I want to climb THAT one.
I’m pretty sporadic when I’m choosing where to go next, what to do when I’m there and when to do it. One weekend I may be in the Peak District, hopping from edge to plateau; the next in the dramatic peaks of Snowdonia looking for the ultimate remoteness that Wales has to offer.
One thing I can say is that most of my previous routes have taken in areas that I have no prior ‘image’ of. My plans are often the fruits of hours trawling Ordnance Survey maps and other peoples experiences, amalgamating themselves in some sort of ‘route’ to follow.
But, when Me and Polly last climbed Snowdon on what was the clearest day I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing, I spotted something. A peak that stood out; something that is no mean feat in the Snowdonia Massif. Appearing pyramidal in shape and, from a distance, seemingly impossible to conquer, Moel Hebog jutted out of the surrounding landscape like a black thorn.
So there it was. My next objective. Moel Hebog and everything it had to throw at me.
This route starts in the town of Beddgelert; Steeped in history, ice cream and pubs, the town just oozes the sort of vibes you look for at the beginning of a route like this – it gives you a reassuring boost as to the rewards that lay ahead, should you complete your day.
Following a road with a public right of way, the trees give you periodical glimpses of what is to come – if you’re lucky with the weather. In contrast to the previous visit to Snowdonia, low lying cloud and the occasional rain plagued the views of todays targets. This was going to be a test of my navigation as much as my physical ability.
Once the route clears the last of the private land and become public access for all, it is a pretty violent and immediate climb. To start, the ground is firm and green, lulling you into a false sense of security, while the views give you plenty of reason to catch your breath. At this point, and in good weather, Moel Hebog takes on a form that is a little different to the one that is visible from Snowdon. Great towering cliffs surround you at 300m, with very little in the way of a pyramidal peak to be seen.
As the route carries on traversing a shoulder through 550m, the cliffs that provided panoramic blinkers to your views beforehand now threaten your progress to the very first summit of the day. Following the route carefully, and using your sixth sense (also known as the common one), a short and extremely rewarding scramble through shallow gullies in the cliffs feeds you towards the completely desolate peak of Moel Hebog. Take care using this approach as the ground is loose and rocky; take your time testing your footing as the variety and drama of rock up here leaves you in no doubt as to why the area is so popular with geology students and not so popular with sprained ankles.
In what feels like an incredibly short horizontal distance, the first and highest peak of the day has been conquered. But don’t let your guard down in thinking a lazy bimble lays ahead as you start off north westerly, following a wall & fence line down and immediately back up to the peaks of Moel yr Ogof and Moel Lefn.
With the first group of peaks out of the way, the route drops into a saddle of the name Bwlch Cwm-trwsgl. If your navigation has treated you well, you’ll be given a taste of things to come by Princess Quarry – a bottomless void from which slate and rock was dragged from beneath. The outline of an old miners hut provides a good viewpoint from which to make a brew and scout out your route.
Dropping from the quarry and skirting round the base of Y Gyrn, the real attraction of the area become obvious – The Prince of Wales Quarry is a seriously interesting place to be. Once you’re stood in the middle of the countless pits, buildings and spoils, it’s difficult to choose which way to explore! So much so that I’ve recently been back here to have a proper look around (write up to follow, of course).
With no time like the present, following the quarry track up, until you reach a fenceline and follow the footpath left and up. In about 700metres, you’ll be cursing yourself for not bringing those walking poles you were bought at Christmas; in another 700, you’ll realise it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. With the final proper climb of the day completed, take your time to catch your breath, as the route is about to take you over one of the most spectacular, technical and rewarding boulder-ridden ridge walks this side of Helvellyn.
If you’re like me, you’ll take your time to plant each foot and swing over each boulder of Clogwyn Marchnad carefully; using your strength to prove that you’re more than capable of not falling down the cliffs to each side of you. But if you’re anything like the fell runners that breezed past me on the day, you’ll have the audacity to hop skip and bounce over the very same boulder field as if raised by mountain goats.
Whatever your technique, rest assured that as you summit Y Garn, the hard work and concentration is all but over for the day. Keeping Llyn y Gader to your right-hand side, follow the sheep tracks down the flank of Y Garn to intercept the Right of Way that will take you round and into the vast Forest of Beddgelert.
The last kilometres of the route playfully follow the Highland Railway back to your starting point – If your day threatens you with sunset before you expected, be sure to hop onto the train for a quick dash back into Beddgelert for that all important ice cream you promised yourself this morning.
If time allows, be sure to visit the Grave of Gelert (the loyalest of hounds) a short walk from the town centre – the story of which is enough to bring a tear to the eyes of anyone and to which Beddgelert owes its name!
This route is absolutely bonkers at times and has you asking if you’re stepping into the realms of just identifying as a mountain goat and disappearing. But it is also the most rewarding and fantastic route I have undertaken to date within Snowdonia, even if there were no views above 400m on my day!
For parking, there is a large car park behind the school in the town centre – it is well sign posted and avoids you inconveniencing local residents and businesses. Make sure you take some change though!
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Remember to always carry a 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.