Cadair Idris Mountain Top Wild Camp

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On the weekend of the 28th April 2018, Summit or Nothing’s Nath and Trev successfully participated in their first ever Mountain Wild Camp, on the side of Cadair Idris, in Snowdonia National Park. The bold words of the text below are links to videos or articles as well as affiliate links to the products that we use.

The Vango Mirage 200 on the side of Cadair Idris in Snowdonia

Friday 28th – Sunday 30th April 2018

It had been a long while since we first visited Snowdonia (Back in August of 2016 when we took in Snowdon and Tryfan) and both Nathan and myself were both adamant that we would like to get back there, and the infamous mountain of Cadair Idris had been bandied about as the mountain we both wished to visit, and hopefully wild camp upon too. We had planned a winter wild camp there for December, in the week that all that heavy snow first hit, but I was struck down with my annual Christmas time flu, and so our plans were laid to rest. Looking back in hindsight this was a blessing in disguise.

We finally decided after our previous Dartmoor wild camp that the next outing would indeed be to the mountains of Snowdonia, and we intended to camp. After Nathan’s tarp disaster on our Dartmoor camp back in the early days of April 2018, and as a precaution against the dodgy weather that was scheduled for the day we were set to venture up the mountain, he decided that he would leave his DD Hamock Superlight Tarp at home and pack his Vango Mirage 200 tent instead, which in turn meant trading his lightweight Lowe Alpine Ascent 40:50 and digging out his slightly larger and therefore heavier Osprey Atmos backpack just to be able to fit it all in.

I intended to take my Vango Banshee 200 tent once again, but unlike Nathan, I was determined to shed some kilo’s for this mountain hike, and so downgraded my own backpack from the robust and roomy Vango Sherpa 65l and into my Quechua Forclaz 50 litre (which saved me 800g’s straight off the bat) and took on the challenge of cramming everything I needed into it. I also saved another 600 g’s by trading my self-inflating roll mat for my Thermarest Ridgerest foam mat, which I hadn’t tested yet. It turned out to be a great change and was more than sufficient insulation in the sub-zero temperature of the mountaintop. On the six-hour drive up, we then decided that his Mirage 200 was ample size for the pair of us (considerably more room than my Banshee 200 although both are allegedly 2 man tents) and so decided that by splitting the tent between us both, we would save even more weight, although I would have to endure the fermentation of Nath’s high protein diet, which I suppose was a small price to pay for a more comfortable climb up this 894m mountain.  

Starting the hike up Cadir Idris, Pony Path

As mentioned, the weather was set to be coming in crap when we left Cornwall on the Friday evening, a shame really as I had been monitoring it all week and up until the day we were to leave, the Saturday looked the best day of the week. I posted a message on a few Facebook groups asking for recommendations of the best route to take bearing in mind that this was our first time up this mountain, our ability to veer off track in failing visibility and the weather front we were going to face, and we were advised to try the pony path. So we drove to the Ty-Nant car park (just south-west of the quaint town of Dolgellau) which is precisely where the pony path begins.

We arrived at gone one in the morning and driving a Picasso (my family wagon) we had room to knock down the rear seats and inflate a double mattress in the back, allowing us to get a sheltered and relatively comfortable nights sleep in the motor before we began. Unfortunately, in amongst all of our equipment that was hastily thrown into the front seats of the car, Nathan’s phone was hidden and buried, and his alarm began to go off at half past five and continued until about seven when we finally dragged ourselves out of a frustrating slumber.

The river beside the Ty-Nant Carpark at the foot of the Pony Path

To our surprise, however, the weather was fine. We had a fry up at the riverside picnic bench in the car park, cooked on my cumbersome camping stove, before preparing to head into Dolgellau where Nath wanted to pick up some supplies in the local hiking/camping shop, which the web site said opened at 9am. Unfortunately, it was half past nine before we realised that the shop wasn’t to open until half past ten on a Saturday morning, and so we abandoned the shop, headed back to the car park, paid £5 to see us through until midnight and readied ourselves for our hike up the pony path.

