Yr Arddu Lakes 2-day backpack

Pitch at Llyn yr ArdduThis was our first backpack since my discharge from hospital a few weeks ago, a modest circuit with significant ascent to a choice deserted location in Wales.

Moel y Dyniewyd is little frequented, but is graced by a thin path on its western side if only because it appears on the Marilyn list of hills and is climbed by at least some hillbaggers from Beddgelert or Nantmor, though very few continue beyond its summit.
The main objective for this trip was to potter around one of our favourite areas of all time, the deserted, rough but beautiful terrain of Yr Arddu and its splendid lakes.

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Bridgewater Way: Altrincham-Manchester Oxford Road day walk

Canal BasinAn easy day walk to aid recovery following a stay in hospital: a few weeks ago my lower left leg swelled up and I suffered stabbing pains on the left of the upper chest when trying to breathe in deeply. My doctor quickly recognized the symptoms, made a few phone calls, wrote a letter for the medics at A&E and told me to go there at once. His suspicions were correct: after some hours and several tests and a cat scan at A&E, they confirmed it was a DVT clot in the leg, part of which had migrated upwards and caused a pulmonary embolism in my left lung. The chief consultant organized a bed immediately, in the transplant unit no less, where I stayed for four days under close observation during treatment with clexane in case part of the clot reached the right lung. On discharge I was prescribed at least six months on Warfarin to help clear the lung damage, hence no mountain backpacks for so long.

This was the second time we have done this walk since discharge and the first time the entire BW towpath has been open all the way to Manchester with no path closures or diversions. Sections of the way have recently been upgraded to high quality grit surfaces. The southern semi-rural section contrasts with the industrial heritage in the urban northern part and there is much of interest to see.

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Granite Gear VC60 and Airbeam

Crown VC60 and Airbeam FrameA brief post to highlight a disappointing experience testing a new pack system.

My Golite Lightspeed 49l pack (original model) has given superb service for years, but recently it showed heavy signs of wear and a couple of stitching lines started to come apart. Its excellent load support and comfort relative to its weight would be very hard to match in a new pack and this was of primary importance to me (note: the new Lightspeed is a totally different animal: different design, lower capacity and higher weight, it should have a new name). I find nothing worse than significant pressure on the shoulders and I want at least 90% of the load held firmly on the hips.

I ordered a Granite Gear Crown VC60 pack for a home trial, rather more capacious than really needed but the roll-top closure and straps made it easy to compress down. Granite Gear don’t really believe in hipbelt pockets but they sell add-on pockets, I also ordered one of these to try. This was the first pack I’d tried with a removable back frame, and the selling points for me were the very low weight and the large padded hipbelt. I loaded it up with about 10kg of kit.

The hipbelt and back cushioning were comfortable as expected but the removable plastic sheet frame is thin and very bendy, I found that it offered little in the way of load support and the pack still felt ‘saggy’ with insufficient transmission of support from the belt to the pack. However Klymit offer an inflatable Airbeam Frame upgrade that reduces the total weight but improves the load support by stiffening the frame structure – I ordered one of these.

I inflated the Airbeam to a good firmness as recommended and slotted it into the frame pocket, this improved the load support considerably but I felt it wasn’t up to the overall standard of the Lightspeed. At this point I stopped for the evening and removed the Airbeam, leaving it on my desk overnight. Next morning it was severely deflated. I reinflated it, closed the valve firmly and left it again – it deflated badly after about 4 hours.
I returned it and requested a replacement but it was temporarily out of stock, I ordered one from a different retailer with stock and it arrived quickly. Same test, exactly the same result – bad deflation after a few hours, and an online search revealed that some other backpackers had found this problem. At this point I lost confidence in the product, the main pack support mechanism must be completely reliable in the field. The Airbeam seems to be tough and well made, I can only imagine that the problem lies in the valve. All were returned for refunds, and hence the Crown VC60 had to be returned too.

As it turned out I would have returned the VC60 anyway because of the add-on hipbelt pocket. It’s actually a rectangular pouch that attaches via webbing straps through loops on the belt, but it isn’t a firm connection, it juts out and jiggles about and feels horrible. It proves what I often say: an integrated solution is always better than a bolted-on one, in this case very much better.

