Carneddau Aug 09 part 4

Friday 28th

 It stayed very windy and gusty throughout the night with some heavy, sometimes prolonged showers. The wind shifted slightly, so it made the tent quite noisy, limiting my sleep. A major motivation for considering the Scarp is having a quieter tent!

Just before taking down the tent

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The temperature dropped to around 10 c during the night, but I was still warm in my sleeping bag. Irritatingly, the rain became more persistent at around 5.00 am, making me concerned about getting an early start.

The view east

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About 8.00 am the rain relented somewhat. Then began a protracted period of trying to get sorted between heavy showers. Every time I wanted to go outside it bucketed down. Eventually, I managed to pack and take down the tent by 10.00 am and get back to the car by 10.30.

The view west

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As I approached the car, it heaved down. Getting sorted and changed was a taxing business but I was away by 10.45. Fortunately it stayed dry to open and close the various gates and I wended my way down to the Conwy valley.

 The traffic was heavy but moving well. I managed to get some cheap petrol; it seems to be 2-3p cheaper per litre in North Wales compared with home. I stopped at Chester services for pie and chips. This was something I lived to regret as it upset my stomach and I had to make several pit stops on the way home to relieve myself of the consequences.

 The heavy traffic meant that it took two hours longer to get home than it did to get to North Wales. However, the traffic in the opposite direction was even worse. I was pretty knackered when I got home. Never was a bath more welcome.

 Yet again, I had a trip that didn’t turn out the way I had planned. Although the weather was poor, it was still good to get out in the hills. The silver lining of Thursday afternoon is that I now have a much better idea of how my gear works in very wet weather and I am going to make a few changes in how I plan for poor weather, which will be the subject of a later post.

Carneddau Aug 09 part 3

Thursday 27th

The best part of the day!

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I woke to sunshine and my hopes of a better day rose. After breakfast and chores, I packed and was away by 9.00. Although still sunny the cloud was starting to build. I made my way up the side of Foel-fras backtracking for a while as I went too far south. There was one particularly impressive large boulder, which I guess was a glacial erratic. I also encountered an large complex of dry stone sheepfolds, possibly with some ruined buildings.

The large boulder, Foel Grach in the background

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There was quite a lot of tiring bog trotting. For future reference it is probably better to head up Pen y Castell to Drum than cross the bogs up to Foel-fras. On the final steep section I encountered some wild ponies. Unfortunately, these could become a rarity if the EU gets its way.

Anglesey and Puffin Island

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Once on to the ridge on the north-eastern side of Foel-fras, the views opened up to the sea. On the left was Anglesey and Puffin Island and on the right Llandudno and Great Orme’s Head. In the middle of the bay, clearly visible was Dutchman Bank, a sandbank with obvious tidal currents around its edge.

Summit of Foel-fras looking towards Carnedd Llewelyn

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After a short pull up the slope, I made the top of Foel-fras and the trig point, which was in the middle of an area of shattered rock. The summit was somewhat spoilt by the dry stone wall on the south-western side. After a few photographic experiments with my tripod, I moved on, sustained by a few well earned jelly beans and a slurp of water.

The track to Garnedd Uchaf

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The wind had freshened appreciably and I measured a gust of 40 mph on my Silva ADC. Half way between Foel-fras and Garnedd Uchaf, I decided to put on my overtrousers. Minutes later there was a brief shower of rain. The clouds were kissing the top of Carnedd Llewelyn and there was a helicopter buzzing around in the distance.

Lunch on Foel Grach

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I arrived at Foel Grach at around 12.00. I was surprised to see a mountain refuge. It was rather gloomy and unpleasant inside but I’m sure it would be very welcome in a survival situation. It seemed like a good place to have a spot of lunch and there was a convenient natural boulder seat to one side of the refuge. Unfortunately, there was also some litter amongst the boulders.

The lunch time view, looking north-east

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Pleasantly sheltered from the wind I indulged in a few more photos with the tripod and then ate some lunch. Suitably fortified I bagged the top of Foel Grach before the trudge up to Carnedd Llewelyn, which was now fully under cloud. To my right was the spectacular Yr Elen and the crags and spires of its south-eastern face. The ridge to the summit looked spectacular and something to do on another visit. The tarn at the foot looks like an interesting place to camp.

