27 October 2016

Swamphike 2016

A highlight of the year is the annual swamphike! Last year it was changed a bit, due to me overestimating the distances we'd walk, but it was great anyway. This year I had planned a more southerly route; more in the Blaenau Ffestiniog direction. It's magical there! And often very, very wet. How would this year be?

After the MATLAB session I biked home and got ready. I changed into my hiking clothes and did some last packing. Then I heard knocking: the first car with friends had arrived! On a bright sunny day! This was starting well. The next batch followed fairly close behind.

It was great to see everyone again! I know Roelof and Viking from my fresher's year at Physics in 1993, and Henco and Sleutel from the one at Earth Sciences in 1994. A long time ago! I forgot when Maaike made her appearance (through Henco) but that's also a very long time ago by now. Now complete we got ready altogether: some people changed, we made some last decisions on what to bring (three sets of cooking pots? Nah), my kitchen was emptied of lunchables, and we made a final decision on route. We texted Erik (another 1993 physicist), who would come later, which train station he would have to get off at and then we could go. Erik is famous for his bad jokes, but we noticed immediately that Sleutel was in top shape in that regard, and we would not have to do without at all.

We drove to Beddgelert and parked the cars. We were early enough to be able to make a good start on the route! We walked along the river, where I had been with my father and stepmother too, and walked on through Nantmor, to Bwlchgwernog, and onwards to where the path crosses Afon Dylif. From Bwlchgwernog the path was stunningly beautiful. The early evening light was magic and we were all very happy.

The first camping spot

We pitched at the river, with a view on Cnicht, which was our target for the next day. The river provided a bath and we had lovely nasi. It was spiffing! Even when Maaike tried to set herself on fire with my camping stove, which admittedly has a bit of a penchant for producing large yellow flames. Oh dear. It's getting on a bit. And I was only just warm enough in my sleeping bag later that night; oh dear, quite uncharacteristically, I had taken "travel light" a bit far. Don't underestimate the mountains!

The next day we got up in a beautiful morning and headed for Cnicht. One small shower passed when we were approaching, but that was the last rain we'd see for a while. From the top, the views are amazing! And from there we headed for Rhosydd; of course we lost the path somewhere along the way. It did not lead, to some disappointment, to Roelof doing his party trick of vanishing up to his thighs in swampy goo, but one can't have it all. We had lunch among the ruins. From there we passed Cwmorthin; I saw a vehicle there, which meant Miles was in there. It's cool to be happily hiking along while knowing exciting stuff happens deep inside a mine!

Group pic on the summit of Cnicht 

Preview of some of Maaike's analogue pics (she's an old school photo geek)

I hoped to get to the Diffwys tramway for the night; the views from there are lovely, and there is water and flat space. With that in mind we did not stop in Blaenau. We did pass a sheep somersaulting down a cliff, but it stared at us defiantly when we expected it to lie there all mangled. What certainly was mangled was a terrain between Tanygrisiau and Blaenau. The public footpath went over some terrain you expect in a Mad Max film, with car wrecks and other waste and signs of fire. Weird! Soon we lost the path entirely but with some delay we managed to get to Blaenau anyway, where two of the men bought some beer. We ignored the pub (we're all old!). The final ascent was deemed trying. Roelof wanted to end up at Llyn Du Bach, but there weren't any good spots, so we went for the tramway after all. The lake served as a (very very cold) bath. It reminded me of its underground neighbour! After that, it was great to drink a beer while watching the sunset. What a trip! And I borrowed a jumper from Henco so I was snug for the night.

The funny wasteland near Blaenau

 The sunny tramway we would camp on

 The view from the lake when we were bathing

The next morning started a bit flawed as I noticed I had two ticks on my leg. I don't like ticks! I suspected the bath in the lake (with my clothes layed out on the heather) as the culprit. Hmm. I removed them with my pinchers. But then we had breakfast with a view and all was well again.

