Snowdon Horseshoe and Idwal Skyline, July 1985

17/7/86 Snowdon Horseshoe

In company with R.C.E Ball, I left Derby in shorts and sunshine, and travelled to Bangor by train, arriving in drizzle – that’s the Snowdonia experience for you! Two buses later found us straggling up the Pass in driving rain. We pitched Richard’s “Phree spirit” dome tent and sat inside, waiting for the rain to pass.

Thursday dawned changeable, clouds hovering over the high tops. We walked fast up to Pen-y-pass and on up the Pyg track, overtaking slower folk. We arrived at the start of the climb up to the crest of the ridge as the weather was starting to clear. From this vantage point, Llyn Llydaw and the buildings at the top of the pass, are both visible. We continued up onto Crib Goch, one of the best scrambles in the British Isles, and certainly the best outside Scotland. The route leans out, an expanse of red rock (hence the name Crib Goch, which is rendered in English “Red Ridge”) tapering to a thin, exposed ridge, with three rock turrets over a few hundred yards. Clouds swirled over as we picked our way carefully along, watching the screes far below as we passed over the tightrope-narrow sections. Over the gendarmes and on up to Crib-y-ddysgyl. Here we were in the clouds, listening to the sound of the little steam engine labouring up the distant Snowdon Mountain Railway. We bore on up the railway line to the summit and stopped at the crowded cafe, elbowing our way past twinky tourists.

The summit was in cloud. A tourist remarked that it seemed like November. Had the good lady ever been here in November? “Perish the thought” she mouthed, astonished. Refreshed, we left the cafe and moved off into cold, thick mist. It seems like forever when you’re up in the clouds, blundering about on steep slopes of scree and rock, trying to route-find. We staggered downwards, hearing the usual tantalising voices off in the distance. Navigation on this section, when the clouds are down and you have not yet resorted to the compass, is tricky. We sat down and pondered our position, chin in hand. Suddenly our prayers were answered; slowly at first, and then with growing vigour, green fellsides appeared as the mist cleared. Below and to the right lay the vasty green of Cwm Tregalan. The clouds moved higher and the Watkin Path became clearly visible. The ridge between Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon’s main summit) and Y Lliwedd appeared, followed swiftly by the grey towers of Y Lliwedd itself. Our way ahead was now clear; we launched ourselves gratefully down and to the left.

Behind us, Snowdon itself remained under grey stratus. Warmer now than at any other time in the day, we continued, impressed by the magical beauty of Llyn Llydaw far below, its surface a transcendent blue. Y Lliwedd is a tall, sharp hill, worth climbing at all times. The route lies up the edge, close to its Northern precipice, a startling near vertical-looking cliff hundreds of feet high, grey and sheer. One scrambles easily up to the twin summits. We sat there in sunshine, before continuing down the grassy slopes to the Causeway.

A grand day’s hillwalking, in improving conditions, my fourth Snowdon Horseshoe traverse. A good day out in summer, it would probably be a magnificent expedition in winter conditions. Another day will come.

The following day, we walked from the Pass through to Cwm Idwal, down through the Devil’s Kitchen. A nice little easy pass through to the Ogwen valley if you have no car. It’s a good slog with big bags, and not too boggy. Going downhill through the Devil’s Kitchen is always in order – shouldn’t fancy coming up this way. Amazing views of the Idwal Slabs from above.

Tryfan: Photograph from Simon Kitchin

19/7/86 Idwal Skyline, summer

“If it stops raining by eleven, we’re going mountaineering” I said, at about 9.30a.m. Ball just grunted in reply, his eyes on his book. The rain pattered lightly on the tent; the clouds looked oppressive. Eventually he deigned to put his book aside and get ready, and we set off around 10.30a.m. Measured steps along an old track saw us at the base of Tryfan, Ball having tried without success to charm a lone young lady from Southampton who we met along the way. I grinned inwardly and steamed upwards over the heather. It was 11a.m. The lower slopes, heather and grass, give way to bands of cliffs up which we eagerly scrambled. The A5 soon shrank to matchbox car proportions, a thin line winding along the lake.

Eventually the rock proper begins. I clambered onwards, far ahead of Richard who chose to take his time, savouring the delights of scrambling up the best mountain in Wales. Tryfan never fails to delight the scrambler or casual climber – a veritable delight of routes up good, rough grey rock. Quickly I gained height, choosing, as far as possible, the testing bits rather than the worn pathways. The summit of Tryfan is rarely visible whilst on the north ridge, as the ridge is stepped into terraces. Grey towers up ahead are the tantalising target. The cross-cutting clefts – one of them called “Heather Terrace” are one of the few places where everyone follows the same path. I got to the summit in 77 minutes – a personal best for Tryfan. Rich arrived, at a more leisurely pace, almost half an hour later. He polished off my remaining orange and set the food-consumption rate for the rest of the day.

We continued, trying our best to down-climb rather than walk, down to Bwlch Tryfan where my companion insisted we stop for lunch. I gave in graciously and we sat quietly eating lunch at the col. Then, quivering in anticipation almost, for the afternoon’s work, we arrived at the foot of Bristly Ridge. We climbed and climbed, enjoying ourselves. This section was most enjoyable – an almost endless progression of easy rock that grew sadly easier as we approached the summit. Behind us, Tryfan was a tooth. From the sun-drenched summit of Gylder Fach, though, it looks positively diminutive. Strange shards of slate stand up in clusters on the summit, giving it a rather fantastic look, as if in a scene from “The never-ending story” or other such film.

Out in front again, I continued along to Glyder Fawr in warm sunshine, seeing Snowdon dark on the left, and the Nameless Cwm on the right. Arriving on the summit, we met again with the young lady from Southampton, who complained of a painful knee, and continued downhill in her company, ostensibly helping her. Richard abandoned his position as obliging gent as soon as it was clear she was quite happy on her own and stampeded off down the screes at a suicidal rate. I went downhill a little slower, particularly after falling on my arse at one point. At the bottom he gazed wistfully up at the slopes, to the girl with the painful knee, and we continued.

Up Y Garn, where there were a few specks of rain out of nowhere, it seemed. Oddly it’s always cold and windy on Y Garn. Today was no exception. We sat at the top, looking down the slopes into Cwm Idwal, noticing the grey clouds swirling over Glyder Fach at 3200′, whilst the Carneddau on the other side of the Ogwen valley, remained clear of cloud at 3400′ and higher. The last movement of the Idwal Skyline is down the sharp arete above Cym Clyd, which is again as on the Glyders, punctuated by sharp upstanding slates. A wise place to walk with your hands out of your pockets. We arrived at Idwal Cottage well satisfied, at about 6pm, and met some Venture Scouts of the 73rd Derby (Viking Venture Unit) waiting for Pete Mitchell to arrive in the minibus and pick them up.

Chips and steak pie at Idwal Cottage, made us feel brighter by far, and deeply content, we tramped back along the A5 to our tent on the far side of Tryfan.