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Winter walks in Snowdonia - February/March 2009

Snowdon via the Watkin Path, and a stroll around Cwm Bychan

Sat 28th February 2009 - an amble around Cwm Bychan

A none-too-encouraging forecast for today but a promise of improvement overnight prompted a unanimous decision to make the best of the weather at lower altitude today, and to try for the higher ground tomorrow.

The whole group decided that a stroll around the valley of Cwm Bychan and the associated mining remains would combine a desire to get in a few miles with additional mining interest.

Setting out from Beddgelert, the first part of the walk took us along a delightful riverside path, just entertaining enough, where we listened to endless birdsong as a watery sun fought its way through the clouds. At the car parking area near Pont Aberglaslyn (Nantmor) we headed left and away from the river, uphill amongst huge pillars and supports for a cableway associated with the Sygun mines. On our way up the valley, as well as there being plenty of industrial archaeology (OK, scrap wood and metal to some!) we noted numerous mine entrances and of course had to take a look in those we could safely explore with Petzl Tikka power and walking boots.... The mines in general seemed to be rather damp and drippy, so further investigation was left for another day and some more appropriate kit. The cableway up the valley was an impressive sight, and we did consider that if restored, it might make for a rather fine feature as opposed to what it is now – a gradually-decaying pile of scrap metal.

After being unable to resist furtling in a few more (damp!) old copper mine entrances, we gradually reached the head of the valley at Bwlch-y-Sygyn, with lovely open views down to Llyn Dinas. The lake, directly ahead of us throughout the climb down, seemed a long way below as we zig-zagged down the mountainside to reach relief at its level shores before turning left towards Sygun Copper Mine (link) and finally picking up the lane leading in a vaguely south-easterly direction back to Beddgelert.

Note: A good, straightforward walk for a lower level walk in Snowdonia, totalling about 5-6 miles in length. Even the young twins (aged about 6?) who were part of our walking group today managed to not only complete, but thoroughly enjoy, the walk, as did our token teenager! It’s thus ideal for a stroll for an outdoor-minded family; the route-finding is straightforward and it’s a good option when the higher peaks are hidden in cloud.

Sunday 1st March 2009 - the ascent of Snowdon via the Watkin Path

With more than a hint of sunshine and some rekindled enthusiasm, four of us quickly agreed that Snowdon via the Watkin Path would make for a rather splendid (if a little long for a Sunday) day's walking.

Thus parked at the bottom of the big hill itself, with only(!) about 1000m of ascent to be gained, we set off through the knarled old woodlands of Parc Hafod–y-llan. Amongst the ancient trees, the yellow star flowers of winter aconites gleamed golden in the winter sun, putting on their brilliant show before the trees developed their dark canopy of leaves. Now breaking out of the woodland, we gently ascended through a more open area – again with numerous mining remains including a disused incline – to pass the gorgeous waterfalls of the Afon Cwm Llan and to start to strike uphill to stonier, more rugged ground. As we gained height, the bold and unmistakable outline of Yr Aran's handsome little ridge stayed in one's peripheral vision to the left, whilst to the right, the craggy flanks of Y Lliwedd rose to culminate in a sharper, rockier ridge. The Watkin Path seems to have a unique property in that it is always difficult to see the route more than short section ahead, and the walker is treated to many different vistas as one starts to ascend the rough path that threads its way up the mountainside. Wonderful panoramas started to appear as we approached the point where Llyn Llidaw reservoir first came into view, but from here on up we could already see that today, Snowdon was going to have its head firmly ensconced in the clouds. Having managed to grab a few photos of the view before we regrettably had to bid it farewell, we stopped for a snack before starting the final and steepest part of the ascent. The path, up to this point easy to follow and well waymarked by cairns, has from here become more random where people have gone 'any which way' to reach the top. The loose, unstable scree and the almost uniform greyness of the stark rock outcrops only serve to add to a sense of being without direction as the route ahead becomes steeper. The only way here is up, until you can go no further! This relentless slog of 'up', was today punctuated by small but awkward patches of snow and ice which we took care to traverse round, rather than through, wherever possible to minimise the chance of a slip on the unforgiving terrain. At last, an inelegant scramble up over icy rocks suddenly brought the new (but unfinished, and not yet open) Snowdon Visitor Centre into view. A quick tramp up through ice and snow to the summit cairn, with a magnificent view of absolutely nothing bar thick, white, freezing cloud, was enough to convince us there was no point in hanging around to get even colder. We carefully backtracked a short distance from the summit and soon picked up the very icy and slippery path which is the start of the South Ridge. Unfortunately, the cloud cover meant that today we had no opportunity to admire the vista from this marvellous path, and getting below the 'snowline' and cloud was the first objective! The snow soon disappeared and was replaced by glimpses of sunshine on the hills below the cloud, we quickly traversed the exposed and windy col of Bwlch Main, and it wasn't long before we dropped below the cloud cover to meet with a pleasantly sunny afternoon!

A reasonable descent down Snowdon's South Ridge gradually steepened to become an uncomfortably loose rattle down a well-used and slippery, stony track, the gradient eventually easing as we approached the junction of paths at Bwlch Cwm Llan to pick up the return track to the ruined mine buildings. The gently easing gradient as we again reached the waterfalls and woodland was a delightful contrast to the steep rocky paths we had recently endured, and a pleasant end to a fine walk with a bit of almost everything you could wish for on a reasonably strenuous, but not difficult, Welsh mountain walk.

However, a note of caution for those who are not familiar with mountain walking in snow or ice; this route isn't the best one to try in inclement weather. The final and steepest section of the Watkin Path can become treacherous in icy conditions, as can the upper reaches of the South Ridge. The ridge of Bwlch Main is both windy and exposed, and although short in length it requires either a reasonable head for heights or at least the ability to retain composure for a few minutes whilst crossing it!

That said, even in snow or ice, to walk part way up the Watkin Path as far as you feel comfortable with (in terms of weather and underfoot conditions) and back down via the same route will still give a sense of achievement and plenty of spectacular views, and you certainly won't meet the hordes of people slogging their way up and down the Pyg Track or the Miner's Track.