Tryfan Trip Report (#14782)

  • Signed By: Richard Trendall
  • Date submitted: January 14, 2000
  • Number of People Encountered:

Tryfan and the Glyders - October 1998

The weather had been very windy and quite wet for at least a week. Whilst the strong westerly wind was still blasting the Llanberis pass, I noticed the slate slabs outside the back door of the cottage we were renting in Nant Peris were dry on the Wednesday morning 28th October. There was also no low cloud brushing the ridge on the south side of the pass as there had been for the last few days. Two days earlier I'd done a thirty mile cycle round-trip to Pen-y-pas, Capel Curig, Bethesda, Dinorwig and Llanberis to get into training and because the weather conditions didn't favour any higher altitude activity. All in all I judged the conditions to be satisfactory for a serious hill walk. Snowdon or the Glyders was the next question. Well, I'd been up Snowdon several times, it seemed likely that as the highest peak, it was most likely of all to be shrouded in cloud and I had read with fascination about Tryfan and the Glyders. Unlike Snowdon, which has a railway to the summit, the only people up there would have climbed and I felt like getting out of my comfort zone. So after due preparations I set off for Llyn Ogwen on the A5.

I parked at the side of the road near the path on the north side of Tryfan, whose serrated ridge rose sharply and menacingly from the dry slate wall bordering the highway; it was hard to see how such a craggy and precipitous wall of rock could be attacked without ropes but the books and maps said it was possible. The wind was blowing hard; the temperature was around 42°F and clouds were scudding through an interesting and varied sky with occasional promising patches of blue amongst the shades and tints of grey. The air was as dry as a Moslem wedding and the sun even made its demure presence felt from time to time. I started with my berghaus in my daypack because I knew how hot I'd get to begin with and set off at an easy pace up the challengingly steep face. At first the path was clear but after only fifty or sixty feet up the way forward had to be thought about with increasing regularity. There was a limited width of mountain for the path to manoeuvre in and the occasional reassuring tread mark in the mud so I kept faith and pressed on upwards. Three young lads were following me, not properly attired, in my opinion, for a proper assault on the summit. However, looking for any help which may be forthcoming, I asked them if they knew the path but they said not so I told them that I was hoping they did so I could follow them. It was pleasant work by now - a lesser ridge was shielding my from the wind and the climbing required enough concentration not to be just a slog but it wasn't so difficult for me to be worried about getting lost or stuck.

Eventually all traces of pathway disappeared and I hit an apparently vertical face of slabs and boulders. There were several points where the path seemed to disappear as if generations of trekkers had paced back and forth across the wall looking for the way forward, which is precisely what I had to do. I knew there was a path which handrailed the eastern side of the mountain at quite a low level and was worried about getting on to it. However, I felt obliged to traverse round a little further and quickly found a way through the amorphous mass of rocks whose sheer loftiness obscured a view forward of more than fifteen feet. Progress hereafter was slow and carefully considered and I became aware of voices behind me. I stopped and waited for the climbers to come into view; it was a family of three - a tall, white-haired father in his early fifties, his younger, shorter dark-haired wife and an androgynous teenager enveloped in Gore-Tex. Looking for help once again I asked them if they knew the path well. They replied that they had been up it once before but there wasn't really a path now but it didn't get any worse than it was now. Greatly encouraged and now revelling in the mildly challenging scramble, not forgetting the increasingly stunning views over the inky lake below and the misty peaks on the other side of the valley, I clambered onward and upward.

I had become aware of a couple of parties of climbers ahead of me on one of those rare sections where I could see well ahead. I caught up with one of the parties which was deliberately taking a more difficult route for the last assault on the summit and their leader advised me to traverse a little, rather than follow them, which advice I gladly took. At this point it was getting more exposed and significantly colder so I sheltered behind a convenient slab and put on my berghaus before indulging in a crunchy bar and few gulps of water. I had put hot water in the bottle back at the cottage and now it was just right. My hands got very painful with cold when I put my damp gloves back on but soon warmed up as most of the progress required four-wheel drive. The ascent did get a little bit worse before the summit. There was a tricky traverse and then, quite near the peak, the way I had chosen required a demanding fifteen-foot descent over the shoulder of a little ridge, into a gully on the east face, before an easy traverse to a final scramble to the summit. There was a group of about six or seven young adult climbers on the top when I got there, whooping with joy at their success. I saw the two rectangular-sectioned shafts of stone a yard apart which nature had contrived to mark the peak. Apparently you haven't really mountaineered in Wales unless you've stepped across from one to the other, a feat which you wouldn't think twice of doing four feet from the ground but at that altitude and with literally a gale blowing, discretion got the better of valour. I lapped up the panorama around me: Llyn Ogwen lay to the north, a dark brooding patch flecked with white horses and continually swept by a clouds of spray chased off the surface by particularly eager squalls, the lake backed by the solid mass of the Carnedds scowling across at us over the valley. To the east Y Foel Goch blocked the view of the Beddgelert road but Moel Siabod loomed, a grey presence, in the distance. The view to the south was dominated by Glyder Fach while to the west, if you could keep your eyes open long enough facing the hurricane, tiny Llyn Bochlwyd nestled in the horseshoe created by the neighbouring mountains and the Nant Ffrancon valley meandered off, pointing the way to the glint of the Menai Straights and misty shape of Anglesey beyond. Meanwhile a rag-bag orchestra of cloud formations pranced and rolled chaotically in the skies around us, displaying at times a brilliant white aura where the sun was barely restrained by the watery firmament, granting rare glimpses of naked blue and tantalising with hasty revelations of previously shrouded peaks in neighbouring massifs. The relentless wind screeched in my ears and beat a deafening rhythm with the hood and collar of my waterproof. But, not a drop of rain fell.

