14-17th December 2015
If I do this particular route again it will be over seven days with a hiking trailer, IN SUMMER! No sooner than I crossed the stream from the Ifron forest onto the slopes of Cefn Uchaf I post-holed both legs up the knees in the bog then went over backwards with a 36lb bergan. Thankfully my boots did their job and my feet stayed dry so plodded on picking my way more carefully toward the cairn on Esgair Garn. With hindsight this was probably not a good idea given the weather and ground conditions but it's a dull adventure without some risk or at least some discomfort. The plan for coming down was to head north'ish picking up the trail that leads down the valley to the reservoir an easy walk down the bridleway to my first camp so I thought.
There now follows a short rant about OS maps
Bridle path, also bridleway, equestrian trail, horse riding path, bridle road, or horse trail, is a path, trail or a thoroughfare that is used by people riding on horses.
All I can say is that it's a brave horse that completes the Nant Gwrach trail even the sheep will not use that path, it's that narrow with precipitous drops and oh yeah a there's a barbed wire fence across it that could prove a tad awkward for some. BTW another thing... to the farmer who owns the gate on Cefn Uchaf does it really need to be locked? It's a real nut buster to climb over.
I had made good time at the start but the last two kilometres uuugh step, breathe, prod ground and repeat. Twice I had to pause reaching for my Nitromyn spray it was such hard going but sat with my tarp draped over my head for fifteen minutes gave me a chance to warm up a little and admire the quite literally breathtaking landscape. It was three in the afternoon by the time I reached the Cwm-bys stream got the tarp up and a small fire going for some much needed coffee and shortbread. Pretty sure the roving patrol from the water company noticed me but didn't stop so maybe they didn't or maybe they figured anybody mad enough to be out there in this weather was probably best left alone.
Morning came to soon despite crawling into my sleeping bag early, dry socks, warmth and the soft forest floor pulled heavily. Strong was the desire to just extract an arm to fumble for the meths stove grab a brew and go back to sleep till spring. I was contemplating the mechanics of this when the mental bladder alarm started ringing and there was nothing for it but to unzip and get moving.
With the weather still damp, bone chilling and miserable plus being somewhat short of my target distance for the previous day opted for the tourist road up the valley the only downside with this route is that after heavy rain around Careg-y-Fran it's 4x4 heaven. With good boots and a triple jump that would make your old PE instructor proud the fords are passable but far more wearying to get around are the countless water filled muddy bottomed dips in the road. Things improve as you get back into the trees around Nantyhelyg provided you take the right fork and the long way around to approach the Moel Prysgau bothy from the north. The 'path' down from the forest track to the bothy is horrible and boggy but the southern approach involves three deep crotch soaking fords (or just two and some bog hopping), not something anybody should ever tackle on foot alone with the river in flood.
Arrived at bothy, nobody home so no rest for me but dropping the Bergan was relief. Grabbed the bowsaw and went back out into the rain cutting up some low branches for fire wood. It's easier than it sounds though your legs are aching youre not walking that much, the arm action keeps you warm and loosens up those sore shoulders. Outside the bothy is a bit of a quagmire at the moment with the ground churned up by off-road vehicles and it would be nice if they could park up just a little further away. Took a look at the raging torrent and gave silent thanks I had not come in the South side, I swear with a bit of rope and a plank you could water-ski such was the flow. My boots finally soaked through about this time and donned a pair of dry bags over my socks to keep going. Suction from mud was almost as bad as carrying the Bergan on my tired knees and after one stumble to many called it a day and retreated for the night.
Candles lit, fire blazing, clothes steaming I gave thanks to the gent who had left some bar-b-q skewers as I nagged on flame roasted chorizo whilst waiting for the kettle to boil. Several coffees later with the aid of a hip flask full of brandy I was feeling a lot better. Particularly so as by now as darkness fell the rain was coming down with a vengeance and frequently sideways, as long as the footbridge didn't wash away I'll be alright I thought.
Note: the stove will send sparks out of the chimney if the flue is all the way open so watch out for this fire risk in dry weather.
Wednesday, Porridge & trail mix for breakfast, exploring in the rain, cutting more firewood, still drying spare socks, magi noodles & soup for lunch, cutting yet more firewood. As the snug warmed up to toasty levels took rest of the the afternoon off and just relaxed, read the bothy book and watched the rain through the window waiting for the smell of chicken Korma on the stove to reach my nostrils. It's eerie on your own, you hear things. Couple of times the hanging bow-saws chimed despite a lack of wind and no trapped bird or bat to be seen, ghosts perhaps?
Left some spare fire starting gear, birch-bark, disposable lighter, storm matches, couple of hexi-blocks and a dozen tea-lights along with a basket of kindling and some wood to keep the next fire going a little while. There was a box a matches on the windowsill of the snug there but these were damp and unusable.
Thursday, starting the plod home. Back the way I came then over the devils staircase West to East and that was a real killer, down the valley toward Abergwesyn was the plan. Had to de-boot and paddle barefoot across the first ford (I think it's actually a bridge in normal weather), cut through the farm yard and splashed through the small ford at the side thus missing the other two really nasty looking ones on the road. With easy going on tarmac all downhill to Llanwrtyd Wells and the train home had the weather been better or the pack lighter then I would of made it one go but cold, soaked and exhausted then one of the two picnic sites along the way would be home for a final soggy night. Fate however smiled upon me at a point just past Nant-y-Brain when one of the locals on their way into town offered me a lift and hell yes I said.