Wild Camp: Cadair Idris, Snowdonia National Park

Hilleberg Soulo wild camp in Snowdonia

In March 2019, my friend Rob and I drove to Snowdonia to attempt to summit Cadair Idris and camp wild somewhere nearby. Whenever Rob and I have been out together, we always carefully check the weather for the days before. On this occasion, it really wasn’t looking positive at all with very strong (50mph +) winds forecast, along with snow and hail. Unfortunately we let the fact that we both have busy lives and limited windows to get out walking get the better of us, and before long we were headed up the motorway towards Snowdonia. I’d also made the unfortunate decision to try and save some weight by using a new pack and taking my Western Mountaineering Summerlite sleeping bag. This is not as crazy a decision as it sounds. The bag is good down to freezing and I used it on my trip to Iceland quite successfully. I also took a new pillow option, a DCF ‘stuff sack’ pillow that you fill with spare clothes to avoid carry lots of extra weight.

As we entered Wales, the heavens opened and soon my windscreen wipers were going ten to the dozen trying to keep up. We passed flooded fields and rivers positively heaving with water. All was not looking good.

We decided to park in a local campsite. I went up to the reception area and asked if was ok to park my car overnight if I gave a small fee. Evidently I could have paid a smaller one as the owners eyes lit up and he agreed without hesitation. There were no tent campers at the campsite, only a few eyes peering at us from static caravans as we donned our packs in gale force winds and driving rain.

The rain did, in fairness, abate for a while and we started up the path to the summit. It was relatively sheltered at first and our spirits lifted somewhat.

As we gained height it got windier, and the rain really started coming down. It was at the point where waterproofs were utterly pointless at the water was finding it’s way into every gap in the cuff or collar and seeping down your arms and back. But we carried on forging our way upwards.

Eventually we reached the shores of Llyn Cau. As we reached this area, the early shelter of the walk gave way to strong winds and stinging rain and we didn’t even need a discussion to know it was time to pitch our tents. Once I’d stopped walking, I started shivering from the cold and wet and once we had our tents up we both dived in relieved. We’re not especially antisocial people, but we spent the rest of the evening communicating by text as the weather worsened and neither of us had any intention of leaving our shelters.

Rivers of water were flowing noisily into the Llyn, and the wind thrashed our shelters. It was at this point that I realised my ‘ultralight’ frameless pack was full of water and the sleep mat I had used as a ‘frame’ was soaked even thought I’d double-bagged it in bin liners. I had no intention of putting my sleeping bag on it rendering it useless, and I didn’t want to lie on it in dry clothes either. So I did the only thing I could. I stripped naked and layed on it until it dried out sufficiently. It was, to say the least, a bit nippy. Once it was dry enough I quickly put my dry clothes on and then rolled my sleeping bag out. This was the one and only time I tried keeping anything in a bin liner. Just use dry bags!

As the night fell, rain turned to hail, that was being driven so hard it was finding it’s way under my fly sheet.

My Summerlite proved sufficient to keep me from dying, but I wasn’t particularly comfortable. To make matters worse, in an effort to keep warm I was wearing all my dry clothes. Which meant I had nothing to stuff into my pillow. This was going to be a long night.

After eating some food, exchanging a few texts with Rob who was only about 30 metres away, I tried to cheer myself up by opening a beer. The beer had evidentally been shaken as it sprayed literally everywhere when I opened it, covering my inner and my sleeping bag. I then proceeded to pretend to sleep for about 10 hours, actually doing nothing of the sort. Once it was light, I was sleep deprived and cold, and already not really up for summiting, regardless of how far we had come. However initially it looked like conditions were improving.

I hadn’t heard from Rob, so went to his tent. He unzipped his tent door and was lying under a space blanket. It turned out he had had an equally terrible night. We later saw that winds had reached 70mph overnight and temperatures were well below freezing. As if to emphasise the point, it started to snow.

One of us had to say it, so might as well be me. We abandoned the idea and headed back to the car. We made some mistakes on this one, but by the time we reached the car the hail was coming down so hard that we both knew we had made the right call, even if disappointing.

Whilst I still would have turned back in the same conditions again, I was disappointed with myself for trying out new kit in these conditions. It was a lesson learned and one I will not repeat.

I used the excellent Harvey Maps British mountain map of Snowdonia South for this trip.

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