After a summer of planning, my Dad and I finally managed to find a free weekend to spend climbing in North Wales. Both of us mountain enthusiasts, we were keen to tackle a long route which would put us high out of the valley and onto a summit. Having had quite a prolific year of climbing and walking in Snowdonia, I was keen to do a novel route that would be isolated from the majority of weekend warriors and outside of my familiar experiences of the national park.
Sub Cneifion Rib (left) and Cwm Cneifon above to the right.
A quick study of ‘Scrambles & Easy Climbs in Snowdonia’
cross referenced with the excellent ‘Rock Climbing in Snowdonia’
by the late Paul Williams quickly drew our attention to the alpine style climbs leading into and over Cym Cneifion (the Nameless Valley), with over 240m of easy climbing and scrambling that would put us onto the Gribin ridge, a grade one scramble that lead onto the summit plateau of Glyder Fawr (999m).
Sub Cneifion Rib
We awoke at seven in the morning to a still dark sky and the brisk winds of the pre dawn. Dad had warned me that this weekend England might bare the death throes of a hurricane coming east from the Americas, although we weren’t due to feel it until the end of the next day. I have come to value the somewhat pessimistic (but no doubt warranted) rule that on average for each day without rain in the Ogwen valley I can expect at least three days of miserable weather. So I was cautious this morning, having not yet paid my yearly dues.
We got a quick start to the morning and had set off from the Ogwen cottage by about seven thirty, not even giving the sky a chance to colour. It was about a half hour walk to the base of our first technical objective, the Sub Cneifion Rib, and as the skies lightened the looming clouds above broke and to our surprise swiftly parted. By the time we had walked above Llyn Idwal, the lake’s waters reflecting the full moon above the pyramid summit of Y Garn, the skies were blue and my fears of the impeding weather were abandoned.
Leading the last pitches of Sub Cneifion Rib.
The Sub Cneifion Rib stands over a hundred metres above Llyn Idwal, offering expansive views down the valley even from its base. From a distance the rib looks flat, bordered by slopes of grass; almost a conceited route. It certainly didn’t have that committing feel that is provided in abundance on the north face of Lliwedd. Yet from below the rock looms upwards towards the Gribin Ridge, lost in the expanse of ground above. Dad had already graciously allowed me the lead for the entirety of the expedition (the rat) and so it was with a sense of glee that I racked up. I had loosely appraised the guidebook’s description and had settled on a more intuitive approach. In other words I was too cold and impatient to read the necessary paragraphs.
I raced up the first pitch enjoying the double cracks offered on easy ground, unperturbed by the damp rock. Welsh granite is brilliant for being able to climb in the wet. I soon passed the first belay and combined the next pitch, appreciating the double ropes we’d lugged up from the car even more. This put me onto the technical crux of the entire route; a good foot up over a bulge and into a steep crack. A bit of thinking got me past this and up rightwards into a solid belay, unfortunately caked in mud. I brought up Dad, who was thoroughly enjoying the touch of real rock again. And we were soon both looking upwards at the next pitch.
The second and subsequent third pitches were rather disappointing, with little rock and too much heather in between the belay stances. A biting wind and numb hands from the cold rock did little to add to their appreciation. I was able to increase the involvement of my second by loosing a nut into a deep recess and then demanding its retrieval. Serves him right for dropping one of my nuts really.
Views from the top of Sub Cneifion Rib.
The fourth pitch to the top of the Sub Cneifion Rib provided sufficient interest to remedy the inconsistency of the middle pitches. No doubt I should have read the route description with more attention, but eschewing the traditional approach I decided to follow a line of best interest. I set off over easy ground directly upwards, past a greasy crack with no protection and onto an interesting slab. At mid height I was able to wedge a slightly too large cam into a horizontal break, and not for the first time missed the overly cam dependent rack of my friend who had departed for California. A series of interesting but easy moves brought me over the slab and into a series of laybacks and up to a good belay stance. From here we were able to scramble the last few moves to the top of the route, celebrating its completion with the first mince pies of the year.
