Sunday, 13 March 2016

Pen yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Dafydd, Carnedd Llewelyn, Yr Elen & Pen yr Helgi Du

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Route: Tal y Llyn Ogwen, Clogwn Mawr, Byrn Mawr, Pen yr Ole Wen, Bwlch yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Fach, Carnedd Dafydd, Cefn Ysgolion Duon, Bwlch Cyfryw-drum, Carnedd Llewlyn, Yr Elen, Carnedd Llewelyn, Penywaun-wen, Bwlch Eryl Farchog, Pen yr Helgi Du, Y Braich, Helyg, Gwern Gof Uchaf, Nant y Benglog

Date: 13/03/2016
From: Ogwen Valley

Parking: Layby on A5
Start Point: Tal y Llyn Ogwen
Region: Snowdonia

Route length: 11.8 miles (19 km)
Time taken: 06:12
Average speed: 1.9 mph
Ascent: 1,349m
Descent: 1,361m

Summits: Pen yr Ole Wen (978m), Carnedd Dafydd (1,044m), Carnedd Llewelyn (1,064m), Yr Elen (962m), Pen yr Helgi Du (833m)

Other points of interest: Cwm Lloer, Ysgolion Duon, Bwlch Cyfryw-drum, Bwlch Eryl Farchog

The urge to jump in the car and test out a day trip to North Wales grew too much this weekend and I found myself tucking the car into the long layby on the A5 after a very straightforward drive across from Leeds. I've been contemplating a trip over to Wales for some time but have been putting it off in favour for the more familiar Lake District - time to change that.

I picked a route that I had a vague familiarity with having tackled part of it during a winter skills course before being defeated by some rather hostile weather. That route would take me to second and third highest mountains in Wales, in other words, the Carneddau. Supposedly the less popular of the Welsh mountains, the Carneddau still offer superb mountain scenery and I couldn't wait to get stuck in.

As I mentioned, a long layby runs along the A5 between the campsite at Gwern Gof Uchaf and Llyn Ogwen and this is where I'd be starting from today. The first section of the walk takes you up past Tal y Llyn Ogwen to Afon Lloer, the river that drains Fynnon Lloer high up in the mountains above. The gradient is fairly consistent and not too steep throughout the climb but it was terribly boggy to begin with. While the immediate views are nothing special, a glance over the shoulder reveals the simply staggering profile of Tryfan across the valley - an amazing sight.
Looking up Afon Lloer towards Carnedd Dafydd
Y Garn at the end of Llyn Ogwen
The towering profile of Tryfan
Afon Lloer looking to Clogwyn Mawr
Tryfan and Glyder Fawr above Llyn Ogwen
Waterfalls below Clogwyn Mawr
The path alongside Afon Lloer eventually reaches Ffynnon Lloer which lies beneath the dark crags of Pen yr Ole Wen and Carnedd Dafydd. I was well into the snowline by now and had been slightly concerned by the initial scramble up Pen yr Ole Wen's east ridge having ready that winter can turn it into a low Grade I climb. Fortunately, the snow was on its last legs and didn't present any difficulties.
Approaching Cwm Lloer
Ffynnon Lloer beneath Carnedd Dafydd
Reflections in Ffynnon Lloer
Looking down the scramble on Pen yr Ole Wen's east ridge
Looking up
Tryfan and Llyn Ogwen
Scrambling done, the ridge sweeps up towards the summit and provides tremendous views down into Cwm Lloer and across to Carnedd Dafydd. This coincided with a brief burst of sunlight so I was doubly happy. A simple climb up the remaining part of the ridge reached the broad summit of Pen yr Ole Wen which I reached just as the clouds rolled in.
Carnedd Dafydd
Crags on Pen yr Ole Wen
Carnedd Dayfdd  and Cwm Lloer
Pen yr Ole Wen's east ridge
Pen yr Ole Wen's summit
Unphased I continued on across Bwlch yr Ole Wen to Carnedd Fach, a truly massive pile of stones - the remains of what is thought to be a cairn of prehistoric date. The clouds had lifted again briefly giving marvellous views back along the ridge to Pen yr Ole Wen before rolling in again as I reached Carnedd Dafydd. Typical.
Bwlch yr Ole Wen
Carnedd Fach
Pen yr Ole Wen
Sun on Carnedd Fach
A satisfying moment
Carnedd Dafydd is Wales' third highest mountain (fourth if you include Crib y Ddysgl) and forms the border between Gwynedd and Conwy. Its name translates to "David's Cairn", named after Dafydd ap Gruffudd, the younger brother of Wales' last independent prince.
Carnedd Dafydd's summit
Clouds swirl around the ridge
The clouds rose once again for what is arguably the best part of the walk, the traverse of Cefn Ysgolion Duon high above the craggy winter playground of Ysgolion Duon or, the Black Ladders. It really is a superb ridge with precipitous views down to Cwmglas Mawr over the crags of the Black Ladders. The SRA S92 even made an appearance, far down in the valley below, dwarfed by the mighty peaks around it but capturing the attention of nearly everyone on the ridge.
Cefn Ysgolion Duon
The S92 in the valley below
Looking back to Carnedd Dafydd
The S92 over Crib Lem
Looking down Ysgolion Duon to Afon Llafar
Ysgolion Duon


