02 November 2018

Swamp hike 2018

It was easier to organise a hike some 20 years ago! We had more time to ponder routes and menus and logistics and whatnot. These days we are all old and overcommitted. But we always make it work.

This year we would go to Snowdonia again. There were voices who suggested some variation; maybe Scotland this time? But that would mean someone would have to sit down with maps and flight schedules and such and it wasn't going to happen. And I had figured we could go a bit further south. The national park sticks out quite far! And I had sort of designed routes in the Rhinogydd and near Cadair Idris, but I had only managed to communicate the former to the others, so that was going to be what we would do.

The Dutch contingent decided they could take four days off, and they booked flights and a big rental car. And I had kept my Friday free of commitments. I packed my bag in the morning and did some chores. When a text came that announced my friends were expected in about an hour's time I decided to hoover the top floor. Eh, the message had said 'half an hour'! So suddenly they were in the house. Great! Five most marvellous hike veterans. We have been doing the swamphike only since 2011 but I know most of these folks since 1993 or 1994, and I think I started hiking with at least a subsample of them not much later than that. I think the earliest hike on this blog with some of them is the ill-fated Pyrenees hike in 2008...

But back to Wales. They wanted a tour of the house first. Of course! And it was nice weather so they were very impressed with the garden. Maybe even a bit with the house, even in its unfinished state. And then they wanted lunch. And then it was time to get ready and head south!

Erik drove the big vehicle to Graigddu-isaf, just south of Trawsfynydd. We managed to park it there (we weren't the only ones interested in this area that day) and off we went! We knew rain was forecast, but that didn't stop us. Sleutel lead the way. He likes maps! And the landscape was beautiful.

Where it started

Autumnal scenes

Map reading in the rain

While we walked in the direction of the Roman Steps the weather deteriorated. It rained and then rained again and then there was hail and then rain again. And these steps are slippery when wet! And our centres of gravity were in strange places. But the view remained beautiful, and on the other side the weather improved, and we got to my intended first camping site near Llyn Cwm Bychan. We scouted for a place to pitch our tents. And to my surprise, we chose an actual campsite. But it was the most minimalist I ever saw! It was just a field with an honesty box. But it was a flat field with a nice view so we went for it. It's not as if we want disco and bingo and a swimming pool!

The 'Roman Steps'

The weather is looking up!

Our home for the night

I was worried by then, as my right ankle hurt. It had done that before! The last day of my hike with Jitske I had had the very same problem (although I don't mention that in the blog post). The problem was the tendon, and tendon can really really hurt. After the Jitske hike I had to wear my other hiking boots for weeks as the pressure of the plastic boots on that sore spot was really unpleasant and I wanted to let the injury heal. But the plastic boots were perfect for swampy conditions and I really wanted to wear them. I didn't expect problems very soon; with Jitske, it was only the final day it started hurting. But now it was a problem already on the first day! If I couldn't solve this I would have to bail out! Which I didn't want.

First things first though. There was a stream, so I washed before I did anything else. Nice! While we cooked dinner it rained again. That was not so nice. But there was great food, and there was even beer! Even though that didn't combine so well with the weather; it got cold! I had to wear an awful lot of clothes in my sleeping bag. I was glad I knew the bag alone wouldn't cut it and had brought down jackets and skiing trousers.

In the morning the weather looked better. By the time we were ready to go it was positively sunny! I had decided to cut off a bit from my foam sitting pad and stuff it in my sock, and that felt better. And soon we left the path and did a bit of bushwhacking; the path to Gloyw Lyn didn't really seem to exist. From there to to ridge there wasn't much either. My ankle was severely tested! But the foam did the job and the pain didn't get worse. Great! In the meantime it was sunny but cold and windy. The landscape was amazing! We even saw the higher peaks around (like Snowdon) dusted in white. Winter was coming!

Getting ready to leave

Crossing a wall with snowy mountains in the far background

We decided to stop for lunch at a spot outside the wind. We found shelter at a wall. That was great; it also functioned as a drying rack for tents, towels, and whatnot. And we had an amazing view into Cwm Nantcol! Life was good.

