Wild Camp: Unfinished business on Cadair Idris

Llyn y gadair

In December, Rob and I decided to head back to Cadair Idris, the highest mountain in southern snowdonia. We had tried to climb it in 2019, but it was a bit of a disaster as the weather beat us off the hill and we’d only gone as far as Llyn Cau, having a very uncomfortable night camping there before retreating defeated back to the car. This time, the weather was very different, with inversion conditions forecast, no rain, light winds, and clear air. We set off about 7am from London, and arrived at a campsite just off the Minffordd path, which is the shortest but steepest route to the summit with almost 800 metres of ascent. We planned to complete this as a circuit, which is about 6 miles long. Note that the sign at the bottom of the path indicating that this route is strenuous is accurate!

Soon we were setting off up the steps that lead through the trees at the start of the walk. We would be coming down here the next day with a considerably more middle-aged-men-with-heavy-packs gait, but we did in fairness start strong.

We continued up the path and out of the trees. We kept trying to remind ourselves of a flat section we both remembered that wasn’t so brutal as the steep uphill, but it never materialised. Maybe we had remembered things differently but it was fairly relentless with heavy packs all the way to the lake. At least this time the path wasn’t a river and we weren’t soaked and cold as we were last time.

Soon we arrived at Llyn Cau. Conditions were perfect, and it was very peaceful by the lake. There was no rushed pitching of tents this time, as this was not where we were going to sleep.

After enjoying a snack and a drink at the lake, and filtering a bit of water, we doubled back on ourselves to the path that we did not set foot on the last time we were here. Once we had one foot on it, we declared victory in having made it further this time than last. The path was very steep up to the ridge, and then remained fairly steep with the path being quite rough in places but not difficult. Soon we were looking down on Llyn Cau and starting to see the amazing inversion to the south of us.

The wind started to increase as we gained height, but it was no more than a stiff breeze for most of the time and certainly not the gale force winds we had experienced previously. After a strenuous climb, which is almost completely pointless as it’s followed by a long descent before the final push to the summit, we came to the 791 metre mark on Craig Cau. You need to be prepared for some rough, loose rock to get there, and then to have a steep descent the other side. There is an alternative that three other people took, to walk around Llyn Cau and climb straight up, which avoids this. They said it was not too bad, but as they emerged at the top it looked pretty steep to me.

The views from this point were fantastic, you could now see down to Barmouth and the sea to the north, as well as that beautiful inversion to the south. We paused regularly for ‘photograph breaks’ (well I certainly did at any rate), but for once this was justified. Just look at that sky! My legs were tired but I was happy to be here in this beautiful place in such amazing conditions.

The final route up to the summit at Penygadair at 893 metres, involves (suprise suprise) a steep climb up rocks and occasionally path to the summit, marked by a trig point. To your left you can see Llyn Y Gadair, a long way down! The mountains of Snowdonia behind were bathed in beautiful orange hues.

Rob had kindly waited for me so that we reached the summit together. We walked up the final rocks to the summit trig point, and admired the 360 views, which were quite simply stunning. After standing on so many cloudy summits, or being driven off hills before reaching them due to the weather, this was a moment to really savour. Finally, nearly three years since first trying, we were standing on the summit of Cadair Idris, and what a day to do it!

Both of us agreed that although not that strong we were quite keen to get out of the wind. There were five or six other people camping, but the summit ridge is long and there was plenty of room. After a quick look around the summit shelter, we decided to head down the ridge to pitch, a good decision as we learned the next day that three of the guys camping spent the evening singing! We pitched up at 850 metres, made some hot food, had a beer and turned in for some sleep. In total it had taken us four hours to walk here from the car park and we pitched just before it got dark. There was a full moon which almost negated any need to use a head torch it was so bright. My Hilleberg Enan was more than enough shelter in the light winds, and Rob chose a Vango Force 10, which was equally up to the job.

Rob slept well, me less so as I was on a slight slope that meant I had to keep pulling myself back onto my mat. However I did get a reasonable sleep, and by 1am the winds had dropped to almost nothing. The tent was bone dry in the morning, which was a joy to pack compared to the usual soggy mess and we enjoyed the stunning views all around us.

After a breakfast of toast prepared on the Primus Toaster and some good strong coffee, we started what we thought would be an easier day than yesterday, consisting mostly of descent. We continued along the ridge towards Mynydd Moel, Rob being more keen to walk to the summit than me. I chose to relax and admire the view back not only to the walk that we had completed yesterday, but also to Pembrokeshire and as far as the Brecon Beacons. It was simply stunning.

The descent from here proved to be quite brutal, with relentless steep descent, sometimes on quite slippery rocks even in the dry weather we were experiencing. We decided to take it slow and steady. Actually to be honest I had no choice in the matter since a fast descent was beyond what I was physically capable of. I started to get a couple of blisters as my feet were being jammed into the toe of my boots repeatedly. It’s definitely not difficult, but if you want to do this walk just be aware that it’s steep, and if you are carrying a heavy pack it’s going to take some time unless you are really hill fit. Eventually we arrived back at the river and the junction with the steps we’d walked the day before, reachable over a solid slate bridge. After a short break, we hobbled down to the car, satisfied that our unfinished business was now finished. In all it took around three hours to descend. This was a really fantastic walk, in perfect conditions and we drove home on the Sunday satisfied that we had used the last weekend before Christmas very wisely!

I used the excellent Harvey Maps British Mountain Map of Snowdonia South for this trip.

This hike was in memory of Lorna Spyer, taken too soon. Sleep tight x

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2 thoughts on “Wild Camp: Unfinished business on Cadair Idris

  1. A great write up of a thoroughly enjoyable trip Mark. I’m already thinking about climbing other hills/mountains.

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