Microadventure #9: Backpacking in Snowdonia With Friends

May, My Year of Microadventure - #YYOM

I woke up late on the Saturday: I’d lost a lot of sleep during the week so had time to make up for. I could hear two members of our party up and about already, could smell their breakfasts and could hear them starting to take their tents down. With bleary eyes I emerged to what looked like perfect hiking weather… Bright but not too warm. After the dank drizzle of the night before this was a relief. The grass was a deep, rich green and the big fluffy clouds promised a nice day ahead.

Malcolm’s tent was already packed and he was ready to head off, The Other Matt wasn’t far behind. Since for me breakfast was to consist of just a breakfast bar or two, and since packing down simply involved collapsing the tent and stuffing the sleeping bag, I was in no huge hurry. Especially since Tom and Jacqueline in the next tent hadn’t even stirred yet. After about half an hour or so some noises started to come from their tent suggesting they were slowly waking up.

Camping in the grounds of Dolwyddelan Castle
I’d bought a new backpacking tent for this trip, and found it brilliant but an arse to pitch for the first time. In the dark. And rain. And wind.

We had arrived in two groups the night before after a long drive. The great thing about Snowdonia is that it’s so remote, but the problem with Snowdonia is that it’s so remote. I’d bought a new backpacking tent for this trip, and found it brilliant but an arse to pitch for the first time. In the dark. And rain. And wind.

I headed down to the pub where the others were eating. We had a beer or two and then headed back up the hill for the first night.

When Tom and Jacqueline finally emerged from their tent that morning we were all wondering the same thing: How they’d managed to bring so much stuff with them, get it to the campsite, and then dwarf their 3-man tent with it all.

The Other Matt barked a “we’re moving out in half an hour” order at them to prompt them into action. But half an hour later they were only just starting to cook their breakfast. And half an hour after that they’d only just eaten and were only just starting to collapse their tent…

backpacking tents in Dolwyddelan Castle's grounds, Snowdonia, Wales
The great thing about Snowdonia is that it’s so remote, but the problem with Snowdonia is that it’s SO REMOTE.

Now we were faced with a problem: Jacqueline was never going to make it over Moel Siabod with her rucksack as heavy as it was. She’d brought far too much gear and not one of us could have carried a load that heavy over half of a mountain, let alone Jacqueline who had started by telling everyone that she was unfit. She’d made the rookie mistake of bringing too much gear.

At least half of her gear needed to go back to the car while we were still reasonably close, and it came down to the rest of us to make sure she only took what she really needed. By the time we’d finished there were bags and bags of things that went back to the car and her rucksack now weighed about the same as the rest of ours. Which was bad since she wasn’t carrying a tent while the rest of us were, but at least she was now carrying an acceptable weight on her back.

A glorious rich green carpet of grass in Dolwyddelan, Wales
I emerged to what looked like perfect hiking weather… The grass was a deep, rich green and the big fluffy clouds promised a nice day ahead.

Time from getting up to leaving:  Over an hour and a half.
Assessment:  Must do better.

We set out for day one. Malcolm, The Other Matt and myself all seemed to have a similar pace. Our route was to take us about half way up the side of Moel Siabod to Llyn-y-Foel lake, then back down again into Capel Curig. As we waded through the part-bog-part-path route that The Other Matt had thoughtfully chosen for us we could see where we were heading to and it looked like a long way.

After wading through every bog ever formed in the history of the planet, we emerged into a forest. Now that we were on dry paths again I realised just how soaked through my feet were already and I made a mental note: Buy some waterproof hiking boots as wet feet is the one common theme on all of my hikes.

Malcolm overlooking the forest near Dolwyddelan
We climbed straight up the side of a hill that looked like the result of an atom bomb landing in the middle of North Wales

The path through the forest was easy going and we made short work of it. As we left the forest again we could see that the climb up Moel Siabod itself was about to begin. Some dubious map reading resulted in us starting this climb too far east without the benefit of a path (who needs paths?!) straight up the side of a hill that had previously been forest land but now looked like the result of an atom bomb landing in the middle of North Wales.

At the top of this first climb we followed a fence back to the path we were supposed to have been following.

A view over the forest near Dolwyddelan, Snowdonia
Some dubious map reading resulted in us starting this climb too far east without the benefit of a path (who needs paths?!)

I’m not entirely sure what happened next.

