Friday, 21 July 2017

Seven Summits: A Moelwynion Circuit

Head of Cwmorthin
For a really satisfactory hillwalk some sort of objective is necessary. But whereas (in the present writer's opinion) the covering of a given distance in the shortest possible time has nothing to do with appreciation of mountains, the leisurely visiting of a group of related summits is a worthy and rewarding form of peak-bagging. The Moelwyn group, 10 miles south-east of Snowdon, provides an excellent day' s walking of this sort. The route is a circuit over the seven summits topping 2,000 feet, returning to starting-point, which is the hamlet of Croesor 7 miles from Beddgelert and 4 miles from Penrhyndeudraeth. There is a recently constructed car park at Croesor, the customary starting-point for that increasingly popular little mountain Cnicht, 2265 feet. The beginning of the way up Cnicht is well marked with "walker" posts up to a broad saddle on the south-west ridge, and from here a path- beginning to suffer from erosion now- mounts pleasantly on the narrowing crest to the foot of the final steep bit, a very easy scramble beloved of school parties.

The sharply-pointed summit, of course, is an illusion, being the end of an undulating half-mile ridge whence there are splendid views of Snowdon across the Gwynant valley on the left. This ridge slants gently down to a saddle where the boggy slopes cradle Llyn yr Adar, Lake of the Birds; a seduction for photographers when the waters are still enough to reflect the peak of Snowdon afar off. All this upland area is rich in little lakes, and from Cnicht you'll have looked down on one of the larger ones, Llyn Cwm-y-foel.

A boggy path heads northerly above the eastern shore of Llyn yr Adar. This is part of the route used by the slate-miners of last century to cross from Beddgelert to the Ffestiniog quarries at weekends, winter and summer. You follow it for 1/4 -mile, but then leave it to mount north-east on the little craggy ridge that appears on your right front. Miniature rocky summits jut here and there, and in mist it's not easy to find the highest of these Creigiau'r Cwn and bag your second summit at 2192 feet. The three Lakes of the Dogs (Llynau' r Cwn) are your safest guides, small lonely tarns clustered close together; Point 2192 is the crag immediately south of the most easterly tarn. This is the place where the mountain watershed between Liverpool Bay and Tremadoc Bay makes its right-angle turn from E-W to N-S, running northward to Pen-y-gwryd and then over Crib Goch to Rhyd-ddu and the Eifionydd ridges. You'll
head south, south-east, and east, following for the most part the decrepit wire fence that marks the height of land — a dullish stretch in thick weather but in clear conditions giving magnificent distant views to the sea on the right hand and the moorland ramparts of England on the left.

In a mile or more, having passed two delightful tarns right on the watershed, you come to Moel Druman, at 2152 feet your third summit; it's little more than a massive knob on the ridge and a couple of hundred feet of ascent brings you to its rounded top. South-south-east of it you see Llyn Conglog with its long peninsula of rock and heather, looking like the space where a piece of jigsaw puzzle ought to fit. Leaving this lake well to the right and keeping on down the ridge to a big slope of moorland, you mount steadily eastward to Allt Fawr, the Big High Place. Allt Fawr, 2297 feet, is the presiding mountain of Blaenau Ffestiniog, and from it you look down on Blaenau' s rows of houses and piles of slate waste. From the west- the side by which you have approached it- it's not much of a mountain; but seen from the east it shows itself massive and imposing. This fourth top is the most easterly corner of the route, and from it you turn back to descend moorland slopes to the southern shore of Llyn Conglog. The two mile section that follows needs good route finding, for there is no path and the terrain is rough and complicated.

You have to get down to Bwlch Rhosydd, the lowest point on the traverse, where a path crosses the pass between the long steep-walled valleys of Cwm Croesor and Cwmorthin. Having plodded along the south shore of Conglog and crossed its outlet stream (which plunges down into Llyn Cwmorthin on the left) you could in clear weather follow the rim of Cwmorthin as it winds west-by-south down to little Llyn Clogwyn Brith in its crater like hollow, thence descending to the bwlch below. In doubtful conditions it's best to make the larger Llyn Cwm-Corsiog the objective, steering due west from the narrow western tip of Conglog past a marshy tarn and so down boggy slopes, bearing rather to the south-west, to gain the old dam at the south end of Cwm-Corsiog. A faint track goes down from here to the ruined quarry build-ings on the pass. Rhosydd Quarry ceased work in the 1920's and its remains are now the haunt of industrial archaeologists, but its spoil heaps remain to puzzle the hillwalker with their tilted unbeautiful maze. 

Scrambling off Cnicht's summit Ridge: Image Phillip Stasiw
From the east side of the largest ruin a track winds up through the piles of slate and when you have emerged on the more level ground above you can strike south-east up the flank of Moel yr Hydd. It's an easy slog, grass diver-sified with slabby outcrops, to the cairn on this fifth summit. Moel yr Hydd, 2124 feet, has an impressive 400-foot precipice on the side overlooking Cwmorthin, but I've never heard of anyone climbing on it; maybe its dark aspect and dank vegetation repel climbers, but it is certainly very steep. Its southern crags, where Tony Moulam and members of the Climbers Club made several good routes in the 50's are below on your left as you descend west-by-south from the cairn to arrive in a matter of minutes on the saddle separating this little mountain from Moelwyn Mawr, the only one of the seven to top 2500 feet.

