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  • Emily Hayes

Diary of a hiker in training: chasing mountains in Wales

Updated: Jun 6, 2021

Having spent 5 days walking and unsuccessfully wild camping in Scotland last October, I was ready to correct all my mistakes on my planned 5 day North Wales adventure in May.

With my updated wet weather gear and even fancier new ultralight tent in my backpack I was hopeful I would at least stay dry this time. The plan was, as always, to prove to myself that I can walk lots of miles with a heavy backpack while staying self sufficient with my food, water and means of shelter and warmth.

The journey started with multiple buses over hours to get to Penmaenmawr so I was eager to get stuck into walking. The sudden steep hill to walk out of town exhausted me within minutes. Slightly disheartened I stopped early to have lunch and rearrange my bag telling myself not to be so precious about sweating and walking up a bit of a hill. Unusually the weather in Wales on that day was sunny and warm, not quite what I had prepared for. When I finally hit the moors I decided to go completely off trail from the North Wales Path and just float in the sort of direction I had planned for my second day. Floating is the word I use because I was walking in no particular way or trail, on top of spongy heather and moss which was bouncy in weather that was very dreamy.

I walked up and down small peaks that were actually the remnants of disused quarries now overgrown with moss and I rested by ancient stone settlements scattered on the hillside. As time headed towards sundown I began to think of where I would sleep. Reviewing the map I decided to begin my traverse of the Carneddau, a range of mountains in Snowdonia. Of course the higher you ascend the stronger the winds, one side of the mountain range was windy enough to make me put all my layers on, while the other side was slightly calmer. Before I found my spot for the night on the calmer side, I summited Carnedd y Ddelw and Carnedd Penyborth-Goch (Drum), a warm up for the next day.

I spent the first evening joyfully pitching my tent in dry weather, rehydrating my meal in dry weather and just sitting and admiring the views in dry weather. I had learnt from my Scottish trip that I needed to consume more calories but carry less food weight so I chose Expedition Foods for every evening meal of this trip. Surprisingly I had phone reception and was notified of rain arriving 10 minutes later. Watching the storm clouds surround me while hearing the wind rattle around from the shelter of my tent was really comforting although I was wide awake by 5am and very ready to pack up.

After finding a water source to refill my bottles, I began the real challenge of traversing the remaining Carnedds. Elevation was increasing, rocky terrain became more challenging but my hiking poles that I'd never used before were keeping me going. I summited Foel-fras, Carnedd Gwenllian, Foel Grach, Carnedd Llewelyn and Carnedd Dafydd, so I was rolling at about 1,000 meters of elevation. Feeling like a complete bad ass mountain woman I thought this mountain malarkey was easy. I then began to descend from Bwlch yr Ole Weh, I soon noticed I was no longer easily finding a route through the scree and rocks, the footing was getting harder for me, my bag weighing something like 20kg was getting in the way of my ability to squeeze down or in between rocks. The moment came when I realised it was either me or the bag that would need to roll down the mountain to be able to continue. I attempted to carefully drop my bag to avoid the roll but instead I watched my bag tumble 20 meters down steep scree with all the associated noises. My hiking poles fell off the loops on my bag and my half-full wine bag also accompanied the spread of my possessions on the mountainside. I did safely get myself down to all items asking myself if I really needed the wine bag after all. In hindsight that descent might not have been as challenging as I remembered but the exhausted version of me wasn't making great decisions.

When I arrived at Llyn Ogwen, I had planned to take the route to Devils Kitchen and find a spot for the night. My mind was in no shape to complete another mountain route. So as the sun went down I began desperately choosing a wild camping spot but every location I found, my tired mind could only think of how likely it might be for a sheep farmer to find me and ask me to move on. In reality, I saw no farmers to tend to the hundreds of sheep that I did see and every spot I pitched was a good spot.

