Monday, 1 April 2019

The Cwm Uchaf Horseshoe (the Clogwyn y Person arete)

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Route: Blaen-y-nant, Cwm Glas Mawr, Cwm Glas, Parson's Nose, Clogwyn y Person, Bwlch Coch, Crib Goch, Cwm Uchaf, Cwm Glas Mawr, Blaen-y-nant

Date: 01/04/2019
From: Llanberis Pass

Parking: Laybys on A4086
Start Point: Blaen-y-nant Farm
Region: Snowdonia

Route length: 4.1 miles (6.6 km)
Time taken: 07:16
Average speed: 1.0 mph
Ascent: 976m
Descent: 939m

Summits: Crib Goch (923m)

Other points of interest: Clogwyn y Person, Crib Goch north ridge

The Cwm Uchaf Horseshoe may not immediately ring any bells as a classic outing however, you'll struggle to find a more exhilarating day out anywhere in north Wales. The circuit, as the name suggests, leads around the small, wild Cwm Uchaf hidden high up beneath the crags of Crib Goch. It's a classic in a scrambling sense rather than a walking sense as you get to experience the legendary Clogwyn y Person arête and both the east and north ridges of Crib Goch.

The Clogwyn y Person arête is described as 'the finest natural line in Wales' in the classic Scrambles in Snowdonia guide by Steve Ashton. It's a lengthy grade 2/3 scramble among the super scenery of Cwm Uchaf and Cwm Glas on the north side of Garnedd Ugain.

The route begins on the north side of the Llanberis Pass, where a series of laybys line the road. It was early when we arrived and, being a Monday, we were the first in. Given the distance of the laybys to the Llanberis Pass, I don't imagine they attract the Snowdon crowds to any great extent. It was cool and cloudy when we set off but if the forecast was to be believed, we'd be expecting some sunny spells later in the day - perfect weather in my eyes.
Nice and quiet at 8am
We followed a vague path as it rises steadily away from the road, first heading into the depths of Cwm Glas Mawr before steepening as it climbs past the crags of Dinas Mot and Cyrn Las into Cwm Glas. It took us just over an hour to reach the foot of the arête which rises unerringly from the cwm like the back of some giant beast (fitting, being in north Wales).
Looking up towards Clogwyn Mawr from the road
Craig Nant Peris and Esgair Felen
Climbing into Cwm Glas Mawr
The crags of Gyrn Las
Scrambling towards Cwm Glas