Cefn Ysgolion Duon descends down to a thin arête, Bwlch Cyfryw-drum, that links Cefn Ysgolion Duon to Carnedd Llewelyn. Cwm Llugwy and the Ffynnon Llugwy reservoir come into view, the scene of our retreat from the weather a few winters ago. Appearing steep at first, a 100m climb reaches the top of Carnedd Llewelyn, Wales' no. 2 mountain. Clouds had been lingering across the top all day but they did break slightly as I stopped for lunch, deciding what to do next.
Bwlch Cyfryw-drum
Pen yr Helgi Du 
The view back to Ysgolion Duon and Carnedd Dafydd
Looking back along Bwlch Cyfryw-drum
Carnedd Lleweln's summit
Carnedd Dafydd
I had been recommended the out-and-back to Yr Elen, an outlier of Carnedd Llewelyn, but still a peak over 3,000ft and I decided I'd give it a go, despite the prospect of having to repeat the climb back up to Carnedd Llewelyn.

All I can say is that Yr Elen is magnificent, made even more so by the heavy covering of snow that it still held on its eastern face. Another thin, craggy arête links Yr Elen to Carnedd Llewelyn and makes for some fine ridge walking.
Carnedd Gwenllian
Yr Elen
A close up of Yr Elen
A glimpse down into Cwn Caseg
Yr Elen's summit
I was quite lucky to cross the ridge when I did, no sooner had I reached the summit the cloud rolled in again and obscured much of the view for the next hour or so. It wasn't until I had left Yr Elen, re-climbed Carnedd Llewlyn and began descending down to Penywaun-wen that they finally disappeared for good leaving a fine, sunny afternoon in their wake.
Looking along Panywaun-wen
Bwlch Cyfryw-drum
A precipitous view down to Cwm Eigiau
Pen yr Helgi Du
Cwm Eigiau
After negotiating an awkward climb down on Penywaun-wen, I crossed the narrow ridge of Bwlch Eryl Farchog to reach the bottom of the entertaining scramble up Pen yr Helgi Du's north west ridge. It's a great little route, made even better by the afternoon sunshine. Pen yr Helgi Du is a fne mountain with a broad, grassy summit and is shaped much like an arrowhead - the north west ridge forming the point.
Pen yr Helgi Du over the arête of Bwlch Eryl Farchog
Penywaun-wen
Pen yr Helgi Du looms ahead
An entertaining, rocky climb awaits
Penywaun-wen with Carnedd Llewlyn behind
Summit of Pen yr Helgi Du
The only thing resembling a cairn is close to the cliffs of y Lasallt
Looking down into Cwm Eigiau
A broad, shallow ridge (Y Briach or "the Arm" or "the ridge") heads south for a mile or so and provides a very easy way down into the Ogwen valley. The sun had started a lazy descent behind Tryfan as I made my way along the bridleway that runs parallel to the A5, making for some nice photos. It's quite a long yomp along the bridleway back to the lay-by and I was feeling a bit footsore by the end, largely thanks to the stiffer winter boots that are necessary for a day like today.
The view down Y Braich
Glyder Fach and Tryfan
Llyn Ogwen
A leat that transfers water to Llyn Cowlyd Reservoir
Sunset behind Tryfan
Tryfan
In summary, a magnificent day in a truly amazing part of the world. As you may have seen, I'm a relative Snowdonia novice but now that I've tested out the day trip, I'm sure I'll be returning for a few more adventures this year. I have some plans for the late Spring so watch this space.