I also trialled another couple of packs:

The Montane Grand Tour 55, a good pack that gave commendable load support via a T-shaped stay and ticked most boxes for me, but again it didn’t quite match the overall support and comfort of the Lightspeed – I think I’ve been spoilt by this old Golite!. The two mesh pockets on the back (yes the back, not the front as some people insist on calling it) are not as versatile as a single large mesh pocket.

The Lowe Alpine Eclipse 45:55, a decent attempt at a lightweight backpack whose load support is not as good as the Lightspeed or the Montane, and the back mesh pocket is tight, it won’t hold much. Lowe Alpine don’t believe in hipbelt pockets either, and one senses that their designers included them on the Eclipse with gritted teeth – these are a joke. Once the pack is on and the belt tightened, those tight small pockets are curved into a thin crescent shape and will hold hardly anything useful, maybe a chapstick (they won’t even hold a compass without undue stress on the material and zip).

Kielder: Deadwater Hills 2-day backpack

Pitch on Peel FellA 2-day circuit of the Deadwater hills of the Kielder Forest region, largely following the route of the old ‘Kielder Stane’ Trail, now called the Deadwater Trail (DWT) on some marker posts.

We had pondered the Kielder Forest area for some time on the maps, a region encompassing a number of new hills including Peel Fell, a Dewey summit and our one remaining unclimbed 600m hill in England – the ‘SiMS’ list. This route traverses Peel Fell and includes Deadwater Fell, another new summit from the Dewey 500m hills, a circuit that seemed right for the predicted conditions.

The route is one of sharp contrast: the ascent of Deadwater Fell, and the descent through Deadwater Forest and return along the North Tyne valley, are very easy walking on good paths and tracks, but the traverse of Mid Fell and Peel Fell is typical north Pennine peat bog of heathery hags, tussocks and sphagnum. Despite being a named trail and furnished with a few waymark posts, the latter section is not sanitized in any way and after a wet spell is potentially very boggy in a few places. The line is almost always discernible on the ground though with even a few brief fragments of good path.

We saw several sketchy accounts of these hills online, and this being a sunny Sunday morning we expected to see at least a few walkers on the ascent from the Kielder Visitor Centre, but we saw nobody at all and the area was deserted for the whole trip.

The old Outdoor Leisure map shows this route but the newer Explorer map does not. Typically each revision of a 1:25,000 map shows various new named walks springing up here and there, but this is the first case I recall of a trail being removed.

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NW Carneddau: Cwm Caseg circuit 2-day backpack

Ffynnon Caseg & mountain cirque at the cwm headA 2-day mountain circuit centred on Cwm Caseg in the NW Carneddau. The outward route follows the north side of the Afon Caseg valley and ascends into the heart of the cwm to Ffynnon Caseg, then climbs Yr Elen and Carnedd Llewelyn. The return route is via Foel Grach and the mountains along the Carnedd Gwenllian / Gyrn Wigau chain.

The first objective of this backpack was to explore the superb mountain scenery in the tightly enclosed twisting Cwm Caseg, including the often seen but seldom visited Ffynnon Caseg.

The second was to climb Yr Elen via its well defined and fairly sharp east ridge, an ascent line we have often pondered from afar but never seen described in any walk reports.

The dominant high pressure chart predicted an almost windless spell – accurate, but giving little hint of the conditions. The very humid air produced a sharp contrast between morning and afternoon: clear skies and dew drenched landscapes at first but giving way to dense haze and high cloud with very limited views by afternoon.

I also had some new kit to test: a 53l backpack, solo tent and sleeping mat.

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Southern Rhinogydd 2-day backpack

Llyn Dulyn, Crib-y-rhiw & Y LlethrA 2-day circuit of the southern Rhinogydd mountains around the Afon Ysgethin valley.

The outward route follows the Afon Ysgethin to Pont Fadog and a section of the Taith Ardudwy (The Ardudwy Way) along the southern flanks of the valley and ascends to the cirque of mountains at the west ridge of Diffwys.

The return from Y Llethr descends via the south-western slopes of Moelyblithcwm to the Llyn Bodlyn track on the northern flank of the valley.