The map suggested where the path was supposed to be, and we started off following it, but soon the features on the ground stopped looking like those on the map and the path disappeared completely to be replaced by streams that shouldn’t have been there. At least not according to Mr and Mrs OS Map.

The place where the path was supposed to be seemed to be sheer cliff face so we chose not to go that way. Instead we ended up traversing the hill round to the west to try and find a suitable point to reach Llyn-y-Foel lake, but all the way round it was just more cliff. After a fashion we found a relatively passable spot and, after a bit of a scramble, we were over it.

Just below the lip of the lake we stopped for some lunch. My knees were hurting somewhat as they were still in a bad way from the 18 mile hike on Dartmoor just two weeks earlier. This climb wasn’t helping them at all.

Llyn-y-foel Lake, Moel Siabod, between Dolwyddel and Capel Curig, Snowdonia
Moel Siabod (pronounced “Moe-wull Shabbod” in case you’re wondering) from Llyn-y-Foel lake (pronounced “Llyn-y-Foel”)

At the lake I took the opportunity to top up my water supply while we waited for Tom and Jacqueline. We breathed in the view for a while, then headed on through what turned out to be yet more bog. Who chose this route, Other Matt? My feet squelched as we reached the path down to Capel Curig.

But now as the hike entered its downhill phase I realised I had a problem on my hands. Well, on my legs really. My knees were in agony, the left one especially. Every step down the hill was so painful I thought I was going to be sick. I raided the first aid kit for ibuprofen and, each time everyone stopped to take photos or look at the view, I took the opportunity to sit down and rest my legs – even if only for a moment. The painkillers, once they kicked in, took the edge off the pain. But I was concerned as to what damage I was causing by continuing to hike on them.

Not that that stopped me from hiking on them.

Hiking through the forest near Dolwyddelan, Snowdonia
The forest of green slime

We reached Capel Curig and followed a footpath along the river, looking for the footbridge that The Other Matt had earmarked as the crossing over the river and into the campsite. But none of us could see a footbridge and we’d walked a fair way down this footpath now. Eventually Malcolm resorted to the satnav.

“It should be, well … right here,” he said with a glance up and down the river. Matt and I did the same thing. And then as one we all seemed to notice the row of stones going across the river right in front of us. This was less of a footbridge and more of a row of stepping stones. What did the map say?

Footbridge – stepping stones

Who the hell chose this route?! The river wasn’t especially deep looking, but fast moving and partially flowing over the stepping stones, which were green with some sort of green alien slime designed specifically to catch out unwary hikers. But it was a hell of a long way to double back to the next bridge, so we figured “in for a penny, in for a pound” and gingerly headed over the alien goo.

Relieved to be on the other side we all breathed a deep sigh of relief which we immediately choked on when we realised we were actually only on an island slap bang in the middle of the river. The next set of stones were in a deeper, even faster-moving part of the river, and were thick with the alien slime. Half of the stones were actually under the water.

Okay, now we were screwed.

Malcolm made a precarious attempt to test the viability of a crossing. After wobbling his way onto the first rock he immediately wobbled his way back off the first rock again, clinging to a spindly tree that was growing on the island. But it was so far back to the other bridge that I decided to give it a go myself. Alas the alien goo got me this time and I immediately plunged my foot into the river right up to the knee. Luckily the rest of me didn’t follow it.

Well, you can’t get any wetter than wet, and this was supposed to be an adventure so… Well… What the hell… Let’s do this…

“I’m going to wade across the river,” I heard myself say, and with a surprising amount of confidence in my voice. The higher consciousness in my brain wondered who’d approved such a statement to be blurted out, but then decided to just roll with it. Looking across the river I concluded that the deepest part would come up just over the knee, but that would hardly be a problem: I could just roll my trousers up and wade straight across the river, and to hell with the ridiculous death-trap stepping stones.

Trousers rolled up as high as I could get them, but with socks and shoes comically still in place, I stepped into the river and gasped slightly at the cold. But actually the cold was quite nice, especially on my poor abused knees. The river was moving very fast and the rocks and stones on the river bed were even more slimy than the stepping stones, but I slowly lurched my way across the river. There was an unpleasant wobble in the middle when a stone shifted under my feet and – for one horrifying moment – I legitimately thought that I was going face first into the water, but I managed to right myself and carry on.