As I was filming the signboard a Snowdonia National Park ranger was pinning up a weather update – it was good news, the weather was set to be great today, a bit of drizzle at tea time, but apart from that, fantastic conditions for a hike and wild camp. The ranger asked me what our plans were and when I told him that we were going to camp he covered his ears and said: “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.” Then informed me that the park was private land and we should really seek permission first. I keep forgetting that the Dartmoor rules of wild camping don’t extend to the other National Parks. I then asked if the £5 parking was enough to see us through the night, and again he covered his ears and repeated: “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that!” Oops!

And so we began our climb.

The weather was fine, the packs were heavy, but we had all the time in the world to get up, so we set out at a leisurely pace, stopping regularly to take time-lapse shots of the fantastic views that surrounded us. Our first stop was taken just before the first real steep ascent that would take us onto the ridge. We took about half an hour, enjoying the sun, the views and chatting happily to some of the passers-by. The ascent then didn’t take us too long to get up onto the lower ridge, my regular coastal walks were certainly helping me maintain a far better stamina than I had back when we first climbed Snowdon, although I still struggled to maintain Nathan’s pace.

The valleys from the Pony Path of Cadair Idris

Once upon the lower ridge, Nathan took a look at the map to determine where the best place was to fill up the water bottles before the summit, (although I carried 2 litres in my bag, much to Nathan’s annoyance) and it wasn’t far. When we found it, however, we soon realised that it was a dried up stagnant pool, circled by flies and neither of us fancied drinking from it, certain that even the highest spec water filters would be able to clean that source. So out came the map again, and it soon became evident that we would have to head back downhill about 800m’s to find the next nearest water source.

This was much better, and although only a thin trickle, it was clear and deep enough to dip the tail of the handily sized water filter the MSR Trailshot into. So this was the point of our second stop of the day, and we decided to drink much of the water we already had and fully hydrate ourselves, make ourselves some coffee then fill all the water bottles and set off again, climbing back over the terrain that we had just descended. Soon, we were following the cairns for the summit, and following a winding path that rose steadily, and just beneath the Saddle of Cadair, the views over the valley where we had just filled our bottles was awesome, too awesome to ignore in fact and so we stopped once again here and I set up the camera once again to capture yet another time-lapse.

Whilst we were sat here, one of the couples that had passed us at our first stop passed us once again, this time they were on their way down. They must have thought that we were the laziest hikers on the mountain, but they stopped and chatted merrily to us once again, and we both traded tales of previous mountain conquests and future goals. Whilst we had stopped, behind us, a large black cloud was forming and moving in, so we packed up and picked up the pace for our hike to the top. In what seemed hardly seemed any time at all, we reached the ridge that overlooked Llyn y Gadair, the large lake below, and absorbed the views. Apart from a few spots of hail, the weather seemed to be keeping at bay, and so we decided that we would venture of to the summit of the saddle before trekking over the actual summit of Cadair, Penygadair.

Nath on the higher ridge of Cadair Idris

With high influx of hikers venturing up to Penygadair, we decided that the solitude of the Saddle would be the best place to cry “SUUMMIIIT OOORR NOOTHIIING!” and so we did, the sound of our voices carried around the entire slopes of Cadair Idris, and then our call returned by other hikers at Penygadair! Still, dark clouds loomed all around us, but so far kept at a good distance, so we hastily took a stroll across the ridge towards the actual high point. The final scramble up to the summit was a welcome change from the endless uphill walking, and we soon made it up to the hut, taking in the sights, and visiting the shelter where we remained for a spell whilst other hikers queued for the trig point.

Now we had stopped, the air became chilly. We spoke to a family who had just bought their children (ranging from six to eleven years) up the Minnfford Path (another route we had been recommended) for their first mountain climb. They all seemed in high spirits and shared some chocolate between themselves, as much a celebration as well as for sustenance for their return journey.

Trev scrambling to the summit of Cadair Idris

We also met a solo hiker who was going to spend the night in the shelter. To us he looked underprepared, having only a lightweight sleeping bag that we thought would be no insulation to the cold damp stone floor on which he planned to sleep. We took a look around the summit for somewhere adequate to pitch our tent, and the grass up there was riddled with stones, so we decided to drop back down to the ridge just below the scrabble for our camp.

