Top tips: 5 best (secret) Snowdonia QMD's
I can't hide the fact I love Snowdonia. I live here (for a good part of the year), and work here because of the accessibility to some great mountains. As a local I am always trying to explore and get away from the crowds and as an mountaineering instructor I like taking people to my favourite spots. As a trainer and assessor for Mountain Leaders, I often see the same unimaginative days in logbooks so here's five of my suggestions to jazz it up in North Wales...
1. Nantlle Ridge loop
The hardest part about walking along this neglected gem is sorting the logistics. The best way to do this walk is as a linear walk however that relies on two cars and a vehicle shuttle. This is the alternative.
You park in the Beddgelert forestry car park at SH573503, and walk north retracing your drive in until you can cross the railway line and follow the well marked trail until the junction at SH573509. Here you need to keep going west, take first right and second left. Follow this track until you get a footpath to the right. After a few hundred metres this leaves the forest and you continue to contour the hillside. Approximately 1 km after the forest you pick up a very eroded path leading west again steeply up the hillside and onto the summit of Y Garn.
This is the point where things get a little mores scrambly and exciting as you follow the ridge south west and onto Mynydd Drws-y-Coed. The scrambling is easy but airy and easier options exist on the left all the way. From the summit the ground once again gets grassy. Once on Trum y Dysgyl the descent back into the forest begins down the steep south ridge however it is well worth considering heading along and back to visit the obelisk on top of Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd. Once down to Bwlch y-Ddwy-elor you head down into the forest and can choose any variation of forestry tracks back down to your car.
UKHillwalking have a route card for this route here.
2. Elidir Horseshoe
I was largely unaware of this day for many years despite going up the reservoir road to climb and to bike. In fact now it remains one of favourite group days out, it is dramatic yet relatively simple.
Park at the reservoir road gates at SH597631. Walk up the road past Marchlyn Bach reservoir until the signs lead you off left to the base of Carnedd y Filiast. Here a rough path leads steeply up the hillside to a flattening. At this point you head right initially on another rough path until you reach some boulders which are clambered over to the summit shelter. After a rest here, you go south via a dog leg to Mynydd y Perfedd. Dropping down to Bwlch y Marchlyn is more exposed so take your time here before head back uphill again onto the summit of Elidir Fawr. Elidir Fawr is one of the Welsh 3000'ers and has a great 360 degree view back into the heart of Snowdonia and towards the rugged coast of Anglesey.
My preferred descent is west until you can head north west down a scree path to the flat plateau summit of Elidir Fach. Heading back north east you can skirt the ridge down to the outflow of Marchlyn Bach reservoir and back to the road.
3. Carnedd Dafydd via Crib Lem spur
If you are presenting yourself for assessment, you will need some experience of scrambling terrain. Most people are familiar with the North ridge of Tryfan or Crib Goch but there are a number of other excellent options worth checking out.
Starting from the village of Gerlan above Bethesda, you walk along side the Afon Llafar until the steep ground on your right opens up into a bowl. Here you follow steeply up the left side of the stream to reach a higher bowl. The route now becomes very exposed as you traverse out onto the spur.
The route can be followed in a number of ways initially but as the crest narrows you are looking for crampon scratches and polish to keep you on track. The crux is a slabby downclimb but can be avoided carefully on the left. Quality scrambling gradually eases until you pop out to the left of the summit. The cairn is only a short distance away though and from there you have two options. Heading right and down leads along a simpler route above your path in. Heading left and back the way you have initially come on the ridge but following it around to Carnedd Llewellyn gives a big better day out. Skirting the cliffs of Ysgolion Duon (the Black Ladders to any winter keen beans) you descend slightly before a final 150m ascent to the top. From here the best decent is onto Yr Elen, which is where things look a little improbable on the map. However an easy but steep path gives a descent north west off the summit. Further bog trotting leads following the opposite bank to before of the river to Gerlan.
4. Moelwynion - Moelwyn Mawr and Cnicht
Cnicht is often referred to as the 'Welsh Matterhorn', indeed viewed from Porthmadog, the mountain looks very Toblerone shaped! Cnicht alone is a great day out from Gelli-Iago on the north side, but heading round to the hidden valley of Cwm Croesor offers a longer trip taking in Moelwyn Mawr too.
You start this option from the national park car park in the village, and head immediately north west following the signs onto the south west ridge of Cnicht. This is satisfyingly simple until you reach a flattening at 600m. From here there are several short scrambling variations up and onto the summit.
From the summit you continue north east along the ridge until just before Llyn y Adar where a rough contouring path leads down to Bwlch y Rhosydd. The ruins of the slate industry dominate this wild place, once upon a time umpteen men worked to drag the rock from deep below the ground. This quarry collapsed in 1918, leaving the large craters you can see on the moorland above and the abandon of the houses and sheds. You follow the old slate ways up to the deep hole but don't get too close!
The blunt north east ridge is a short slog onto the summit and in good weather views into the north and south of Snowdonia and the coastline. From here you can descend steeply west to the old inclines leading down into the valley where some rights of way lead back to the village where you started.
*In poor weather following this route is not obvious and will require tip top navigational skills, all good practise for aspiring ML's.*
5. Aran Fawddwy
This is my new favourite mountain. Big, rugged and quiet as it's largely neglected compared to its busy more northerly neighbours. This is another hill where a car shuttle will make this a better experience. You can do this route in either direction however I have described it roughly south to north.
Starting near the farm of Esgair Gawr, the route is well signposted to start however you quickly find yourself out in the wilds literally navigating through bog and rough ground easterly onto the main ridge. Despite the fences across the ridge this is wild terrain and in poor visibility it requires concentration to locate the summit cairn.
Once off the summit the ridge continues 8km north undulating gently giving great views to Llyn Tegid. As you descend the terrain gets easier and before you know it, you arrive in grazed fields and the village of Llanuwchllyn where parking is available on the east side of the village.
6. Moel Hebog
This hill which lies above Beddgelert is another favourite of mine in poor weather. Despite looking only a short distance from the village, Beddgelert is very low and Moel Hebog is only a few metres shy of 800 metres high, giving a stiff pull uphill.
On a south westerly wind you can sneak up from the village via a sneaky route through the scree and rocky bluffs of the upper mountain before popping out on the grassy summit ridge and the final pull to the trig point. From here it is simple to follow the wall north west down to the Bwlch. From here an initially difficult path leads down to simple forestry tracks or better, you can continue onto Moel yr Ogof and Moel Lefn looking out for Owain Glyndwr' cave on the way. Heading north east to the craggy ground of Castell requires some careful route finding until you again reach the edge of the forest.