Dad on the upper reaches of the Cneifion Arete.
While alone on the route we were able to look down onto the footpath skirting Llyn Idwal, and watched groups of walkers head upwards towards the Devil’s Kitchen, a great breach of rock below the col between Y Garn and Glyder Fawr. We ourselves hoped to pass above this on our descent and return to the valley via the East Ridge of Y Garn, a grade two scramble. With the lake between us this option suggested a long day ahead.
As we munched on our elevenses’ mince pies we watched the mass of climbers on the Idwal slabs and were pleased to be on such an isolated route, and were somewhat surprised to note two walkers heading upwards towards us. The Sub Cneifion Rib can easily be avoided by walking to its side, but still Cwm Cneifion remains quiet even when the valley below is not.
From the top of this first route we traversed across grassy slopes rightwards to the head of a stream and into Cwm Cneifion. Dad had it in his mind that we would be taking the broken ridge on the far side to the summit of Glyder Fawr and so was surprised when I pointed to the Cneifion Arete which stretched skywards to our left. Fifteen minutes of easy scrambling over scree and grass brought us to its base. The Cneifion Arete was the true gem of our route, technically easy with the first two pitches only at Moderate in grade with grade three scrambling past that, but we were both looking forward to the alpine style feel that the guidebooks promised.
Leading the upper stretch of the Cneifion Arete.
Enjoying the warmth of socks and the comfort of wet boots we left our climbing shoes in our rucksacks. The first pitch, twenty five metres, was interesting requiring careful manoeuvring between bulges and pinnacles to a solid stance to the right of a small chimney. This second pitch was interesting, providing good hand and foot
placements and a solid traditional feel to it supported by a lack of placements for hardware. Ten metres of this brought us up onto the crest of the arete itself and easier ground above. As it was later in the day the air temperature was warmer although occasionally a biting wind still struck into our bones.
At the top of the chimney we tried to remember the correct technique for coiling and moving together, and cursed ourselves for not having paid more attention to it and vowed to devote time to learning properly back at home. In the end I led on, quickly moving over the easy ground, placing the occasional runner. The situation was spectacular, with a long drop to our right as we headed up the arete. The valley floor quickly fell away and we entered into the layers of mist that hugged the upper reaches of the mountain tops.
Three run out pitches brought us to the top of the Cneifion Arete, in time for the heavens to open up. The wind then took its cue to renew its efforts and we were soon wrapped up in our waterproof layers. Deciding that we would reach saturation point on the decent anyway we set ourselves to continuing up the easy scramble along the Gribin ridge that would eventually lead us to the summit of Glyder Fawr.
We set off in silence, and passed several groups and individuals all on their way down the valley. Three times we stopped to confirm the whereabouts of other groups. An advantage of rock routes is that you invariably know at least where it starts and finishes, if not the logistics of getting from one state to the other. A half hour brought us to the top of the Gribin ridge, and with a strong wind battering us we made short work of crossing Glyder Fawr and down towards the Devil’s Kitchen. We didn’t even spend the few minutes necessary to reach the true summit of the peak, not that we would have easily found it in the heavy cloud. Due to the onset of poor weather we had decided to forgo the pleasures of Y Garn’s East Ridge.
We reached the car eight and a half hours after having set off, tired after a long day in the hills and pleased with our efforts. The decent from Glyder Fawr had been consistently interesting, difficult descending a Cirith Ungol type staircase in the wet to the top of Llyn Idwal. This gave us good views across to our climb, and the satisfaction of looking back over what we had done. The Cneifion expedition proved very rewarding, and put us both into an unfamiliar ascent of a well known peak. The Glyderau are well used to being bagged in quick succession along a superb ridge work, and so it was a great feeling of satisfaction to devote a day climbing just one by a novel approach.