22ndMarch 2019 – Wild camp, Snowdonia.
The date had been in the diary for a few months as a sort of ‘Spring Equinox’ camp and hike trip. Myself, along with six friends had planned to leave Birmingham straight after work on the Friday afternoon and head for Snowdonia, and then seek out a wild camp plot under cover of darkness.
Ian, Tom and I arrived in Betws-Y-Coed ahead of the other group, to hard rain and high winds. The forecast had advised that the bad weather would die off between 7pm and 8pm. We had been optimistic that it may pass over early. But the heavy clouds appeared to be getting angrier as the remaining daylight faded and the downpour refused to relent. Hungry and in no rush, we opted for the shelter of a pub.
Stomachs filled and spirits slightly lifted, we sank the last of our pints and sprinted back to the car attempting to remain dry for a final few minutes. We knew we’d shortly be hiking into the mountains in the hope of finding a solid patch of dirt in what would otherwise be the boggy accumulation of a winters worth of precipitation. A soaking now seemed inevitable. We parked up outside the public toilets at the head of Llyn Ogwen and headed for shelter, covering every inch of ourselves and our belongings in waterproof membrane. Inside were three traumatized-looking lads changing out of sopping wet hiking gear, wearing the look on their faces that can only point to one type of experience – they’d had an epic! Apparently they had set off at 3am that morning, and 16 hours, 80mph gales, zero visibility, and a few downclimbs later found themselves in a public toilet 28 miles away from their car. We buckled our bags and braced ourselves, hoping that the forecasted change in weather would soon arrive.
Peering out from under my hood, 10 minutes into the walk I noticed it had stopped raining. The sky hadn’t cleared but the clouds were lifting and the outline of black silhouetted peaks where beginning to emerge against an ash-coloured sky. We plodded on merrily up towards the far end of Llyn Idwal, hopeful of tucking ourselves in somewhere below Devil’s Kitchen. And sure enough, around an hour after leaving the car our head torch beams guided us away from the path and onto a reasonably flat, dry patch of grass, roomy enough to accommodate four small tents. I took a screen-shot of our grid reference on the OS Maps app and sent it to the other four in our group that were currently en route from Birmingham, and got on with pitching our tents.
Canvas erected, Tom and Ian got straight to work building and lighting a small fire (on rocks, above ground), while I got the kettle simmering on my little gas stove. The wind had completely dropped and the clouds, illuminated by a full super-moon, had lifted to reveal the horseshoe of ridges that surrounded us. Before long we had hot tea, chocolate Hobnobs, a glowing fire, and a hip flask of single malt. I couldn’t stop grinning!
An hour or so passed and we spotted four tiny torchlights trailing their way along the shore of the lake. Based on the assumption that no one else would be heading into the mountains at 11pm, we flashed our head-torches in the direction of Simon, Luke, James and Pete. Eventually our four hiker-friends edged their way across the boggy ground to join us at our camping spot. Hi-fives, hugs and greetings were swiftly exchanged before getting straight to work pegging down the remaining two tents. After checking how each other’s journeys had been, what we’d eaten for tea, whether we’d experienced the rain, and more generic pleasantries, everyone crawled into their tents and went to sleep.
With nighttime passing uneventfully and dawn starting to break, friends began emerging from their 2-man cocoons to the sound of tent zips, followed by a long intake of fresh mountain air. As far as views to wake up to go, this one would take some beating. Our tents pitched at the head of Llyn Idwal, the view ahead took in the deep valley we’d nestled in, the lake we’d half circumnavigated and the impressive bulk of Pen Yr Ole Wen across the Ogwen Valley. Behind us was the intimidatingly steep Devils Kitchen – the gully we’d shortly be heading into. Breakfast was varied according to personal preference. Tom, Luke and Ian had boil-in-a-bag full English’s. Beans and sausages was the breakfast of choice for Pete and Simon, while James and I cooked up some oats and a couple of boiled eggs. Coffee, on the other hand, was unanimous. A little overcast, but dry, clear and still, todays forecast looked good, so with tents down and backpacks strapped on, we set off up the slope behind us towards Devil’s Kitchen.
The pace was slow as our 7-man team scrambled up the steep gully, still adjusting to the weight on our backs. Reassuring each other that our packs were currently the heaviest they’d be – each carrying 2 litres of water and a days worth of food – we continued to inch our way up this sweaty slog until the trail began to ease off on the summit dome of Glyer Fawr. The Glyders top out at roughly 1000 meters above sea level (Glyder Fawr at 1001m and Glyder Fach at 994m). Formed by the collision of two land masses and glacial erosion during the last ice age, the summit plateaus of Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach represent a violent and shattered moon-scape that see’s far fewer footfall than their 85 meter taller brother Snowdon. Considering it was a Saturday with near-perfect conditions, we’d seen maybe 5 other people all morning. Snowdon, I’ve no doubt, would be accommodating hundreds of walkers today. We snapped a group pic at the highest trig point and set off across the boulder field towards Glyder Fach, the imposing valleys of Ogwen and Pen-y-Pass on either side of us.
Glyder Fach’s true summit is the stone that juts the highest from a huge pile of jagged boulders. Many people choose to bypass tagging the top as it requires a tricky bit of scrambling work to pull yourself up onto the uppermost rock. But foregoing a summit wasn’t on our agenda and one by one each of us surmounted the sharp boulders until 7 climbers perched precariously atop the utmost rock. Unfortunately there was no-where to balance a camera so we did end up foregoing a group summit shot! But every cloud does indeed have its silver lining – ours presented itself in the form of Cantilever Stone, just down from our current perch. Aptly named Cantilever Stone is a huge flat rock precariously balanced atop two other boulders. One half supported and the other hanging 10-15 feet above a perilously pointy landing, the natural structure resembles a giant diving board. Thrusting my camera into the hands of a willing passer-by, once all of us had shuffled to the hanging end of the flat plinth, we posed for our group shot before starting the near-sheer descent down to the col saddled between us a Tryfan.
Our last objective of the day – Tyfan – at 918m, is known for being the only Welsh 3000 footer requiring the use of hands to reach the summit. A non-technical and fun scramble to the top requiring only a good head for heights, we jettisoned our heavy backpacks at the col (as we’d be returning the same way) opting for a light and fast final ascent. I felt weightless as a bounced from one boulder to the next, scrambling quickly up the steep mountainside towards to highest point. By this stage in the day the crowds had started to turn up and the small boulder platform at the top was playing host to many a keen climber. On the far side of Tryfan’s summit plateau perches Adam and Eve – 2 large boulders balancing perfectly on the edge of a 3000-foot vertical drop. To place oneself firmly amongst legends, you must leap from one rock to the other, careful to land securely on the sloping surface of the adjacent rock, without propelling yourself too far or off to the side – either of which would be the last action your tired legs would ever make. Having only previously climbed Tryfan in winter, I’d never made the jump. With perfect conditions, today would surely be the day. I hauled myself up onto Adam and stood tall, taking in the surrounding exposure before turning to face Eve. To my disappointment (or perhaps relief!), Eve had four people sat on top of her smiling for a photo. I looked down and there was a queue of summiteers waiting for their turn on either rock. It seemed today wasn’t to be my day. I posed for a photo and hopped down before snapping a final group pic. It was time to head down to our bags before plodding the long descent back to the cars.
Our little wild camping adventure in the Gyderau had delivered a perfect experience. Whiskey, campfires, climbing, summit views, good friends and memories made. Our two parties exchanged hi-fives, hugs and farewells at the cars, and set off towards home feeling elated and knackered! Until next time Adam and Eve…