Sunday, 21 September 2014

Avoiding the crowds in Snowdonia

Moel Siabod
It is not hard to see why Moel Siabod is referred to as the Welsh Matterhorn. When viewed from the little steam train which runs between Caernarfon and Porthmadog (well you’ve got to do some touristy stuff when you are on holiday) it stands like a perfect pyramid, isolated from the main Snowdon range. I quickly discovered the downside of being a tourist - there is something truly depressing in the fat lethargy of the population who seem only capable of waddling from food outlet to shop to food outlet. Given the number of people on the train I thought Porthmadog would be bursting at the seams, but no, they all got off the train and waddled into the cafe and gift shop, not even leaving the station to visit the town. The next day a run up the mountain was swiftly planned to make me feel, well, more alive. On the plus side though the buffet service on the train included real ale and the views were pretty good.
Trainspotting in style
 We set out from Capel Curig and almost immediately were climbing quite a steep track which eventually levelled out a bit and took us past some little lochans and abandoned slate mine workings before squelching through a bog to get to the foot of the hill. This was where the fun started as pretty much the rest of the route involved a good bit of scrambling upwards over rocks and boulders before finally popping out on to the flat grassy ridge and to the summit cairn. From here all of Snowdonia could be seen, the views were stunning and we hung around for a while eating chocolate (I was starving) and chatting to a guy who had been walking and wild camping for the week…not that I was jealous of him…not at all…  We had passed the Pen y Pass car park earlier in the day and already it was full and so Moel Siabod met one of Simon’s criteria for hills to be climbed – there were few people on it which is no mean feat in Snowdonia. Snowdon has got to be one of the busiest mountains in the country and i guess being able to take a train to the top doesn't improve matters in this respect. Climbing a hill with lots of other people makes Simon very grumpy. I suggested that he shouldn’t climb Everest. I think the grunted response was in the affirmative.

Eventually we decided to descend back the way we came although it is possible to follow the wide grassy ridge down to Plas y Brenin outdoor centre and run back to Capel Courig along the forest tracks but we didn’t know this at the time and the forest tracks are not marked on Simon’s ancient parchment Snowdonia map…he says its only 25 years old but I’m sure it shows a few volcanoes and dinosaurs marked on it…
 The descent route seemed much easier and less rocky and scrambly than the climb meaning either we went the wrong way on the way up or that were becoming as accustomed to rock hopping as a pair of mountain goats so we were soon back at the lochan Lln y Foel and having a nosey at the ruined buildings dating from the times of the old slate workings before the lure of post run munchies at the famous “Pete’s Eats in Llanberis became too much and we belted back down the track to the car. 

All hill adventures in Snowdonia have to finish here!
The other side of Moel Siabod looks like a slightly easier day out.
 The 25 year old Snowdon map did cause one or two navigational issues with footpaths no longer in existence and houses that were not built 25 years ago appearing where they were not expected. The run up to the summit of Cefn-du was an obvious target from our cottage in Caethro but was not without navigational blips which required us to ask directions from the locals. One kind man even let us run through his back garden to get us back on to the right path. This run threw up another surprise – a large brick building on its summit which definitely looked more than 25 years old but since it wasn’t on the map I was forced to conclude that it must be younger than that. When next in a shop selling new maps I took a sneaky look at a new Snowdonia map only to find….the brick building did not appear on that either. What’s that all about? My theory was that it was a little hill which would be of little interest to the crowds of “Snowdon baggers” roaming Llanberis and so maybe no one has noticed that there IS ACTUALLY A BUILDING ON THE TOP OF THE HILL!.

As if being navigationally challenged isn’t bad enough. Well, actually it was quite bad as I managed at one point to run along a road in completely the opposite direction to that in which I needed to be heading.  Still it was a pleasant hot day and when energy levels were dropping we helped ourselves to the sweet blackberries growing along the side of the road although I’m not sure if Simon was entirely appreciative of the positives that I pointed out. 
A accidental "out and back" along the A4085...
 Even our expedition in the evening to the pub in Caernarfon required a little map work…
Navigation is easier after a beer or two...
 But this time Simon did see the positives!

 Cefn-du was one of the hills visible from our little rented cottage, the other was Moel Eilio. Although distance wise these were not huge expeditions, the route finding was a little hit and miss and so we decided to attempt Moel Eilio via the well known route from Llanberis. Within 10 minutes of starting we had gone the wrong way. Back tracking seemed like such a bore so we persevered up through the abandoned slate quarries following various paths and tracks in the hope that we would get out on to the open hillside without falling down some quarry or other. 
Thats a bit scary!
 After scrambling over a couple of fences and a wall we popped out 50 yards away from the main track which leads up the wide grassy flank of the hill and from there it was an easy trot to the summit. We met no one else during the entire run which pleased Simon greatly and although the mist was blowing through at the summit the views over the Snowdon range and the Isle of Anglesey were great. After munching some chocolate it was time for the descent which I actually enjoyed, a fast, grassy, gentle slope and so entirely runnable and by- passing the slate quarries on the way back to Llanberis.
An interesting route on the way up...