Lorries thunder past as I perch on the lip of the car boot, lacing up for the day’s hike. The dark shape of Tryfan rises ominously over my right shoulder, like a huge shark’s fin ploughing through an ocean of cloud. The bulky giants of the Carneddau stand resolutely above the frigid waters of Llyn Ogwen.
After tentatively dipping a toe into the Northern Carneddau on my last visit, I am now among the more dramatic shapes in the National Park: Tryfan, Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr. The Glyderau range of mountains pulls in the crowds, particularly those who like their landscapes served up rocky and with plenty of drama.
Thunderstorms, strong winds and low cloud aren’t the best combination for exploring such rugged terrain. But on days like these, it’s still possible to soak up some of the atmosphere by heading to the eastern end of the range.
Armed with a heap of new skills to test out after recently completing a mountain leader training course, I hunker down into my waterproofs and point my map and compass towards the largely pathless expanse of ridges overlooking Tryfan and the Glyders.
There is carnage in the campsites lying in Tryfan’s shadow, with tents battered and bruised from the previous night’s wind. Some have fared better than others. But it’s clear everyone has had a rough night. A few of their bleary-eyed occupants wander around aimlessly, busying themselves with nothing in particular as they try to blink some enthusiasm into their tired eyes.
Star of the show
I am soon on open fell, the ridge rising gently towards higher ground. It’s all about Tryfan here. This oversized armadillo just creeps into the Welsh 3,000s club. At 917m, it rises from the A5 below with a drama and intensity that belies its diminutive footprint, particularly when framed against the two bruisers of Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr.
I gawp at its stark beauty. Vegetation almost none existent amongst the naked rock. It’s often said there are no easy ways up Tryfan. There’s no disputing that, seated as I am in the dress circle with the stalls of Cwm Tryfan below. This landscape is what draws scores of pilgrims to the lay-bys along the A5 day after day.
Not just summits
I take my time. Long gone are the days where I feel the need to power up and down the slopes. Being in the mountains is more than just reaching summits now. And this approach to the higher ground along the gentle ridge above Nant yr Ogof is perfect for idling away the hours.
I practise navigating to interesting contour features along the ridge. One thing I took away from mountain leader training is just how accurate you can be with the right map and compass skills. Knowing roughly where you are is nothing compared to the thrill of pinpointing your location to within a few metres on a long and pathless ridge. Like an image slowly emerging from a magic eye puzzle. Once you know the trick, it’s hugely infectious.
Using my imagination
The ground steepens towards the plateau, as I skirt around more vertical terrain to reach Llyn Caseg-fraith. Providing a stunning foreground to Tryfan, I can only imagine the views as the cloud rolls in and obscures the landscape. And with the winds becoming ever more relentless, I turn east, picking out some ring contour features on the way to Y Foel Goch.
Make sure you are still with me as there are actually two ‘Foel Gochs’ in the Glyderau. Trace a line west and then north along the ridge and you’ll eventually come to the one without the ‘Y’. Probably not too important, unless you’d arranged to meet someone up here, then you’d have a long walk across the length of the Glyderau to contend with.
From Y Foel Goch, I descend to a saddle before rising to the summit of Gallt yr Ogof. Another peak bypassed by many as they seek out the sexier stars of the Glyderau. From the road, Gallt yr Ogof commands the attention of passengers racing along the A5. But with its north-eastern face impenetrable for the average walker, the sensible approach is via the back door.
I am now on the long descent towards Capel Curig. It’s a delightful way off the mountain, with commanding views across to Moel Siabod and the Snowdon range. Tryfan and the Glyders might now be hidden from view but the chunky hills of the Carneddau house high reservoirs and lofty ridges, prompting ideas for future adventures.
Long walk back
Towards the end of the ridge, it pays to pay attention. Drift too far either way and there’s some sketchy terrain to content with. Some cows block my way. I give them a wide berth, prolonging the sense of excitement before the long, but very agreeable walk back along the route of the old road.
With all the hard work behind me, I settle into the straightforward return leg, tracking the Afon Llygwy. I gaze up at the higher ground, my playground for the last few hours, and enjoy seeing it from a different perspective.
These summits aren’t the most popular and the route I chose was far from busy. I saw one small group engrossed in their maps with an instructor but it was otherwise quiet. I almost don’t remember the summits. But I do remember feeling much more confident with the map and compass, navigating to what I thought were impossible targets only a few weeks ago.
When there are such iconic peaks to sample, it’s tempting to ignore the unmemorable ones lying around the fringes. But if you are someone who enjoys being in the mountains as much as reaching the tops of them, this walk is right up there with the best.
Highs and Lowdown
Start / Finish: Car park at Gwern Gof Isaf campsite or nearby parking in layby along A5.
Navigation: Much of this route is away from marked paths, so good navigation skills required. Confident route finding needed to avoid drifting on to crags towards the end of the ridge.
Terrain: Rough mountain walking, away from marked paths. Could be boggy outside any dry periods – gaiters recommended.
*These routes and descriptions are only ever intended to be a personal record of my adventures, which may inspire your own. Hillwalking involves a degree of risk, so please make sure you are properly equipped and prepared if you choose to follow them.