A Long Day in Welsh Mountains
“What do you call a run crossed with a climb crossed with a bit of walking?”
So went conversation as we approached our sixth and final scramble of the day, the time when thoughts turn to strava titles. Really though, what do you call a long day out in the hills that starts with a 2km run, progresses into a 6 scramble link up, and ends with very tired legs wobbling back down to the car? A lot of fun.
We were down visiting friends in Snowdonia and had arrived with no firm plans, so when Hamish offered to act tour guide and devise a route we immediately accepted. The route was originally pitched as a scramble-run but when the day came the weather was simply too good to rush and lots of time was spent walking and enjoying the views.
We parked up in Ogwen Valley and began with an easy run into Devil’s Kitchen. It seems that everywhere you turn in Snowdonia there’s rock: fun slabs gleaming in the sun, wet buttresses dripping in the shade, and some fabulous scrambling. Everything we asked about met with the reply “oh yeah, there’s good climbing there” and overwhelmed with options we were glad to have local knowledge.
Arriving at our first scramble I admittedly felt a bit nervous. I’m definitely a runner who dabbles in a bit of other fun stuff on the side, and whilst I knew I was more than capable of what we had planned I always feel intimidated when I’m the least experienced in a group. As such, our first two scrambles of the day were a great starting point. Idwal Staircase leading into Idwal Buttress offered lovely grippy rock and beautiful views, with plenty of easier routes should we need them. As we reached the top with two scrambles completed in less than 3.5km I knew it was going to be a very good day.
Next we traversed east to the bottom of Cneifon Arete, but with the sun shining and temperatures high we were in no rush. Whilst filling up bottles at a stream, eating flapjack and messing around on a boulder Hamish did his very best not to tell us that this is his favourite scramble of the route. “I’ll let you see what you think when you’re on it” he’d say, forgetting that he’d told us how amazing it is only a few minutes beforehand.
Hamish had told us that the most difficult move was at the start, which was quite steep but with plenty of holds. This was soon passed, and though the route wasn’t difficult it is always nice knowing that the hardest is done. This meant I could really relax and enjoy the rest of the route.
From here the scramble follows an airy ridge up to ‘the football pitch’. Hamish may have wanted us to form our own opinions, but it definitely was my favourite of the day. The route took in some lovely climbing which kept you focussed on the rock in front of you, all the whilst knowing that you were encircled by panoramic mountain views. Luckily there were plenty of good spots to take a break and admire the surroundings.
From the top of Cneifon we were presented with options: we could descend into the shade to the east and find some arguably more interesting routes, or we could continue up Y Gribin to the Glyders and down Bristly Ridge in the sunshine. Unfortunately we wouldn’t have time to do both and still make it to the local fell race we had planned for the evening. Seeking shade on a day like that felt like a crime and so we opted for fun in the sun. Once up Y Gribin we walked across the moonscape of Glyder Fach to the top of Bristly Ridge.
With four scrambles under our belts and a lot of ‘can you get up these rocks without using your hands?’ our legs were beginning to feel it. We were now rationing our water as we sweltered under the sun, but thankfully had enough fizzy worms to eat until we felt sick. Still, I think Bristly Ridge is where we began to slow down a little and started having to think a little harder about what we were doing. It’s amazing how time on your feet can affect how difficult something feels. Had we done Bristly Ridge at the start of the day I’m sure we’d have breezed through it without thinking twice, but even once we were walking on the path heading towards the south of Tryfan my legs were feeling a little wobbly. All in all, the perfect time to do the hardest scramble of the day, right?
Our final route was Pinnacle Scramble, ascending from the heather path up the east side of Tryfan. Satisfyingly this finishes right at the top of Tryfan, surprising a few walkers who were taking in the summit views.
This final route was the only one that none of us had done before and it took a while to find the start. The longer we spent traversing rocky hillside, scrutinising rock faces, and speculating about route difficulty the more apprehensive I became. It was here that I again became very aware of my comparative inexperience within the group, and the fact that tiredness only widens such gaps. Nonetheless, there was nothing for it but to follow on up and try my best.
Though I struggled to keep up with the others here and had to concentrate a lot more I still really enjoyed the route. Boosted by the knowledge that I’d have found it all much easier if tackled earlier in the day I knew that I’d be fine as long as I just kept going. Besides, there’s something so satisfying about doing something intimidating.
Once we reached the top we paused for the obligatory Adam and Eve photo shoot before heading back to the van. The steep descent off Tryfan to the road taxed our knees and energy levels, and trepidation for the fell race ahead began to creep in. In fact, a combination of low fuel, ice cream stops, dashboard warning lights, and the temptation of comfy sofas meant we very nearly didn’t make it.
We arrived at the other side of Snowdonia a little bedraggled and very hungry ten minutes before the race started. After quickly signing up we decided we had no energy to spare for a warm up and headed straight to the start line. We all felt fantastic for the first 500m of the race and then descended into survival mode, or at least I did. A 6km race with 600m of climb in warm summer drizzle felt like the perfect way to round off a day in the Welsh mountains.
I love days like this because they combine a variety of different mountain skills. For me, the most important skills on the day were scrambling and pacing. Both of these I've built up over time through trial and error, learning from friends, and attending courses.
If a day like this sounds dreamy but intimidating then I'd recommend signing up for one of the Girls on Hills skyrunning courses. These courses offer the opportunity to become familiar with scrambling in a reassuring and fun atmosphere. They're also the perfect opportunity to explore different styles of running, ask lots of questions, and build mountain experience.
Idwal staircase 2+
Idwal Buttress 2
Cneifon Arete 3
Y gribin 1
Bristly Ridge 1
Pinnacle Scramble 3+
Tal y Mignedd - 6.2km, 545m