Amazing Arans

After my busy weekend with a surf ski paddle, a jaunt up Cadair Idris, a night in the camper and a kayak Time Trial my legs were feeling a little sore. A perfect opportunity in my eyes to climb another mountain to get them used to being walked on whilst aching! And so, I headed off in the dark first thing on Monday morning bound for the deep dark valley of Cwm Cywarch. I parked up in the gloom, got ready and set off under moonlight, heading out for a day in the Aran range of mountains.

Moonlight Start
Moonlight Start

I followed the little stream deeper into the valley and then headed off upwards along a steep path that skirted to the NE of the imposing Crag Cywarch.

Babbling Stream
Babbling Stream

Dawn was breaking as I followed the path steeply upwards while mist hung wispily in the valley below.

Cwm Cywarch
Cwm Cywarch

Ever upwards through the steep gorge, clambering over rocks and splashing through muddy puddles. Eventually the sun rose above the hills and started to warm things up a little. Temperatures until now had been just above freezing.

Sunrise
Sunrise

At the top I briefly thought about taking a little detour up Glasgwm first but decided against it and headed right towards Aran Fawddwy instead. I hadn’t been up here for years, but the ground was just as wet and boggy as I remembered it. The board-walks that have been put in place to keep feet dry were of little use to me today. They were all soaked through, some were more holes than wood and they were all coated with a super-slick layer of ice. I did try to stand on one but they were just too slippery. Instead it was a long muddy splodge along the boggy ground. First to the small summit of Waun Camddwr.

Towards the Snow
Towards the Snow

Brief rocky patches gave some respite from the bog but not much. I then started the climb to the Summit of Aran Fawddwy and started entering into the land of snow.

Looking towards Cadair Idris

Every footstep saw my foot plunge knee deep into the sparkling white surface. I’d have to forcibly put my foot down to break the slippery crust and would then delve deep into it. The going was hard but fun as I made my way ever higher.

Soon the clouds closed in around me and I could see nothing. No sign of the summit, no sign of the hill and no indication as to where to go.

Through the Snow
Through the Snow

The snow covered any sign of paths or trails in the grass and the fence-line that I had been following was now off to my left and out of sight. I hesitated for a while and contemplated heading back to the fenceline so that I had a point of reference and would at least be able to retrace my steps but decided to push on just a little further ever upwards as the summit must be here soon.

Finally the familiar shape of a trig point emerged out of the whiteness just a few feet in front of me. I’d made it.

Aran Fawddwy
Aran Fawddwy

Time for a quick stop, a photo and then to make my way down to find the fence again.

My plan had been to continue along the ridge to the small summit of Erw y Ddafad Ddu and then onto Aran Benllyn before retracing my steps. However, with the weather now reducing visibility to pretty much zero I decided it would be better to find the fence and start heading back down. Especially as I hadn’t been along the ridge before so didn’t know where to go or what to expect. However, as I left the summit of Aran Fawddwy the sun tried to break through the clouds. As it did so it cast a Brocken Spectre on the clouds below me. Cool hey!!!

And here’s a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem ‘Constancy to an Ideal Object’ about a Brocken Spectre too.

And art thou nothing? Such thou art, as when
The woodman winding westward up the glen
At wintry dawn, where o’er the sheep-track’s maze
The viewless snow-mist weaves a glist’ning haze,
Sees full before him, gliding without tread,
An image with a glory round its head;
The enamoured rustic worships its fair hues,
Nor knows he makes the shadow he pursues!

Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem ‘Constancy to an Ideal Object’

As the Broken Spectre faded, the clouds parted and the lay of the land opened up before me. I could clearly see a fenceline all the way along the ridge going exactly where I wanted to go. Even if the clouds closed in once again I’d have a feature to follow so I returned to my original plan and headed off along the ridge.

It was hard going through snow that was at times waist deep. Every step was measured and forceful and then I had to extricate myself from thigh deep holes after most steps too. The less deep snow was just as difficult as it was frozen solid and very slippery. I couldn’t see what lay beneath the snow, nor could I see any sign of a path but I followed the fence and trudged ever onwards making slow progress.

The clouds enveloped me again but once again opened out from the summit of Erw y Ddafad Ddu. From here, the summit of Aran Benllyn looked a long way off and through difficult terrain, but on I went.

Towards Aran Benllyn

The only sound my breathing and the crunching of snow beneath my boots. If I stopped everything was deathly silent, there was simply no sound at all. I’d seen no living creatures all day I was up here alone. Occasionally the clouds would clear to give spectacular views out across Wales.

Eventually, after much trudging, clambering and crunching through the snow I made it to the summit of Aran Benllyn. I stopped, put on my down jacket and ate my (now nearly frozen) leftover cottage pie from last night. Once again it was deadly silent and quite surreal.

Above the Clouds on Aran Benllyn
Above the Clouds on Aran Benllyn

I couldn’t stay here for long though as I now had to retrace my steps all the way back along the ridge to Aran Fawddwy before heading off to the summit of Drysgol. At least this time I had footsteps in the snow to follow as well as the fence. It wasn’t any easier in this direction though and the going remained slow. Crunch, crunch, slip, slide, clamber, fall. Get up and do it all over again. It was hard work but I was loving it.

Back up at Aran Fawddwy the clouds were the boss. Visibility was zero and I now had to find my way onto the ridge that led to Drysgol. I found it, descending below the clouds and started making my way along the ridgeline towards the cairn. It was no easier along here as snow had drifted on top of the ridge and collected in the hollows too. The views were stunning though. To the North was the impenetrable cliffs of the Aran Ridge with the lake of Creiglyn Dyfi below. This is the source of the River Dyfi which eventually emerges into the sea at our house. Beyond that in the distance I could just about make out the end of Lake Bala. Ahead of me were the rounded hills and plateaus of Mid Wales. As I descended below the snow line I could finally make out my path descending gradually down the valley ahead of me. I passed the summit of Waun Goch and then started to descend into the valley.

Things got a little easier now as I was back into the land of mud and bog and then finally onto a better path high above a meandering stream. I followed the path along the valleyside and eventually emerged back in Cwm Cywarch, just a short distance from my waiting van.

It had been quite a bit tougher than I’d expected thanks to the snow and terrain. The walk itself was 11 miles but it had taken nearly 5½ hours. All good training.

2 Responses

  1. Mum x says:

    Beautifully described so I don’t have to do it to see it ! xxx

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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