Yr Elen

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After about half an hour I reached the summit shelter of Carnedd Llewelyn. By now I was in the clouds and the wind was pretty ferocious. A lady and her son appeared just after I took my pack off and I took a picture for them.

Summit of Carnedd Llewelyn

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It was decision time. Should I head back east over the easy flank down to Cwm Eigiau or go along the south-east ridge to Pen yr Helgi Du? Stupidly, feeling confident, I decided on the latter. In mist and strong winds, it was more difficult than I imagined culminating in a difficult climb down a rock face to the col before Pen yr Helgi Du.

The “bad step”, I went down the left hand side

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In the past I have climbed up this cliff with a day pack twice and not had huge difficulties. Descending with a heavier pack in high winds was much more taxing. The final move down was particularly difficult. One slip and I could easily have tumbled down the steep drop. Fortunately, my nerve held and my boots gripped. I was very happy to have made it down.

Looking towards Pen yr Helgi Du, Cwm Llugwy is on the right, out of sight

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I could see rain coming towards me, so I decided that the arduous climb up Pen yr Helgi Du was not a good idea so I headed down the headwall path of Cwm Llugwy. The path was actually quite good, although steep and shaley in places.

Weather deteriorating in Cwm Llugwy

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By coming off the “wrong” side, it meant that I would now have a long walk to my proposed camp and Eilio. There was nothing for it but to plough on. By now it was 3.30 pm and it seemed likely that I would be camping late. I exchanged a few words with another walker. Curtains of rain were now heading towards me from Tryfan. Looking down to the camp site at Gwern Gof Isaf, there were surprisingly few tents, given that it was the last week of August. Perhaps people had been deterred by the less than brilliant experience of Alan and I had back in March.

The last picture of the day, looking back to the col

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I then made a very good decision. Crossing the path down to the valley was a leat. On the map I traced it around the mountain side to Llyn Cowlyd. There was a stile over the fence and a well worn footpath seemed to indicate that it was a legal route, although not marked a right of way on the map.

I decided to chance it as it would provide a level and comparatively easy path to Llyn Cowlyd (technically it was slightly down hill). Although longer than the alternative route, it would save descending to the valley floor then climbing back up again. It also meant that there were no navigational challenges. It proved to be an excellent choice and if anyone is looking to go from Llugwy to Cowlyd, it is well worth using.

The wind tried to pitch me into the leat and several heavy showers drenched me. The rain and wind lessened as I turned the corner but hit me again just before I made Llyn Cowlyd. This time it turned into an unremitting downpour with high winds and horizontal rain. The one saving grace was that it was generally at my back.

The path along the Cowlyd was as stony as I remembered and in most places resembled a stream. At the southern end I met a party of backpackers in orange waterproofs sheltering behind a boulder. The wind was whipping up waves on the reservoir.

Towards the northern end I began to feel a bit damp. However, my spirits were lightened by the sight of a party of youths coming towards me with large packs and shorts. Some appeared to wearing cotton t-shirts under their waterproof jackets. By comparison, I was considerably more comfortable than them.

Climbing over the ridge to Eilio made me more exposed to the wind. The route wasn’t entirely clear but I arrived at Eilio quickly. In the rain it didn’t look particularly inviting as a place to camp and there were signs of recent farming activity. With a heavy heart, I decided to push on to Maeneira in the hope that no-one else was there. Maeneira was also appealing as it would be more sheltered.

Although the path/track from Eilio to Maeneira was easy, it was a real trudge, particularly as there were regular evasive manoeuvres to avoid large pools of water. It was well after 7.00 pm by the time I reached Maeneira. Fortunately no-one else was there.

Although more sheltered than Eilio, the wind still gusted strongly, making it a challenge to erect the tent. It took a lot of discipline to sort everything out before finally getting in the tent. I decided to unpack my rucksack in the porch and dry off excess water from the stuff sacks before putting them in the inner. The Exped dry bag kept the essentials dry, but the silnylon sacks allowed some dampness.

