I've enjoyed my recent wanderings in mid Wales, nice hills, but in some ways they just reinforce the knowledge that the mountains of Snowdonia are painted on a bigger scale than anything else south of the Scottish border. I felt a bit of a need to go back, so I decided to follow what is my best guess for the first half of Day 1 on the Dragon's Back race - the Carneddau from Conwy to Ogwen.
Wednesday was forecast as the best choice for weather by a mile, but with this as a given it was never going to be an early start. A 9.30 appointment at the Liverpool Passport Office meant that by the time I had driven down to Bangor and got the coastal bus back to Conwy, it was 1pm by the time I set out up the jeep track towards the Sychnant Pass. I had decided on an easy pace on two counts; firstly I was still trying to chase off the last remnants of a cold - why do they seem to last so long these days? - and secondly I wanted an idea of the time taken for the trip with no positive running, just a bit of shambling down hill whenever it was easier than walking. Nevertheless, the first few miles went rapidly along easy tracks and grassy trods, before a final ascent led to the craggier summit ridge of Tal-y-Fan (2000ft). This fine little peak would be cherished in Lakeland but here it is merely an often-disregarded outlier of the Carneddau. The path along the half mile or so of summit ridge gives a bit of a taster on how the terrain of Snowdonia can slow one's progress even in seemingly innocuous situations, but with wall to wall sunshine and no-one in sight in any direction it was still a good place to be.
|Looking back towards Conwy from Tal y Fan|
|Towards the Carneddau from Tal y Fan|
The way onward takes you to a small col then over the heather-clad mound of Foel Lwyd, followed by a steeper and longer descent to the old bridleway crossing the range from Llanfairfechan. It's a bit of a pull from here up the next hill Drum (2460ft), grass all the way but no surprises, and I reached the summit just 3 hours after leaving Conwy. Halfway to Ogwen, a lot of up and down done already and I hadn't even climbed a "real" hill yet. That was to be remedied soon enough though, as the first "three thousander", Foel Fras (3090ft), was just along the ridge, down a bit and up quite a lot, again on nice short grass. When you get to here you have the feeling that all the real climbing is now done and it's just a ramble along the ridge then down to Ogwen (which is not quite how it actually is however!).
|Foel Fras summit plateau|
Easy progress led to the next top Foel Grach (3200ft) with its little emergency hut just below the summit. I remember sheltering here many years ago on a Welsh 3000's trip. The mist was down and the rain continuous, we were equipped in the appropriate gear for the time (teeshirts, army & navy plastic cagoules and road trainers) and we needed to shiver inside for a few minutes to get some feeling back before pressing on. I don't ever remember carrying any food or drink on those trips, maybe a Mars Bar in your pocket, we relied on a few cups of tea at Ogwen and Nant Peris and what water we could get from streams.The confidence of youth I guess, we're now older and wiser and get to carry a rucksack even for running! But it was a beautiful day on Wednesday so I just looked in for old times' sake and pressed on.
I had decided to ignore the "off-route" three thousander Yr Elen (a mostly out-and-back trip which adds around 45 minutes to the journey) so from Foel Grach it was a quick and easy traverse to the highest point in the group, Carnedd Llewellyn (3490ft), but for the last section just before the summit the ground turns from grass to rock, and stays that way pretty well to Ogwen. Reaching the summit of Llewellyn at around 5.30pm I met the only other walker I saw all day. We agreed it had been a stunning afternoon. The views out to sea had been particularly fine, though only emphasising just how many wind turbines there are out in Liverpool Bay these days.
The traverse from Llwellyn to Carnedd Dafydd (3424ft) is interesting but always seems to take longer than it should - and Wednesday was no exception. An absorbing bit of rocky ridge leads to a section of jumbly boulders; there is grass over to the left which appears to offer a quicker way, but any attempt to use more than a few yards of it at a time always leads to a loss of height which then has to be regained. Eventually a reasonable stony path re-establishes itself on the ridge to the summit. The stones carry on to the final top Pen yr Oleu Wen (3207 ft). The way is is mostly downhill and runnable if you watch where you put your feet, but I had a nasty fall running here a couple of years ago so I'm a bit more cautious nowadays.
|Approaching Pen yr Oleu Wen in the evening sunshine|
I had a final pause to admire the view from the top then set off down. These days it always takes me around 45 minutes to get off this hill, whether by the bone-crunching direct route down to Ogwen Cottage or the more circuitous and eventually boggy way down to Glan Dena. I chose the former on the grounds that at least it brought me out at the right end of the lake for my onward travel. I finally climbed over the Alf Embleton stile onto the A5 just under six and a half hours after leaving Conwy. Seventeen and a half miles and just over 6000ft of ascent. Jogging some of the flat bits could easily knock a half hour or more off this, but I think it will probably do for the DB anyway, no need to rush early on. It had been a nice afternoon.
No buses through Ogwen this late in the day, so all that was left was to jog the eight miles down the A5 back to the car........