Ah, Snowdonia. In typical Welsh fashion our second day in the mountains was totally rained out, so this was actually Day Three for us. We awoke early, to very similar scenes from the day before – low lying grey clouds and totally saturated earth. We’d caved and found ourselves a nice campsite with hot showers so we could start the day feeling a little more human. My mass of blonde hair was no longer romantically messy; instead, it was heavily knotted from hiding it in a hat for three days. We’d also both started to become aware of each other’s smell (a definite indication that it was time to scrub up properly).
The weather was due to improve though, with a mild North-Easterly wind due to bring some relief from the dense, close cloud cover. Over breakfast we poured over the guide book again – I watched Jamie’s hungry eyes skim over all the easy scrambles that were within our range. I, however, was already dead-set on one scramble, and one scramble alone – Tryfan’s North Ridge. We’d driven past Tryfan on numerous occasions; every time we did I saw scramblers and hikers geared up to the nines ready to tackle one of the many inviting scrambles Tryfan has to offer. There is no ‘easy’ way up. Tryfan is a dramatic fin that towers up dramatically straight from the shores of Llyn Ogwen, in the heart of the incredibly beautiful Ogwen Valley. There is plenty of good parking in big laybys along the A5 that runs parallel to Tryfan, which makes these routes even more appealing to both local and foreign mountaineers.
So this is where we started. The clouds cleared just after lunch as promised and what followed was nice breeze, some sweeps of friendly looking clouds and broken intervals of glorious sunshine – how perfect? We parked in one of the first laybys on our left, right next to the kissing gate where we were due to start, and directly in the shadow of Milestone Buttress. As per ritual, we checked our bags, harnessed up the dog and tightly secured our shoes. My brilliant Hanwag Macra Combis had yet to recover from being completely submerged in a bog two days earlier, so I settled for my stiff Mammut Approach shoes (it felt incredibly strange to head off up a mountain without any ankle support).
We set off through the kissing gate and followed a steep uphill path that ran parallel to a beautiful old stone wall. We quickly came to a large wooden stile at the foot of Milestone Buttress that crossed the old stone wall. Our immediate instinct was to cross it, but don’t do that. We did, and had to come back on ourselves shortly after to, instead, follow the path up and left from the stile (which we would have known, had we not been so stubborn and checked the guide book).
After about 100 meters the path then reached the shoulder of Milestone Buttress – a gorgeous piece of towering rhyolite with lots of stunning multi pitch climbing. We made a quick mental note to return here when we had more gear with us. From here the path turns into a rabbit’s warren of options. The general consensus being that as long as you keep ascending and heading in a southerly direction then you will find your way to the top. We did manage to find ourselves on some tricky pieces of rock by attempting to ascend too quickly, but the great thing about this scramble is if you feel out of your depth, you can back track and find an easier route without having to search too hard.
Millie was handling this all with the ease of a fully grown doe. However, her tiny legs meant we had to assist her up some of the taller slabs of rock (dog paws are also particularly bad at gripping on slippery rock!). She was sensible and eager, which made it much easier for us.
After shimmying our way up a few chutes and chimneys and around some beautiful large cairns of rock, the path eventually opened out into a large flat area of glassy, white quartz. Over to our right lay Cannon Rock – A dramatic splinter of rock that lies at a 45 degree angle overlooking the Ogwen Valley. We couldn’t resist. We threw down our packs and took it in turns to clamber up and down the pillar of rock. Jamie was delicate and waltzed his way up it with no need to use his hands at all. I was a little more panicked by the thought of falling off and having to call Mountain Rescue, so I was all hands and feet on my way up. The view was incredible, and was only made better by the loud thumping of my heart in my throat. The wind gently whipped at my hair, and I could feel my cheeks turning pink due to the late autumn nip in the air. I coaxed myself back down Cannon Rock; humming the Lion King theme song to myself (it had that kind of feel about it).
The path then traversed around to the left and up a huge stone wall until we were running parallel to Heather Terrace – The path below where all the East-facing scrambles on Tryfan start. From here it was all easy scrambling over huge boulders all the way to the summit. We came across Adam and Eve (two large rocks about 4 feet apart) but we chickened out from the jump because the rocks were still wet (I know it sounds like a rubbish excuse, but the route had opened up and become much more exposed by this point and my legs became shaky just looking at them).