After carefully unloading my sack, I then pealed off my jacket and overtrousers, storing them in the small bell end of one end of the tent. The storage space at either end of the Comp is a significant advantage over the Akto in poor weather. My base layer and mid layer had damp patches on the shoulders and midriff. I put those in a bag. My trousers also had some damp patches. I put on some leggings, a dry shirt and my Liv down pullover.

I was shattered. I had walked 16 miles and climbed over 1,100 metres in ten hours in high winds and latterly driving rain. I felt I’d done well, although I could have saved myself a lot of angst if I had not tried the ridge route. However, I’d given my gear a thorough wet weather workout and had found some valuable insights that I’ll share in a later post.

I was very glad that I had saved the beef stew as my last meal as it’s my favourite. After a couple of fig rolls and some dried fruit, I got into my sleeping bag. The gusts of wind were still ferocious, although the rain had become more intermittent. I consoled myself with the thought that it ought to be better in the morning.

Carneddau Aug 09 part 2

Wednesday 26th

 Around 2.00 am, it started to rain properly. In a way I find the sound of rain very therapeutic when I am warm and dry inside a tent. By now the wind was appreciably stronger, deforming the end of the tent. Because it was end into the wind, it wasn’t as noisy as some previous experiences with high winds. The Comp seems to be worse when winds hit obliquely.

A morning shot in a short lull in the rain

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 The Western Mountaineering HighLite sleeping bag was plenty warm enough with the night time temperature not dropping below 12c. About 6 o’clock I was awake to what was turning into a pretty ferocious gale. There was no point in getting up until there was a lull. A couple of hours later I heard some of the youths pass by. I felt smug in not being compelled to face the storm.

This was virtually a trickle yesterday

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I looked out of the door a bit later to see the bedraggled group some way up the hillside. I was happy to sit it out for as long as it took. The forecast was for an improvement in the afternoon and I could still get to my intended pitch at Cwm Llugwy in an afternoon. However, I decided that if it wasn’t clear by 3.00 pm, I would stay put.

Water overtopping the dam

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In a short lull I was able to make a toilet break. I had a quick look around. By midday the stream had turned into to a torrent and in another lull in the rain I saw that the water was now overtopping the dam.

Spot the tent

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Although the rain started to slacken by about 2.00 pm, the tops were still under cloud and it was still windy. I packed ready to move, but it still looked pretty poor on the tops at 3.00 pm, so I decided to abandon the day’s plan. About an hour later, the sun started to break through, but it was too late to contemplate moving.

Late afternoon sunshine, see how the water level has fallen behind the dam

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The water level behind the dam had fallen dramatically. I had a wander round to take some photos, backtracking to Maeneira to find that the youths had disappeared. I returned to base to have a wash and something to eat. The cod and potato casserole was delicious. Later the wind freshened again and there was the odd shower. I slipped into my sleeping bag and hoped for a better day on Thursday.

Mid-evening and the clouds have dropped again, dam in the background

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Carneddau Aug 09 part 1

Tuesday 25th

After a reasonably clear run from home, I arrived at the car park (SH 731 663) just before 4.00 pm. There were several cars in the car park and ominously a minibus. The weather was sunny with some cloud cover and a gentle breeze. The hills had vivid patches of purple heather.

The road to the car park

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I rearranged my gear and set off for Maeneira at about 4.30. Approaching Maeneira, there were numerous Rowan trees replete with vivid red berries. A number of these appeared to be growing directly out of boulders or rocky outcrops. The path down to the river was overgrown with bracken. The pasture where Alan and I had camped in March was somewhat more overgrown with thistles and long grass so I chose a slightly different pitch.

Maeneira and the famous Rowan tree growing out of a rock

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There was very little breeze by now and gnats began to plague me. Fortunately I had packed a head net at the last moment, so I was able to avoid the worst. I guess the warmth, sunshine and proximity to the river attracted them.

My first pitch

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I put up the tent quickly and started to unpack my rucksack. As I was rooting about inside the tent I heard voices. I looked outside and some youths were descending the hillside. As they approach I enquired as to whether they were intending to pitch there. I was told that a lot more were turning up.

