I was looking forward to climbing my first proper mountain for over a year. I bought myself a new pair of Salomon walking boots on Boxing Day with Christmas money from relatives. One mountain I have been trying to bag for a while is Elidir Fawr. I have climbed fourteen of the fifteen Welsh 3000 mountains. Elidir Fawr being the only one I am yet to bag. The plan was to bag Elidir Fawr and do so via Y Garn, one of my favourite mountains.
Weather forecasts predicted unseasonably mild weather. Both the Mountain Weather Information Service and the Fell Top Assessors were reporting no snow at all, even on the highest summits in England and Wales. I left my ice spikes, ice axe and crampons at home for the first time for a Christmas walk. Mild winters often mean warm Atlantic fronts with cloud and rain. The weather forecast the night before showed low cloud and light rain, clearing later in the day, but unlikely to clear from the tops. With this in mind the Y Garn route made sense, if the tops were completely shrouded in cloud with zero visibility I had the option to do the familiar Y Garn circular instead.
I got lucky when I arrived at the Ogwen Valley as someone was pulling out of a layby on the A5. I took their spot and avoided having to pay and display. I've not been here for several years and it has all changed. Ogwen Cottage was purchased by the National Trust and is now a visitors centre, cafe, outdoor learning centre and ranger station. The ugly old toilet blocks by the National Park's pay and display car park have been replaced by the National Park's new Ogwen Partnership Centre. A modern building more aesthetically sympathetic to its surroundings than the old one. It houses a snack bar, toilets, visitor information and warden's office.
I set off along the path to Llyn Idwal passing through what is by far my favourite gate. This beautiful and unique iron gate represents the geology and landscape of Cwm Idwal. It is dedicated to Evan Roberts, the first warden of Cwm Idwal. It was designed by Joseph Samuel Roberts, one of the National Park's seasonal wardens. I crossed the footbridge over the Afon Idwal at the Rhaeadr Idwal waterfall. I followed the path which switches back on itself to head south west to the shore of Llyn Idwal. Llyn Idwal and Cwm Idwal are absolutely stunning. It is only a ten minute walk along a well laid path from the car park, I highly recommend a visit.
From Llyn Idwal I could tell the surrounding mountains were shrouded with cloud above six hundred metres. I started the steep ascent of the north east ridge of Y Garn. At first I had fantastic views looking back over the Ogwen Valley. It wasn't long though before I hit the cloud line and visibility was down to around thirty metres if that. I reached the sheltered flat area half way up where you get a view into Cwm Clyd. The rest of the ridge was hard going as I hadn't walked up steep ground for a long time. I have climbed this ridge three times before, twice in full winter conditions. Each time I've been surprised by the strength of the crosswinds and today was no exception.
North East Ridge
By the time I had reached the plateau at the top of the ridge I had already made my mind up regarding the plan for the day. It was pointless in zero visibility and high winds navigating the unfamiliar route to Elidir Fawr. As well as the problems navigating, I would rather bag it when I can enjoy the view. I turned left instead and headed to the summit of Y Garn. There was no one at the summit. I didn't stick around as the wind was buffeting. I took a selfie and a video to send home then ascended in a south to south easterly direction following the Y Garn circular route I have done several times before.
Y Garn Summit
Y Garn Stile
I crossed the stile over the fence south of Y Garn. Shortly after I reached the shores of the dark and eerie looking Llyn y Cwn. I walked around Llyn y Cwn and turned left following the descent route to Llyn Idwal via the Devil's Kitchen. I crossed the stile over the stone wall and descended the steep rocky path to the Devil's Kitchen. This path is made of large boulders with some big steps and can be tricky in wet weather or icy conditions.
Llyn y Cwn Outflow
Devil's Kitchen Stile
I reached the foot of the Devil's Kitchen, or Twll Du as it is known in Welsh, meaning Black Hole. I walked over for a view into the dark and foreboding gully. It is both beautiful and frightening at the same time. I rejoined the main path and descended the next tricky section of the descent path which by now had dozens of fellow walkers tackling it from Llyn Idwal. I patiently waited whilst lesser experienced walkers enjoyed their first scrambles. Stopping was no hardship as it just meant soaking up the incredible views across Llyn Idwal.
I stopped for a break with a view of Llyn Idwal and enjoyed Christmas left overs including a mince pie. I spotted a few climbers enjoying themselves on the Idwal Slabs below. Above was the dark crag which I took a photo of over a decade ago and entered into a winter photo competition. The photo was of the crag with gigantic icicles hanging off it. I won the competition and won the Deuter rucksack I still use and have on my back today.
Slate Slab Bridge
I continued along the path and crossed a fascinating single piece slate slab footbridge. I think there were stepping stones the last time I walked along this path. I passed the unmistakable clinking noises and shouting of climbers on Idwal Slabs and made my way down the eastern side of Llyn Idwal. It was midday so the path was now fairly busy. The Shetland Ponies were by Llyn Idwal. They are friendly animals and were happily posing for photos with children. It was good to see fellow dog owners were keeping their dogs well controlled and on leads around them. I was soon back at the start of the walk and happy as Larry after my first proper mountain for a long time. I can't wait to get high up again and I need to try harder next time to bag that elusive Elidir Fawr.