Strenuous 7 miles. Scrambling grade 1
Date: Wednesday, May 4, 2016. Weather: Cloudy, intermittent sunshine, gusty winds. Route summary: From Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel. Up the Miner’s Track. Across Glyder Fach, via Bristly Ridge. Across Castell-y-Gwyllt, Glyder Fawr. Down to Pen-y-pass, via Cwmffynon. Start: OS Grid Ref: SH 661 559. Latitude: 53º 5' 1" N Longitude: 4º 0' 1" W. Elevation: Start 900 ft. Highest 3284 ft. Ascent 4375 ft.
Bristly Ridge is a grade 1 scramble, located on the north side of Glyder Fach, a mountain in Snowdonia, north-west Wales, the second highest of the Glyderau and sixth highest peak in Wales.
After parking on the A498 road, adjacent to Llyn Pen-y-Gwryd, the route begins by crossing an elevated wooden stile. (All distances are relative to this start-point.) Shortly afterwards, the route traverses a footbridge over a stream. The Miner’s Track then ascends along the line of a dry-stone wall. After half to two-thirds of a mile, at the 410m contour (1358ft), a stile carries the path over another dry-stone wall.
After the stile, the route continues upwards, following the path of the first wall.
1.21mi / 2070ft / 667 574
At this point, the track dissects a pair of streams, in the guise of a waterfall, which come together further downstream to form the watercourse Nant Ddu.
1.48m / 2435ft / 668 578
The ascent flattens out into an upland bog. Shortly afterwards, the track forks into two, although it is not especially visible. The route of the left fork heads in a north-westerly direction, providing a gentle ascent towards Y Gwuliwr and the summit of Glyder Fach (994m). The route of the right fork, the continuation of the Miner’s Track, heads towards Bwlch Tryfan, from where Bristly Ridge is accessed.
2.36mi / 2460ft / SH 661 587
Reaching the bwlch necessitates dropping down and re-ascending about 200ft. A dry-stone wall, originating on and running directly along the ridge of Tryfan, provides an opportunity to shelter from winds and take a short break, before attempting the hands-on ascent of Bristly Ridge.
Start of scrambling
2.40mi / 2598ft / SH 660 587
Picking a route up Bristly Ridge is not necessarily straight-forward. There is no single “correct” route. There are various routes, of variable grade. According to Wikipedia:
Consensus puts the difficulty at Grade 1, but it is at the upper end of the grade and some lines qualify as Grade 2. There are some exposed and steep sections of climbing, particularly the upper pitch of Sinister Gully and in Great Pinnacle Gap. However these sections may be bypassed in favour of easier lines, reducing the overall difficulty to Grade 1.
The following photographs provide a sense of the characteristics of the route taken by my colleague and I, on this occasion. It provided an excellent mixture of basic scrambling, some demanding lifts, a couple of steepish descents, one or two crevices to negotiate and a few moments of significant exposure—possibly including traversing the Great Pinnacle Gap.
Some parts of our route offered easier alternatives; generally speaking we found the ascent invigorating, without feeling too risky, so we tended to persevere with the options that first presented themselves to us. That said, we initially chose to avoid what we now suspect was Sinister Gully, because we were uncertain we had identified it correctly. I also vaguely recollect one occasion when wisdom proved the better part of valour and we briefly retreated, to reascend on a slightly different line.
The great thing about Bristly Ridge is that it keeps on going. After you ascend one section and emerge from it, another section appears. Towards the top of the ridge, the sections felt like they narrowed and provided increasing levels of challenge and exposure. By now, both muscles and confidence were warmed up and the sense of satisfaction in completing each section kept on increasing. For the most part of our ascent we were in the lee of the ridge and thus protected from the wind, which was a real boon.
2.69mi / 3130ft / SH 659 584
In one short third-of-a-mile, we scrambled up approximately 530ft. After topping out, we emerged onto the “lunar-like” rocky plateau of Glyder Fach.
Apparently, it’s quite common to ascend the Ridge enveloped in cloud—which would presumably add to the aura of Sinister Gully and the anxious thrill of traversing the Great Pinnacle Gap.
Today, though cloud had shrouded the summit at the onset of our trek, visibility was 100% by noon, when we reached Bristly Ridge. The views accorded were thus spectacular. Particularly looking north, towards the winding river valley of Nant Ffrancon, with Llyn Bochwyd in the foreground and the western end of Llyn Ogwen nestling below the bulk of Yr Ole Wen.
2.82mi / 3202ft / SH 657 583
Views aside, the summit of Glyder Fach proved to have yet more to give. The bizarre outcrop of Y Gwyliwr (“The Watchman”) provides a useful viewing platform and a hint of what is to come just a few more metres along the plateau.
3.2mi / 3150ft / SH 654 581
Castell y Gwynt (“The Windy Castle”) is even more visually striking than Y Gwyliwr and provides another opportunity for a rewarding scramble up what is technically a summit or peak, but only just: it has a topographical prominence just 0.7m above the limit of 15m that defines a mountain summit.
4.00mi / 3247ft / SH 642 579
After scrambling over Castell y Gwynt, it was the start of the end of the scrambling element of our trek. We descended from Glyder Fach (“Small Mound / Lump / Heap of Stones”), across Bwlch y Ddwy-Glyder (“Pass of the Two Mounds”) and then up to the 3284ft summit of Glyder Fawr (“Great Lump”), the fifth highest peak in Wales.
By this time, we were emerging out of the lee of Glyder Fach and the wind really picked up, almost knocking us off our feet a couple of times. Although Glyder Fawr offered some brief, yet worthwhile scrambles up its four peaks (we weren’t entirely sure which one was the summit, so took each in turn), it was time to turn into the wind and descend the Glyderau.
5.00mi / 2066ft / SH 640 566
We chose to use an old route, down Cwmffynnon, not marked on OS maps, probably predating National Trust ownership / National Park status. A number of red paint marks on the rocks provided regular reassurance that we were on the right pathway…until we missed one and no longer were!
By then we were probably two-thirds of the way down, safely past the cliffs (SH 636 571–639 569) that represent the main obstacle to a safe passage along this route. We navigated the remainder of the route by sight, past Llyn Cwmffynnon, down to Pen-y-Pass, from where we travelled back along the A4086 to our start point. Our trek ended with a pot of tea and a thick slice of buttered bara brith in the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel.
The hotel was once the base of Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay and their team when they used the Glyderau and other parts of the Snowdon Massif for their preparation for the successful 1953 ascent of Everest. Various items stand testimony to this, including a photograph of the famous duo and a panelled ceiling containing actual penned signatures of the 1953 team members, together with those of other notable Everest climbers, including Chris Bonnington.
Demonstrating I really was there…
- Thanks to John M. who planned and led our trek.
- GPX created via OS Maps, on iPhone 5.
- Walking gear: Quechua