By the third day of hiking I was beginning to feel the strain on my body but in good spirits I chose a flat walking trail for the morning. I headed to Capel Curig in the hope that I would find WiFi, phone reception, a bus timetable or an ordnance survey map to continue where my current one finished. Unsurprisingly I hadn't made the daily miles I had planned to walk so I was beginning to plan an alternative route that would include public transport.

New paper map to hand, I decided Llyn y Foel looked like a good place to spend the night, a lake on the mountainside of Moel Siabod. The sun was still shining and my poncho had only seen a few small showers. The scramble to the lake was peaceful but I was aware that weather can change instantly in mountains and whatever goes up must also go down. My intuition followed me up Moel Siabod and I didn't camp there as planned. The lake was eerie, I hadn't seen anyone for hours, the wind was picking up but there was also a lack of sheep which may have been the cause of the eerie sensation. I had become used to sheep being around; the sound of bleating lambs and the stare of their protective mothers while they roamed about the mountainsides and moors was more common than seeing any person. That night I woke up to rain and plenty of wind but I had found a sheltered spot down the mountainside. Putting the tent away in the rain that morning felt familiar.

A lake on Moel Siabod

My final full day of walking took me through maintained forestry, providing welcome shelter from the rain which was building up to be painful horizontal rain in the face with a strong wind behind it. The intention was to walk up and through the forest to Blaenau Ffestiniog and take buses back to end my trip the next day. Unbeknown to me the last section of the forest was shut for logging which blocked the main route out of the forest. At this stage I hadn't been paying much attention to my map as I had purposefully chosen a straight trail that needed minimal brain input. I saw that I had two choices; I could turn back the way I came and re-plan the next 24 hours or try and take smaller unmarked trails and eventually figure out where I was to be able to continue through the forest as planned. My phone GPS wasn't much good to me at this point as it wasn't picking up any signal. Of course I chose to keep going through the forest on the small trails, this did not aid me any further in figuring out where I was on the map. The rain was relentless and I hadn't stopped for lunch, it was 3pm but it felt like night was coming. Eventually I decided it was time to give up and admit I couldn’t keep going to Blaenau Ffestiniog as I still couldn’t point out where I was on the map. I walked back to Dolwyddelan and begrudgingly searched the internet for an actual campsite as soon as my phone had signal.

Arriving at Tan Aeldroch Farm expecting a very muddy field to pitch up, I was greeted by Jenny, who offered me a farm barn to sleep in and to get out of the rain. I could not have been happier to accept. A night away from the rain and with space to roam in the dry outside my tent seemed blissful. I’d already picked up a fresh bottle of red since my half-full wine bag had been consumed the previous night (yes I was thankful that I had recovered it from the mountain). So I prepared my remaining Expedition Foods freeze dried meal and settled down for the night, feeling content to have found such luck. What a perfect end to this trip.

The cosy barn for the night

The final day mainly consisted of avoiding flooded footpaths and re-routing from fords that were submerged by the river. The 4 hour journey back on the bus flew by.

You may have read about my very wet Scottish trip, my previous fancy tent liked to drip on me inside the tent while I slept, waking up in puddles of water. Yes Scotland is wet and multiday trips with lots of rain are great for seeing how your gear performs but for my Welsh trip I'm very happy to report that my Tarptent Notch Li has exceeded my expectations. Windproof, lightweight and quite easy to pitch up/down and put away. It actually didn't rain anywhere near as much as Scotland so I'll have to save that test for another trip.

As for my raynauds condition on my fingers, I'm pleased that my hands behaved for most of the trip. I’ve learnt about single use hot pocket things and I took 3 pairs of gloves, each with different functions. So I was able to keep my hands dry and warm or wet and warm as eventually even my waterproof gloves are wet through, particularly towards the end of the trip with whatever storm it was that swept the UK.

What a trip! Writing about the highs and lows has been the best way to reflect on the trip. I hope you enjoyed reading. I think my next trip won’t include mountains for a while … or maybe I will....

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