Wild Camping in The Rhinogs - Snowdonia

Snowdonia National Park - 4 days, 2 aims – to experience wild camping and to come back still speaking to each other!

Reading an article on wild camping in Trail magazine we knew it was something we needed to try. To experience being all alone with nature, completely free and reliant on ourselves. We settled on the Rhinogs for our location, craggy, as we like it and less visited than other parts of Snowdonia for a truer wild camp experience.

We parked at a car park and campsite next to Cwm Bychan, at the end of a long winding road through the Welsh countryside. We paid our car parking fee and set off back along the road to find the path to get up started on our trip.
I’d agreed to come to the Rhinogs based on there being “no climbing, or like difficult high up stuff” because I’m scared of heights. Fine with rollercoasters and standing looking out from the top of a tall tower but having to rely on my feet and the rest of my body to keep me safe – no thank you. So the beginning of the walk involved a steep scree slope up the side of the hill!

Reaching the top we followed the so called footpath alongside a small stone wall. I was eaten alive by midges, which obviously decided I was on the menu for that day, leaving over 50 bites just on one arm and me itching for the rest of the trip. I’d definitely recommend some insect repellent as I’m not normally one to get bitten.

As we walked along we realised that our intended campsite for the night may be a step too far so revised our plans and decided to leave the marked footpath. We started down the heather covered slope, heading towards Rhinog Fawr, aiming to follow the path of a stream to find a camp and some water for the night. It was a tough descent, not being able to see our feet but we made it unscathed to the bottom and by following the stream (or at least the area that seemed more wet than the rest) we found our way down to a waterfall and camped up overlooking Cwm Bychan.

Before coming we’d debated the many options for water, reading various blogs and forums for advice and trying to decide what to do. We’d decided on treating our water with chlorine tablets so having camped for the night we headed over to the waterfall for our first water collection and treatment. All very nice and easy, the only difficult bit was not falling in! I can’t say I was too keen the first time I tried drinking it, but as the trip went on I couldn’t wait to get some more down my throat.

The next morning, we rose and prepared breakfast on a huge flat stone near our camp and we sat in the early morning sunshine eating our first meal of the day, checking out the Welsh and Irish radio stations and looking at the magnificent view.
We knew the plan for the day was to continue to follow the stream as far as we could then head up out of the valley through what looked on the map like a bit of a pass. We wanted to reach Llyn Du by nightfall and set off in high spirits.

Soon though the terrain was getting to us. Every step we took was hard work. The ground was soaking from the rain the previous week, my waterproof boots didn’t seem so waterproof, I’d lost my best sunglasses and it was all seeming much harder than we’d expected. Each time we thought that we just needed to climb the next mound, we’d get to the top and find another one. And then the straight line on the map would turn out to have a ravine in the middle so that we needed to find a way around.

That said I was in surprisingly good spirits and kept us both going, despite occasional concerns that we might need to get rescued if we couldn’t make our way out. That would look pretty stupid and we might be on the TV on one of those rescue programmes which would be very embarrassing. I was struggling and when I fell down a hole, up to my thigh in muddy water I wasn’t sure I was going to get up again. Thankfully my trusty, and now rather bent, walking pole had saved me from injury and off we went again.

Eventually we came up against the rocks; the path out of the valley no longer looking as clear as it had on the map. So we decided there was only one thing for it... we needed to climb! Off came the packs and up I went first, pulling the kit up behind me with Ant pushing them up from below. Amazingly I actually enjoyed this scramble. I think the thought of finding out what was outside the valley temporarily held back my fear.

What was on the other side was down. A walkable slope (if barely) with ferns again making it hard to see where to put your feet. Surprisingly someone had actually built a wall down here, though I couldn’t for the life of me understand why they would have wanted to. Upon reaching the bottom we were excited at the prospect of a grassy field leading down to the forest. But of course it couldn’t be so easy and the wet clumps of grass sunk under foot. A rain storm looming we decided to camp for the night in the shelter of some rocks.

Sunday came and yesterday’s wet socks tied to my backpack we set off. We’d not seen anyone since we’d left the car park and I have to admit to feeling slightly relieved when we hit the main path out of the woods where there were a number of walkers out for the day. Nice as it had been to be alone, I felt reassured knowing we were trying to walk a path that had been walked before and that there was a good chance we’d make it home.

That said the adventure wasn’t over yet. We followed the main path until such a point as we were between two hills, then climbed over a wall to our left and started on a smaller windy footpath round the side of the hill. It’s quite rocky and steep in places but a good path nonetheless. Climbing up we saw others coming down, who all reassured us it was 15 minutes to Llyn Du. As we walked my biggest fear was that we’d get to the lake to find it surrounded by tents, a huge anti-climax to our first planned wild campsite. 40 minutes later we came across it surrounded by rocks and had our first up close view of Rhinog Fawr.

It’s impressively rugged and first impressions were that it looked more of a place for proper climbers than hill walkers. And you can’t even see the summit. The only path up appeared to be scree and it looked an incredibly difficult ascent. We ummed and aahed and decided to pitch our tent whilst we thought about it as it clearly wasn’t a place to climb with our 65 litre packs on. Ant edged toward not needing to climb it and not wanting to, whilst I felt I’d be forever disappointed to have come and not reached the top. We saw people starting on their way up and over lunch I timed them on their ascent, which they made surprisingly good progress on. Families with small children passed us, having come down the Rhinog which made me think it couldn’t be that hard. That said, I was edging towards not climbing it when Ant said, “come on we’re going up and back tonight!”

I have to say it was the scariest thing that I’ve done in years and at times I felt like I couldn’t go up and I couldn’t go down. I’m ashamed to say there were tears before I made it to the top. Being us, we managed to lose the path, which didn’t help, and to reach the top we had to pick our way over and around small boulders. But the view from the top was magnificent, looking out over where we’d come from; the forest, the lake, the surrounding hills, and out across the Irish Sea. After recovering it was time to pick a path back down and once it was decided I didn’t feel too bad about the descent. But when we ended up halfway round the lake looking across at our tent that was a real low point. All I wanted was some food and my sleeping bag.

And some food and sleep did me wonders. Waking up the next day, by the side of the lake with just a couple of sheep and three mountain goats for company, I’ve never experienced anything like it. A dip in the lake didn’t seem quite as appealing as it had from my sofa at home but we did have a refreshing wash in the ice cold stream.

The final part of our trip was down the Roman Steps which were running with rain water so that it was more like walking down a stream at times. It was a lovely, easy walk and as we headed back to the car we had time to reflect on the whole trip. We’d definitely achieved all we set out to despite not covering the distance we’d expected. But what an achievement. And we’d learned that walking is more about the experiences you have rather than the distance you cover or the places you tick off. It was such a challenge, at times everything seemed to go wrong and climbing Rhinog Fawr was terrifying. And yet if we were to do it again I wouldn’t change a single thing.