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Cwm Eigiau #2 2 days / 16 miles (25km)

OS Route Map → Map Route file →

Date: 06 Nov 2011
Start / Finish: Dolgarrog. Good roadside parking on the B5106.
Maps: Explorer OL17: Snowdon & Conwy Valley.

Day 1Llyn Eigiau & Craig Eigiau7.2miles / 2542 feet (11.6km / 774m)
Day 2Cwm Eigiau & Cribau8.2miles / 734 feet (13.2km / 223m)
View across frozen pool on Gledrffordd

Another 2-day circuit of the excellent Cwm Eigiau, a short trip culminating in a fine pitch on Craig Eigiau and a low-to-mid level return along the old cwm quarry track and over the Cribau shoulder to the valley of the Afon Ddu.

This narrow slot of fine weather turned out to be a curious mix for November: a chilly northerly stream yet very warm in the sheltered sunshine and a much colder night than expected. The tent was stiff with thick frost and the attractive pools on Gledrffordd were frozen on the superb morning traverse in the warm calm air. The northerly flow had polished the views to excellent clarity, only to be quickly eradicated by an all-enveloping mist by afternoon.

Day 1 - Llyn Eigiau & Craig Eigiau

The steep zigzag climb directly from the car through the wooded nature reserve of Coed Dolgarrog doesn't get any easier, but the attractive woodland of native beech and birch was aglow with autumnal colour in the shafts of sunlight. The angle eases at the timber hut mounted atop a plinth above the twin water pipes where the Conwy valley comes into view below, finally reaching our contouring track that would take us around to Coedty Reservoir.

Autumn colours on the ascent from Dolgarrog
Autumn colours on the ascent from Dolgarrog (06 Nov 2011__09:22:37)
Coedty Reservoir
Coedty Reservoir (06 Nov 2011__09:47:28)

The track provides an easy and attractive walk into the Afon Porth-llwyd valley beneath the flanks of Moel Eilio and curves around to the breached dam wall by Llyn Eigiau. Alas this cwm definitely seems to be gaining popularity even in November: true, today was a sunny Sunday, but the car park on the far side was full and more cars were parked further down the road, disgorging whole groups of walkers and the odd day tripping family. From the dam area the broad valley displayed a rich variety of sunlit autumnal reds, browns and yellows.

A casual newcomer on the tracks hereabouts might remain unaware of Llyn Eigiau, a shy lake that requires a short diversion beyond the dam to gain a good view of its waters below the cliffs of Craig Eigiau. Very few bother to make the effort and we have always been alone on its shoreline, a lovely spot once past the trappings of the water management structures.

View across the Afon Porth-llwyd valley
View across the Afon Porth-llwyd valley (06 Nov 2011__10:47:10)
The Afon Porth-llwyd valley from near the dam
The Afon Porth-llwyd valley from near the dam (06 Nov 2011__11:22:15)
Llyn Eigiau
Llyn Eigiau (06 Nov 2011__11:40:14)
Llyn Eigiau
Llyn Eigiau (06 Nov 2011__11:41:05)

We put on our windshells for the north-easterly trek into the breeze along the valley to the car park, passing some groups of walkers including a few overladen backpackers. Come to think of it, on all our visits there has always been a minibus/van parked here, the area must be a favourite destination for outdoor activity centres.

On the track north-westwards from the car park, several lone walkers and another group were returning as we began the gentle climb around the shoulder of Craig Eigiau to the western side of the ridge. Here we left the main Llewelyn-bound path to ascend the Eigiau ridge directly and we were really surprised by several encounters with descending walkers: we have never seen anyone else on this line. The views to the higher Carneddau remained beautifully clear but the first small clouds were gathering.

Reaching the excellent rocky spine, we pitched the tent at the base and ascended to the uncairned summit for the grand views. A vocal raven repeatedly cruised us and later perched at the summit, staring down intently at our tent and cronking insistently, while a small group of wild horses grazed near a pool below to the north. Later the mist descended onto Carnedd Llewelyn as the sun sank behind the silhouetted skyline and the temperature quickly dropped.

