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Arenig Fawr South Ridge & Moel Llyfnant / 2 days / 17 miles (27km)

OS Route Map → Map Route file →

Date: 01 Mar 2010
Start / Finish: Llanuwchllyn.
Maps: Explorer OL23 Cadair Idris.

Day 1Foel Boeth & Arenig Fawr South Ridge6.7 miles / 1940 feet (10.8km / 591m)
Day 2Moel Llyfnant & Blaen-Lliw9.9 miles / 1180 feet (16.0km / 359m)
Arenig Fawr South Ridge

A short winter backpack to one of our favourite locations in the Arenigs: the south ridge of Arenig Fawr, experienced this time in fantastic clarity and part snowy conditions. Arenig Fawr made a majestic backdrop to the snow and ice covered lakes and rocky knolls, and the superb frosty tent pitch in the little trodden heart of this winter wilderness was without doubt one of our best ever. The evening and morning accentuated colours highlighted the features in even sharper relief with a glowing sunset over Moel Llyfnant to the west.

The local landscape was augmented by very clear distant views all around to other snow capped mountains, from the Carneddau and Snowdon, to Cadair Idris, the Arans and the Berwyns, sometimes with dramatic skies. On the second day, after a very cold night and hardly a breath of wind, the waxing strength of the early March sun made for one of those rare occasions when we could sit on a mountain summit near deep drifts of snow and linger a while soaking up the views with a penetrating warmth on our backs.

Day 1 - Foel Boeth & Arenig Fawr South Ridge

The planned approach was through Y Lordship forest as we did on our Southern Arenigs trip, but this time after following the surfaced footpath from the A494 alongside the Afon Dyfrdwy to the church, we walked up to the southern tip of the forest on the narrow lane. It felt warm in the shelter of the trees and a warbler was singing full throttle from the top of a conifer by a frozen old quarry lake, a strange mix of winter and spring themes. After negotiating a couple of fallen trees the forest track deteriorates near the northern end, but is nowhere difficult, and emerges at a gate at a roadhead. A bridleway heads westwards and climbs through a forest ride to a wall:- a waymark points to the L side of the wall into some rough arduous terrain but we continued on an easy track on the R side, passing back through an obvious wall gap where the track veers uphill. A rough path now appears that follows the edge of the trees to a forest corner where we turned R for a steep climb up the flanks of Foel Boeth.

Foel Boeth is a largely forested 500m Dewey top that we were merely appraising on this walk, and any approach from this side looked out of the question until we encountered an earthy forest track ascending to... who knows where. Maybe a future possibility. Today we continued along the forest edge on quite rough terrain down to the next corner and began a rather arduous crossing of reeds, tussocks and heather northwards towards the south ridge, a potentially confusing area, finally rounding a heathery dome to join the Dolydd Bychain to the foot of the ridge. There was a grand view eastwards to Moel Ymenyn, another Dewey top that would have to wait for another day, and the distant snow capped Berwyns, while Arenig Fawr loomed ahead above the slopes.

Moel Ymenyn & the snow capped Berwyns
Moel Ymenyn & the snow capped Berwyns (01 Mar 2010__13:16:12)
Approaching Arenig Fawr at Dolydd Bychain
Approaching Arenig Fawr at Dolydd Bychain (01 Mar 2010__13:33:34)

Ascending by the fence to the hump at spot-height 654m, the snowy tops of the Arans had cleared to the south leaving a dramatic sky vista while the patchy snowfields appeared ahead, crisp and still deep in places and occasionally bearing clear animal tracks frozen into the surface, maybe a fox: we have seen them a few times in the mountains in winter.

The Arans from the ascent
The Arans from the ascent (01 Mar 2010__14:49:07)
Approaching the south ridge
Approaching the south ridge (01 Mar 2010__15:16:53)

With the climbing conquered for the day it was time for a well earned easy stroll up the south ridge in the sunshine, meandering around the rocky rises and frozen snow covered pools labelled Llyn Crafanc on the map, and arriving at the superb situation of the main lake with Arenig Fawr towering beyond. The west facing slopes had accumulated deep picturesque snow drifts adding an artistic sweep to the scene. The immediate environs of the lake are rather tussocky and the boggy ground was frozen into a creaking crust, but we easily found an excellent pitch on good grass nearby.

Once pitched and wrapped in our down jackets we set off on a photo walkabout: the sun and temperature were dropping rapidly and the low light began to accentuate the colours of the mountainside while frost gradually formed on the tent. Near the edges of the pools we treaded carefully and judged that the creaking frozen bogs would take our weight - no mishaps. A final picture of the sun sinking behind Moel Llyfnant and we retreated inside for a hot drink.