We skipped up the ridge past Adam and Eve and found ourselves a nice bit of rock to sit down and scoff some snacks before making our descent. Aside from two other walkers just in front of us, who were now making their way down Tryfan’s South Ridge, we were the only two up there. We drank up, fed Millie a leftover sausage from breakfast and turned our attention to the sky. We were being blessed with another stunning set of oranges streaking through the sky, interrupted by intervals of dark blue clouds.
But wait a minute.
I tuned to Jamie; my brow furrowed into a confused frown and said “What’s the time? Why is the sun setting already?”
“It’s only about half 4?” He replied, equally as confused.
Oh F**k. Daylight savings. Our watches and phones had adjusted automatically and we’d totally forgotten that we were losing an hour of daylight in the evening. Good planning Campbell.
We quickly gathered our kit – our enjoyment of the scenery having to be cut short by our poor planning, and we scampered down the easy Grade 1 scramble down Tryfan’s South Ridge. We must have cut right a bit too early because we quickly found ourselves having to navigate a tricky scree slope (the correct path was obviously on the far side of the scree slope, we’d just missed it). By this point, my brain had become tired and I wasn’t paying as much attention to my footing as I should have been. I lost my footing on some wet rock, fell and landed on my butt and left hand. My first thought was “pain”. Jamie turned around quickly but the colour had already left my face. My second thought that quickly followed was “Please don’t let it be my wrist”. A sharp shooting pain was emitting from my left arm in full force now. Before I even looked down at it I wiggled my fingers and slowly started to rotate my wrist. No pain seemed to come from these movements so I was convinced that I hadn’t fractured anything. I slowly looked down at my left palm and took in a sharp gasp of air. My entire palm and all the way down to the tips of each finger was covered in blood.
This is where Jamie took over and in a few quick movements he’d rinsed my hand and was clawing through our packs looking for the first aid kit; but to no avail. I let out a little cry; frustrated at myself for forgetting the one piece of kit I am usually so good at remembering. Jamie didn’t let it get to him. Instead he rinsed off my hand again (the cut itself was no longer than 4 cm and not deep enough to require stitches), pulled out the napkin from the bag that had been used for the dogs left over sausage, took the two hairbands off my wrist and fashioned a temporary bandage. I then put a glove over it to hold it all in place until we could clean it up properly and assess it once we’d gotten off the mountain. For now, that was not the priority. It was getting dark and I didn’t want to be navigating a new downwards scramble in the pitch black.
Taking it a bit slower now, we eventually made it over to Llyn Bochlwyd. The path around the Lake was now well marked, but boggy and rocky. We’d come off the scree slope in the dark, only by the light of our head torches, so we were incredibly thankful for a well-trodden path.
However, the path seemed to disappear as quickly as it had come, and we found ourselves once again having to navigate down some tricky terrain in an attempt to make it back down to the road.
After negotiating with a few bogs and down a couple more steep sections we eventually found ourselves on another well-trodden path that lead us all the way down the slope, over a stile and back on to the main road. We rejoiced at the sight of the road and turned around to look up at the darkness. Through the clear cut blackness we could just about make out two more head torches making their way down past the Lake. I remember thinking “God, I hope they don’t decide to follow our route down.”
We skipped along the road now; eager to get out of the cold and into a warm pub. In the business of avoiding knee high bogs I’d totally forgotten about my botch job of a bandage on my hand. In the dim glow of the dome light in the van I examined my cut a bit closer and decided that it would heal up fine on it’s own – no need for stitches. Instead we cleaned it up properly, washing out the tiny shard of rock, and put a fresh dressing on it.
We staggered into the same pub we’d visited two nights prior. This time, avoiding eye contact and with our tail between our legs a little bit. The cut on my hand would soon heal into a nice purple scar, but we would never forget how a few little mistakes left us in quite a pickle.
As if I wasn’t before, I am now even more OCD about checking our packs before we head out all day, and even more mindful of the weather and the sunset times (I know it sounds obvious, but I had completely take it all for granted that day). I am grateful that our series of events were not more serious; and that we only came away with a banged up hand and a banged up ego.
So the moral kids? You are not bigger than the mountains. Be careful. Be prepared. Be humble.
See you next week for the last instalment of our North Wales trip!