Filed under:Features, Great British Mountain Days, Great British Mountain Days, Scrambling, Walking / Trekking, Cneifion Arete, Great British Mountain Days, Idwal Slabs, Ogwen triple, peak mountaineering
The idea of linking mountain routes has a prestigious history. In 1987 Frenchman Christophe Profit linked the three classic North Faces of the Alps (the Eiger, Matterhorn and Grandes Jorasses) within 24 hours. In 1995 Frenchman Jean Christophe Lafaille upped the game by making a 16-day solo enchainment of 10 alpine faces. A few weeks ago American Alex Honnold stunned the climbing world by linking the three longest faces in Yosemite (Mt Watkins, El Cap and Half Dome) in a solo climbing masterpiece. The French termed this style ‘enchainements’ while Americans call them ‘link ups’. Either way the style is the same; ascending several long routes and travelling between them within one adventurous outing.
Few of us may be able to climb at the standard of Honnold, Profit or Lafaille but it really doesn’t matter – there’s a lifetime of easier grade link-ups in the British mountains that access amazing places, offer fantastic challenges and still allow you to be back in the valley for a celebratory meal by early evening. One of my favourite Snowdonian enchainments is a scrambling adventure I’ve come to call the Ogwen Triple. This peach of a link-up utilises parts of three easily-accessed yet challenging scrambles set in the stunning cirque of Cwm Idwal.
The best access point for the Ogwen Triple is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Ogwen Valley. This long valley will already be familiar to many Snowdonia visitors and is easily accessed along the A5 from Bethesda or Capel Curig. Whichever direction you travel in, your eyes are irresistibly drawn to the spectacular Glyderau range, the southern swathe of the Carneddau and – nestling right in the thick of them all – the majestic tri-capped Tryfan. The best starting point for the Ogwen Triple is the carpark at Ogwen Cottage. This is situated at the end of Llyn Ogwen and offers a reasonable amount of pay and display parking but it does fill up quite quickly at weekends. There is a small food kiosk, toilets and weather forecast available in the car park. The access path to Cwm Idwal runs from the side of the toilet block and is a well-made track that sweeps into the Cwm. For a while the scrambles are hidden from view, but soon enough the track weaves around the side of Llyn Idwal and the famous climbing face of Idwal Slabs and the surrounding mountains appear. It’s a very impressive sight.
After following the left side of Llyn Idwal, the path leads under the Idwal Slabs and starts to climb towards the Devil’s Kitchen. The path passes Idwal Staircase (a deep, imposing corner that offers another fine scramble best left for dry weather). Soon after, the first scramble of the Ogwen Triple leaves the path at a broad rib just at the point it crosses a stream leading down into Llyn Idwal.
North West Face Route
This is the bottom of a long Grade 2 scramble called North West Face Route. The full scramble finishes near the summit of Glyder Fawr, although the Ogwen Triple only uses the first part of the route before heading leftwards at an obvious broad grassy basin midway up the face. The North West Face Route starts up a blunt rib before following a series of ramp lines and cracks. The scrambling is very pleasant and the rock is clean and generally sound, although there are a few loose holds waiting to catch out anyone that doesn’t check them carefully. Height can be gained quite quickly and soon the sense of exposure increases as the face sweeps down towards the cwm floor. My favourite part of the route is the top section where the cracks give way to broad, open slabs that offer a delightful way to the grassy terrace that leads across to the second scramble.
From the point where North West Face Route meets the grassy terrace there is a small path that heads leftwards towards the right edge of the main Idwal Slab face. There are a few access points onto the face and care must be taken to find a suitable line. My favoured line ascends just left of steep vegetated couloirs. A broad, horizontal ledge allows access and then weaves an interesting line in a rising leftwards diagonal, before ascending onto a grassy terrace with Cwm Cneifion on your left. The scrambling is great quality and although some steps are steep and exposed, there are flat areas between that provide the chance for a rest. The exposed situation on this section is fantastic.
From this point, the alpine-style ridge of Cneifion Arete stands out clearly on the other side of Cwm Cneifion. Getting to it involves a simple stroll across the basin and a walk up the steep slope which leads directly to its base. Cneifion Arete is, justifiably, one of the most famous scrambles in Snowdonia. At Grade 3 it is certainly at the higher end of scrambling difficulty and needs a confident approach (especially in the lower section). In places it is very exposed with steep drops and a great sense of exposure, but these are the very features that help to make it such a fine route.
The initial wall of the arete is the technical crux and warrants a climbing grade of about Moderate. There are plenty of holds and the rock quality is superb but it is steep and exposed. This wall soon ends a small ledge and an interesting chimney leads on to the arete proper. The exposure and difficulty can be varied on this section, but the finest scrambling keeps a line close to the right edge of the arete.
What I love most about Cneifion Arete is the continually interesting scrambling and I always wish it could carry on and on. Unfortunately all too soon the arete gives way to a broad, grassy plateau sitting on the flanks of the Y Gribin Ridge. A short walk across the plateau and it meets the path at a stunning viewpoint towards Tryfan and the imposing north-west face of Glyder Fach.
Descent (and extensions)
The Ogwen Triple is now complete, and a left turn at the junction leads down the lower part of the Y-Gribin Ridge and eventually across to rejoin the path leading back to the car park. If time and energy allow, a brilliant extension to the day turns right at the path junction and heads up the Y Gribin Ridge (Grade 1) and around the rim of Cwm Bochlwyd to descend the exposed and exciting Bristly Ridge (Grade 1) to hit its starting point in the scoop of Bwlch Tryfan. From there a well-defined path leads past the isolated Llyn Bochlwyd and then down to the rocky outcrop of Bochlwyd Buttress. From there a march across the hillside will lead back to the Cwm Idwal path.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Lewis is a mountaineering instructor and owner of mountain training specialists Peak Mountaineering and offers a full range of scrambling courses. Full details can be found at www.peakmountaineering.com