Moel Siabod and my old Navigation Training Ground

Moel Siabod, (pronounced moel shabod) means shapely hill, is accessible from the west at Roman Camp near the Pen y Gwrd Hotel the north via Capel Curig and nearby Pont Cyfyng and from the south via Dolwyddelan.

A couple of facts I’ve found about the Pen y Gwryd Hotel

· In May 1898 The Climbers Club originated at Pen-y-Gwryd
· A classic mountaineers hotel where Hillary and Tenzing trained for the conquest of Mount Everest

The ascent of Moel Siabod for me has been long overdue, way too long overdue to be honest.

Those of you, who have read many of my earlier blogs, will know that during my time as a Scout Leader, I spent some time in Snowdonia with qualified Mountain Leaders (ML’s) attached to my local Scouting area, completing group leading and navigation training sessions while out in the hills.

Though single day training sessions were available throughout the year, the main training session took place over one weekend each year, a navigation training session was organised in Snowdonia, where we would stay in Betws-y-Coed, an ideal base, around late March / early April, spend a day out in the hills, usually around the Carneddau, fine tuning and learning new skills, then a night navigation session, putting those skills in to practice in the dark.

The night navigation session was usually carried out on the plateau just below the ridge that leads to Moel Siabod, though one year, to put a bit of variety in, we did use Snowdon’s Miners Path and headed for the small plateau between Clogwyn Pen Llechen and Craig Penlan.

We never actually got to walk that plateau on Moel Siabod during daylight hours, so I promised myself one day, I will walk around that area.

It’s only taken me a few years to get round to it……

So that was my prime aim to ascend Moel Siabod, to view my old training ground, in the daylight and then to complement the day, reach the summit of Moel Siabod.

My starting point for Moel Siabod was Pont Cyfyng, a small hamlet just off the A5 Holyhead Road, between Betws-y-Coed and Capel Curig.

The road through Pont Cyfyng is basically a single track dead end road, so please do not try to park your car or minibus there, the only available spaces are for residents only.

There is plenty of parking close by on the A5 Holyhead Road, just to the east, there are two laybys and there is a car park across the road.

I parked my car in one of the laybys, kitted up for a hot day’s ascent, knowing full well that the start would be a steep climb just to get to that plateau.

Knowing how poor mobile phone coverage can be, I carried my full kit as normal, you just never know when you can get caught out and like many hill walkers, I often walk solo.

A short walk in a westerly direction along the main road to the bridge crossing the Afon Llugwy, turning in to the single track road to walk through Pont Cyfyng.
A5 Holyhead Road. Just past the 30mph signs is the road to Pont Cyfyng

Bridge over the Afon Llugwy

Pont Cyfyng. The private road after the building on the right,
is the start of the footpath to Moel Siabod

It’s only a short walk, about 120 metres, along the single track road, before you see another single track road branching off to your right. As you look up this road, you will see a Public Footpath sign, showing the way to Moel Siabod.

The private road, the start of the footpath to Moel Siabod

The sign for Moel Siabod

After crossing the cattle grid, now the steep ascent begins in earnest.

Following this road uphill and round to the right, you eventually reach a point where there is a footpath clearly in front of you and the road swings round to the right.

While the footpath is clear, unfortunately the signs were a little weathered, resulting in someone spraying some arrows and the words FOOT PATH and PRIVATE on the tarmac surface to assist walkers.

The footpath and weather faded signage

It is just readable

The spray painted road direction markers

The hardened surface footpath you will take towards a renovated cottage
The ascent doesn’t get any easier at this stage, but it did get a little more open after being shielded from the sun by the trees along the road.

After a short distance along this footpath, you re-join the private road by a renovated cottage, for the last little bit, before you start to leave civilisation properly. Here, the footpath’s gradient did start to ease off, revealing a long straight footpath with the ridge that leads to Moel Siabod, right in front of you.

A quick look back behind me and I see the valley back towards Betws-y-Coed and on a far flung hill top, a wind farm, spoiling the view!

Looking back towards Betws-y-Coed

The footpath starts to level, ‘slightly’, out here and in front of you, is a long straight track with a nice steady gradient. This allows for some recuperation after that steep ascent from Pont Cyfyng.

