30 October 2019

Swamphike 2019

We have been doing swamphikes since 2011, two years after I moved to Britain! We have had one every year. But this year it was touch and go. One after the other of the regulars pulled out, for various reasons! Oh dear. Would we break the chain? But in the end, Henco and Maaike were still standing. And walking! And they would come to Wales. They would arrive on Wednesday afternoon. And I had managed to keep the Thursday and Friday free of commitments.

As they wanted to go off pretty much immediately, I suggested we just walk from the front door. If we would have to first drive somewhere, it would be dark by the time we would start walking! And I figured we could walk around in the NE corner of Snowdonia. We had been on the Carneddau in 2015 but that was as close as we'd been. So I had figured we could walk past Bryn Hafod y Wern and find somewhere to sleep around there. And then go south the next day, at a location of our ad hoc choosing.

I picked Henco and Maaike up from the station at half past four, and took them home. There we filled some thermal flasks, put on our walking kit (insofar as not already in place), had a cup of tea, and looked at the map again. Henco was keen on heading in the general direction of Carnedd Gwenllian as the Thursday would be the best day, weather-wise, so that would be the day we would want to be high up. So we changed the plan to just walking into the valley of Afon Ffryddlas. And then off we were! David would use my house when we were away, and I had expected to see him before we would leave, but there was no sign of him so we just went and hoped for the best.

When we were walking we sort of realised we forgot to check for water. And once you get a bit higher in the valley you don't find any! But we had only just started walking; we weren't overly thirsty, and we had some stock. So we figured we could make do with what we had. And then the next priority was shelter. My little tent isn't very wind-proof! And there isn't an awful lot of shelter in that valley. We decided to check a small mine on the slope of y Gyrn (Gyrn Slate Mine). And we found some flat bits behind little stone walls. So we decided to just pitch the tents there! It was dark by the time they stood. And then we cooked pasta. It was lovely! And then not much later it was bedtime. I had a new sleeping bag and I was very snug!

The next morning, the ponies that had bothered me a bit last time appeared, but in the morning that's OK! I had had more issues with the wind, which had made my tent flap, in spite of the sheltered position. It's hard to sleep through that. And it was foggy too. But that could still clear! We had breakfast (I had made a loaf for the occasion) and then we set off, going off-piste as we now needed the river to replenish depleted water stocks. And then we just scampered up the slope. We were glad when we reached the ridge of Gyrn Wigau! That meant both that we wouldn't have to go so steeply up, and that there was a path. And sometimes the clouds lifted a bit and we could see some view. We sat down at Bera Bach for a cup of tea. We also had to decide what to do! We knew the next day would be very wet and I had had two potential refuges in mind: the bunkhouse where I had slept with my dad and his wife and the bothy just below Llyn Dulyn. I tried to phone the bunkhouse but they didn't answer. We weren't keen on the bothy, as if we would spend the night from Friday to Saturday there, we had only the Saturday and part of the Sunday to walk back; with the forecast now also being bad for the first half of Saturday, that didn't leave much time. It's quite a hike! We'd try to phone the bunkhouse a bit later again.


Ponies in the mist

With no way of seeing far ahead we were a bit confused about where we were after a while. But while we were looking on the map, suddenly the clouds lifted and we saw all hilltops around! That helped. We were close to Carnedd Gwenllian. And when we walked underneath the top the cloud lifted altogether and we had lovely views. It was quite windy but that was OK! We had lunch in the shelter of a wall. The bunkhouse still didn't answer. We decided to just walk towards the Roman Road. If we couldn't sleep in the bunkhouse we could just walk home from there!


Clear skies above us!

The Roman Road it was. When we came down from Drum we were a bit more sheltered and it was a civilised stroll down. Then we needed to find a spot to camp! We wanted to be close to a stream this time. And Henco found a nice spot. It was still a bit windy, but I saw the stream had a little island; my tent would just fit there! And the stream had cut quite deep into the landscape; I would be quite sheltered there! So the others pitched on the bank and I did on the islet. And when the tent stood I had a bath in the stream. Henco then did too. And then it was time to cook dinner! We made my noodles. But while we were cooking the weather turned. We cooked outside but had dinner in the big tent! It was hammering down. But I started to get worried about the level of the stream. I didn't want to end up in a flash flood! I checked the levels between showers and saw it had come up. Hm! Not good. I took the pegs out and lugged the tent, with bed and all, up the hill. I re-pitched it in the shelter of the bigger tent. And then it was time to go and get ready for bed! My tent wasn't ideally pitched but I could sort of curl around the bump I had plonked it on top of. And this time I wore earplugs. I slept well!

