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Home > Trips&Photos > Trips > The Dolwyddelan Hills #2

The Dolwyddelan Hills #2 / 3 days / 20 miles (32km)

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Date: 11 Feb 2010
Start / Finish: Dolwyddelan.
Maps: Explorer OL17 Snowdon & 18 Harlech and Bala.

Day 1Moel Siabod & Carnedd y Cribau5.8 miles / 2700 feet (9.4km / 822m)
Day 2Ysgafell Wen & Llynnau Barlwyd7.5 miles / 1910 feet (12.1km / 582m)
Day 3Moel Penamnen & Y Ro Wen6.2 miles / 960 feet (10.0km / 292m)
Daear Ddu

The first backpack of 2010: a winter return to a familiar circuit of hills from Dolwyddelan, ascending Moel Siabod via the splendid steep rocky ridge of Daear Ddu and following the arc of hills around to Allt-fawr, then returning on the south side via Moel Penamnen and the fine viewpoint of Y Ro Wen.

This time I planned the route as a 3-day trip to allow for short daylight hours and unpredictable winter conditions on the ground, not to mention a drop in fitness after a layoff of several weeks. It would also allow more time to potter around the beautiful frozen lakes of Ysgafell Wen, unfortunately the second day turned out grey and misty giving only dull, almost monochromatic shots of lacklustre ice. The superlative conditions and views on the other days more than compensated and I had two excellent tent pitches.

Most of the extensive snow of the winter had retreated leaving caps on the highest summits, but the forecast predicted very cold icy conditions and a fresh northerly wind. Crampons would grudgingly be stowed in my pack: I took my Kahtoola flexies and prayed I wouldn't need them, at least they are compact and lightweight as crampons go, and a nylon stuffsack is sufficient to protect other pack contents from their aluminium teeth. Once again I didn't use them.

Day 1 - Moel Siabod & Carnedd y Cribau

As a minor variation on the previous route up to the forest, I took the paved public footpath across the field from the memorial (?), which I again forgot to read, watched hopefully by the sheep nibbling the white frozen grass. Joining the A470, a short way along signed 'nursery' is the start of the byway ascending to the forest, marked 'Unsuitable for motors'. Fitness had obviously suffered since the last backpack of December and the hard work made me feel really warm in the shelter of the trees, but I gradually improved and made reasonable progress on the good forest tracks to cross the Afon Ystumiau to the fingerpost signing the left turn for Moel Siabod. The towering cliffs of the mountain loomed large above the trees and a mist cap still enveloped the summit.

A path continues over a footbridge into the conifers and climbs past a part frozen waterfall to the forest edge. The onward line is on the right of an adjoining stream, an enjoyable and quite steep climb amid wild open terrain passing another small waterfall, part frozen and rendered a glittering white and silver in the sunshine.

Part frozen waterfall ascending to Llyn y Foel
Part frozen waterfall ascending to Llyn y Foel (11 Feb 2010__10:00:44)

The stream is the outflow from Llyn y Foel, and the sudden sight of the icy lake nestling below the snow-topped cliffs was quite breathtaking. Gazing up at Daear Ddu - the excellent route to Moel Siabod and ranking among the finest in Wales - I began to question the wisdom of choosing this approach in icy winter conditions with a dodgy foot, but what the hell, live dangerously!. The path onto the ridge is easily missed amid the mayhem of rock, in fact it's easy to miss the spine of the ridge altogether and emerge west of the summit. There are frequent choices on the clamber upwards but generally one should keep to the right, except for one place high up where near-vertical slabs are encountered and a bit of backtracking is necessary. There are plenty of crampon scratches on the rock to give suggestions!.

Surprisingly the conditions presented no difficulty at all. There was ice in the crevices and very patchy bits of ice on the rock, but all easily avoidable and most of the rock was bone dry, none of that horrid verglas that I was half expecting. There are grand intermittent views down to Llyn y Foel.

