Despite making all-sorts of plans, I’d surprisingly not actually managed to get out and do any hiking since Bergen & Trolltunga way back in August last year. Instead the usual festivals, trips to Ibiza and ill-advised day long pub sessions prevailed. I decided I needed some adventure in my life, so basically started nagging some friends about it, and we settled on doing something a little closer to home in October.
My only previous trips across the border into Wales had been a handful of music related visits to festivals & gigs (The Prodigy, Green Man & Festival No.6, in no particular order). This time was unashamedly all about the great outdoors, in particular exploring a specific corner of Snowdonia National Park. With the help of our friend and North Wales native Gareth, we decided to steer away from the more touristy Mt Snowdon and head to a nearby range called The Glyders.
Y Glyderau (or The Glyders in English)
Managed by the National Trust, the total area covers a whopping 7,000 hectares of land in the surrounding countryside. Made up of two main peaks – Glyder Fawr (1,001m) and Glyder Fach (994m) – the Glyders region is rugged, beautiful, and picture postcard Wales at it’s alluring best. There are also a number of other mountains in the surrounding area, including the dominant Tryfan (918m) which stands tall by the roadside, making my legs wobble just looking up at the top.
Llyn Idwal, Devils Kitchen & Glyder Fawr (1.5 – 2 hours)
We rocked up to the Car Park adjacent to YHA Idwal Cottage at around 9.30am, after eating everything in sight at our idyllic farmhouse near Capel Curig – just a 10 minute drive away. We set off and started following a path which led us around the almost ethereal Llyn Idwal lake to our right hand side, towards the mountainside ahead.
The only people we had passed so far were a handful of dog walkers, hungover looking day trippers and climbing enthusiasts – dangling from the rock face on an array of ropes & harnesses. The primary route up towards the top of Glyder Fawr is via the ominously named Devil’s Kitchen; not to be confused with a wrinkly faced, shouty chef’s popular TV show.
After a tricky scramble – the first testing section of the walk – you reach a style at the top of the gully, where after a bit longer you see the tall, rolling, rocky ridge of Glyder Fawr to your left. The ridge is quarry-esque, relatively steep, and scattered with lots of annoying little loose rocks, meaning it can be a bit ‘two steps forward one step back’ in places. Once you hit the top though, it’s worth it. The first real views over into the valleys remind you why you’re there. A great place for a pit stop; in our case ‘earthy’ coffee from a slightly stagnant flask (oops) and some cake.
Glyder Fawr to Glyder Fach (1 – 2 hours)
Things had all proceeded to go a bit pea soup very quickly, with the weather taking a bit of a turn for the worst. Insert head in the clouds joke here. A good 40-minutes – 1-hour of the initial ridge walk between the two peaks was a) quite difficult b) longer than expected. We got lost at least 3 or 4 times, but used our handy Ordinance Survey iPhone app (recommended btw!) to get us back on track again.
Other than the 5-metre visibility which de-railed us the walk is straightforward enough, unless you end up scrambling up some large rocks on the wrong path. We even saw a trail runner legging it past us at one point, I really hope he knew where he was going. Occasionally there would be a break in the mist, which would show the magnificent valleys on either side of us in the distance. If you’re lucky, you can even spot the Welsh coast in the distance.
We almost literally stumbled across a Glyder Fach highlight amongst the fog, the Instagram ready Cantilever Stone pointing out at 45 degrees amongst the rocks. You can also hunt out the Castell y Gwynt rock formation nearby, who’s claim to fame is being featured in Disney’s 80’s smash hit ‘Dragonslayer’ movie; which I’ve never heard of.
Walking to what seems like the edge of Glyder Fach, is a drop which initially looks to be straight down. This is the start of your descent via Bristly Ridge. Not for the feint hearted, a lot of downward scrambling is required here, as well as being very careful of the unsettled rocks all around you as move. I was dubious at first, thinking a sled or a parachute might be a better option, but some of the group were already on their way so we went with it.
The good news: when you reach the bottom you reach the base of Tryfan’s South ridge.
Tryfan (1.5 – 2.5 hours up & down, depending on fitness)
I’m not great with heights if the truth be told, so any kind of mountain scrambling tends to make me a wee bit nervous. From the top of Glyder Fach, Tryfan looks nothing short of terrifying. Ironically, once you’re at near enough at it’s base ready to go it looks much more manageable, so I decided to give it a crack.
This felt like a proper hands, knees & feet scramble. Daylight was starting to creep away behind the ridge, so we tackled the mountain face like monkey’s on The Rock of Gibraltar – but far less grabby. That didn’t last too long, turns out climbing is quite tiring… so we slowed up a bit and took our time to enjoy the surrounds, personally trying to avoid looking down too much.
Arriving at the top approximately 40 minutes after we’d set off, you begin to traverse the depth of the mountain and are greeted with a harsh sheer drop to the right of the rocky section which links you to the final peak. There you can clearly see the famous Adam & Eve stones. A brave photographers dream. Tradition sees people jump between the two, if you can ignore the certain death which awaits on the other side should you lose your fitting. Not for me thanks!
The Boring ‘Practical’ Stuff
Driving is the by far and away the easiest way of getting there, we (thanks Nicole!) drove from London to Capel Curig in about 4.5 hours, which itself is about a 10 minute drive away from The Glyders themselves.
Simply put, any other way is pretty long. The nearest major train station is Bangor – a 25 minute taxi journey away – or a few minor local stations such as Roman Bridge, Pon-y-Pant and Dolwyddelan. The best bet is to check out Rome2Rio for your best route.
What to pack:
It’s only a day-hike, so you don’t need to go crazy with your equipment. Basics I would say are still essential; such as proper walking boots, water bottle, waterproof & warm clothes, as the conditions on the mountains can change very quickly. That being said, at the top of Tryfan we saw a young lad wearing a floral shirt & skinny jeans, but we must have missed the memo.
Needless to say pack food & snacks too, as there’s only the YHA at the start of the path which offers any kind of shop or food provisions.
Where to stay:
There are an abundance of options in the area, some are obvious and easy to find, some less so. At the foot of the trail is the handily located YHA Idwal Hostel – with a selection of dorm rooms, privates and even picturesque outdoor cabins.
We opted to stay just outside of the nearby village of Capel Curig, at a one of three rustic yet homely adjoined cottages called Ty Siabod. We even had some pet sheep from the working farm down the path for company. Don’t be put off by the multiple ‘danger no entry’ signs when arriving, you’re in the right place.
If your budget is a little higher, you could do far worse than stay at the historic Pen-Y-Gwryd Hotel near Mt Snowdon; a former haunt and training base of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the summit of Everest. The place is scattered with all kinds of vintage hiking memorabilia, so it’s worth at least popping in for a well deserved pint post-hike, even if you don’t stay the night.
I’ve still got a hell of a lot of exploring to do in Wales, so please send any tips or ideas across to >>> firstname.lastname@example.org