Hiking Tryfan and the Glyderau in Wales
By: Vicky Inglis
TRAILS AROUND THE WORLD presents
Hiking Tryfan and the Glyderau in Wales
The 1085m high massif of Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa in Welsh) is reportedly one of the most climbed mountains anywhere in the world. Easily accessible in the heart of Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, with a variety of routes to the summit suitable for a range of abilities, hordes of Three Peak challengers, plus a mountain railway from nearby Llanberis, mean that around 36,000 people will reach the top each year. On bank holiday weekends, it’s not unheard of for people to queue (we British do like a queue) to tackle some sections of the path and for that obligatory selfie at the summit.
Head a little north instead, and you’ll discover the Ogwen Valley, dominated by the sheer north faces of Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr, and the distinctive shape of Tryfan, a stark snaggletooth of grey rock that squeezes the road tight to the side of Llyn Ogwen. Although the valley is still hugely popular, with a hostel and outdoor centre, visitors spread out and you never feel the same sense of overcrowding. And where Snowdon has a busy cairn and visitor centre on the summit, these mountains are topped with an otherworldly landscape of fractured rock where people are few and far between.
My favourite route starts climbing immediately, with an uphill slog past the Milestone Buttress turning into 500 vertical metres or so of scrambling up the North Ridge of Tryfan, facing one false summit after another. Finally you round a boulder, to greet two pillars of rock, Adam and Eve, that stand sentinel on the peak. Thrill-seekers leap between the two, heedless of the hundred foot drop at their feet, to win the freedom of the mountain.
The descent past the South Peak to Bwlch Tryfan is an easier route, and meets trails leading up from the valley that don’t involve scrambling, giving an alternative option to get to the top of Tryfan. From Bwlch Tryfan you can walk the Miner’s track along the scree slope for a more gentle climb leading to the top of Glyder Fach, or take a direct route scrambling up up Bristly Ridge. This is the more exciting option, and gives stunning views down in to Cwm Bochlwyd and the valley beyond. It is possible to bypass the more challenging sections, as there are several routes up Bristly Ridge, but you need to use your hands to get to the top.
The two tracks meet again on the boulder covered plateau at the top of the ridge. Look for the distinctive features of Glyder Fach: the Cantilever Stone, a massive slab that looks precariously balanced, and Castell y Gwynt (Castle of the Winds), a spectacular collection of spines and spires that wouldn’t look out of place in Middle Earth.
In contrast, the top of Glyder Fawr, although higher, is less dramatic. On a clear day though, it has great views across to Snowdon and the knife-edge ridge of Crib Goch, and beyond to the coast, the Isle of Man and even the mountains of Ireland. The descent leads into a steep gully known as Twll Du, or more evocatively in English, the Devil’s Kitchen, bringing you down to the bottom of Cwm Idwal and the sparkling water of Llyn Idwal.
For walkers without a head for heights, a low level route follows the stone-paved path from the National Trust centre to Llyn Idwal, meeting another path that circles the lake, taking you below the steep crags at the back of Cwm Idwal, giving stunning views of the mountains, and down the valley towards the coast.
Venturing into the mountains is a serious undertaking, and its important to be prepared. Take water and snacks, and suitable clothing for the conditions.
GPS devices are useful, but do have their shortcomings. Take a map and compass, and know how to use them. Ordnance Survey Explorer (the orange one) OL17 is the map you need.
Stay overnight in the valley, camping at Gwern Gof Uchaf farm, or book into the bunkhouse, right at the foot of Tryfan, and make an early start to catch the sunrise spilling over the mountains.
A Handy Guide to Welsh for Walkers
Note: I am not a Welsh speaker. I mangle these pronunciations like the best of them.
Glyder – should be pronounced with a short vowel in the middle, so it sounds like -lid- and not -lied-. You can call both mountains the Glyders, the accepted English plural form, but you’ll win more brownie points with locals by saying Glyderau instead.
F – the F in Tryfan, Fawr and Fach, should sound like you’re really saying V instead.
Cwm – sounds like coom and describes a bowl shaped valley with a steep back wall. There is a feature on Everest known as the Western Cwm, at the top of the Khumbu Icefall, as it reminded climber George Mallory a little bit of Wales.
Llyn – is the Welsh for lake. If you can wrap your tongue around the Scottish pronunciation of loch, remember the phlegmy ending, and use that for the Ll at the start. This will be very useful during your time in Wales, as this particular letter combination crops up in almost every place name in the country.
Hi I’m Vicky, and I wear the hiking boots at These Vagabond Shoes. I’ve been hiking and climbing mountains in the UK and Europe since I was little. Originally from the north of Scotland, I’m now based near London, and spend weekends escaping to Wales, the Peak District and the Lakes. I’m currently planning my route and training to hike coast-to-coast across Scotland in May 2015.