Also right in front, at the end of the straight footpath, is the start of the ridge that leads up to Moel Siabod.

The straight track

Moel Siabod, dead ahead.
Ahead at the end of this straight track you come to a gate and style. Here you can ascend Moel Siabod by one of two ways.

If you head off to the right, you can ascend the ridge to the summit of Moel Siabod or stay on the footpath to the left, as I did, and ascend Moel Siabod a little more gently along its south side.

Of course, there was another reason for ascending via the south side; I wanted to view my old night navigation training ground.

Looking southwards across my old navigation training area

The first manmade lake you approach,
also the area where I completed my very first navigation exercise

Following this footpath, you eventually pass the first of two manmade lakes.

This particular manmade lake really did bring back memories, of my very first night navigation session. I had to navigate to the boundary feature that runs north/south on the north side of the lake.

It looks easy on the map, but at night, it’s very different. Even more so, because if you look at the map, the boundary feature does not reach the lake, it stops short. Nor is the boundary feature clearly visible from the footpath alongside the lake, in the dark and in a strange area.

But that’s what these courses are all about, being able to safely and competently navigate your way out of a situation.

Anyway, continuing along the footpath, still gradually ascending with the ridge to the right, now towering above me, I was able to get better views across the plateau where I did my training and also the other manmade lake to the south-east and many more features that were used to navigate to, including the hut circles further out to the south-east.
The path leading up towards Rhos Quarry

Conscious of the time, I had to move on, to the quarry, Rhos Quarry, a little further along the footpath, still affording me some good views of my old training ground.

I arrived at the quarry and stopped for lunch and to assess where my route would take me from here.

I’ll just digress here for a moment, because I tried to find some history on Rhos Quarry.

It would appear the quarry was most likely active up to and around the 1930’s where slate was quarried, as with most quarries and mines around Snowdonia.

There are supposed to be links with Llechwedd Slate Mines near Blaenau Ffestiniog.

I can recommend visiting Llechwedd Slate mines, both the deep mine and shallow mine are well worth a visit.

Also, Padarn Country Parc at Llanberis is worth a visit as well. They have restored the old Victorian buildings and a lot of the equipment that was used back in the Victorian days.

There were various options, slog it out ascending the ridge at one of a couple of possible points or to continue the gradual ascent around the south side of the ridge.

I decided to continue along the south side and take in the view across Llyn y Foel.

So I set off on my chosen route to approach the next manmade lake en-route.

It was along this stage I met up with John, a gentleman from Staffordshire, who was holidaying in Penrhyn Bay, near to Llandudno on the North Wales coast, not too far from where I was staying, near to Conwy.

From here, we shared the walk up Moel Siabod, sharing various stories of walks and places we had both visited over time, as we approached the second manmade lake. These places included the Peak District and Snowdonia to name some general areas.

This lake was the remains of an old quarry, which could be very deep, so please, no ideas of trying to bathe in its dark cold waters….

The second manmade lake, a water filled disused quarry
with steep sides and very likely to be very deep!

The path leading away from the water filled old quarry workings

We continued along the footpath, which by now was starting to become very insignificant in places, even though the intended route was clear enough.

We then reached Llyn y Foel (Lake of the mountain). I’m glad I continued alongside the south face of the ridge, because Llyn y Foel was another point I had to navigate to and from on a later night navigation training session.
Llyn y Foel, also known as Llyn Llygad, the Lake of the Ox's Eye

Walking along the north side of Llyn y Foel, the only natural lake we pass, the ground was very boggy in places. So it was very much a case of tread cautiously.

Llyn y Foel outflow is to the south east, flowing in to the Afon Ystumiau, then eventually into Afon Lledr then eventually into Afon Conwy, which flows to Conwy on the North Wales Coast.

Llyn y Foel’s water is brown in colour, due to the peat content, which it picks up from the tributaries that flow in to Llyn y Foel.

Llyn y Foel, does have another name - Llyn Llygad yr Ych, the Lake of the Ox's Eye.

This is supposed to recount a tale about an ox that lost an eye under the strain of pulling the dreadful afanc from Betws y Coed to Glaslyn below Snowdon.

An Afanc is a mythological lake beast.

