Sunday, 17 May 2015

Cyfaredd 8: Climbing Cader Idris

Haia Pawb (Hi Everyone)

When I stayed in Dolgellau in 2013, I planned to climb Cader Idris, that mountain on which if you spend the night you come down either mad or a poet. Unfortunately, the day before this planned ascent I climbed what I thought was Dinas Emrys, which proved a tougher task than expected (more about this in another post) and was so stiff and sore I couldn’t contemplate attempting Cader Idris. This trip, however, I decided to tackle the famous mountain first.

Cader Idris and the various paths
The route I took is called the Minffordd Path, which is steep in places (two climbs of over 300 metres), but also shorter (4.4 kilometres) than the easier track (Pony Path, 5.0 kilometres). After dutifully following signs and huffing my way up the first steep section, I came to where the track ended at a t-intersection. The way to the left seemed to take me away from the mountain, so I took the right one. I’d been walking in light drizzle to this point, but I felt sure the weather would clear soon enough. I was wrong on both counts.

It turned out the right-hand path lead to the lake in the middle of the ‘chair’, Llyn Cau, and not up the mountain. Of course, if I had consulted my map I would have realized this, but I had looked at the instructions at the start of my climb and thought I knew what I was doing. Although the choice was wrong, I was glad I came upon the lake. No sound but occasional bird call-signs. A slight breeze that wove intricate patterns on the surface of the lake. Mountains towering above me. A seabird that used the thermal above the lake to soar upwards. No other walkers. A great spot to sit for a while and contemplate whatever thoughts came up, or no thoughts.

Llyn Cau, with the back of the 'chair', Craig Cau, in the background.
Then came the time to continue my ascent. A path wound around the lake, which I assumed would eventually lead upwards. Wrong again. It ended near a steep section of scree-fall. Undeterred by the increasing rain and the descending mist--I had seen such sights around the mountain from Dolgellau and watched them vanish after a while--I started upwards. Step by step. One or two slides, but no concern. Heavy going. Use embedded rocks and knots of grass to pull myself up. Clamber. Watch the mist clear a little, the rain drop. Clamber. Stop for breath. Climb in sets of steps, each set reducing in number. Stop for breath. Keep going till the top is in sight. Dig in to scree and cracks in the rocks. Keep going. Get there.

View of Llyn Cau after my climb up the scree.
Where I emerged, happy to find the right track!
I gained the Minffordd Path and continued towards the top of Cader Idris, which is called Penygadair. The mist had thickened, but not enough that I couldn't see the cairns that had been set up either side of the track for just this eventuality. The temperature was so cold, snow still gathered in nooks and crannies:

Eventually, Penygadair came in sight:

The monument at the top of Cader Idris.
I clambered over the rocks and stood on the summit (893 metres). The mist was so thick, I couldn't see much at all. However, the sense of accomplishment, of doing the climb the hard way and succeeding, compensated for the lack of views and the tingling feeling in my fingers from the cold that penetrated my thick gloves.

Video from Penygadair when I first arrived.
After finding a cleft that protected me from the buffeting cold wind, I ate my lunch, listened to the wind whistle around the mountain and watched the mist open and tantalise with glimpses of brown, green and blue, then close. Soon it cleared completely, and the views, of distant mountains and of the coast, were stunning.

Video after the mist cleared.
Other walkers started arriving at the summit, so I decided to head back down. I took the track that continued around the chair and after a a couple of tumbles on wet stones, I reached the car park.

The plateau on the other side of Penygadair,
part of the track back down the mountain.
The whole trip took seven hours. Strangely, I wasn't exhausted but exhilarated by the experience--the physical test of the climb itself and the views of the land I have come to love.

View on the way down: Llyn Cau, with Craig Cau behind it,
and Penygadair at the top right. The long black line stretching from the lake
to the ridge on the right of Craig Cau is the scree-fall I climbed.
Of course, the climb also had a lesson for me. It showed me that sometimes I turn relatively easy tasks into difficult ones, mainly because I don't re-check my plans/facts when I should. Maybe I was lucky that the weather didn't turn worse, though if it had I would have turned back. I had faith that the rain and mist would clear, because of previous (albeit limited) experience of the mountain, and it did. Next climb, I'll be better at my planning and the execution of my plans. Stay tuned.

And to continue my jackdaw fascination, this is a photo of one taken from my room when I arrived in Moffat, Scotland:
'Made it, Ma! Top of the world!' (James Cagney, White Heat)
I hope things are going well for you and you're double-checking plans when you should :)

Until next time.

Pob Hwyl



Elisabeth Hanscombe said...

What a beautiful post, Earl. I do this sort of thing too. An initial check of where I'm going and an image in my mind about the steps to take and then I find I've got it wrong. I've left out something strategic.

In the meantime we learn new things, so unless our planning is completely way off, we get there in the end.

Nadine Cresswell-Myatt said...

What a memorable experience Earl. Thank you for sharing it with us all. You are certainly making the most of your trip. Beautifully told. We almost felt we were there with you without having to do all that hard climbing.

Lyn Mitchell said...

Agreed everyone on all counts. The beauty of the land can only open your heart to breathe in the best in the world and find goodness within. The climb up would have tested us all. Okay there are professional climbers. But good on you Earl. Endurance and focus and determination - couldn't we all do with a dose of that medicine. Congrats and thanks for the photos.

Earl Livings said...

Elisabeth, Leaving out 'something strategic'--yep, that sums it up. Given we tend to learn unexpected things because we've gone the 'wrong' way, the effort is worth it. Thanks for your comment.

Earl Livings said...

Nadine, Thanks for your lovely appreciation of my tale. I am determined to make the most of the trip, as I don't know when I'll be here next. Now all I have to do is weave all my experiences into the novel in some way. Word by word. Cheers.

Earl Livings said...

Lyn, Thanks for your comments about all of us needing endurance, focus and determination, especially if we're trying to do something creative. All the best with your own efforts. Cheers.