow with the pan and stove, which worked well.
At last we could relax and enjoy the fine wintry landscape, which caught the sun like a sprinkling of diamonds as the temperature dropped. The day was rounded off with a superb sunset that cast a red light on the snow.
There was a hard frost and a mainly clear sky as the first signs of light extinguished the faintest stars, but not long afterwards we heard the sound of snow falling on the tent. Squinting out of the door the scene really looked arctic with heavy snow and spindrift blowing around in the near-zero visibility, but it didn't last very long. As we set off it was clear that the fall had been heavy enough to fill in and obscure our footprints, or rather legprints, which meant ploughing through the snowfields afresh but at least this time it was downhill. We later met some people coming up who would no doubt make good use of our hard fought tracks and make easier progress!.
We varied the route back a little by climbing to the minor rises near the end of the ridge, Moel Ddu giving a fine view of Llyn Tegid. It was quite warm in the sunshine once again as we stopped to eat, but another squally shower loomed into view across the valley and the turbulent boiling clouds of snowflakes could clearly be seen as it approached and engulfed us. Sitting in deep snow with our hoods up and eating cake adorned with snowflake decorations, we reflected on the variety of conditions our native hills can offer and how every trip yields treasured memories. We would certainly remember this one vividly. On this very short outing we had not even reached the first summit of the original plan despite much hard toil, but it was replete with splendour seldom seen in this country, and some of that only by the backpacker.