6th February 2009.
Map: Landranger 115
Weather: Mainly dry and sunny, with cold winds and a snow flurry to finish the day
From Llanberis through the town to gain the Braich y Foel ridge up to Moel Eilio. Then dropping down to Foel Gre and Foel Goch. At Bwlch Maesgwm turn down the valley to return to Llanberis: 7.2 miles as measured with a Silva pedometer (I lost it the next day!) and 7.1 miles on a Satmap
Copyright OS-Click on map to enlarge, then hit the back button to return to blog
As usual I checked with Metcheck to see the conditions for the day and specifically for Moel Eilio it forecast a clear summit. This walk was in the shadow of Snowdon and is one of those overlooked hills that is a delight to be on. The views attained from the summit are superb – but more of that later on. There is another Moel Eilio a little further east form here, the same as there are more than one Y Garn – I wonder if the MRT ever get problems with which one to go to. I set off at 06:00 to meet up at 08:30 in Llanberis. Normally this would take me about 1 ¾ hours, but with the low temperatures we have been having and the ice warnings, I gave myself some leeway. There were ice warnings as I drove along the A55 but these were mainly for the outside lane which had some small patches of snow that had thawed out, dribbled out onto the carriageway and frozen over again. Along the road from Bangor I stopped to take a picture and the sheep were bleating loudly – I’m not surprised as it was baa-ldy cold. The photo turned out icy blue, but in actual fact it wasn’t that bad at 2deg, just looked that way.
The church in Llanberis village
Snowy fields at the start of the walk
We were very wary of being too ambitious today in light of the recent fatalities in the cold snap – 2 in the Lake District, 3 in Scotland, and 3 on Snowdon. There was one very lucky gent who used a lighter to attract the attention of the rescue helicopter and cheat death out of another victim. It must have been a very harrowing experience for him, and 3 cheers to the rescue services again. The route today was chosen by Robbo, who assured us that it was all walking on rounded hills and safe, even if it was snowy. I arrived at the electric car park in Llanberis at 08:00 with no one else around. Then 2 more cars turned up with a couple of shady looking characters. But it was too early in the day and far too cold for this to be a dogging car park, so I assumed they were my walking partners. It was £4 for all day parking, and it is situated on the SE side of Llanberis. Looking around from the car park I could see that all the higher fells were heavily laden with snow and they would have required all the heavy gear – ice axe and crampons, with plenty of layers to keep out the cold. I had some new gear this week – Icebreaker Merino wool layers which were lovely and warm, and some Gore-Tex mitts with fingers inside. These look like boxing gloves but were much better for taking on and off for my camera. I wore 4 good layers today and gators to keep the snow out of my boots, and these kept me dry all day, apart from the sweaty inside of my jacket, which was on/off at various stages of the climb up to Moel Eilio. Once we were all togged up we set off through the town with Paul carrying his ice axe in a non threatening manner. We passed by the local church and school filling up with reluctant schoolchildren who would have much preferred pelting us with snowballs as we passed by. A local farmer trundled down the hill on his quad bike, with young daughter at the front and two young lads clinging on to the back – I hope they all survive into old age! We were soon out onto a snowy lane with the snow crunching delightfully underfoot, and then crossed across pasture to reach the foot of a steep bluff that led up towards a broad ridge – Braich y Foel and onwards up to Moel Eilio. The cloud base today was around the top of Snowdon and the peak was covered all day, but it did rise at one point to 950m as the top of Y Garn appeared across the valley. The old Llanberis slate mines and workings were prominent and dominated the views when we stopped to look around, with Elidir Fawr looking majestic above – one of the Welsh 3000ft mountains I’ve yet to walk.
The Llanberis pass to the left side of Snowdon
Looking over to the slate mountain below Elidir Fawr
Snowdon cutting out the early morning light
The first steep slope up – looking over to the Snowdon railway track
The slate mines stopped working back in 1969 and now provides a big tourist attraction for the area – as well as the Snowdon railway of course, and the Welsh Highland Railway, and Snowdonia itself, and much more – it really is a beautiful area. The fields we walked through were all snow covered and thickly drifted in places up against the drystone walls. Our route followed the fenceline uphill along the snow covered path, nice and crunchy, but the wind stopped it being one of those silent days where the snow muffles the sound. Paul carried his ice axe all the way around, Robbo managed the route, which left me as official photographer, and as such I demanded many photo stops – amazingly these all coincided when I was out of breath. We gained height quickly as the initial slope was steep, but we kept stopping to look over to Snowdon and the good views of the railway and stations, although there was nothing moving along there today. The higher we got, the better the views opened up, and in more sunlight Moel Eilio positively glowed ahead of us. For a change there were wide reaching views to all points of the compass. The wire fence had turned into an ice sculptor in this inclement weather and looked like a waffle coated with ice, with even the grass reeds coated with ½" of the stuff from the prevailing winds – it looked like the inside of my freezer. We also saw ski marks running down the slopes, and as I type this my colleague in Norway told me he used to ski off the top of Snowdon – pure madness.
