Sunday, 17 May 2015

Cadair (Cader) Idris

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Route: Minffordd,  Dol-y-cae, Ystrad-gwyn, Minffordd Path, Craig Lwyd, Craig Cwm Amarch, Craig Cau, Cyfrwy, Penygadair, Mynydd Moel, Mynydd Gwerngraig, Gau Graig, Craig Cwmrhwyddfor, Nant Caenewydd, Moelfryn, Nant Cadair, Llyn Cau, Minffordd Path, Minffordd

Date: 17/05/2015
From: Minffordd

Parking: Minffordd
Start Point: Minffordd
Region: Snowdonia

Route length: 11.9 miles (19.1 km)
Time taken: 05:38
Average speed: 2.1 mph
Ascent: 1,323m
Descent: 1,323m

Nuttalls on this walk: Craig Cwm Amarch (791m), Cyfrwy (The Saddle) (811m), Penygadair (893m), Mynydd Moel (863m), Gau Graig (683m)

Other Summits: Craig Lwyd (690m), Mynydd Gwerngraig (686m)

Other points of interest: Llyn Cau, Craig Cau, Shelter, Llyn y Gadair

Snowdon aside, Cadair Idris is one of Wales' most popular peaks and for good reason. Just looking at it on the maps makes you want to climb it (if that sort of things floats your boat). It's an exciting-looking mountain surrounded by fine rock scenery; cwms, corries, headwalls, moraine and striated rocks are in abundance. It's steep and it's high and has everything you could want for a thoroughly enjoyable day out.

Cadair Idris is the reason the Snowdonia National Park extends so far south  It's actually located in Gwynedd, some 50 miles south of the famous Ogwen valley, home to Welsh giants of the Glyderau. It can be busy as it's the finest attraction for miles around. Luckily today, a slightly less than favourable forecast kept the crowds at bay and an early start from Minffordd meant I had much of the day alone aside from the few moments I was loitering around near the summit.

Cadair Idris (the name of the entire range rather than a single peak) is thought to get its name from the mythological legend of the giant Idris who used the mountain as a chair to gaze at the stars. It won't come as a surprise to learn that Cadair is Welsh for chair and hence the literal translation is, the chair of Idris or Cadair Idris (locals may refer to it as Cader).

The route starts from the car park at Minffordd, a well-appointed little spot with a fee of £5 to pay for the day. Beyond the car park are the woods of Ystrad-gwyn where the path starts its relentless climb to the summit of Penygadair. Steps lead up through the woods past the tranquil falls of Nant Cadair, the stream that drains Llyn Cau high up the mountainside where they quickly climb up over  300m into the Cadair Idris National Nature Reserve.
Obvious enough
The foot of the 800m climb to Penygadair
Nant Cadair tumbling through the woods
Steps lead up through the woods of Ystrad-gwyn
Falls on Nant Cadair
The view south to Rugog
Thanks to the steps it doesn't take too long to reach the edge of the woods and emerge onto the high hanging valley beneath Mynydd Moel. Climbing still, though at a more agreeable angle now, the path works its way around the end of Craig Lywd and reaches the rim of Llyn Cau, arguably one of the finest examples of a glacial corrie in the country.
The crags of Cadair Idris appear
Crags overlooking Nant Cadair
The lower slopes of Mynydd Moel
Craig Cwm Amarch
It was speculated until the late 1800s that Llyn Cau could have been an extinct volcano but evidence of the lakes glacial history debunked this. The tarn is surrounded by an amphitheatre of near-vertical crags that were formed by a cirque glacier during the last ice age. Snow and ice accumulated in the corries due to avalanches on higher slopes. In these depressions, snow persisted through summer months, becoming glacial ice.
Llyn Cau
On a more mythical note Llyn Cau is said to be bottomless and according to tradition, it is thought to be the home of a lake monster responsible for drowning men who went swimming in the water. The story of the monster is possibly related to an Arthurian tale concerning an Afanc (a Welsh water dragon) from another lake, Llyn Barfog. This creature terrorised the locals living around Llyn Barfog before being captured by King Arthur and dragged to Llyn Cau, where he released it. Whatever you believe it has to be agreed that Llyn Cau and its encircling crags are a spectacular sight, topped off by the immense pyramidal profile of Craig Cwm Amarch.
Panorama of Craig Lwyd, Craig Cwm Amarch and Penygadair
From here, the route swings south briefly making a steep climb up the slopes of Craig Lwyd, the southern arm around Llyn Cau. The views get better and better as you climb higher and a changeable cloud base gave some tantalising views of the nearby Penygadair, briefly exposing the summit. The path becomes flatter as it passes between Craig Lywd and Craig Cwm Amarch offering a hint of respite before another steep section.
Climbing up to Craig Lwyd
Looking back over Craig Lwyd
The profile of Craig Cwm Amarch
Llyn Cau and Mynydd Moel
Craig Cwm Amarch, Penygadair and Mynydd Moel
A 100m climb reaches the top of Craig Cwm Amarch and its spectacular perch. The view down to Llyn Cau is immense. The only minor disappointment is the obvious fact that if you want to reach Penygadair you have to lose some of your hard earned height to cross Craig Cau. Crossing the top of Craig Cau, a path emerges from the steep slopes above Llyn Cau, an alternative route from the lake to Penygadair though a much more miserable looking one. Climbing up towards Penygadair, the two sides of Craig Cwm Amarch become startlingly obvious, one side smooth, grassy and inviting, the other near dark, near vertical but equally inviting. It's a stunning peak.
Peering over the summit of Craig Cwm Amarch
Craig Lwyd
Llyn Cau a long way down
Life on the edge
Craig Cau
Craig Cau and Penygadair
Craig Cwm Amarch and Llyn Cau with Craig Lwyd in the background
Panorama from Craig Cau
Craig Cwm Amarch
Instead of heading straight for Penygadair, I detoured west along the Pony Path, the more sedate route up Cadair Idris from the north, heading for the impressive looking (and seemingly unpronounceable) Cyfrwy. One of the main subsidiary peaks of Cadair Idris, Cyfrwy looks to the summit across another fine corrie, this one containing the perched waters of Llyn y Gadair. The clouds were excitedly rolling across the top of Penygadair but they were spoiling the astonishing views of the steep wall of crags.
Penygadair from the Pony Path
Llyn y Gadair
Summit shelter on Cyfrwy
View across Bryn Brith to the Afon Mawddach from Cyfrwy
Retracing my steps along the Pony Path, a quick and easy climb reaches the summit of Penygadair, the highest point of Cadair Idris, which was typically shrouded in cloud. I took a quick photo of the trig pillar before venturing towards the unusual stone shelter that sits on the summit. The stone shelter was originally built to serve refreshments to walkers waiting for the mist to clear. It has been rebuilt by the Snowdonia National Park Authority to provide temporary shelter for walkers in poor weather conditions.
The final climb to Penygadair
The summit comes into view
Penygadair's trig pillar
The stone shelter
Inside the damp building
Light creeps in through the door
The summit and the shelter
After clearing some of the detritus left by previous occupants, it was back outside and on to the superb east-west ridge of Cadair Idris. The path skirts the rim of high crags that guard the north of the mountain and provide fantastic views into the valley below. It's a memorable walk.