The entire population of China invades my solitude

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I muttered “bother” or words to that effect. There was no way I was going to share my idyllic pitch so I started to re-pack and take down the tent. By the time I had finished there were twenty odd youths and leaders and some were already scouting around for places to relieve themselves, so I left them to it. 

Fortunately, about another ten minutes further on there was a reasonable pitch not far from the dam. It was more open than Maeneira and not as picturesque, but there was more breeze, so less problem with gnats. In some ways it was preferable to my aborted pitch. It was a little bit stony, so pitching was not quite so easy.

My second pitch (SH 725 675)

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As the weather forecast was for a deterioration, I took care in the orientation of the Comp, ensuring that it was end on to the wind and that the door was sheltered. Dinner was beef and potato casserole, courtesy of Real Turmat.

The view west, warnings in the sky, spot the helicopter

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I had a little look around, discovering that the dam was some kind of flood defence and that the building nearby was a small hydro electric power station. I was tucked up in my sleeping bag by 8.30 and was lulled to sleep by the noise from the stream and the whirr of the hydro plant. Around 11.00 pm, I was woken by a light shower and the freshening breeze.

In my tent 2

Not started my write up yet, but just to keep you interested here’s an “in my tent” picture from Tuesday. The sleeping bag is the Western Mountaineering HighLite, which was fab, more on that anon, the pillow was the Mammut Air Pillow, which was significantly less fab.

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Farewell Akto

I bid my Akto a fond farewell today. I’ve given it to an ex-work colleague who is walking from John O’Groats to Lands End starting in a couple of weeks time. She’s raising money for Shelter, Samaritans and 500miles. If you like to donate, her charity giving page is http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/charliefrith. She’s a great person and a sad loss to our company. She will be doing an intermittent blog and I’ll let you know the URL when she sends it to me. I’ve lent her a number of other bits and pieces from my Aladdin’s cave of gear. I decided to give her the Akto as I can’t see myself using it much with my Laser Competition and pending purchase of a Scarp 1. The Akto is a good tent to do the JOGLE as it is sturdy enough and gives just a little bit of extra room.  Good luck Charlie. Enjoy yourself.

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Welsh Billy

Well Billy did his best to spoil my little trip. I think the Welsh Tourist Board should pay me to stay away from Wales. Virtually every time I go there it involves gales and usually lots of rain. I’ve had hardly any days of good weather in all my trips. Perversely, I still enjoy it, more or less.

Although I had a bit of a sense of humour failure this morning when it rained solidly from about 5 am to 8 am and then proceeded to shower very heavily every time I wanted to get out of the tent. Consequently, I didn’t leave until nearly 11 am, which meant I picked up a lot of holiday traffic.

To cap it all, Chester Motorway Services served me dodgy pie so there were several more pit-stops on the way home than I intended. Some consolation was the traffic going the other way (i.e. North on the M6 and A1) was a lot worse than going South.

Wednesday was a complete wash out with virtually solid rain and high winds from late Tuesday evening to early afternoon Wednesday. Mid afternoon onwards was pleasant but too late to start a walk.

Thursday started well in sunshine but was very windy and deteriorated from lunch time onwards. The wind was something else and yet again I almost killed myself with some unintended scrambling. Late afternoon onwards it absolutely belted with rain and I didn’t pitch until late, making it a more arduous day than I had intended.

I’ve got some interesting observations on gear, particularly with regard to wet weather performance. My wet weather planning was found to be somewhat deficient. More on that later. I’ll write up my trip notes over the next few days and follow that with some gear and wet weather notes.

It was enjoyable, sort of!

Bl**dy Bill

I’m off later this morning. The weather forecast is OK for today but not good for tomorrow. Strong winds and rain are forecast as we cop the end of hurricane Bill. The Met Office is suggesting 60mph winds, but improving in the afternoon. Let’s hope it blows through quicker! Thursday looks a good day though. I may have to do some route adjusting . Thanks for the best wishes.

