Monday, 19 April 2010

sunny wild camping in the Rhinogs

Phil and I took advantage of some of the good weather we’ve been having to head out into the wilderness for a nice walk and wild camp. Now, I should say that this is the first time I’ve done a ‘serious’ walk like this with Phil, and as such it was a great experience – not really my style of walking as I normally view hill walking simply as a means to gain fitness, not an end in itself, so to simply walk to enjoy the experience and the surroundings was a refreshing change.

We parked up at the farm on the Dolgellau side of the Rhinogau and proceeded to make our way through the forest and out into Bwlch Drws-Ardudwy, one of the two major mountain passes (the other being the ‘Roman Steps’.


Here we enjoyed a leisurely lunch, trying out a cheap couscous ‘bivi meal recipe’ I’d concocted, which was ok but not good enough to write about or even do again – still, all experimentation is good.

Next we headed up the side of Rhinog Fach towards our intended camp site at the side of Llyn Hywell. The weather up until this point had been simply stunning – sunny and warm, not a cloud in the sky. Unfortunately, upon reaching the upper Llyn, a bitterly cold wind coming across the lower ridge took hold, seeming to suck away all the sun’s warmth.

We wandered round a bit before settling on the most sheltered spot, which as per normal universal laws, was of course the first one we’d looked at. Abandoning our sacks here we proceeded to head up to the summit of Rhinog Fach, admiring the South Ridge from the path up. The South Ridge looked like a mighty fine, if not hugely long, scramble, but upon returning home and consulting the guidebooks turns out to actually yield a route graded Severe! I shall have to go back.

SDC10146 Phil with the mighty Rhinog Fawr in the background

SDC10161 The South Ridge of Rhinog Fach, a gritstone mountain Severe!

SDC10176Y Llethr, the highest point in the Rhinogs, from the summit of Rhinog Fach 

Upon descending from the summit and making our way back across the pathless boulder-field at the side of the Llyn, we re-found our bags and proceeded to pitch the tent in winds which had by now gotten quite strong. This is my excuse for why I proceeded to ‘enjoy’ one of the worst night’s sleep I’ve ever had in the tent – I’d managed to position the tent with my head in a hollow, and Phil’s on a tussock. Swapping sides just meant I went from feeling light-headed to having the tent flap in my face on the wrong side* as I tried to avoid the lumpy tussock I now had possession of.

I re-learned another valuable lesson that night – leaving behind my ipod and/or a book of some kind was a mistake. I had hoped to sit out and watch the sunset and then stare at the stars in the crystal clear sky for a while before going to sleep, but the bitterly parasitic wind put paid to that idea and the lack of conversational topics we hadn’t already covered a million times before made for a rather stale time. Needless to say I did not sleep well either.

Enough of the whinging though, the morning was truly beautiful, still windy but the sun did its best to fight off the worst of the cold as we aired our sleeping bags in the breeze and had a very leisurely session striking camp.


We gave up on the idea of heading up Rhinog Fawr as well after I managed to get a bit of grit lodged in my eye so I spent the first 3 or 4 hours of the day in agony. Note to self: buy a tiny little mirror to pack in the first aid kit.

So day 2 was spent meandering back down the Bwlch and around towards the Roman Steps, then back through the forest to the truck where our first thought was of brewing a nice cuppa using the MSR petrol stove Phil keeps in the back of his bright red pickup. This was, on the surface, a perfectly simple and good idea. Unfortunately I decided to try to be helpful and get the stove going…

To cut a long story short, I had forgotten about the priming procedure you have to go through with the MSR, and so proceeded to light the stove with the fuel supply on, which then led the thing to start dripping petrol from the base of the stove burner, and onto the tailgate of the truck (should have put the damned thing on the floor, but we always do it like this and have never had this issue before). It took me a few seconds to realise what was dripping from the stove, by which time, fairly predictably, the whole lot had caught fire. Yes, I set fire to the truck. Thankfully Phil wandered over at this point, just as I had registered what was happening, turned off the fuel supply and started to flail and cry out “it’s burning, it’s burning, it’s all on fire!” in the most useful way possible. Before I’d had time to pull myself together and deal with it, Phil grabbed the fuel bottle and dropped the stove to the ground where it burnt itself out without doing any more damage. Fortunately I hadn’t actually set fire to the truck, just a small patch of the tailgate, oh and the stove’s stuff bag, and so casualties were minimal. We did then proceed to light the thing properly with it on the ground, and brew our cuppa. It was just a shame Phil elected to try using some ancient milk powder rather than digging the UHT sachets out of my rucksack, and the tea ended up tasting like rancid, rotten bin water.

Wild camping is always an interesting experience, and each time I do it I come back with lots of thoughts and ideas about how I could do things better, and this trip was no exception. I may well put a blog entry together with some of the better little tips I’ve picked up over time, and some of my thoughts on some of the more pointless things we seem to end up doing.

*Yes, there is a right and a wrong side – I am a particularly awkward sleeper at the best of times, and I need to be on my side of the bed/tent otherwise things just don’t feel right.

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