Standing sentry at the eastern end of the ridge is Mynydd Moel, another prominent top with towering cliffs and crags to the north. Standing atop the summit gives a great view back along the northern crags towards the summit. A narrow arĂȘte also allows a short excursion away from the summit for a close-up view of the crags.
Cyfrwy and Llyn y Gadair
Peering down the crags
Mynydd Moel over the northern crags of Cadair Idris
The unnamed 852m peak on Cadair Idris
Mynydd Moel
Approaching the summit of Mynydd Moel
Mynydd Moel's arete
Mynydd Moel from the narrow arete
Tiny Llyn Arran and Gau Graig
Cadair Idris
The summit of Mynydd Moel
Cadair Idris topped by Penygadair
Sweeping down from Mynydd Moel is a long grassy ridge, steep and first before levelling out. I followed this ridge down, still keeping to a path as it follows a fence along the top. The ridge leads to the terminal point of Gau Graig, another series of cliffs that send the ridge plunging towards Garthgynfawr below. I had, at this point, intended to return back to Minffordd along the seemingly unpronounceable Craig Cwmrhwyddfor ridge that swings down above Bwlch Llyn Bach, however, it was still earlier and the weather was improving so I decided to return back to Llyn Cau for another poke around.
The path hops over a fence via a stile
Looking back to Mynydd Moel
The ridge towards Gau Graig
Gau Graig summit
The crags of Gau Graig
The view towards Garthgynfawr
This was probably the more difficult part of the walk, descending the heathery, pathless ridge and stumbling down steep grassy banks. A lot has to be said about being able to follow a good path. Eventually I made it to a narrow path at the top of the Nant Caenewydd which traversed the slopes above the steep valley below. The path, whose creator could have been man or beast, lead to the exact point I needed it to, above the Nant Cadair opposite the Minffordd Path I had used earlier in the day.
Tal-y-llyn Lake in the distance
A wall runs across the top of Craig Cwmrhhwyddfor
Looking down to Minffordd below
Cwm Crag Amarch appears
In the hanging valley above Minffordd
After scratching around to find a crossing of the stream, it was back onto the Minffordd Path for a quick climb back up to Llyn Cau, the glacial lake nestled in the great bowl of crags that form Cadair Idris. It still looked as majestic as id did a few hours earlier, perhaps more so now that the clouds had lifted completely. What better way to waste the rest of the afternoon than wandering around it?

I opted to take the right hand path (north on the map) as the path is much more obvious and easy to find. It skirts the lake side and looks across to the ridge of Craig Lwyd with the pyramid of Craig Cwm Amarch standing proud at the end. A large rock outcrop at the end forces you to climb up and around it, something I hadn't anticipated when I'd set off but its was negotiated with little difficulty. The lakeside path reaches the bottom of the direct route up to Craig Cau and looked as arduous and unappealing as it did when I was stood at the top. It was shortly after this that I decided to take a quick break to savour the silence and the surroundings.
Llyn Cau, Craig Lwyd and Craig Cwm Amarch
Craig Cwm Amarch
The face of Craig Cwm Amarch
The path on the south side of the lake is a little trickier and less distinct in places but again, nothing too challenging. This time the view across is to the towering Penygadair, the summit of Cadair Idris. After a few slips and slides I was back down on the Minffordd Path ready to return to the car. As I mentioned at the start of the post, the path is well built and easy enough to hop down.
Looking up the crags
Llyn Cau 
The amazing pinnacle on Craig Cwm Amarch
Dwarf Island
The Minffordd Path
Returning through the woods of Ystrad-gwyn
A spectacular day then and, this may come as a surprise, my first proper Welsh mountain (after a failed attempt on Carnedd Llewelyn). Without a doubt it's a wonderful mountain and well worth a visit. I think I'll be paying a bit more attention to this part of the world in the coming years.