Also at this point, you can we had a good view over to the Crimea Pass (A470), which sits between Moel Siabod and Moel Farlwyd to the south-east.

Crimea Pass (A470), which sits between Moel Siabod and Moel Farlwyd to the south-east

The Crimea Pass (Bwlch y Gorddinan) a mountain pass between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Dolwyddelan, and takes its name from the Crimean War which was being fought about the time the road was opened, in 1854.

At one time there was an inn at the summit of the pass, popularly known as "the Crimea".

We eventually crossed the bog and then the final ascent stage starts, the true ascent of Moel Siabod!

We eventually crossed the bog

We start to follow what appeared to be a trodden path and a short steep climb, starting our ascent of Moel Siabod.

Here we start to ascent of Moel Siabod properly, fairly steep in places and expect at times to scramble.

From here, we followed what appears to be a reasonably well trodden path in places, making sure we continued a reasonably safe ascent.

We picked our way upwards, keeping the ascent to a reasonable gradient but taking care not to get too far off course. At times, we had to undertake a minor scramble.

At times, we had to undertake a minor scramble

We still had good views over to the Crimea Pass, but also the west was starting to make a nice appearance, eventually giving us views over to Trawsfynydd Lake and nuclear power station, now undergoing decommissioning.

Continuing upwards, circumnavigating Moel Siabod, we approach a fence that led up towards Moel Siabod summit. This fence was not shown on the Ordnance Survey map that I had with me, but is on the latest Ordnance Survey Explorer OL18 map.

The map I was using was from an old version of Memory Map, printed out on waterproof paper (see my blog, Toughprint waterproof paper from Memory Map blog for more details).

I’d also noticed that the cloud was drawing nearer from the west, which had covered the main peaks of the Snowdon Massif, so the fence would provide a feature to hand rail on our descent should we become engulfed in clag (thick low cloud). However, the cloud base was high enough for us to become clear of it quickly enough on our descent, if it did cover the summit.

But stop, what was happening!

The cloud was stopping in its tracks and was lifting, just like a stage curtain!

It was fascinating watching the cloud lift as it approached Moel Siabod!

Undeterred, we continued upwards where we stopped soon after crossing the fence, to chat to a couple of walkers who were departing the summit, heading back to Capel Curig.

They had been on the Glyders only the day before.

We swapped route info and also had a good look around.

We shared the fantastic views of the Snowdon Massiff, Dyffryn Mymbyr, Pen y Gwryd, Pen y Pass, the Carneddau, Tryfan and the Glyderau, before departing our separate ways.

The Glyderau to the left, Tryfan centre, Pen-yr-Ole Wen and the Carneddau to the right

Cloud capped Snowdon Massif


Dyffryn Mymbyr
We continued to the summit, taking a north-east route hand railing the fence. At one point, the fence had been flattened, so we crossed the fence and headed for the trig point at the summit.

We spent a good while on the summit, taking in the views around us, watching the clouds continuing to stop and lift like a stage curtain would before a show starts and taking a few photographs.

John and myself on Moel Siabod Summit

Trig Point on Moel Siabod

I have to say, having ascended the Glyders, Tryfan, Carneddau, Snowdon and many more Welsh peaks over the years, I’m almost of the impression, that the views from Moel Siabod are by far the best.

It’s not that the others didn’t have impressive views, they did and still do. But Moel Siabod, encompassed all the aforementioned peaks very nicely in its panorama along with much more, especially the immediate surroundings, like the Crimea Pass, Pen-y-Pass and Dyffryn Mymbyr just to name a few.

We discussed various route options for our descent. We wondered about following the ridge back down towards Pont Cyfyng or to back track more or less the route we came up by.

We agreed with the threat of possible cloud engulfment, it would be wiser to retrace out steps during our descent, based on the fact we knew what we would encounter, plus, the fence we could hand rail if necessary.

Hand railing is a navigational term for walking alongside a fixed feature, marked on a map, as an aid to safe navigation.

Whereas descending via the ridge, would be new territory and probably not a wise idea to get caught in clag negotiating our way down.

Looking north east along the ridge from Moel Siabod summit

So we started our descent, back to the fence and hand railed that for a short way after crossing back over the trodden section.

It was a steep ascent and the descent was no less a gradient! So care would need to be maintained all the way down so not to lose your footing.

