I found myself with a non-working week in early April and dearly needed to get away. Set off at 6am on Monday and forgot the fish and cheese, but thankfully remembered some broccoli and everything else except the waterproof trews. I'm relatively new to driving, London to Snowdonia via hanger lane in rush hour is a daunting prospect, and I missed my turning twice out of Babylon. Still, the whirlpool not supposed to be easy to escape eh?
Onwards, and upwards, to the Ogwen Valley...as I came through Capel Curig, Floating Points on the stereo and a huge stupid smile on my face - elated. Bedded down at the very comfy Gwern gof Isaf (real plumbing) and went for a stroll.
I had my heart set on the Carneddau for these few days as I'd never crossed the valley from Tryfan's rock knuckle. My luck was in and the weather mostly miraculous.
The next day I walked up Pen y ole Wen to Lyn Ffynnon and paused for a while. Its quiet here, really quiet...there's a bird of prey gaining height above me and the water is making shadows on the river bed. Stillness.
I'm already falling into pace, into place again, and kind of amazed at how little time its taking. Walking is pretty great at doing this.
A little scramble and onto a nice long ridge, over Daffyd (my namesake) and onto Llewellyn, the 2nd highest top in Wales. Its a good yomp this, I don't like to rush, and by the time I get to Llewellyn the weather is coming in a bit. Off the east side in the bitter cold and down we go, through the snow - have to do Yr Elen another time. The way down is a lovely wee scramble on Crag y Isfa.
Here I met a fell runner who'd forgotten his trousers and was freezing in shorts only, depositing water for a run in a week or 2 - Its my first solo outing this and one of the lovely things is chatting to other lone mountain crazies - he described it as a 'holiday for retards' which amused me no end. His pace put me to shame though, he went off to do another 2, I limped home to camp, having overdone it on my first day out on the hill for 8 months. Rice and fish, wine, ipod, tent under the stars, thankyou very much indeed.
Day 2 and I thought I'd take it easier. Up the back of Capel Curig and into Crafnant nature reserve, with wild horses grazing in a flattened valley under moody matte skies, up and over the pass (another chance encounter with a lovely fella in woollen cap and breeches - hillside chic!) and down to the head of Crafnant itself. My knees feel like they have scythes inside - definitely out too long yesterday. Bathe my hurty hinges in the cold water stream, eat, then tramp northward though the pine plantation as the weather starts to clear...from enchanted faerie hillocks to ripped up tree stumps.
Then, out we pop onto moorland
I got lost in the detail here for a while, it all got a bit Tarkovsky
So I'm only hurting on the downs, and once I get to Llyn Cowlyd I have the whole place to myself for the afternoon - its utterly magical - psychic space after a long working winter in the Smoke. I sit on a 3 tonne Neolithic rock at the head of the valley and eat the last square of chocolate and have a moment. Part of me feels very greedy taking this much time to myself...but its goooood! Back to the camp via Capel Curig on a lovely path in yawning orange-yellow shadows, then the meths stove on for pasta and wine. And a sub zero night - thanking Bokonon I saw fit to bring a warm jacket this time...but the old synthetic bag ain't working, a new one will be needed for Scotland and the Pyrenees later in the year.
Day 3 and a late start, after faffing in Betws y Coed getting proper coffee and a bit of bargain kit. The start of the walk is a winding single lane farmers track in the east of the Cardennau, up to the car park at Lyn Eigiau reservoir - a few people had mentioned it and its well worth the gates. A stunning morning, and an almost empty valley.
Past the lake and up into the basin that I'd seen from the ridge near Crag y Isfa - great wild camping possibles here, and a lovely little hut. Then a steep and sometimes pathless trawl up the side of the hills to alpine steppe, deep unstable snow by the river off Foel Grach and more wild horses.
The cloud rushed in about 2pm as I got near the top, still kicking out some footholds in the odd snow sheet for the Liverpudian couple behind me with no poles, who are heading for Llewellyn summit. Feeezing cold lunch surveying the drama of the high back country looking out north east to where the sea should be. A moment or 3 of exposure...I am on my own, the hills are very bare and massive, the visibility is dropping with the temperature, my compass skills are workable but basic and should be better. I make a plan A and a plan B, and head off for the line between Foel Grach and Foel Fras, immediately losing a boot in an icy bog - that's what the poles are supposed to be for!
A while later and I'm feeling better among the neolithic remains on the comforting hulk of Foel Fras,
but the path back to the east eludes me for the next hour or so. Eventually i decide to drop down to Craig Dulyn, and off-road for an hour or two until I reach the valley bottom - it feels pretty remote out here...but not that remote - I spend some of today picking up itineraries, tissues and food packaging dropped by Duke of Edinburgh parties (a bizarre, flat earth, tame the wilderness paradigm for the mainly middle class? - beware Minerva!)
Cefyn Coch, and home. Stop in for a meal in the pub at Capel Curig, but its gone gastro and so I have a 1/2 of welsh mountain and wend my way back to the stove and more rice. Tomorrow I go home, and get caught in a mountain of traffic as the airports collapse under the weight of our expectations (now dust).
So what did I learn?
I learnt I can't put a price on warmth, so I'm off to the ever expert Bob and Rose, who can. I learnt that it really IS good advice to pitch your tent with the little end into the wind. Ours is pretty great for £60 (it got us over the Picos de Europa) but needs some extra guys at the front for stability - we'll see how the new additions fair in Lochaber. I worked out how to prime fuel and stove efficiently before cooking. I learnt I loved solo camping and didn't feel weird and lonely at all. I finally got the message that I need to build up stamina gradually over 2 or 3 days, and not scoff the big walks down straight away like a greedy boy, especially after months of pavements and basements and LCD screens, or else risk very sore pins. This is already changing how we plan our routes for other trips this year.
Sometimes though, its just about the work/weather window.
I understood that walking and camping is the art of simplicity, and timeliness. It's about just enough in time, and no more. More just gets in the way. When I walk and work in rhythm with my surroundings, things work, when I push or pull too hard, they don't - at its best its a synergy between the biosphere and my body, and in many ways exactly like music. The landscape changes in real time, its complicated, elegant, furious, its on a grand scale, and its not there for our convenience.In fact it can make your joints burn and slap you hard on your comfort zone, without a thought and just for breakfast, if you are lucky. I like it that big hills are implacable, but 'they' couldn't care less whether I like it or not. For a species that's completely self absorbed and at the top of the foodchain, for now, this is a vital piece of information. I'm confronted with the question 'what do I really need?', and that's a question I really need to ask.
More photos of the Carneddau