They say that a kilometer in the Rhinogs is worth 3 kilometers in any other mountain. That was what we found - at least until a certain 50m on the Barmouth sea front - but more of that in a moment.
A dash up the country on Wednesday evening found Tav and Dave H seated in the bar of a nice (if slightly quirky) hotel near Dolgellau. After sampling a fine range of Welsh craft beers (this theme continued) and vague route planning we crashed out in preparation for what had the potential be both fun and some of the most challenging walking we had done. Not only were we planning to walk in country that had a reputation for being tough but as we were wilding camping we had full packs.
The following morning after a suitably calorie loaded breakfast we hopped in our booked taxi to take us north to Trawsfynnd (home of the power station) to the top end of the Rhinogau ridge. It was at this point we made our first tactical error. Did we head up onto the ridge here, go and bag the unpronounceable peak of Moel Ysgyfarnogod, follow the ridge along and then drop off it to continue the main part of the ridge ? Or should we (as most people do) skip this part of the ridge and head straight to the main event of Rhinog Fawr and Rhinog Fach. Needless to say, we decided to do the northern part of the ridge….
Getting up was hard work and easy enough route finding. However, once on the top the true joy and frustration of the Rhinogs became apparent. Few paths, lots of heather and bog and a geology that led to us regularly finding ourselves on the top of a rock buttress unable to find the way down. Lots of back tracking. The views north to Snowdonia were stunning but we didn’t get off that part of the ridge until 2pm and we had a long way to go.
Having rejoined the track (path would be an overstatement) we descended down to Cwm Bychan. However tempting to would have been to camp there, we ploughed straight on to climb the Roman steps - a set of stone steps that were distinctly un-Roman. No goddesses or anything. They carved their way up a deep chasm in the rocks before heading off right to climb up to Llyn Du and from there a steep ascent up a loose scree filled slope to get to the top of Rhinog Fawr. We were knackered, stuck on top of one of the most awkward mountains (navigationally) and had about an hour of daylight. It was obvious we weren’t going to make Rhinog Fach today. It took a reasonable amount of back and forth to find the right way off the mountain and what followed was an hour of sheer pain as we worked our way down through boulder strewn heather attempting to beat sunset without breaking an ankle. Having reached the bottom of the Bwlch (including some balletic slips and trips), we decided to climb a little way up to Llyn Cwmhosan to pitch the tarp by water. By this stage we were both staggering along as the constant up and down caused our legs to complain bitterly. The light was going and the only flat ground, whilst dry, had a number of rocks which made pitching the tarp less than perfect. As the tarp went up, the rain slowly started….
Nevertheless, hot food and sleeping bags felt like luxury and the rain on the tarp provided the gentle accompaniment to send us off to sleep and to let our bruised bodies recover.
Unfortunately that didn’t happen as a monster of a gale blew up. Pegs pulled out, the wind ripped the tarp and Dave was reduced to running round the Welsh mountainside in his boxers frantically trying to repeg the tent. In the end we piled equipment onto the walls of the tarp to keep it attached to the hill side which resulted in a dry tarp but very wet equipment. We spent the next 4 hours holding on the tarp from the inside to stop it taking off / collapsing and finally succumbed to sleep as the gale got bored and wandered off to annoy someone else at about 2 in the morning. After a few hours sleep the sun on the southern side of Rhinog Fawr woke us and we crawled out to survey the chaos. As well as a hole in the tarp, the wind had ripped a hole in a rucksack (!) that had been used to hold the tarp down. Nevertheless, the views were lovely and we had the valley to ourselves.
Day 1 was 20km and 9 and a half hours of walking
After shovelling down some breakfast we had a council of war to decide what to do. The battered bodies and lack of sleep led us to conclude that we’d skip the near vertical ascent (and down the same way) of Rhinog Fach and head off across country back to the hotel (which was still a scarily long way away). We climbed up to Llyn Howel and skirted round the lake edge through pathless heather and scree to get on the ridge between Rhinog Fach and Y Llethr and head over and down to Llyn y Bi - again via some very unpleasant terrain. It was almost a joy to reach the bog at the bottom and be able to walk on flat ground however wet it was (Dave’s boots were still full of water from spending the night holding the tarp down so he didn’t care). Thereafter we cut through a disused quarry and reached Forestry Commission land and followed their tracks back to above the hotel where we gratefully gorged ourselves on food and beer before a well earned snooze. And then more food and beer.
It was a great two days walking but it was brutal. To put it in context, Tav had done the three peaks challenge the weekend before and declared the Rhinogs substantially harder than that. We agreed that epics walks are good and that wild camping is good but trying to do epic walks carrying everything you need for wild camping is a really stupid idea.
Day 2 was 13km and 5 hours of walking
The following day we had planned to climb Cader Idris but the forecast was for rain and gale force winds. That coupled with aching limbs meant we sought alternative entertainment for the day. In a moment of rash enthusiasm, Tav agreed that hiring bikes and cycling along a disused railway track to Barmouth (about 15km away) sounded like fun. To be clear, Dave cycles occasionally, Tav doesn’t.
The cycle there was great with stunning views of the estuary and a lot of local history. However, it was becoming apparent to Tav that he was clearly a walker not a cyclist and his posterior was starting to suffer. Crossing the estuary on the wooden railway bridge reminded us how much the Victorians liked an engineering challenge but given that 2 of us on bikes made the bridge sway, not sure what happens when the trains go across it. Now we’d reached Barmouth we were fully exposed to the winds coming in and a decision to cycle to the end of the sea front (with the wind behind us) was shown as a foolish one when we turned round and attempted to cycle back. Both in the lowest possible gear, we were weaving back and forth across the promenade like two drunks. In the end Tav abandoned his bike and started walking it - he achieved a higher top speed than Dave did (who stubbornly stayed on the bike).
Some quick refreshment and back on the bikes to head back to Dolgellau. By now Tav’s backside was on strike so he cycled most of the way back standing up. A stop part way along at a convenient pub for lunch and then back to the bike shop. The rain hadn’t materialised and the sun kept appearing but it was blowing a gale so we sat ourselves at the side of the local rugby pitch and watched Dolgellau hammer Rhyl in storm force winds. Rhyl’s loss was less down to the wind and more down to the fact that they only had 14 men to start with, their number 12 kept sulking and their flyhalf couldn’t kick. The match report is here if anyone cares.
To put the bike ride in context, Tav said it was worse than both the Three Peaks challenge and walking the Rhinogs...
After a slightly surreal evening meal (they’d moved to their Oktoberfest menu) of too much German sausage and cabbage we bid farewell to Dolgellau and headed home the following morning. A trip to remember.
Below are some pictures and the first Tavs Tours Video....