We followed the wall and fenceline up
A glowing Moel Eilio
A look back to the Glyders above Llanberis
A free lollipop
A free waffle or two
A frozen style
More waffle from me..
The views got better and better with the Menai Strait and Caernarfon Castle clearly in site, and looking beyond we could see Newborough and all across Anglesey to Holyhead Mountain glinting white in the sun – its white quartzite. Once we were up and over the frosty styles the summit shelter beckoned, but it was completely icebound due to the easterly winds. It was the first time I had seen the Llyn peninsula from this aspect and the Nantlle Ridge across the valley, which looks like a fine ridge walk maybe for warmer days in March. To the south were Moel Hebog and chums beyond the frozen Llyn Cwellyn. The snow on the tops was a bit thinner as it had blown away down the slopes, with the ground nice and firm but not icy – no danger of sinking bogs today. I found an old balaclava hat down in the cellar and resurrected it for today’s walk – I swapped my sweaty hat for it, but all that happened was I ended up looking like the fonejacker – but I doubt he has ever walked the Welsh hills. I had to take it off because it was too hot and a wee bit musty.
The view down the Llyn Peninsula
A frosty summit seat
Can I have your bank details please
The view to the South
After taking some refreshment on board and admiring the views all around, we continued our journey down towards Foel Gre and Foel Goch. All of the steep exposure was to our left side over the fence for the worst parts, but it was safe staying away from the edge, apart from the occasional glimpse over the rocky Cwm’s. The old slate mines were still prominent beyond Llyn Dwythwch, and further to the south we thought we could see Cadair Idris, but we weren’t sure, but the Rhinogs were definitely in site. Just passed Foel Gro we came across a sunny patch, sheltered from the wind and the temperature rose by 10deg, so we took time for a spot of lunch out of the wind and we could even have had a sunbathe. We discussed the route ahead and decided that Moel Cynghorion was a Moel too far and we should cut down the valley at Bwlch Maesgwm. The south facing slopes lower down the hill were free of snow, which made them a bit slippier, and Robbo slipped over again. Paul tried not to laugh but failed and Robbo vowed to stay on his feet the next walk he has – Llangollen canal should do it! Then I slipped over, so we were equal, and only Paul stayed on his feet – but then again he had an ice axe to carry around all day long. We had one last snowy slope up to Foel Goch and then it was downhill all the way.
The view back up to Moel Eilio
Snowdon still covered in cloud
Some small snow cornices
Looking over to the start of the Nantlle Ridge
The view back down over Llyn Dwythwch
Another look back to Moel Eilio at the top
The last slope down to Bwlch Maesgwm
The path down the valley was well laid but full of snow, easy to walk along. At this point we could see the weather approaching from the north and looking decidedly grey and wet. Elidir Fawr began to disappear across the valley, as did the higher peaks behind us and we wondered if we could make it back before the rain or snow. As we dropped down the valley we debated if we could have come down at the end of Moel Cynghorion. It looked steep at the end but I’m sure we could have wound our way down OK – maybe next time. The path followed the contours around the hillside and passed by some derelict farmsteads below the path – a bleak place to live below a steep hill, facing East with not much sunlight until the summer – no wonder they are left to rot.
A Moel too far
Paul and Robbo trying to shake off the paparazzi
Moel Cynghorion – I’m sure we could have made it…maybe
The pace quickens as the weather approached
Whilst behind us the hills disappeared in gloom – good decision we made
And finally back across the fields to Llanberis
Across the valley we had a good view of the disappearing Snowdon rack railway line – it just looked very cold all around today. There was a weird looking building further around which is marked as an old rifle range on the OS map. The path turned into a farm track and after passing a gate or two we got back to the route we had taken from Llanberis in the morning. As we turned downhill through the fields and onto the roads the snow started to fall and behind us the Snowdon range all but vanished – we were happy we had cut down the valley and missed out that last Moel. As we walked through Llanberis all was very quiet. We didn’t see anyone and most of the shops were shut until March, as the tumbleweed blew by. Back at the car park there was a good snowball fight taking place, and thankfully they took pity on us walkers – that was the only wildlife we saw all day. I thanked Robbo and Paul for a good day out, and it was nice to finish early and beat the traffic home. I set off from the car park and reached for a CD that my mum had bought at Xmas – a Nat King Cole compilation. But when I opened the case there wasn’t a CD inside, so I guess it was Not King Cole to listen to on the way home – keep walking its brilliant.