Llyn y Foel & the Daear Ddu ridge
Llyn y Foel & the Daear Ddu ridge (11 Feb 2010__10:30:53)
Llyn y Foel from the ridge
Llyn y Foel from the ridge (11 Feb 2010__10:55:50)
The Daear Ddu ridge
The Daear Ddu ridge (11 Feb 2010__11:16:51)
Llyn y Foel from the top of Daear Ddu
Llyn y Foel from the top of Daear Ddu (11 Feb 2010__11:50:00)

I reached the snowline near the top of the ridge, leaving a short and more gentle climb on fairly hard snow to the summit and trig point, guarded by a pair of ravens that had monitored the latter stages of my ascent and no doubt hoping for a little boost to their winter diet. After a brief visit to the trig point I retreated to the windshelter to escape the cold northerly and grab a snack and hot drink. The clarity and views were fantastic. Only one mountain still had uniform white upper slopes - not surprisingly, Carnedd Llewelyn.

The Glyderau & Tryfan from Moel Siabod
The Glyderau & Tryfan from Moel Siabod (11 Feb 2010__12:03:28)
The Carneddau from Moel Siabod
The Carneddau from Moel Siabod (11 Feb 2010__12:03:55)
The Snowdon horseshoe from Moel Siabod
The Snowdon horseshoe from Moel Siabod (11 Feb 2010__12:04:40)
Moel Siabod trig point and raven
Moel Siabod trig point and raven (11 Feb 2010__12:17:20)

The gentle thinly covered snowy slopes of the upper west ridge made fine easy walking down to the snowline and onward over the hump of Clogwyn Bwlch-y-maen to Bwlch Rhiw'r Ychen. The ascent of Carnedd y Cribau gives a good retrospective view of Moel Siabod and Llynau Diwaunydd below.

Moel Siabod & Llynau Diwaunydd from Carnedd y Cribau
Moel Siabod & Llynau Diwaunydd from Carnedd y Cribau (11 Feb 2010__14:09:05)

I spent some time soaking up the views from Carnedd y Cribau and decided to pitch here. I had made good progress and it was fairly early, I could have continued but that would have put me somewhere a lot lower near the next bwlch for a pitch: better to be higher for the tent views despite the wind. I located a good spot not far below the summit, shielded from most of the wind and a great view from the tent door.

This was one of those immensely satisfying moments of backpacking when everything is just right: sitting in the tent just after pitching, taking off the footwear and warmly relaxing in the late sunshine and out of the wind with a splendid mountain view. Later there was a grand sunset sky as the winter afternoon cloud amassed around the higher peaks.

Snowdon horseshoe from Carnedd y Cribau
Snowdon horseshoe from Carnedd y Cribau (11 Feb 2010__14:30:33)
Pitch on Carnedd y Cribau, Snowdon beyond
Pitch on Carnedd y Cribau, Snowdon beyond (11 Feb 2010__14:54:11)
Pitch on Carnedd y Cribau, the Glyderau beyond
Pitch on Carnedd y Cribau, the Glyderau beyond (11 Feb 2010__14:55:12)
The sun sinks behind Moel Lefn
The sun sinks behind Moel Lefn (11 Feb 2010__16:59:36)
Sunset cloud building over Snowdon
Sunset cloud building over Snowdon (11 Feb 2010__17:03:47)

Day 2 - Ysgafell Wen & Llynnau Barlwyd

The evening mist had all cleared when I emerged from the tent in the middle of the night and there was a stunningly clear starry sky, raising hopes of a repeat of the first day. It was not to be. The mist held sway in the morning even at this modest level but the sun was breaking through on the hills to the south west to keep hopes alive.