On reaching the other side I saw Malcolm step off the bank with his shoes in his hands and his trousers rolled up. Sensible idea. He made it across with no problems, which just left The Other Matt who had opted – for reasons I still don’t understand – to change into flip flops and take the path across the stepping stones. His journey across seemed precarious at best and Malcolm and I were trying to work out between us at which exact point he would slip and fall into the river with an enormous comical splash.

The Other Matt treads carefully on Capel Curig's precarious stepping stones
His journey across seemed precarious at best and Malcolm and I were trying to work out between us at which exact point he would slip and fall into the river.

But, somewhat boringly, he made it across without taking a swim. We carried on for the camp site, all of us dry. Except for my feet, which were soaked.

When Tom and Jacqueline caught us up at the camp site they demanded to know how we got across the damned stepping stones. They too had eventually opted to wade across with shoes in place, so I wasn’t the only one with cold wet feet that night. Although why they didn’t take their shoes off I cannot say.

We paid for our pitch, put up our tents and ate. The Other Matt evicted a teenage girl from his tent who had mistaken his for hers, and then we headed to the pub in Capel Curig on the advice of the campsite owners who suggested that the pub in Pont Cyfyng was “a bit rough”. The pub in Capel Curig on the other hand proved to be “a bit rammed” and so, at first, we were shoulder to shoulder with the entire population of Wales.

The sign said "no swimming". Sound advice I suppose, but perhaps a little superfluous?
The sign said “no swimming”. Sound advice I suppose, but perhaps a little superfluous?

Serendipitously a table emptied as we returned from the bar with beers in hand, so we promptly moved to it before a sheep could steal it. The Other Matt produced a pack of cards from nowhere and we spent the rest of the night playing Wildcard Rummy, which made more sense to me drunk than it has done at any point since. Since I was dehydrated I made the obvious sensible decision to drink Leffe which went down a treat, and before I knew it three pints of the stuff had vanished.

We were drunk and tired but very happy as we headed back to the campsite that night, where I slept like a baby. A dehydrated baby that’s had 3 pints of Leffe. That is to say not very well.

Next morning I was feeling a little “rough round the edges” thanks to the happy juice, but nothing I couldn’t handle, and besides: The dizziness, nausea and throbbing head all took my mind off my still very sore knees. We packed the tents up and headed out, back towards Moel Siabod.

From L to R: Tom, Jacqueline, The Other Matt, Matt
From L to R: Tom, Jacqueline, The Other Matt, Matt

My knees still hurt but the painkillers seemed to keep them in line. I was feeling sick as a dog right up until lunch when suddenly I became as hungry as a dog. We ate lunch alongside the road in the forest we’d passed through the previous day, and while we were there we made the amusing discovery that Jacqueline had been carrying a 500g bag of peanuts and a 500g bag of prunes. She had opened neither.

From L to R: Tom, Jacqueline, The Other Matt, Malcolm
From L to R: Tom, Jacqueline, The Other Matt, Malcolm

After lunch we continued back down the hill into Dolwyddelan and back to the cars where the others spent a long time trying to work out how to fit all of Jacqueline’s belongings back into the boot of The Other Matt’s tiny Toyota Celica. Supposedly it’s good to end on a cliffhanger, so here’s one for you: I left before they figured it out, so I’m afraid we’ll never know.

The hills near Dolwyddelan, Snowdonia
Moody weather just outside Dolwyddelan

2 thoughts on “Microadventure #9: Backpacking in Snowdonia With Friends”

  1. Find post on reddit linking an outdoors blog. Looks interesting, have a read.

    Couple of paragraphs in realise the trip account I’m reading includes me and that it’s describing a hike I did a while back. Heh.

    Hope all’s well Matt, still have the video of other Matt unfortunately not dunking himself in the river, and the one of Jacqueline rolling around on the floor attempting to shoulder her backpack!

    1. Ha! It’s a funny little world 🙂 So I’ve been reddited? That’s news to me. Didn’t realise anyone was actually reading these, I put them up mainly for my own benefit, always nice to have a log of trips you’ve done. That said, I fell behind and then life started getting in the way of actually getting out there and doing stuff so there haven’t been any fresh posts for a very long time now. I’m hoping to get back to Dartmoor in the next few months, and I’ve got a bigger adventure planned which I’m hoping to do before the summer or in early summer.

      Moel Siabod was a good laugh, we should do something again soon. Been meaning to send an email round asking if anyone’s got any ideas but, again, life keeps getting in the way!

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