A look at the Glyderau

The Glyders are probably the best known mountains in Snowdonia besides the iconic massif of Yr Wyddfa. They consist of the main peaks in the Glyderau group, which has five of Wales’s fourteen 3000ft summits, and one Welsh 1000m peak. Glyder Fawr (3283ft/1001m) Glyder Fach (3262ft/994m) and Tryfan (3010ft/915m) consist of three peaks set within an arc whilst the other two 3000′ summits are further to the north, being Y Garn (3107ft/947m) and Elidir Fawr (3031ft/924m).

Most of the Glyderau is prominent to both Nant Peris and Nant Ffrancon, and indeed their summits give splendid views over both valleys as well as towards the Carnedds and the Snowdon Massif, and it is these, as well as the splendid summits of the two Glyders and Tryfan, that make the Glyderau unique amongst the mountains of Snowdonia.

A description of Glyder Fawr in the 19th Century.

The above paragraph is rom The Cambrian traveller’s guide and pocket companion, 1840. Note how the writer picks up on the panoramic views and valleys that can be seen from the Glyders. Many early writers considered the unique summits of Glyder Fawr and Fach to have been the work of some almighty being in times past. The local shepherds who worked their farms on the mountain’s slopes, gave it a different name: Carnedd-y-gwynt – the Eminence of Tempests, or sometimes the Hill of Storms.

Like most of Snowdonia the names of the various summits refer to local features. Y Garn looks somewhat like a large cairn and its name does translate as The cairn. The Glyders, the ‘heap of stones,’ have uniquely characterised summits strewn with huge boulders and rocks thrown in a haphazard fashion, perhaps as some believe, during a tempest. Tryfan, as Trivaen or more usually Trifaen, is the three headed mountain. Looking at its summit one can see it does consist of three distinctly small peaks. Blacks Picturesque Guide to North Wales, 1857, informs us that Tryfan is “extremely dark and awful.” Jenkinson on the other hand tells us in his 1883 guide to North Wales that “Tryfan mountain presents a magnificent pyramid of rock.” The latter is the familiar shape most people recognise today.

Jekinson’s 1883 Guide to North Wales praises Tryfan’s iconic shape.

All the mountains formerly were preceeded by the ‘Y,’ such as in Y Glyder Fawr and Y Glyder Fach. Glyder Fach in some books is described as Glyder Bach, but I dont know if this was an error perpetuated amongst the writers. The unusually titled Gossiping Guide to Wales of 1883 tells us that “The Glyders, however, are weird enough to satisfy anyone. Glyder Fach rises up from behind the inn, and Glyder Fawr is only half an hour from its lower namesake.” The aforementioned ‘Inn’ is still there but otherwise known as Ogwen Cottage (more info here) where many people initially learned their mountain climbing skills.

Another cottage nearby is that of Idwal, the UK’s oldest youth hostel. I worked as an assistant warden here one summer. Being an illiterate mountaineer, I realised soon enough it was a great location and most of my spare time was spent discovering the area’s delights. Idwal Cottage was a former quarry manager’s cottage sited on the old main road at head of the Nant Ffrancon pass. The local quarries were sited some distance down the old road and mined a special type of slate known as Welsh or Idwal Oilstone. Behind the YHA’s buildings are the Idwal Slabs where on most days in the summer many beginners from Ogwen Cottage can be seen practising their ropes in readiness for the area’s more serious mountaineering challenges. The old road from Bangor now forms part of theLon Las Ogwen Cycleway.

Idwal Cottage in times past. The mountain behind is Y Garn.

Idwal Cottage opened as a hostel in 1931 and its more than ideal location has ensured it is the essential starting point for various mountain treks of differing grades. Behind the cottage are the Idwal Slabs, advantageous for beginners, and further up is Cwm Idwal and its lake, now a National Nature Reserve. The waters, properly known as Llyn Idwal, are named because of its reputation as the location which one of the sons of Owain prince of Gwynedd, was drowned after being entrusted to the jealous Lord of Nant Conwy, Nefydd Hardd, in the second quarter of the 12th Century. Recently Idwal Cottage has been refurbished and is now an eco-hostel, using solar panels, energy saving techniques, and local recylced building materials, however the new roof was found to be sub-standard, requiring remedial action.

A classic view of the head of Nant Ffrancon, Ogwen Falls & Tryfan from one of my old slides.

Llyn Idwal forms the base of Cwm Idwal and these important features are noted for the varitey of rare plants to be found. Many botanists came up here to discover the many species and note them. The plants listed at Cwm Idwal are many times longer that those for Snowdon. Perhaps the best known scientist was Charles Darwin himself. He visited Cwm Idwal in the fourth week of August 1831, on a fieldwork trip that was to give him insights into the beginnings of what would grow into his major work on evolution. He also of course identified the workings in the area of what we now know as the Ice Age, an idea that had barely yet begun to take hold. The head of Nant Ffrancon was apparently the site of one of the last vesitges of the Ice Age, for a glacier could be found here until around 10,000 years ago.

Reference to Thomson’s book Climbing in the Ogwen District, published 1910.