Moel Hebog group, Yr Aran & Llyn Gwynant
Moel Hebog group, Yr Aran & Llyn Gwynant (12 Feb 2010__09:15:06)

The shafts of sunshine were short lived: although the western hills fared reasonably well, the Moelwyn range was grey and often misty all day. The lakes of the Ysgafell Wen range, so beautiful in sunny or snowy conditions, had a decidedly muted charm today, although the ice patterns always provide interest. Progress was swift however, largely due to the boggy bits being frozen solid - except for the one notoriously badass bog that required a quick light 'run' to traverse it dryshod, just fracturing the ice with each step!.

Llyn Edno
Llyn Edno (12 Feb 2010__11:17:21)
Llyn Edno
Llyn Edno (12 Feb 2010__11:23:08)
Llynnau'r Cwn
Llynnau'r Cwn (12 Feb 2010__11:57:21)

The summits of the range are all only a short detour from the path, but I didn't bother this time: no views at all, no point. I was planning to spend some time pottering around the lakes and pitch somewhere around Llyn Conglog, but with the lakes so dull I again arrived early - very early. There was a strong biting wind and I had enough time to cross the valley to Llynnau Barlwyd today and seek out a sheltered pitch in the cwm. I took the traversing path that bypasses Allt-fawr to Iwerddon and descended directly to the small reservoir and onward to the air shaft far below in the valley. From here a good quarry track leads out to the A470 at a ladder stile.

On previous visits we have always walked up the road to the Crimea Pass car park and crossed the barbed wire fence there at a weak point, but this time I noticed a gate a short way down the road towards Blaenau. It was unmarked and tied shut, perhaps a new arrival since the recent major road works here, but I easily climbed over and headed directly up the steep hillside to the base of Moel Farlwyd, reaching the fence junction I was familiar with. I walked around to the reservoirs and the strong wind seemed to be blowing right out of the cwm, but I eventually found a spot with a mere breeze. This was a very good lakeside pitch with a view to the Moelwynion.

I had a little surprise at the mandatory mid-night sortie from the tent: it was snowing quite heavily, clouds of windblown flakes in the beam of my head torch and settling where I'd rather they didn't. It must have been a brief snowstorm and bad timing: in the morning there was just the lightest dusting on the tent and the surrounding hills.

Pitch at Llynnau Barlwyd
Pitch at Llynnau Barlwyd (12 Feb 2010__15:26:49)

Day 3 - Moel Penamnen & Y Ro Wen

I opened the tent door at dawn and... what a grey day again. Mist was capping even the modest Moel Farlwyd across the lake, but this time it began to clear quickly. No time for warming up today, the walk began with a steep climb of the west face of Moel Penamnen directly from the lake, and by the time I reached the small pile of slaty rocks that crown the top there was already a grand view to the west.

View from Moel Penamnen
View from Moel Penamnen (13 Feb 2010__10:18:10)
View from Moel Penamnen
View from Moel Penamnen (13 Feb 2010__10:18:36)

The easy grassy walk eastwards is always enjoyable with spacious views and a discernible path to follow most of the way. I took a line around the base of Foel-fras and picked up the meandering beaten line through the heather that swings around the initial bog near the fence. The normally squelchy track was frozen today, making progress rapid to the gate at the southern tip of the forest. The path NE towards Y Ro Wen is mostly clear and easy, never far from the forest fence.

Once above the forest I aimed directly NE for the next fence to join the south ridge, where a frozen pool provided a foreground to the view of the western mountains. Y Ro Wen itself is a grand viewpoint in all directions and has a windshelter to relax a while and enjoy them.

Frozen pool on Y Ro Wen
Frozen pool on Y Ro Wen (13 Feb 2010__12:02:11)
View west from Y Ro Wen
View west from Y Ro Wen (13 Feb 2010__12:15:49)

From the summit area a good quarry track gives a fine promenade north-eastwards with great views and descends all the way to Dolwyddelan. It ends at a ladder stile: over the stile, I turned L through a kissing gate on the far side and joined the minor road past the houses and down to the bridge over the Afon Lledr.