Approaching the larger Moelwyn from this direction shows the mountain's least attractive side, unfortunately, but the prospects to right and left widen as you plod along the broad boggy crest and up the steepening flank of shaley turf. Only when the O.S. cairn at 2,527 feet is reached does Moelwyn reveal that, like Cnicht, it is an impostor; but whereas Cnicht pretends to be a sharp peak when it is really a ridge, Moelwyn pretends to be a lumpish dome when it is really a narrow ridge. The ridge, running north-west from the trig. point, drops on the right in little crags and gullies to a long scree. One of the gullies provided myself and my wife with a good snow climb in March some years ago.

The slopes on the left are turfy, but that they are long and steep was proved one day when, sitting down to lunch just below the O.S. cairn, I incautiously placed my rucksack on the turf beside me. It rolled away before I could grab it, and had fallen a good 800 feet when I finally rescued it. But the view from Moelwyn Mawr is its major asset. Standing as it does well clear of the Snowdon massif and with only the lower Moelwyn Bach to southward, it gives a magnificent all-round panorama on a clear day. The sea fills most of the western horizon- northward all the three-thousanders and their satellites are in view; eastward Berwyns, Arenigs and Arans march afar, and in the south Plynlimon peers from beyond the long cliff-line of Cader Idris. It is arguable (and I sometimes argue it) that there is no wider view from any North Wales top.

A fine rocky ridge drops due south to the col between the two Moelwyns, but not due south from the cairn — a point to be noted in mist. You steer south-east at first, down easy turf slopes for about 200 feet to join. the descending ridge. Nowadays the way down its succession of little easy rock-steps is well marked. It rises over the small craggy top of Craig Ysgafn, touching the 2,000-foot contour and so making an eighth two-thousander in the circuit if you were inclined to be fussy. But it's a mere 'incident on the ridge" really — and anyway "Seven Summits" is alliteratively preferable. Steeply down on the left here is Llyn Stwlan, once possessing- an ideal diving-rock for climbers sweating after a warm day on the excellent Moelwyniau climbs just round the corner but now quite spoiled by its dam; it is the upper lake of the Tanygrisiau Pumped Storage scheme, and buses and coaches reach it by the road constructed by the C.E.G.B. The dam and its approach road can easily be reached from the col at the bottom of the Craig Ysgafn ridge, a useful get-off for anyone who finds six summits enough for them on this walk.

From the grassy col, Bwlch Stwlan, the seventh and last summit looms impressively above, due south. The actual top is in fact not in sight, being hidden beyond a black helmet of overhanging cliff which has a singularly forbidding aspect. Moelwyn Bach is nearly 200 feet lower than its big brother but the short climb up it from the col is the steepest bit on the route. Until recently walkers always took a direct line, straight up the left-hand side of the scree from the col almost to the base of the overhanging face, then traversing rightward below the crag to scramble up round its corner. This involved the craft of using loose scree and allowed the more experienced males to render physical assistance to attractive female novices. There is also an airy scramble on the left of the sheer face, short and easy but slimy in wet weather.

Nowadays, however, our parties-under instruction with their passion for well-trodden paths- have trodden one out up the scree to the left of the upper rock-face, plain enough to be obvious from the col. In its upper part this path becomes a trifle obscure just where it mounts a steepening slope of turfy shale with a considerable drop below. I have used both routes in winter, and have turned back from both in conditions of hard frost; scree and shale can freeze to a steel-plate hardness that renders ice-axe and crampons useless and makes it totally impossible to arrest a slide.

In ordinary conditions there's no difficulty at all in plodding up the steep path or in using the direct route. Both bring you to easier ground and a five-minute ramble to the insignificant summit-cairn at 2,334 feet. Looking southward from here, down into the wooded glens of Maentwrog and the Ffestiniog valley and away beyond to the dim shapes of the Arans and Cader Idris, you get an even more delightful prospect than from Moelwyn Mawr. But the northward view from Moelwyn Bach is partly blocked by the massive bulk of its neighbour and it can claim only 270° of panorama.

All the same, for my money this last of the seven summits is the best little mountain of them all, for it is very steep on three of its sides and boldly sculptured. Its buttressing crags are not high enough to make good rock climbs, which is a pity, for the rock is sound. I once made a three-pitch route here, below the summit on the east. Since I and my four companions constituted the membership of a small but select Club, I had conceived the idea (I think an original one) of holding the Annual General Meeting of the Club on the way up the climb; in consequence of which it was named A.G.M. Rib. It's still in the official Moelwyniau guide, but under the title of "Agm Rib," which must puzzle those interested in route nomenclature.

Moelwyn Bach Summit

There is a pleasant way of descending to Croesor from Moelwyn Bach by dropping down to the right from the long western ridge and picking a way across the bogs and streams of Maesgwm, but it postulates for comfort a knowledge of the best places for crossing the streams and a couple of tricky wire fences. At the end of a longish hill day it's probably best to walk easily down due west and by way of a stile and a corner of forestry onto the mountain road. Then there remains one mile of downhill on a metalled surface, with superb views lit by the westering sun, before you are back at Croesor car park.

Distance: 14 miles approx. Time: allow 8 hours Maps: O.S. 1/50,000 Sheets 115 and 124. Sheet 107 of the old 1-inch map covers the whole walk. 

Showell Styles: First published as 'The Seven Summits Walk in Climber and Rambler-December 1980.