I think it fair to say at this point, descent can be a lot harder than an ascent, and Moel Siabod was most certainly in that category on the route we took down.

Conscious of the fact we need not only to descend, but also to back track as near as possible our ascent route, while maintaining a safe passage.

It was a little tricky at times, but on the whole, we managed to keep our footing, taking it nice and steady, regularly assessing the route down and looking at the various options that presented themselves to us.

Not only were we regularly assessing our descent route, we were still managing to chat about our various experiences, both on the hills and off, camping and caravans, outdoor gear and many more topics were discussed, both during the ascent and descent.

During our descent, my left foot found a grass hidden hole, causing me to stumble. This in turn tried to bend my knee the wrong way, which nature never intended and it was a little uncomfortable.

This just goes to show, how easy it is to have an accident, no matter how careful you aim to be. Even the most experienced climbers and hill walkers get caught out. The difference is how prepared for it you are and how you handle the situation.

This was very minor and after a couple of minutes to let the pain subside, we continued our descent.

As we continued our descent, using either grassy slopes or rocky areas as we saw fit, we quickly lost height and many of those splendid views from the summit.

We neared to point where our ascent of Moel Siabod started in earnest, but by this time, my knee was starting to get very uncomfortable, with all the jolting that knees often take during a steep descent.

I always carry a pair of trekking poles, mainly as part of my first aid kit, but also, should I, anyone I’m walking with, need them for generally assistance while walking. However, this time, they became useful, somewhere between a walking aid and first aid usage.

There have been many debates over time regarding trekking poles and there advantages or annoyance.

Personally, I think they are a great tool, used correctly and though they are extra weight, I feel a valuable part of my first aid kit.

Yes, I would have walked down without the trekking poles, but they did make the descent a lot easier and quicker.

Llyn y Foel was fast approaching, though we were a little off course, but not seriously off course. We had a small ridge to climb over then Llyn y Foel was in full view. Now the more level ground was with us and the going would be a lot easier.

We back tracked our ascent route.

But, not forgetting the boggy ground we crossed earlier, we would have to walk back across, or bog hopping as an old friend of mine once described it.

We stayed to the north of Llyn y Foel, picking our way around and I was once again, looking over the plateau where I did all that night navigation training, giving it one last view while I had the height, before we start the last leg of the descent back down to Pont Cyfyng.

We continued along the path, towards Rhos Quarry and that deep dark lake, walking through the old quarry buildings.

Now we were going to back track the route totally.

Following the footpath down, we neared the manmade lake, following the footpath down to the style where you had the option to either ascend the ridge to Moel Siabod or follow the south face.

From here, it was plain sailing, a straight footpath that we came up earlier. It was along this footpath both John and I were thinking the steep descent to follow back in to Pont Cyfyng will be fun. What with my knee and John was also expecting to feel some discomfort on that last stretch. But, I suggested we just take it as steady as possible and if we need to stop, then we will.

We approached the gate by the renovated cottage and rejoined the road we left earlier and the descent was getting steep again..

You may remember I mentioned about the PRIVATE ROAD markings and rather faded signage at our start?

Well, the signage was a lot clearer on the descent, but I almost overlooked it, thanks to John for pointing it out.

Now it was starting to become steep again, walking down the hardened footpath, for a short way then rejoining the road again for the rest of our descent.

We followed the road down as it veered to the left to rejoin the road that runs through Pont Cyfyng, then to cross the bridge over the Afon Llugwy on to the A5 Holyhead Road and back to our cars.

A map showing our route for the day.

It was an absolutely fabulous day, hot, sunny though it did get cloudy at times, but the day’s walking the views and most of all, John’s company made it a great day and a damned good walk, twisted knee or not.

Would I do the same route again? YES.

There were steep ascents and descents, namely the start and finish stages, but it was worth the effort.

But I would seriously consider looking at the other routes from the perspective of a fresh challenge, just as I had done with Snowdon, the Glyders, Tryfan and the Carneddau.

As the old saying goes; “Variety is the spice of life”.
It was great to swap hill walking experiences with a fellow hill walker and I would happily walk the hills again with you John. Thank you. 

Finally, happy rambling and thank you for reading,
Peak Rambler