I followed the party of youthful climbers down from the summit across a boulder field until we reached a small plateau crossed by, at a surprising altitude, an apparently pointless dry stone wall, where the party squatted down in its lee and got out their thermoses. I had refreshed recently and didn't want to stop so I asked the group's leader some advice on the way forward, which he gladly gave. On the saddle between Tryfan and Glyder Fach fully exposed once again to the wind's ire, there was another stone wall behind which I sheltered and looked up at the daunting scree gully ahead which was to provide the route to the next peak. Once on the ridge, the scree gave way to heathland, which in turn lead on to a summit of massive boulders. These required quite some negotiating before I reached the famous cantilever stone and the full force of the wind. I looked across the Llanberis pass and, seeing that Snowdon was completely blanketed by cloud, felt very happy with my choice of hike. From here I could see Llyn Gwynant and the sea beyond, Llyn Llydaw in the Snowdon horseshoe plus the twin lakes of Peris and Padarn at Llanberis. I was still amazed when I looked back at Tryfan that I'd been there shortly before without the help of ropes and the full gear. After another challenging clamber down from the boulder field, the terrain became easier - flattish and scattered with small loose rocks and a clearly defined path could be discerned heading up toward the last and highest peak of my walk: that of Glyder Fawr, 999 metres. The plateau track took me near cliff edges overlooking Llyn Bochlwyd and the stunning Nameless Cwm. The penalty for this simpler progress was unsheltered exposure to the relentless wind, which would occasionally gust so strongly that I was literally stopped in my tracks and blown off the path. At this third summit yet new vistas opened up and I took time, in spite of the gale to enjoy them. Although one could clearly see Devil's Kitchen, Llyn Idwal and the end of the path at the west end of Llyn Ogwen, there was clearly going to be a challenging section of descent hidden by the convex shape of the mountain.

Sure enough, just a couple of hundred yards from the top, I hit a steep scree field with no clear way down. Once again there was a party of professional-looking hikers heading downwards so I followed them. However, I felt they were going in the wrong direction so I made my own way to find a gully which made life easier. Descending isn't much fun at the best of times, scree is tricky and what really took the biscuit was the direction of the wind which was blowing sideways across the line of the descent so that I felt I was being blown off the mountain; in the stronger squalls I just had to stop, crouch and brace myself until normal service was resumed. Eventually I reached a grassy plateau featuring what must be one of the highest lakes in the region, Llyn y Cwn, at 711 metres. After a short stroll across the grass I looked down into Devil's Kitchen, something I'd wanted to see for years. Breathtakingly beautiful though it was, I was very conscious of how far it was down. As on Llyn Ogwen, Llyn Idwal was being swept regularly by clouds of spray, which would scud rapidly across the surface in a different direction from the last gust. There was a lot of foot traffic at this point, an important and busy crossroads with pathways to two of the easier peaks, a track down to Nant Peris and what I was to discover was an easy stone stairway to the A5.

After the demanding first half of my route, this was a very welcome turn-up. The rocky couloir down to Devil's Kitchen had been fashioned by the hand of man - whilst steep, it required little thought and I went for it, only slowed occasionally by ascending climbers. The thousand feet drop to Llyn Idwal was soon achieved and I was surprised at how close in vertical and horizontal distance it was to the main road. Skirting the lake had been interesting as the direction of the wind was clearly being confused by the confines of the cwm - at moments one would be blown along the path, at other times the gale would be in your face. The worst part was the half-mile walk along the road back to the car. Back at the car park I looked up again at Tryfan and saw some proper climbers practising abseiling on a huge rock slab next to the pathway where I'd been five hours before. Although I'd had a truly wonderful experience, for once I was glad I wasn't up there with them.

I called at the outdoor shop and cafe; at Capel Curig where the food and service was excellent.

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