The short scramble up to Cwm Glas
The Clogwyn y Person arete
There are two approaches to the Clogwyn y Person arête; the first being a scramble up the Western Gully which runs up behind Parson's Nose, a distinct outcropping rock at the base of the arête. The second is to climb Parson's Nose itself which is classed as a Difficult rock climb (which I'm told translates to 'easy'). Given we had the whole day and the weather on our side, we opted for The Parson's Nose to begin with.
Approaching the base of the ridge
Paron's Nose is clearly visible at the base of the arete
Looking up Parson's Nose
With my friend leading the climb would be my job to belay him and collect the protection he was placing. After gearing up and with the sun starting to shine, we started the route.
The starting point of the Parson's Nose
As a true novice to the sport of rock climbing, I can tell you this much - this is definitely different from scrambling. While classed as an easy climb, the overall feel of the route was different from some of the scrambling I've experienced; smaller holds and generally steeper rock and more exposure set it apart. I found a system of ledges and steeper walls the trickiest section but we ultimately arrived at the flat top in one piece after several, short pitches.
Adam placing some protection along the route
The tiny Llyn Glas
Adam on the Paron's Nose
The route cuts across the rock to a series of ledges
Looking up the Clogwyn y Person arete continuing above
There's a devious little down-climb into a deep notch at the top of the western gully (the alternative start to the arête) which requires care. Above is the beginning of the Clogwyn y Person arête scramble - the most direct line of which has some sustained Grade 3 scrambling. Avoiding the direct approach some of the difficulty can generally lowered to around Grade 2. Still roped up from Parson's Nose, we continued on.
Yours truly in the notch after Pason's Nose
Looking down on Llyn Glas
A pair of climbers follow us up the route
Leading the pitches, Adam set off upwards while I waited below – securely fastened to the mountainside via a series of nuts, slings and the all-important rope. Once Adam had completed the pitch it was my turn to follow, collecting the gear as I passed. It's amazing how much confidence a rope instils - its reassuring tug on the harness is ever present and puts you at ease on some of the more committing sections. It lets you truly appreciate the mountain scenery all around which you can enjoy to its fullest at the beginning and end of each pitch.
Onwards and upwards
In my view, the crux of the arête is a high corner of rock with little in the way of footholds for help though decent handholds lurk high above. Fortunately, a crack running the height of the corner provides the key, providing just the right width for an unceremoniously jammed foot. After the initial push up and a bit of bridging, the hand holds come into reach before some hefting and sliding saw me over the obstacle. I'm sure others may achieve this with more grace but then I've never been a truly graceful person. Once past the corner, the difficulty and steepness of the arête quickly begin to diminish.
Adam having conquered the tricky corner
Looking down the arete
Cwm Uchaf and Crib Goch
The upper sections of the arete
Adam on the crest of the ridge
Cwm Uchaf once again
One of me on the arete
Shortening the rope, we moved together with a 20m distance separating us, with Adam placing a single piece of protection every 10m or so. The idea is that there would be one piece of gear in between us should one of us have a fall. This technique allows you to move much faster as you don't have to belay any sections. After a short spell of this, it was clear that the risks had abated and all that was left was a fine, grade 1 ridge to the top of the arête so we stopped to stow the climbing gear while admiring the scenery.
The difficulty of the ridge begins to reduce
The easier, lower grade scrambling towards the top
Looking down the spine of the Clogwyn y Person arete
Adam at the top of the arete
The cliffs of Garnedd Ugain
High above Cwm Glas
We emerged at the top of the ridge and crossed the loose scree below the summit of Garnedd Ugain to reach its east ridge. Were it not for Crib Goch nearby, this ridge would be a fine objective for a scramble. We motored down, reaching Bwlch Coch a short time later.
Garnedd Ugain
Y Liwedd over Llyn Llydaw and Glaslyn
The east ridge of Garnedd Ugain
Crib Goch
Glaslyn and Snowdon
The east end of Crib Goch
The next highlight of the day is the legendary Crib Goch, this time done west to east which is perhaps the none conventional direction. Being a Monday we had it largely to ourselves. The ridge is an awe-inspiring sight and not one for the faint-hearted. 200m drops on either side make it an intimidating place, but the toothy crest of the ridge makes an ideal handhold and adds a measure of reassurance. It is possible to walk right along the top and there are many places where this is the easiest option if you can stomach the exposure.
Setting out across Crib Goch
Crib Goch' summit
 At the eastern end, we paused for a break, we'd been moving pretty much non-stop since we left the car. Ahead is the interesting descent of Crib Goch's quiet north ridge which sweeps back down into Cwm Uchaf. It begins in a similar fashion to the east ridge with some nice exposure but quickly broadens as you descend further. The scree at the foot of the ridge offers a straightforward, if not slippery, route back into the cwm.
Crib Goch
Crib Goch
Crib Goch and Cwm Uchaf panorama
Crib Goch's east ridge
Adam on the north ridge
Looking along the north ridge
Garnedd Ugan and Cwm Uchaf
Cwm Uchaf
Looking up the north ridge of Crib Goch
Clogwyn y Person
Cwm Uchaf is an interesting place with a feeling of real wilderness. There are little in the way of paths here and you have to be careful to find the route through the breach in the crags of Dinas Mot. Ultimately following the stream served us well and we eventually found ourselves back on the path which we'd used in the morning to reach Clogwyn y Person, eventually leading us back to the cars.
Cwm Uchaf - the Clogwyn y Person arete is just above the centre
Crib Goch
The crags of Gryn Las
Interesting rocks in the depths of Cwm Uchaf
Cwm Glas Mawr
The descent back to the valley
This was an epic outing, one that will live long in the memory. I'm keen to explore more of the superb surrounds of Cwm Glas and Cwm Uchaf - there are some interesting lower grade scrambles in this area and would make an interesting approach to Snowdon on busier days. Keep an eye out for those in the future.

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