Course Report – Wild Camping Weekend
Photos and notes from our June 2018 Snowdonia Wild Camping Weekend
Last weekend I was joined by Richard, Allan and Amy for our 2018 Mountain Wild Camping course in the hills of Snowdonia. This course has two learning outcomes – planning and preparing for a wild camping trip in the British mountains and going through one or more iterations of the essential skills of this part of mountaincraft – finding a camping site, sourcing clean water, dealing with weather, dealing with toilet issues and everything else.
We keep the group ratios fairly low on this course to make sure that we don’t have too much of an impact on the mountain environment, and to ensure a better experience for the course participants.
We met up at one of our favourite North Wales eateries- the excellent and friendly Moel Siabod Cafe and sat down with the maps to discuss our options. This is an intrinsic part of the course, and route planning and the logistics of plotting a circular or linear route needed to be looked over. We went through the options of walking from the cafe itself, of catching a bus to a different valley or even some convoluted system involving shuttling cars back and forth to walk between two points. In the end we settled on a circular route, starting from a little further down the road. The combination of time available and a mixed forecast (rain/wind and poor visibility at either end of the trip with a relatively dry and settled overnight period) led us to choosing a route that kept us at a fairly low altitude for the first part of the day before climbing up to somewhere a little more remote later on.
After going through our respective kit choices – and a shake-down of my own kit to show how I could remove 300g or so of unnecessary weight (my pack weight as a leader was around 13kg ‘dry’, and about 16kg ‘wet’/including food and water) – we set off into the hills.
The first section followed the track (Sarn yr Offeiriad) over the hill from Capel Tan-y-Garth to Dolwyddelan, climbing up through oak woodland and skirting the remains of slate quarries before descending back down amidst deep, dark forests and mossy boulders. We diverted off into some overhanging trees for lunch, hiding from the rain and going through a ‘Hudsons Bay Start’ by testing out stoves, filters and a few other key bits of kit before we traveled too far from civilisation and the option to fix/solve any problems caused by faulty or missing kit.
As we arrived at the edge of the village of Dolwyddelan the skies cleared, the sun came out and we took the opportunity to dry our bags and waterproofs out for half an hour in the beer garden of Y Gwydyr. Years of walking in wet places have taught me that if you have the opportunity to ‘reset’ and dry off equipment you should always take it – you’ll be glad of it when you’re sorting through your kit inside an otherwise dry tent later that evening!
The next section of path took us up behind Castell Dolwyddelan and into the woods under the southern flank of Moel Siabod. We dodged fallen trees, performed a river crossing or two and started to discuss the plans for the evening – camp low alongside a lake and risk the midges but avoid the wind, or go high and hope to find a flat, sheltered spot? We chose the latter option and strode on into the bogs and tussocks of Cwm Edno.
We headed out for a small stand of trees partway along the cwm, hoping to find a flat spot in the lee of the pines. In the end we found a near-perfect spot; close-cropped grass, relatively flat and with a decent water source not too far away. Crucially we were also well out of sight of roads and habitation where we could practice a true leave-no-trace ethic and leave only some flattened grass as signs of our overnight stay.
With a few hours left until sunset we pitched the tents, cooked dinner and watched the clouds scud by over the Moelwyns and Moel Siabod.
Our camping spot was about 1 km short of the crash site of Douglas Dakota EI-AFL at Bwlch Y Rhediad. This airliner crashed into the side of the mountain here in 1952, killing all 23 passengers and crew on board.
The night passed peacefully, with some gentle rain at around 5am finally forcing me to close the tent porch. The weather was deteriorating though, with the forecast rain and stronger winds looking almost certain. The visibility had also dropped down to a few hundred metres and the low clouds scraped over the top of Carnedd y Cribau just to our north – time for a quick breakfast and careful packing of kit to make sure everything important stayed dry!
After striking camp, and making sure that we had left nothing behind, we set off once again into the marsh and tussocky grass on the floor of the cwm, heading for the sanctuary of the sides of Carnedd y Cribau – dry ground, shorter grass and easier walking with heavy packs.
Next up was a gentle rollercoaster of rocks, small ponds and handrailing a fenceline over to Bwlch Rhiw’r Ychen in slowly worsening weather and visibility down a dozen metres or so. This continued as we climbed up to the summit of Moel Siabod, strong winds buffeting us from the south-west and turning this section of the trip into something verging on Type-2 fun.
We topped out on the 872m summit, hanging around long enough to touch the top of the cairn and grab a photo before starting the descent back to Capel Curig, dropping below the clouds and enjoying the views down over Plas y Brenin and the rest of the valley.
The Mountain Wild Camping Course is slightly unusual in our range of skills courses in that most of the content is not taught in the abstract – it’s done for real. We’re not discussing key subjects with theoretical scenarios, we’re doing things in the same environments that the course participants will be visiting and working in. We’re plotting a route into the mountains of Snowdonia, responding to the conditions that are presented to us and practicing good mountaincraft to keep ourselves safe.