On this trip we took enough food for three days to give a possibility of an exploration of the lakes around Rhinog Fach, the choice being made on the second day depending on the weather and the terrain of the proposed line of the route, but the dull dank conditions of that second morning decreed that the intense effort required would not be worthwhile and we descended directly from Y Llethr. The first day was excellent though with sunshine and good clarity.

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SE Carneddau: Llyn Cowlyd Round 2-day backpack

Pitch on Creigiau GleisionA 2-day circuit of the south-eastern Carneddau hills flanking Llyn Cowlyd, approaching the eastern side via the Nant y Geuallt valley to Crimpiau with a visit to Llyn Coryn and ascending alongside the rocky flanks of Craig Wen to Craiglwyn and Creigiau Gleision. The return on the western side traverses Pen Llithrig y Wrach and includes our first exploration of its north ridge.

This route is largely in little frequented stretches of the Carneddau, where most of the few walkers encountered in the northern half will be bagging the Nuttall summits from Cwm Eigiau and day walkers in the south will be ascending Crimpiau from Capel Curig or Llyn Crafnant. Between these focal points there is much wild landscape to explore around Llyn y Coryn and Craig Wen.

Again we found a fine tent pitch below the north top of Creigiau Gleision, much against the odds considering the very rough terrain that pervades this landscape.

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Upper Tanat #2 2-day backpack

Pitch on Trum y FawnogA 2-day backpack around the hills and cwms of the upper Tanat valley of north-east Wales, visiting a couple of new Dewey 500m summits.

Llangynog nestles at the head of the Tanat valley, more tightly squeezed by towering hills than any other village we can remember. Perhaps the most striking is Craig Rhiwarth, an iron age hillfort whose broken slopes were quarried leaving an aggressive south face overlooking the northern quarter, while the steep nose of Y Gribin presides over the west. The western side is steeply riven by two major cwms, Cwm Pennant and Cwm Llech, that we have walked on previous trips.

This route was designed to explore the summit of Craig Rhiwarth and return on the high-level route above Cwm Pennant and Cwm Dwygo, joining the two sections via Post Gwyn and the pass of Milltir Gerrig. I didn’t see another walker in the whole two days.

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Garsdale Hills 2-day backpack

Pitch at West Baugh Fell TarnA 2-day circuit of the hills flanking Garsdale, a choice inspired by an overlap with a bank holiday weekend to avoid the influx of walkers to the well known areas – it was a good one in that respect, we saw nobody at all and the whole area was completely deserted. The tent pitch was an excellent one with a grand sunrise.

On the north side of Garsdale is the huge sprawl of Baugh Fell, home to two Nuttall 2000′ summits and divided on the map into West and East Baugh Fell, and its vastness is readily appreciated on a traverse like this: usually with a total lack of people it is a study in serene emptiness. Dotted with small curricks, tarns and gritty outcrops with evidence of a few old workings, it would be more akin to its Pennine neighbours to the north but for the lack of heather: this is a landscape of moorland grasses and sphagnum presided over by skylarks, curlews and plovers rather than their ubiquitous grouse.

On the south side is the Marilyn/Dewey top of Aye Gill Pike (Rise Hill), a long shallow whaleback hill that could hardly be less like the popular notion of a ‘pike’. This was to be the day of views, but apart from the brief dawn period the sky was grey and murky all day and the vistas very muted.

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Tryfan East 2-day backpack

Pitch at Llyn Caseg-fraithA short 2-day out-and-back solo trip approaching Tryfan from the east via Gallt yr Ogof and Y Foel Goch.

Another two days of almost unbroken sunshine and superb mountain scenery, this was an excellent chance to revisit the phenomenally popular Tryfan before the Easter hordes invaded its boulder pile – we last climbed it over seventeen years ago. Despite the weekday strategy, there were so many people congregated around its famous apex monoliths that no acceptable photos of the summit area were possible in any direction – I really don’t like humans in shot.

I also have an innate dislike of out-and-back routes but I made an exception here, partly to keep the exertion under control but mainly to give myself plenty of time for a relaxed first pitch at Llyn Caseg-fraith, a superb location.

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