Drum and Pen y Castell from ascent of Craig Eigiau
Drum and Pen y Castell from ascent of Craig Eigiau (06 Nov 2011__13:28:02)
The summit spine of Craig Eigiau
The summit spine of Craig Eigiau (06 Nov 2011__14:54:06)
View towards Foel-fras from Craig Eigiau
View towards Foel-fras from Craig Eigiau (06 Nov 2011__14:54:25)
View over the Afon Porth-llwyd valley to Moel Eilio
View over the Afon Porth-llwyd valley to Moel Eilio (06 Nov 2011__14:55:16)
Pitch on Craig Eigiau
Pitch on Craig Eigiau (06 Nov 2011__15:21:10)

Day 2 - Cwm Eigiau & Cribau

In the night the mist had settled out below in the valleys and one thick patch could be seen in the moonlight bathing the scene from a starry sky, giving hopes of a reasonable inversion at dawn. As the sun rose most of it had dissipated locally leaving some wisps below and distant hints of a better view, but the air was crystal clear and the tent was thick with frost.

Despite the cold night the sun quickly became very warm as we walked over the expanse of Gledrffordd with its frozen pools, a superb morning walk with dead calm, total silence and a cloudless crystal clear mountain skyline. We briefly began to regret planning the route to descend from the high ground so early but the original decision would soon prove to be right.

Early sun on Craig Eigiau summit
Early sun on Craig Eigiau summit (07 Nov 2011__07:49:39)
Looking back to Craig Eigiau
Looking back to Craig Eigiau (07 Nov 2011__08:38:52)
Frozen pool on Gledrffordd
Frozen pool on Gledrffordd (07 Nov 2011__09:01:05)
View across Gledrffordd
View across Gledrffordd (07 Nov 2011__09:08:52)

We descended alongside a mountain stream towards the old quarry ruins in Cwm Eigiau amid casual glances from a herd of wild horses who showed little interest in our intrusion. The crags of Craig yr Ysfa were well seen from below as we approached the ruins where a couple of campers had pitched. Then we saw the first ribbons of mist appear from nowhere around Carnedd Llewelyn.

The track along the cwm is a fine easy walk with good views of the northern face of Pen yr Helgi Du and southern end of Craig Eigiau, our first time along this route, and a helicopter appeared at low level in the first of several passes up and down the cwm. The track crosses the Afon Eigiau at a bridge and approaches the dam, and looking back the cloud had filled in very quickly and completely.

Wild horses in Cwm Eigiau
Wild horses in Cwm Eigiau (07 Nov 2011__09:51:54)
Wild horses in Cwm Eigiau
Wild horses in Cwm Eigiau (07 Nov 2011__09:54:18)
Helicopter cruising the cwm
Helicopter cruising the cwm (07 Nov 2011__10:26:01)
View up to Pen yr Heldi Du
View up to Pen yr Heldi Du (07 Nov 2011__10:29:38)
Southern crags of Craig Eigiau
Southern crags of Craig Eigiau (07 Nov 2011__11:05:17)
View down from the Afon Eigiau bridge
View down from the Afon Eigiau bridge (07 Nov 2011__11:08:11)
View to Llyn Eigiau from the cwm track
View to Llyn Eigiau from the cwm track (07 Nov 2011__11:12:10)

The route now follows the mapped path behind the buildings of Hafod-y-rhiw and over the north-eastern shoulder of Pen Llithrig y Wrach towards Llyn Cowlyd, another new section for us. This path is clear initially as it winds its way cleverly aloft through the heathery landscape, but as the terrain becomes rougher and wetter in the contorted central part, it becomes vague and all but disappears in the matted heather and bog. After crossing a small stream head, the mapped line contours across to a metal gate in a stout wall, but we found the easiest line was a bit of a path ascending the small knolls on the northern fringe of Cribau and descending easily on grass to the gate. At some points on the traverse - by any line - there will be some brief squelchfests.

Through the gate, a path descends easily on the eastern side of the wall to the track at Garreg-wen. This track gives an easy walk out along the valley directly to the top of the water pipes descending the outward route back to Dolgarrog. No photos after Llyn Eigiau: the damp mist had enveloped everything.