A route full of hidden challenges, views and many, many pats on the back.
There are loads of benefits to starting your day early; More meaningful hours in the day, quieter shops and roads and just an all-round feeling of wellbeing. But for me, it’s the sunrise.
During the winter, most of us are lucky to see a sunrise here and there with the shorter days, but to really make the most of it, we need to get outside with no one else around. So, what better time of the year to test fate and mother nature than the first day of December? Am I right?!
The Carneddau are a group of mountains within Snowdonia, including Yr Elen, Carnedd Dafydd & Carnedd Llewelyn, all three being about the magic 3000ft threshold for a real big mountain day. Dependant on how you approach this giant mass of geology, this range is everything Snowdon should be.
The route starts in the back streets of Bethesda, following an unmade road through fields and feeding you straight into the open access of the National Park. Almost immediately, the sheer remoteness of this route is evident, along with the views. With clear weather, you’ll be able to trace close to your entire route from this point, but don’t get too comfortable, this route is full of hidden challenges.
With more in common with a Scottish Glen, the valley guides you toward an ancient settlement, definitely worth exploring if time allows. From here the route is at the mercy of your ability to hop skip and jump over streams and fords as you make your way through a valley. If you find any quad bike marks, following them is a safe bet of a dry route as the valley drastically narrows on all sides.
As it bends around on itself, the first surprise of the route shows – Ffynnon Caseg, a captive lake neatly hiding up and over a small ridge. The dramatically steep slopes and cliffs all around bear their fruits; a near vertical, but enjoyable, scramble straight up the back of the Cwm. When you summit the ridge with fiery calves and pumping thighs, you’ll be pleased to see you’re pretty much at the summit of Yr Elen – all 962m of it. Once you’ve gotten over the sheer amount of altitude you’ve managed to cover in a relatively small amount of distance, there’s still some ways to go.
A short and pleasant climb to the second peak of the day rewards you with a view of one of the best ridgelines you’ll ever come across in little old Wales, and a pretty clear route along it. On the day I was here, a SeaKing was doing the rounds up and over this ridge as I made my way along it; I don’t think I’ll ever forget feeling of the wash thumping over me while navigating the boulder field towards the summit of Carnedd Dafydd – the third and final one of the day and the best place to set down for lunch and coffee.
Carefully keeping the cliffs to your right, make your way through the boulder field onto the Spur that is Mynydd Du. Jutting out from The Carneddau and back toward Bethesda, this spur will gently take you back into the valleys, passing an old dam on your right hand side.
The rest of the route uneventfully leads you back through and into Bethesda along the back roads.
This route literally takes in everything Wales has to offer, with none of the crowds of it’s more popular neighbour. By far the most enjoyable route I’ve taken in a while, which came at the right time during the pandemic. Once the pandemic has passed, I’ll be sure to explore new angles of The Carneddau, so watch this space!
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Remember to always carry the paper version of the map you’re using! I like to add a trace of my route and date it, providing a record of all the places I’ve been!