Snowdonia has its fair share of awesome Grade 1 scrambles. Crib Goch and its knife-edged arête and the majestic North Ridge of Tryfan are two that immediately spring to most people’s minds. However, there’s a problem. As these two ridges are foremost in the mind, they tend to attract the most attention. So, if like most people, your scrambling is confined to weekends, these two famous rock giants may feel more like a bank holiday motorway than a ‘get away from it all’ adventure. Step forward Llech Ddu Spur.
Llech Ddu Spur is the best Grade 1 Snowdonia scrambling route that you’ve never heard of. Tucked away on the much quieter Carneddau, this area of Snowdonia can, quite literally, feel like a world away from Snowdon and its illustrious neighbours. However, just because far fewer people have heard of it, don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s inferior. It’s sublime.
The Walk In
We began our adventure in the town of Bethesda where a free car park is available. Parking in nearby Gerlan is another option and it may save you a few minutes’ walk but, be warned, Gerlan is a small village with narrow roads and lanes. Consequently, you’ll do well to find an available spot that doesn’t restrict the movements of the local residents.
Once you’ve navigated your way through the lanes and alleyways, you’ll eventually arrive at a succession of stiles. These will lead you into a flurry of fields where, soon enough, the trail becomes difficult to define. At this early stage Llech Ddu Spur is hidden out of sight at the far end of the valley. Just ahead of you, however, you’ll see Yr Elen (962m), which will form part of your way home.
This mountain valley is an absolute delight to walk through. It may be flat but it certainly isn’t boring. The closer you get to Llech Ddu Spur the more dramatic the landscape becomes until, finally, you’re enveloped by the ridges that now surround you. A good tip as you’re walking through the valley is to keep an eye left at the series of obvious depressions coming down from Yr Elen. We found easy water crossing points in line with the third of the later-to-be descended knolls. This will be important for your walk back to the car later on if you want to avoid wet feet.
Scrambling Llech Ddu Spur
Heading for the dramatic cliffs of Black Ladders you’ll soon arrive at the base of Llech Ddu Spur. This is a good place to have a quick re-fuel and it gives you an opportunity to admire the giant boulder field that now encases you. See if you can spot the rock shelter that I’m sure has given many an adventurer some overnight protection.
On first look, Llech Ddu Spur can look insurmountable. However, by following a faint path to the right of the ridge, you’ll soon make out a series of zigzags that will lead you up to the white quartzite that marks the start of your scramble. This is where the fun begins. With a wide ridge line in most places and plenty of options to choose from, you be grinning all the way to the top. There are a few easy pinnacles to tackle and a little exposure in places to keep you on your toes. There are plenty of hand and footholds and, despite the scrambling being quite sustained, you’ll be able to develop a nice rhythm. Don’t forget to look back once in a while to take in the splendour of the ridge and valley.
Carnedd Dafydd and Llewelyn
Before you know it you’ll appear near the summit of Carnedd Dafydd (1044m). On a clear day the views from here are epic. The cloud was quickly closing in over the Glyderau on our visit but we still managed to get see Tryfan poking through impressively.
Leaving Carnedd Dafydd, head east along the ridgeline towards Carnedd Llewelyn (1064m). After the initial drop down, the ridge is wide and pretty flat until the final push up to Llewelyn. It’s also a great idea to turn around as you get a really good side-on profile of Llech Ddu Spur.
The push up to Carnedd Llewelyn isn’t a particularly arduous one, but your legs will still probably begin to burn after your earlier exertions up the spur. From here you begin to get some fine views over to your final summit of the day, Yr Elen. The cone-like physical nature of Yr Elen is definitely worthy of some photos, so make sure you save some battery and memory card space for this latter part of the hike.
Home Via Yr Elen
As I mentioned earlier, look for the third knoll on your descent route down Yr Elen. There are many easy water crossings 90 degrees to your left. This will, get you back on your original outbound path. I always advocate map reading skills, regardless of the route and trail. However, in the Carneddau, it really is imperative to be able to navigate your way around. As it’s far, far quieter than its busier neighbours, paths are less distinct and friendly assistance is not always around. However, the advantages of this will also become blatantly apparent when you hit this particular trail. Let me know how you get on.
Distance: 9.1 miles