At last

Tomorrow I will be off for a couple of days in the Carneddau. It’s three months since I was in the Cairngorms, so I am really looking forward to getting in the hills. The weather forecast is mixed with high winds and showers on Wednesday and a more settled picture on Thursday.

Tomorrow night I will camp at Maeneira, which is a delightful spot where Alan and I camped in March. Wednesday I will head up to Garnedd Uchaf then along the ridge to Carnedd Llewelyn, thence to Carnedd Dafydd, retrace my steps and descend to Cwm Llugwy and camp near the reservoir.

Thursday, I will ascend the headwall path, which looks exciting, to Bwlch Eryi Farchog, turn South-west to Pen yr Helgi Du. If memory serves me right, this a good arrete walk with a real feeling of exposure, but little real danger. I’ll go on to Pen Llithrig y Wrach, then head North-west and camp somewhere near the ruins of the farm at Eilio. On Friday it will be a short walk to the car and then home.

I’m hoping that there won’t be too many people on the hills. Because it is less accessible, the Northern side of the Carneddau tends to be less crowded. Going midweek should also help. I’m not doing huge mileage, 10 miles on Wednesday and 8 miles on Thursday. Instead, I’m stringing together some good places to camp.

On the gear front, I’m using the Exos for the first time. I’m carrying a bit more than is necessary as I will take both the Fastpackers and the Mountain Masochists to compare. I’m also going to take my camera tripod. Tent will be the Laser Competition and my sleeping bag will be the Western Mountaineering High Lite, which I’ve not used for a while. It will be interesting to see if it’s warm enough, given that I tend to sleep cold.

Other gear is pretty much what I took to the Cairngorms, except I’m going to be more careful on stuff sacks. Some of my Apollo sacks have been converted into roll top bags with Velcro. Although not waterproof, they should be reasonably water resistant for non-critical gear.

Obviously, I’ll do a write up of the trip and gear notes when I return. I will also do some live blogging if I can find a mobile signal. If I can find the external mic for my Olympus voice recorder, I might even put together some podcast notes. TTFN.

Maeneira:

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Groundsheet protectors

Hmmm, I seem to have stirred something here. While I would agree that under most circumstances a groundsheet protector is not necessary, there are times when they are useful.

I cut my Akto groundsheet protector in half to give me a porch groundsheet. I like using a covering in the porch. It helps reduce condensation. It extends the usable space in the tent. It helps to prevent losing small items stored in the porch as well as protecting them from damp. It also helps to keep those nasty insects at bay, particularly ticks. For very little weight penalty (70g for the Comp), it’s worth it for the utility.

As the Scarp has two porches, rather than cut the protector in half, I’ll cut it into thirds. I think I read that the Scarp protector is 110g, so the two pieces would probably only weigh c.60g (two triangles equating to approximately half the total area). Two porches gives a lot of flexibility to store wet gear, so it may not be necessary to use the porch groundsheet ail the time.

I may get two groundsheet protectors as the second use would be to convert the Scarp into a single skin shelter, leaving the inner tent behind. The Scarp appears to better suited to this than the Comp. The roof vents should give better ventilation. The end poles of the Comp are also a bit of a challenge for single skin use and require some adaptation.

Lastly, I use a groundsheet protector for my base camp tent, the Marmot Thor, to keep the tent groundsheet clean from mud. It is a lot easier to clean a groundsheet protector than the tent. It seems to me that this is a good use and if I used the Scarp for base camping, I would use the same system as many camp sites can get a bit muddy.

That’s my thoughts on groundsheet protectors. One last word on the Scarp, though. It seems to me that this is a stunningly adaptable and flexible design. A sturdy tent even without the cross poles, virtually bomb proof with them.  It is usable as a single skin tent either with the outer and a groundsheet or the inner can be used on its own.

The versatility appeals to me. Obviously , I’ll reserve final judgement until I get the tent, but it seems to me that Henry has designed a classic. It’s lucky I didn’t jump the gun a few weeks ago and buy a Soulo, which I almost did. I’m still interested in the ML Duomid as a very lightweight design, but the Scarp ticks a lot of boxes for me.