Reach for the sky

Sat, Jan 28, 2012, 00:00

TRAVEL: WALK:WHAT’S THE BEST mountain circuit within easy reach of Dublin? It’s the Snowdon Horseshoe, of course. You can’t beat an outing that includes the highest mountains in Wales and the outstanding knife-edge Crib Goch Ridge – or can you? Certainly this worldfamous Horseshoe offers a compelling experience but with the Snowdon Railway elevating hordes of day-trippers to where they have earned no right to be, in muscle and sweat, you’ll end up queuing for a photo-op and later queue again within the crowded summit café.

So if you’d like to confine your summit interactions to fellow walkers, go instead to the nearby Ogwen Valley where Tryfan’s North Ridge arrows upwards to offer, what I consider, the best upland outing in Wales.

First ascend past the rock-climbing paradise of Milestone Buttress to follow a steep stony staircase to reach Tryfan’s gnarly shoulder. Now keep the seam of your trousers aligned with ridge top as you ascend a series of rock steps to attain the unmistakeable Canon Stone and sublime vistas.

Here the ridge narrows for genuinely entertaining climbing. Suddenly you’re a kid again, whooping and scrambling and laughing giddily as the childhood exhilaration of using hands and feet to reach for the skies returns. One final descent requires concentration before you keep right for an enjoyable finish to the bouldery summit crowned by the pinnacles of Adam and Eve.

Long-standing tradition dictates the exposed “leap of faith” from one to the other for the “Freedom of Tryfan”. Be warned, however, this short skip is daunting when you are actually standing atop these 8ft monoliths and has forced many a blushing retreat by otherwise testosterone rich males.

Next, descend to Bwelch Tryfan, by the easier South Ridge and make a choice. If you have enough scrambling for one day, you can trend left on a rather tedious, but easy, scree ramp to reach the summit plateau of Glyder Fach without further incident.

Scrambling addicts will, however, follow a wall upwards to the mouth of the eerily titled Sinister Gully. This mercurial defile holds the key to the delightful Bristley Ridge, which is your most demanding test so far. The simplest approach is to gain the ledge at half way and then traverse left to Bristley’s airy spine.

The ascent is now astride a series of pinnacles affording inspirational panoramas to the daunting Pinnacle Gap. This relents surprisingly easily, however, and regaining the crest with the difficulties now behind, you’ll soon be standing amid the lunar landscape of the summit plateau where it’s a question of following the cairns to the photograph’s dream, Cantilever Stone, improbably balanced atop a rocky outcrop. Just beyond, a chaotic maze of slabs is crowned by Glyder Fach’s summit offering unforgettable views over the great Carneddau Mountains and the sublime Snowdon Horseshoe.

The safest descent is to retrace your steps down the scree slopes on the right of Bristly Ridge to Bwelch Tryfan and then follow a path known as the Heather Terrace. This traverses the east side of Tryfan, to rejoin your original ascent route just above your parking place.

Wales walk

Getting there Stena Line offers seacat and ferry sailings from Dún Laoighaire and Dublin Port to Holyhead. stenaline.ie. Irish Ferries has similar services from Dublin Port, irishferries.ie. The trailhead is 45 minutes drive from Holyhead.

Where to stay

The 4* Celtic Royal Hotel, tel: 0044 –1286674477 in Caernarfon has a well-appointed leisure centre for relaxation after strenuous mountain days. Otherwise deep amid the hills, the Pen-y-Gwyrd Hotel, tel: 0044-1286870211 is a virtual museum of walking history.

SuitabilityThis is a demanding outing requiring scrambling experience and a head for heights, so be well kitted out and prepared for a long day.

TimeAbout 6.5 hours

MapHarvey’s Snowdonia Map1: 40,000.