Walking down into the valley was still rather bush-whackery. Rather atypically I was glad to feel asphalt for a few hundred meter! And the valley was very scenic from close by too. And then we walked back out of it on the other side. We even came past a fair amount of mining remains! As the landscape consists pretty much of Cambrian grits I didn't expect mining, but the sedimentary rocks had been cut through later by mafic dykes, so there was something to get there after all. Manganese, apparently. A nice bonus!

Lunch with Rhinog Fach in the background

Leaving the valley on the other side

Beautiful people

Mining remains!

We were heading for Llyn Hywel, but the map was a maze of paths that started and ended entirely arbitrarily, so we needed a clever app on Sleutel's phone to aid navigation. It had more paths on it. And that made sense; paths don't start in the middle of nowhere. But we still had to navigate some untrodden terrain. Tiring! But it did pay off. After a while we were standing next to Llyn Perfeddau. The circle on the map was at the next lake on, Llyn Hywel, but the map suggested it had rather steep sides. I suggested we stay! The lake was pretty and Rhinog Fach loomed nicely over it. And I was tired.

Erik found a nice spot on the other side of the lake and we took our bags there. I did my usual bath! No swimming this year; too cold. It was cold enough as it was! I am getting old and soft and can nowadays be shivering in a thick down jacket when it's only a few degrees below zero. What happened to being happy in -24?

This time it was my turn to cook. The couscous meal went down well! And in its entirety. And there was some whisky circulating! Very nice. We even did some star (and satellite) gazing. But it was cold and quite soon we were all in bed. That wasn't as calm as we had hoped; the wind had picked up and the tents were flapping. That is annoying!

In the middle of the night I did get out to go for a leak and as I had hoped, the moon was out by that time. It was beautiful! But I didn't linger.

The next morning Viking surprised all by entirely submerging himself in the lake. What a man! I busied myself with much more modest endeavours: I put an additional piece of foam in my sock. Over breakfast we decided what to do. Was my initial plan feasible? And people started to figure out how long we could walk the last day, given that we had a fair drive back to Bethesda, and the others had to start driving to the airport by 1PM. That didn't leave much! So people suggested we might as well walk back to the car that day. People were impressed by the camping possibilities of my garden. And we could have a pub meal!

We first walked to Llyn Hywel. It was very windy there, and indeed, the lake had very steep sides. We were glad we had not chosen to camp there! And from the lake we walked down into the valley. In the beginning that was a bit of a challenge; when crossing a block field I was pretty much toppled over by the wind. But as we descended, the wind passed overhead. And we had a nice view on Rhinog Fawr.

Our camping spot the next morning

Llyn Hywel

Towards Rhinog Fawr

From the valley we were fairly soon back at the woods where the car was parked. A bit too soon! The day was still young. So we hid our bags among the trees, and walked up to Llyn Du. I had put yet another piece of foam in my sock so I was feeling fresh again. It was nice to scamper up without that big weight on my shoulders! And it was worth it. It was a nice lake. We sat at it for a while. When the sun went, we went. Back to the bags and then the car!

Look, climbers!

 Leaving the hills

Llyn Du

We drove back, and one by one we had a shower. Then we went to the Llangollen, which was, as happens quite often, closed. It may always be closed on Sunday! But we went on to the Indian restaurant. And from there to the Londis, to buy a selection of local beers. It was a nice meal!

When we were done eating it was dark and cold. Nobody felt like pitching a tent! So all the hikers spread themselves out over my house and we went to bed indoors. Why not. And the following morning there were some differences in when people came out of bed. But when all had done that we had a very lengthy breakfast! Viking made omelettes, and we had buckets of coffee.

After breakfast we did another round of admiring the garden and the river bank. And then people went to buy a bit more bara brith, and ate a bit more bread, and then it was time to pack the vehicle and wave everybody goodbye!

It had been a short hike. Maybe next year we can make it a bit longer again! But this year we had had amazing landscapes in amazing weather (except on Friday). A success! And the people are always marvellous!

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