View along the south ridge
View along the south ridge (01 Mar 2010__15:50:34)
Arenig Fawr and lake
Arenig Fawr and lake (01 Mar 2010__16:00:07)
Tent pitch on the south ridge
Tent pitch on the south ridge (01 Mar 2010__16:30:13)
Frozen lake and Arenig Fawr
Frozen lake and Arenig Fawr (01 Mar 2010__16:57:02)
Frozen lake and rocky knolls
Frozen lake and rocky knolls (01 Mar 2010__16:59:48)
Another frozen lake and the Arans
Another frozen lake and the Arans (01 Mar 2010__17:03:48)
Sunset over Moel Llyfnant from tent pitch
Sunset over Moel Llyfnant from tent pitch (01 Mar 2010__17:42:41)

Day 2 - Moel Llyfnant & Blaen-Lliw

The forecast for the second day was dry but rather grey and mediocre. The original plan was to visit the Dewey top of Foel Ystradur Fawr, but after a very cold night and thick frost on the tent the dawn was crystal clear: time for a quick change of plan.

We packed up our kit and climbed a cairned rocky knoll nearby for an elevated morning view of the area and excellent clear vistas. The southern Arenigs and Cadair Idris range could now be seen to advantage in the early eastern light and a thin layer of inverted mist was visible below Y Llethr and Diffwys in the southern Rhinogydd. A magnificent morning indeed, and the temperature quickly rose as we began the descent of the western slopes towards Moel Llyfnant, the new first objective for the day.

Early view of the lake from the cairned knoll
Early view of the lake from the cairned knoll (02 Mar 2010__08:59:27)
Arenig Fawr from the cairned knoll
Arenig Fawr from the cairned knoll (02 Mar 2010__08:59:45)
Moel Llyfnant and the southern Rhinogydd beyond
Moel Llyfnant and the southern Rhinogydd beyond (02 Mar 2010__09:00:11)
Early view to Dduallt, Rhobell Fawr & Cadair Idris
Early view to Dduallt, Rhobell Fawr & Cadair Idris (02 Mar 2010__09:00:30)

Crossing the frozen boggy saddle to the foot of Moel Llyfnant, there was hardly a breath of wind and it was becoming really warm. Previously we have climbed the east face head-on but this time we veered right to climb at a less steep angle towards a rocky outcrop, joining the north ridge further along just before the snowline. There was a grand retrospective view of the twin tops of Arenig Fawr and across to the heathery dome of Arenig Fach. The final push to the summit was snow covered but didn't require crampons, and the snow drifts were still deep, covering the fence in places.

We lingered at the summit cairn for some time absorbing the crystal clear views in the warm sun, a fantastic scene that generated a persuasive inertia but we would have to make a move: time was marching on and we didn't yet know the condition of the western descent.

Twin tops of Arenig Fawr from ascent of Moel Llyfnant
Twin tops of Arenig Fawr from ascent of Moel Llyfnant (02 Mar 2010__09:37:32)
Arenig Fach from Moel Llyfnant
Arenig Fach from Moel Llyfnant (02 Mar 2010__10:02:35)
The final slopes of Moel Llyfnant
The final slopes of Moel Llyfnant (02 Mar 2010__10:31:52)
Deep snowdrifts on Moel Llyfnant
Deep snowdrifts on Moel Llyfnant (02 Mar 2010__10:39:53)
The distant Carneddau from Moel Llyfnant
The distant Carneddau from Moel Llyfnant (02 Mar 2010__10:41:36)

Just below the summit we encountered a steep slope of uniform hard snow, but rather than get out the crampons we spied an easy way to circumnavigate it. Below the snowline we descended near a fence to join the good familiar track in the valley that shadows the Afon Lliw all the way to the pass road at Blaen-Lliw.

Looking back to Moel Llyfnant
Looking back to Moel Llyfnant (02 Mar 2010__11:25:51)

A short walk eastwards up the road is the start of the bridleway that crosses the wilderness to Ffridd Trawsgoed. This is a rough track of sorts through the reedy tussocky terrain, sometimes clear, sometimes not, but never hard to trace if you keep an eye on the map as it twists around. It ascends through a couple of little cuttings and meanders down to a gate and the infant Afon Erwent just beyond that is easily forded.

Moel Llyfnant across the headwaters of the Afon Erwent
Moel Llyfnant across the headwaters of the Afon Erwent (02 Mar 2010__13:54:40)

Beyond the river the track ascends to the L of a small heathery knoll and descends to a bifurcation where we took the R fork into the forest. This becomes a good forest track that emerges at the buildings of Trawscoed where we turned south down the byway to the road head: from here we followed the road to the bridge over the river, crossed to the south side and followed the narrow lane back to the A494 at Llanuwchllyn.