Attention to detail

Llyn Bochlwyd from Glyder Fach
Ending up in the wrong place when you're blindly following a sat nav is one thing - most of us have done it and while it's a pain it's usually not the end of the world!  But ending up scrambling down the face of a 994m mountain in the fog because you've "lost" the path and haven't taken the extra few minutes to double check the map and re-check bearings is at best stupid and, at worst, potential deadly and incredibly stupid.

Unfortunately this weekend  (Saturday, 10th March to be precise) I was guilty of both of the above and whilst the first only resulted in a few more miles of driving (well ok, 60) and a bit longer in the car (ok, ok it was another hour and a half!) the results of the second could have been horrendous.  While I maintain that we were never in any real danger I did put my partner in a position where she was nervous and totally out of her comfort zone - that's usually when errors occur and accidents happen.

So how did we end up 900 odd metres up the face of Glyder Fach descending into the mist towards Llyn Bochlwyd??

Well the day started off well enough at 6am when we left Romsey heading for Snowdonia and the village of Pont Pen-y-benglong (around a 4.5 hour drive).  However, on arrival at our sat navs "destination" I found out to my annoyance that where we were and where we needed to be were about 35 miles drive apart - it's worth pointing out here that post code ranges in Wales (and Scotland) can be fairly vast as there isn't the need for them to be as close together as they are in the South of England.
So we headed off up the road again, finally arriving in Pont Pen-y-benglog (after another detour caused by roadworks and a landslide) at about 11:30am.

After kitting up and checking the start point of the route we headed off, past the outdoor centre, up the Llyn Idwal path to skirt around the base of the Llyn before splitting from the main path to head along the smaller track which heads steeply up past Pinnacle Crag and on to the summit of Y Garn (947m).
All good so far aside from the constant mist and fog that was surrounding us and totally obscuring the views that, on a clear day, would be fairly impressive.

From the summit of Y Garn we continued SW along the track, which heads down towards a larger footpath and the mist shrouded Llyn y Cwn (711m) where we stopped for a quick bite to eat and a welcome cup of hot coffee, before continuing in a SW direction towards the summit of Glyder Fawr (1001m).
Visibility was still almost zero and the wind had picked up considerably so we didn't hang about on the summit, heading off along the gently undulating track that skirts around the top of  Cwm Cneifion (The Nameless Cwn).  The path drops slightly, down to around 957m, before gently rising back up to 994m and the summit of Glyder Fach - and that was where the "issues" started!

Now for those of you who have been there the summit of Glyder Fach is like something out of a fantasy novel - sharp pinnacles of rock jut up into the air creating an impenetrable barricade to anyone who doesn't happen to be equipped with ropes, harnesses and a collection of krabs!

It does boast the fairly impressive Cantilever Stone which, on a nice day, would make for some cracking pictures but today in the mist, drizzle and rain it was all I could do to scrabble up and sit on it for a few seconds to allow Donna to take a quick picture!

After attempting to "investigate" some of the rocky outcrops a bit more closely and then deciding that in the current conditions it was "a stupid idea" we headed away from the summit on the path that ran along the top of the north face before dropping down to join a series of other paths at Bwlch Tryfan - from here the plan was to return to the car on the track running past Llyn Bochlwyd with a potential detour to the summit of Tryfan on the way.
What actually happened took a fair while longer than the real path and was, in places, fairly nerve racking and could have put Donna and I in a very dangerous situation.

In the dense mist we had some trouble picking out the path so I took out the map and checked the bearings for the start of the descending path as we didn't want to end up on the longer, more gently descending path that headed towards Llyn Caseg-fraith.
I took a number of bearings and we located the start of the descent path although we did have to consult the map a number of times as the path seemed to head off in to no where and descend very steeply down the face of the mountain.

But it seemed to be the only route, and the bearings matched, so off we went.  After descending for about 50m we came to a large down-climb that required some interesting moves to get around it, more worryingly was the drop that would have occurred if one of us had slipped at this point would have been at best disabling - had the weather been better I don't believe that either of us would have continued down the path as the full view of what we were descending into would have been apparent!
I was kicking myself here for not uploading the route that I'd planned out using TrailZilla onto my Garmin but we'd both decided that getting too reliant on the the GPS wasn't a good thing for either of us - especially with my Mountain Leader training coming up!

The image below shows the path we should have taken (in green) and the route that we actually took (in red) - so you can see that we did start at the correct point, my mistake (and one that is unforgivable when you consider the circumstances and the potential outcome) was that I didn't take a second bearing at the right hand bend in the path around 50m from the summit.  For some reason I had the bearing from the top and continued to follow this down.
"Off the beaten track!"
Once we'd passed a large boulder and scree slope there was no real option to do any thing but continue down the face and while we'd both agreed that the route we were taking wasn't and couldn't be the real path we didn't really have much option other than to continue going and try to hit the path further down.
At one point I was crossing the top of a large section of scree and dislodged a boulder (probably around  80-90kg) which started to slowly tumble down, picking up speed, before smashing into a number of larger boulders a few hundred meters down - afterwards Donna said that it was this that really made her start to worry about our safety and what could happen if one of us slipped.

We could see the Llyn some way below us but the height gave a deceptive view of how far we actually had to go down before meeting the path that we could see snaking away past the lake into the distance.

The above image gives some idea of the route that we took down the face of Gyder Fawr and both the steepness and stupidity of it!

After numerous slides and scrambles we ended up at the bottom of the face and on turning to look up at where we'd come from there was a slight air of disbelief that we'd made it down now that the enormity of our chosen path could be seen - but also a huge sense of achievement that we'd overcome the obstacles and made it down unscathed.

After joining the path again we tracked past the idyllic Llyn (a great wild camping spot for future trips) and the on to the start of the trail and the outdoor pursuits centre - never have I been happier to see the car, it was quite possibly the toughest 5.5hrs of walking that I've done in a long, long time!
We didn't hang around in the car park long as Pete's Eats (Llanberis) was calling and the MASSIVE lasagne, chips and garlic bread that we both had, washed down with a pint mug of tea, was the best meal I've ever eaten!

So what were the lessons learnt from this trip?  Well probably more than I can write here but obviously the main ones to take away are;

  1. check the route on a map once, twice and again for luck
  2. check and double check bearings and, if in any doubt, keep checking them - it doesn't hurt to be cautious
  3. If something doesn't feel right then it probably isn't!
  4. Upload walking routes to the GPS - just in case they're needed
As a closing note, the walk itself was really good fun and as a day's walking goes there are not many that we've done that would equal this route - it's so much more challenging and satisfying (even on the correct path!) than just slogging up and down Snowdon and I'd recommend it to anyone that is thinking of visiting Snowdonia - don't just "do" Snowdon and then go home, but please take a map and check it every step of the way!!


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