Cooking in the gorge cut by the stream 

When I woke up it wasn't raining. That was a surprise! But I knew it wouldn't last so I got up. Let's see if we could have breakfast and pack our bags in dry weather. And we did! But as soon as we were packed it started raining. And we knew it wouldn't stop the whole day. So homeward it was! And we would walk past Aber Falls because that's beautiful.

Early next morning, with my tent in its new position

Towards Aber falls in the rain

We set off in good spirits. And when we got to the road, we saw it was sheep rallying day; we had to wait a bit for the farmers to sort things out. But the farmers were nice and their dogs interested in some fuss. We were not in a hurry!


We got to the path towards the waterfall. And we walked up. It was, unsurprisingly, rather quiet. And there was a building along the way where you could get out of the rain. We took the opportunity! We wouldn't get many. It was nice. And we were all starting to get wet. Our waterproofs weren't waterproof enough for a day like this!

After coffee we went on. We admired the waterfalls. And then we walked on. No shelter now! And I was starting to feel it. Luckily I got hungry at some point. A good moment to sit down (be it still in the rain), drink something warm, and get some calories into my system. I made sure to get some sugar! I had not been energetic enough to carry that backpack of over a third of my body weight over these hills in that weather. But some sugar can make things better. And when we were done we were all cold (we were now wet to our skin) so we set off at quite a pace. Luckily it wasn't awfully far anymore!

Aber Falls in autumn colours

Decorative tree

Pathetic attempt at shelter for lunch

Bethesda looked good in wisps of fog. And we were glad to see it! We walked back to the house and got in. We were somewhere dry! We immediately started to pull off wet coats and shoes and whatnot. And filling the house with the stench of wet hikers. It was so good to put on something dry! And we put on the kettle. And the woodburner. And I put some drying racks in the spare room for drippy kit. It wasn't big enough! There was stuff drying everywhere.

Foggy view on Bethesda

Inside, at the fire, in dry clothes! 

We drank some mulled wine at the fire. It was great! And then Henco cooked Butter Quorn. It was lovely! We were so glad we had just gone home. Hiking in rain is generally doable but this had just been miserable. And I was in my small tent: no vestibule in which you can take off your wet kit! So you have to do that inside. And then everything gets wet. Of course, you can keep the tent largely empty, so you can drip on the floor, then wipe up the damp, and only then make your bed, but it all gets rather cumbersome. And once you're in you can't really go out again without getting more things wet. And my luggage had already partially got wet due to having had to open the bag over lunch. It only just fits inside the tent if I'm also in it! So everything would have been at risk of getting soggy. Not an attractive thought. I was happy to be home. And so were the others.

After dinner we managed a bit more tea and then we pretty much fell over with fatigue. We all got ready for bed! And by 20:30, all lights were out...

The next morning we took it easy. The forecast was rain until noon or so. Only after that would we venture out! So we went to the shop to get some supplies (now we were in a house we might get fried eggs for breakfast), and I later went to the whole foods shop too (three times in a row, due to circumstances). And we agreed to go do Dinorwic! That's always cool. And by eleven ish we went. It wasn't quite dry yet but not wet enough to merit waterproof trousers! And from the little parking lot on the flank we went all the way down to the public path, and from there we went back up over the southeastern inclines. Some were in a slightly worrying shape! And slowly and hesitatingly, the sun came out. It was still cold; it was quite windy! But it was nice.

The first structures

The big incline

Big incline further SE

How long will this stay passable? 


Snowdon shows its snowy top above the quarry

After our Dinorwic trip we would go for dinner in the Vaynol Arms, but we had some time to spare; we went to Dolbadarn Castle. That's not a venue that keeps one busy for very long but it was nice! And the we went to the pub. We had to wait for some ten minutes before it opened but then we could go and have a drink. We made plans for the next day, and just relaxed by the fire; then it was time for dinner. Fish pie went in well!

Dolbadarn castle

The pub

The last day we would do a walk on the way to the airport. We decided on parking at Sychnant pass, and then walking a loop. Maybe visit the Great Orme too. And the weather looked great! The others packed, and we all made sandwiches, and then we were on our way.

It was a nice day! Sunny but somewhat cold. We walked a nice loop, going past Llyn y Wrach which had some interesting hydrological features the ground feeling like a water bed), and then onwards to Tal-y-Fan quarry where we had tea. Then we looped around Foel Lus, had lunch on its flank, and went back to the car. That was it! Time to go to the airport.

the stream coming out of Llyn y Wraig

Tal y Fan quarry

Nice landscape

It was a bit of a faff getting through Conwy, but we got there. And on the motorway there were some queues too. But we got there in good time! I dropped Henco and Maaike off and then the hike was over. Time to drive home, and let life take its normal course again!

It had been a strange hike with only three of us. And only two nights outside! It worked though; we had fun. But I do hope that next year we'll have more people and better weather. Generally we are quite lucky!

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