The next stretch was lovely. We walked to Llyn Bowydd, which impressed all with its mirror-like surface, and then followed the tramline to Cwt-y-Bugail. Everybody was happy to have a look into the two pits. Great! And then we walked on. Soon we entered a forest; this wasn't the best part of the trip, but hey ho. The initial plan was to go to Roman Bridge to pick up Erik, who had run out of days off so had to join us later, but we had time to spare so we contemplated a pub in Dolwyddelan. That meant: staying in the woods for a fair while. Upon reaching the village, though, we noticed both pubs were closed. A pity! We did find a playful dog, though, that threw a squeeky toy at us through the gate, and wanted to fetch it. So cute!

Panorama of Llyn Bowydd

 Negotiating the woodland

We had a drink in the local Spar (one has to make do etc) and went off to Roman Bridge, admiring Dolwyddelan Castle along the way. We weren't quite sure when Erik would arrive; we initially thought he'd arrive by train at 16:30, but he had said he would come by bus, but we didn't know what time. We just went and hoped for the best. We had hardly settled down when he appeared. Brilliant! This was almost a pre-mobile arrangment that worked perfectly. And this meant we had some daylight together; time to walk out of this cultivated valley, and back into the wild.

A sheep guarding Dolwyddelan castle

The view from the eponymous Roman Bridge

The landscape in the low sun was stunning. Soon we also saw Snowdon in the distance, all cloud-free. We found a tiny quarry at the confluence of two streams and called it a day. We had another attempt at pitching tents on slate waste (one gets used to it) and the hygiene-minded went, of course, to the river. It was dark by now! And started raining.

I put on my new salopettes, but by then the rain had stopped. Erik produced an amazing (and heavy!) meal. Then it was bedtime again! I don't think we went to bed any later than 9PM any of the nights. Very nice! And with another person (Erik) in my tent I was very snug  and warm.

The next morning some early mist made the landscape extra dreamy. After breakfast we set off; I had planned this day loosely, as we were close to Nant Gwynant, and last year we had skipped Snowdon, and some wanted another try this time. If would have to happen now! So we would walk to the start of Watkin path, and then decide what we would do. But there is a cafe there, so we were drawn in and had lunch there. Even with the occasional pint! Very nice.

Remnants of morning fog seen from our camping place in Ceunant Ty'n-y-ddol

Decoratively crossing a bridge

Approaching Nant Gwynant

We decided to head for Cwm Bwlch Llan instead of Snowdon; the latter was just too far. So we walked up. A wind picked up, and by the time we got there we were blown out of our clothes. We sought shelter in one of the pits, with intermediate success. The pit had a waterfall with associated pool, facing west, though, so some of us had a nice bath and/or shower, in the sun! And in spite of the wind we managed to cook our last meal. It was amazing curry by Roelof. We also had three small bottles of whisky on the table; I  think this may be the first time we didn't manage to drink the booze, as little as it was. We're so old and healthy!
 Watkin Path
Our last camping spot

Amazing sunset

When we went to bed we were all lying in flapping tents; that didn't do much for our sleep, but all tents held. Viking and Roelof, who had pitched their tent on the windiest spot (as it was also the flattest) took it down immediately after getting up. A good idea! Henco and Maaike didn't, and their tent tried to make an escape. Oh dear.

 The scenery was a bit more grim in the morning

We wanted to walk back to Beddgelert pretty much as the crow flies, but with our big backpacks we caught too much wind, and changed our minds. The re is some fun in cross-countrying while almost falling over all the time but we didn't think it'd last. We went down the path heading for Rhydd Ddu. With a bit of a detour (but what a pretty one!) we got back to Beddgelert, where we stopped for lunch. It was almost over! Our cars were parked just minutes away.

 Roelof finds the strong wind hilarious

We drove back, and had a cup of tea at my place. We had some half an hour for the travellers to get ready to drive off. Then it was time to say goodbye! Sad, but lovely, as it had been such an amazing trip: amazing weather and amazing lanscapes, with amazing company! And no mishaps with health or material (not noteworthy, anyway). Next year again? But where will I live?

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