For whatever reason (perhaps its relative isolation from the more popular areas), Moel Siabod isn’t one of the most-walked mountains in Snowdonia.
Wikipedia tells me that at 872 metres it’s the highest peak in the Moelwynion mountain range and it’s certainly a tough clamber to the top (the track all but disappears), but the views, when you have them, are apparently magnificent, taking in many of the highest peaks of the Snowdonia, Glyderrau and Carneddau ranges on a clear day.
Well, we set off on a clear day, but as if often the case in the mountains, the weather deteriorated as we climbed (and climbed). At the summit, we did get the occasional glimpse of nearby high peaks but that was about it.
It was our first visit to the area since our stay in Beddgelert back in April 2012, when the infamous Snowdonia weather forced us to walk mainly in the valleys. When Harri did venture alone up one of the higher peaks near Llanberis he was caught in a white-out – disorientating and terrifying. Fortunately, he came to no harm, but it was a reminder of how quickly weather conditions change in the mountains and how even the best-prepared and experienced hiker can be caught out.
I always like to know what I’m letting myself in for so when Harri described the route as like walking up Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons (which stands at 886 metres) but from a much lower starting point, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy morning. I use the word ‘morning’ and not ‘day’ here because Moel Siabod was just one of the two routes we had to complete.
On this occasion, we were route checking, which, in theory, meant we just followed someone else’s instructions and checked that nothing had changed on the ground, e.g. the paths were still accessible, landmarks hadn’t been eradicated from the landscape, etc. For this particular publisher, we also have to assess dog friendliness, count the number of stiles, provide details of places to eat and drink, and mention any public toilets on route (a task which is becoming easier as more and more are being closed for good!).
At seven miles, the route didn’t sound too bad but when you consider half of it would be a rather tough ascent, it’s definitely not a walk in the park. For a start, there is no paved path leading to the summit (is it just me, or do other hikers loathe these ‘highways’ or Yellow Brick Roads as I’ve started calling them?).
We’d only been walking for ten minutes or so when we arrived at one of those vertical hills which I’ve grown to dread; to make matters worse, a super-fit female runner sprinted past as I puffed and panted my way to the top.
My efforts were worth it, however, because once we’d got over the crest of the hill, the landscape opened up to reveal Snowdonia in all its early spring magnificence. In the distance, Moel Siabod beckoned against the backdrop of a clear blue sky.
The track meandered around the foothills, easy to follow and gently climbing. Everywhere there was evidence that spring had finally arrived; it was one of those days when you wonder how you ever survived years of being stuck in an office when there’s so much natural beauty waiting to be explored.
We passed a gorgeous lake which apparently has no name and stopped to look around the disused Rhos Slate Quarry, a reminder of the area’s industrial past. Piles of slate still scar the landscape, as do the dilapidated quarry buildings and the barracks which once housed the quarrymen (there are some good photographs online). It must have been a tough life up there, living miles from your family and carrying out hard, physical work in what must often have been very unpleasant conditions. But what incredible views when the fine weather arrived…
We continued to climb, enjoying the spectacle of clouds drifting past. Visibility was still reasonably good but it was gradually getting colder and colder as we gained height. When you’re standing in a valley on a glorious spring (or summer) day, it’s hard to imagine you’ll be needing a fleece and/or waterproof in an hour’s time but that’s why the mountains are so dangerous and why all hikers should set off prepared for any eventuality.
The clouds that were so pretty as they bounced past now engulfed us completely and by the time we were scrambling to the summit I could barely see Harri if he ventured more than a few metres ahead.
I’d like to say there were fantastic views from the top, but I’m not a politician. The high summits of nearby mountains came briefly into view before disappearing for good and we waved at the outlines of a few fellow hikers, sheltering from the wind within a circle of stone walls.
Normally, the descent off a mountain is easier than the climb, but the weather had deteriorated to such an extent that it was hard work finding our route. We wandered too far right in the misty conditions before realising our mistake and having to weave our way left again. It’s easy to see how people get lost in the mountains; Harri is experienced and carries an OS map and compass at all times, but he’s still caught out occasionally.
Once back on track, we were joined by a friendly local guide and his two sheep dogs. One (Scout) had a penchant for retrieving sticks (which, as I found out, got progressively larger until she was bringing me small trees); the younger dog didn’t care toss about sticks, large stones were his favourite. We established that their owner was one of the shadowy figures we’d waved at on the summit and that he often worked with young offenders, introducing them to the challenging world of the mountains. He was such a positive, knowledgeable man and I’m sure he’s played a big part in turning around the lives of many confused young people.
Back in the valley at last, we found the perfect picnic spot and enjoyed lunch next to the tumbling waters of the River Llugwy.
We’d only walked seven miles but the steep climb and long descent made it feel an awful lot longer… and we still had another eight miles of hill walking ahead of us.