I had wanted to do an overnight trip since Christmas. I had planned to spend at least one night camping high in the snow. Unfortunately, this year the winter seems to have come and gone with almost no serious snow in North Wales. Not only has there been very little snow, but there has been lots of wind and rain, with almost no settled good weather.
Last Friday MWIS was predicting early fog in the valleys with the tops clearing later in the day. This looked like being my only opportunity to get out for a while. However, I had to be in Chester by midday on the Saturday to collect my son from his rowing training.
I packed the truck on Thursday night as I planned to make an early start. I dropped the children off to catch the school bus just after 7:30am and made my way over towards Capel Curig. As I dropped down from the A5104 towards Corwen I could see the predicted fog in the valley. Luckily, it was only a small patch and I soon ran into clearer weather.
I parked up behind Joe Browns in Capel Curig and began packing my sack. Amazingly I didn't seem to have forgotten anything, until I went to get my boots. In an instant Victor Meldrew moment, I realized that I had left them at home. Given the problems I have finding anything I like and the fact that I didn't need a new pair, I ruled out going into the shop to buy a new pair. I was wearing my Inov8 Roclite 295, which I often use on the mountains. As it was the beginning of March, the ground was going to be very wet and I don't really like getting wet feet. I didn't really have much choice, so I set off along Telford's old A5.
The plan was to repeat v-g's route over Pen Llithrig y Wrach and Pen yr Helgi Du. I am hopeless at estimating route times, but I was happy that I could make it back from the summit of Pen yr Helgi Du to the centre of Chester by twelve o'clock the next day. Thus the plan was to camp on the summit of Pen yr Helgi Du and make an early start on Saturday.
As I tramped down the road, MWIS was proving accurate and the clouds around the summits began to disperse. I crossed the A5 and began to climb up towards Llyn Colwyd. There were some wet areas, but by hopping about a bit I managed to keep my feet dry. I got the camera out to take some photos. I had checked the battery a couple of days ago, but in the intervening time Anne had been taking dozens of photos of stuff she wanted to sell on eBay. So when I switched the camera on the battery died immediately. Luckily, I had my phone, which has a reasonable camera.
I stopped to fill my water bottles from the stream that runs down into the reservoir and began to make my way towards Pen Llithrig y Wrach. On the way I noticed several big patches of frogspawn in pools on the path. I hope there aren't any severe frosts in the next few weeks.
Finding the start of the path up the south ridge of Pen Llithrig y Wrach was problematic. I chose a fairly direct route up the flank to join the ridge. Unfortunately, this involved crossing an area of quaking bog and my feet were soon soaked. No matter, it was a superb Spring morning with great views in all directions. I continued up steep grass and heather and I didn't really find the path until shortly below the summit plateau. It was then I spotted two people descending, who were actually on the path, so I joined it for the final hundred feet or so onto the plateau.
I was planning to eat lunch at the summit, but there was a very cold breeze, so I munched on a Kit Kat while I descended towards Bwlch y Tri Marchog, where I found a sheltered spot to eat the other Kit Kat and some biscuits. Suitably fortified I began the slog up towards Pen yr Helgi Du.
It was only about 1:30pm when I arrived at the summit and the whole of the Carneddau were bathed in the early afternoon sun. It was very tempting to carry on up towards Carnedd Llewelyn, but I knew if I did, I would have to make the early part of the descent in dark before dawn dark in order to get back to the car in time. As subsequent events proved, it was lucky that I decided not to carry on.
I pitched the tent near to the summit, while being watched by a group of wild ponies a few yards away. There was a bit of a breeze, but MWIS had predicted that there would be very little wind for the rest of today or on the Saturday morning. Once I had pitched the tent, I made up a Bewell hot porridge and sultanas and drank a big mug of hot chocolate. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering round the summit area and enjoying the afternoon sun. Wandering towards a pool I saw what looked like a cairn. It seemed a funny colour and as there were no rocks nearby and I wondered why someone had bothered to build it there. When I got closer I realized that it was a pile of horse dung, in a perfect cairn shape.
Often I arrive at the place where I am going to pitch my tent just before it goes dark and rush to get everything set up. So it was a real pleasure to have plenty of time to mooch about. I saw no one on the main Carneddau ridge and only two people Pen yr Helgi Du. Just before 6:00pm I was treated to a spectacular sunset over Carnedd Dafydd.
I settled down in the tent to read on my Kindle and catch up with some podcasts. MWIS had predicted cloudy summits, but minimal wind and no precipitation for the next morning. Sure enough when I looked out of the tent later on the mist had come down.
Sometime in the early hours of the morning, the wind got up and there was a heavy shower. As the night wore on the showers became more frequent and by 4:00am it was raining continuously. At 6:00am, in the pre-dawn light I decided that the best thing to do was to bail and return to the valley for some breakfast. I had a quick cup of hot chocolate and some biscuits and packed away the contents of the tent into my rucksack.
It was time to go outside. I only had my shirt, a Rab Generator pullon and my Marmot LiteSpeed, plus Mammut Base Jump trews. I pulled my Lowe Alpine hat down hard to stop it blowing away and got out of the tent. Outside the rain was just at the point where it begins to fall as sleet. Inside the tent it didn't sound too windy, but outside the rain was being blown in sheets. I collapsed the tent as fast as possible and stuffed the bits into my sack. Much as I like my Zephyros, the short vertical poles really get in the way when you want to pack it quickly. Within a couple of minutes I was completely soaked and starting to feel cold.
Luckily, the long south ridge of Pen yr Helgi Du is easy to navigate. I was just warm enough when I was moving, but had it been a few degrees colder it would have been very unpleasant. I was relieved that I hadn't decided to continue up to the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn the previous afternoon. Finally I dropped out of the clag and could see the valley below me. I hadn't really planned my descent, thinking that I could cut across back towards Llyn Colwyd and reverse my route of ascent.
However, I was now operating Plan "B" - get down to the road as fast as possible. It turns out that this was exactly the route followed by v-g. My main concern was how to cross the stream, so I could get back on the old A5, without going all the way down the road to the camp site. However, when I emerged onto the main A5 opposite Helyg, there was an obvious path with a couple of bridges to get over the stream and back onto the old road.
I arrived back in Capel Curig about 9:15am. As soon as I stopped walking I began to feel very, very cold. The car park was fairly crowded with people setting off for the day, but I just wanted to get into some dry stuff as fast as possible. I stripped off behind the truck and put on my dry clothes. Several old ladies fainted and the rest of the crowd grinned.
Once inside the truck, with dry clothes on, I still couldn't get warm, even with the heater on the "Chernobyl Meltdown" setting. I realized that in the last 24hrs I had only eaten two tea cakes, two Kit Kats, some porridge and half a packet of biscuits. The problem was lack of food, so I put the truck on auto-pilot and set off for Pete's Eats. After a large breakfast, I felt much better and I even made it to Chester just before midday.
I learnt a couple of things from the trip. First I don't mind wet feet anything like as much as I though I did. In fact most of the time they didn't feel wet, although my socks were still damp. I might try walking in trail shoes and giving up boots completely. Second, although I could have completed the trip as a day walk and avoided getting soaked, I really enjoyed the time I spent just mooching about near to the tent. As the days get longer, I would like to plan some trips where I spend less time walking and more time relaxing around the tent.