The Glyderau are some of Snowdonia’s best climbing terrain. Snowdon and its horseshoe were a magnet for the many early climbers, and one person, James Merriman Archer Thomson, headmaster to the County School in Llandudno, is part of the area’s history. Thomson was a noted climber with expertise of the Snowdon massif, but soon shifted his focus to the Glyderau. He wrote some of the earliest climbing guides and his Climbing in the Ogwen District was published in 1910 for the Committee of Climbers Clubs, following his earlier work on Lliwedd (a free PDF copy can be found here.) Another early book on the Glyderau was J.M. Edwards’ Cwm Idwal Group, published by the same Climbers Club in 1936.

Ogwen Cottage c 1920. Image from Wkipedia.

The area’s popularity saw many early climbers stay at Ogwen Cottage, where they were always made welcome by its owner, Mrs Jones. It was recognised amongst many climbing clubs as being the centre for climbing in Snowdonia. In 1956 Ogwen Cottage became a mountaineering school in recognition of the area’s potential, and has been owned by Birmingham City Council since 1964. The opening in 1931 of the nearby Idwal Cottage added further prestige in recognition of the area’s opportunities.

Title of the Cwm Idwal Group book

One of the area’s early climbing pioneers was Thomas Firbank, the man who ‘bought a mountain.’ He and his wife Esmee bought Dyffryn Mymbyr farm, acreage 2,400, near Capel. It included Cefn y Capel hill (460m) and the southern slopes of the Glyders. In 1938 Thomas Firbanks, Esmee and friends their historic trip across the 14 Welsh summits over 3000ft, achieving the feat in eight hours. His book was published in 1940 and tells us of the 14 summits attempt, as well as their struggle as a young couple trying to make a living in the harsh Welsh environment. The book has been a best-seller ever since.

Old book cover for Firbank’s classic I Bought a Mountain

In terms of climbing, the first and foremost mountain has to be Tryfan. Its distinctive features have long been a magnet for many a skilled climber, and it was here that Sir Edmund Hilary made his preparations in 1952 for the epic climb up Everest. At the top of Tryfan are the two iconic boulders known as Adam and eve (or Adda ac Efa in welsh) across which many daring mountaineers make a terryfying leap of faith! Tryfan was recently measured in June 2010 by Barnard, Phillips and Jackson, to see if it was actually above the 3000ft level. To their surprise they found that it was 3010ft, the old measurement that historians such as John Edward Lloyd, had noted. Lloyd gave the heights of Tryfan, Glyder Fawr and Fach as 3010ft, 3279ft and 3262ft respectively.

Glyder Fawr was measured by G and J Surveys on 16th August 2010. The team of amateur surveyors Phillips, Jackson & Barnard announced their results on 21 September 2010 at Plas Tan-y-bwlch, Maentwrog. The peak is 3283ft or 1001m (1,000.8m to be exact) and this clearly takes the mountain into a new category, for it is now the fifth Welsh 1000m peak, albeit the lowest one of the five.

One of my pictures of the summit of Tryfan showing Adam and Eve.

Many other features in terms of climbing amongst the Glyderau include The Bristly Ridge cleft and the cliffs known by the lengthy name Clogwyn Du Ymhen y Glyder. Thomas Pennant wrote in 1810 that the Klogwyn Du “…was as dreadful a precipice as any in Snowdonia, hanging over the dire waters of Llyn Idwal.” Clogwyn Du (the preferred term) offers grades from III to IX but climbing should take place only in the winter when a hard frost is present, so as to minimise possible disturbance to the site’s rare ecology. Atop the cliffs runs the ridge that passes between the two Glyder summits. It has some of the best high altitude walks in the UK and oft many times have people have it is so much like the geological features found on the Moon.

The twin peaks of Tryfan, and erm, Tryfan! The Castle of the Winds (right) mirrors Tryfan.

One place is known as The Castle of the Winds (Castell-y-Gwynt,) a splendid outcrop from which excellent views can be obtained towards Snowdon. The castle is somewhat bizarrely a miniature version of Tryfan. I’ve never seen this mentioned anywhere, not even on another website – but at some locations on the Glyders (as the above picture shows) you can see Tryfan to the left and the Castle of the Winds to the right, mirror imaging Tryfan. The Cantilever Stone at Glyder Fach is another attraction. Its slender length balanced precariously upon other rocks tempts those who dare climb on it and walk to its edge high above all around it, whilst on the way to Tryfan is the Flying Buttress, affording various climbing/scrambling techniques.

The Cantilever Stone (pic from Wikipedia)

Twll Du, known in english as the Devils Kitchen, is a popular cleft of relative ease that transcends the towering cliffs of Cwm Idwal. From the top of the kitchen its not far to the summits of the Glyders. A right turn leads one however to the more remote Glyderau summits of Y Garn and Elidir Fawr. The latter is a prominent peak towering over a precipice in which sits the reservoir Marchlyn Mawr. Elidir Fawr towers over Llanberis and much of its lower slopes constitute a considerable part of the Dinorwig slate quarries.

The summit of Elidir Fawr seen from near the Afon Hwch viaduct at Llanberis

I have read comments suggesting that Y Garn is a boring mountain. Certainly it may not offer much in the way of higher grade climbs or scrambling, but it should not be missed for its position is very well placed for excellent views of Snowdonia’s summits, and offers a fantastic prospect of Tryfan’s north west face as well as good views of the Ogwn Falls and the bridge that crosses these, known as Pont Pen-y-benglog.

This view looking up at Twll Du was taken during an afternoon off Idwal Cottage duty

Copyright © 2010 Gwychder y Wyddfa (Updated 21 Sept 2010)

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