We finally saw a break in the queue, made our way to the trig point and watched as clouds appeared to be forming from the mountains, rising up and joining the other clouds passing over them. Soon, it was getting bitter cold and so we headed back down to set up our tents for the night, which we did just in time as the scheduled drizzle soon came in.

The Sunset over Barmouth as viewed from Cadair Idris

We pitched our tent just feet away from the ridge, a good 800-meter drop beneath us. About an hour or so of laying low in the tent saw the wet weather pass, and so we ventured out of our tent, just in time for the sun to start dropping down to the west of us, dipping into the sea behind Barmouth and illuminating the surrounding hills and valleys in a wondrous orange glow.  

We made our evening meals (Nath had the Adventure Foods dehydrated Chicken Curry and I had my favourite, the Wayfarers Spicy Sausage boil in the bag) and as the sun vanished, so the light mist began to turn to a light snow which we watched flutter around us for a spell before retreating into the tent and hunkering down. Both of us were exhausted from a late night of traveling, an early morning and the climb up the mountain, and so by half nine, we decided to try to get some shut-eye.

I struggled to sleep for a while and listened as Nath snored merrily besides me, and also the wind began to whip up, and I had visions of our tent lifting like a sail and dropping us off the edge, but eventually I too fell into a surprisingly comfortable slumber. I was awoken by Nathan who felt the need to wake me to tell me that I was snoring. The walls of our tent were surprisingly light, and we both believed that it must be morning already, but when I checked the time it was in fact only half past one in the morning. I looked outside to be greeted by a thick wall of fog right outside the door, but behind us a full moon trailed in the sky, creating a surprisingly bright light around us. If we desired, we could have easily walked in it without the need for headlamps.

Dawn light from the top of Cadair Idris

The inside of the tent at this point was surprisingly warm, uncomfortably warm in fact, and we were both clogged up in the stagnant air, and so, for the remainder of the night, we slept with the inner door wide open to allow us some airflow, despite the just below freezing temperature on the outside. The night soon came and went, and I stirred first, aware that the tent was glowing in yet another bright orange light. I emerged from our tent (which was frozen solid by the freezing mist throughout the night) and was struck by an amazing dawn light, low lying ground mist beneath us, and a mist that shrouded the summit above us. I tried to wake Nath to come and look at the views, but he was too comfy sleeping (as always) and missed the spectacular sights – which I find mental as this is one of the reasons that I want to wake up on the mountains.

To me, this was a morning for firsts. Not only was it my first morning sleeping and waking on the side of a mountain, but it was also the first time I experienced the following: A cloud passed me by in the valley behind us, and to my surprise, there on the side of it, as clearly defined as could be, was my shadow, projected by the sun which was level with me. I waved and my shadow waved back, to which I laughed to myself. It was incredible to be here, and as I watched the mist above the summit thin out, so I saw the solo hiker emerge from the shelter and standing overlooking us and the valley below, sharing the incredible views from up top.

The time was now seven a.m, and I woke Nath, as I wanted to pack up and get to the car before the ranger did his rounds and gave us a fine, and so we rushed some breakfast (I tried the Adventure Foods Expedition Breakfast which is a muesli kind of thing that Nath liked, but which for me turned into a repulsive stodge that was like trying to force vomit back down) and hot chocolate and then in what must have been a record time for the pair of us, we packed up our tent and headed down the mountain. The stones beneath our feet were still layered in ice, but regardless, we made our return journey to the car in just over an hour, incredible compared to the five or so it took us to climb up.

Heading down the Pony Path, Cadair Idris

And that was the account of our first mountain camp, and we both determined that for us, and our camping equipment, that this was just about the right time of year for us to start camping on mountains. Had we ventured up in December as planned we probably would have frozen to death. But this is how we learn, and as we gain experience and update our equipment, so the adventures of Summit or Nothing begin to step up a notch.

You can follow our adventures, and see the video of this outing on the Summit or Nothing YouTube Channel. Be sure to subscribe for our hilarious hapless antics, and also find us on Facebook and Instagram too.

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