Carneddau Horseshoe

General Trip Reports

On Saturday 6th September I met up with a group of private clients from London, Warrington and Manchester. Two were previous clients of ours, Jennifer and Davina, having joined us for a day on the Snowdon Horseshoe a couple of years ago. That had been one of our best trips of the year – pleasant company, good weather and testing terrain. Now Jennifer and Davina were back in Betws y Coed with some friends who had tagged along – and they wanted adventure!

I had popped over to their hotel in Betws-y-Coed to go through the potential routes. The criteria was simple – a long day out, some easy scrambling and a ‘quiet day’ – something we specialise in! We sat in the bar of the hotel, poring over maps and talking through our options. In the end a plan was formed and a route chosen – we were heading to the Ogwen Valley

Starting from the long layby alongside the A5 we began a gentle ascent of Pen yr Ole Wen (978m above sea level). This is one of my favourite walking ascents in North Wales – you cross a stone wall then wind your way amongst boulders, streams and undergrowth before entering the upper cwm above the shores of Ffynnon Lloer. In winter this is a climber’s playground, with dozens of winter climbing routes scattered across the headwall of the cwm. Our ambitions today were a little tamer – but we still had a short scramble ahead of us before we reached the main ridge.

Pen Yr Ole Wen stream crossing
Pen Yr Ole Wen stream crossing

After some basic scrambling tuition and practice on the lower rocks we crossed over to the slab and gully that needed to be climbed and ascended to the broken, shrubby ledges and slopes that lead to the summit. From here the main summits of Y Carneddau are visible, that is they would be if it wasn’t for the all-encompassing mist that descended on us! Periodically it cleared, showing glimpses of Tryfan or Carnedd Dafydd but mostly we had the perfect backdrop for a passport photo.

Watching the clouds roll past
Watching the clouds roll past

The ridge broadens and continues on to the next summit – Carnedd Dafydd (1044m above sea level). Typical of the mountains on this range, the summit is effectively a loose pile of rocks and shale, with a small shelter to crouch in and consume sandwiches (and Haribo). With the mist continuing to surround us we needed to be careful of our navigation to ensure we picked the correct path and found our way to the bwlch just before the third summit of the day – Carnedd Llewellyn (1064m above sea level). Here the white clouds began to lift, with a view and a drop appearing to our right and a towering wall of mist to our left. It also revealed a team of shepherds gathering sheep down from the upper slopes – the old and the new combining with indecipherable calls and whistles backed up by a mobile phone.

Another summit, another photo!
Another summit, another photo!

This, our highest summit of the day, was a near double of it’s slightly smaller brother to the east. Dafydd and Lllewellyn were 13thC Welsh princes, and the nearby summit of Carnedd Uchaf was controversially renamed as Carnedd Gwenllian to create a ‘full set’ of historic names. But none of this mattered when our team of merry walkers saw what was next – a descent to a narrow ridge down a steep slope, before a final cruel climb to the last summit of the day Pen Yr Helgi Du (833m above sea level). The first descent was crossed quickly, the conversation flowing as we zig-zagged back and forth through the scree. The path began to narrow, and occasionally brought us close to the drop above Craig Yr Ysfa, scene of one of the most technical mountain rescues Wales has seen this decade. A delicate downclimb is required to get past a broad slab, then a simple, albeit loose, scramble to the summit. Pen Yr Helgi Du is one of those rare summits where the scramble on it’s flanks finishes on the summit itself.

Carneddau ponies
Carneddau ponies

Now came the long, gentle descent and walk back along the valley to the start. A short diversion to take photos of the Carneddau ponies and another stop to locate the bridge that crosses the leat under the mountain led to a road crossing of the A5 and a gentle, flat walk along an old road and through campsites to reach our cars. All that was left to do was to say a final farewell, take the obligatory group photo and recommend places to eat and drink in Betws y Coed and Capel Curig!

This is one of the best circular hillwalking routes on the Carneddau. There are other starting points from which to explore this upland massif, but this route – Pen Yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Dafydd, Carnedd Llewellyn, Pen Yr Helgi Du – has everything an adventurous hillwalker could want, but without retracing your steps or shuttling between cars. It was yet another fantastic day in the office for Snowdonia Guided Walks, with a group of fit, keen and engaging walkers who not only wanted to explore but were keen to learn new skills, look out for each other and push their boundaries. There is talk of a return trip for a round of Tryfan and Glyder Fach and Fawr – so hopefully this trip report will have a sequel!

If you would like to book one of our guides for a privately guided day in Snowdonia for this route one one of countless others, or join an organised guided walk to the summit of Snowdon or another popular Snowdonia peak then you can find out more info on the links on the menu.

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