The Traverse of the Rhinog Ridge
Today’s post has been contributed by the one and only Steve Law, a star contributor to the grand narrative of the Marians who flourish on the Mawddach.
Steve describes how a few weeks ago, he finally achieved a personal ambition with the help of Kodi Beveridge-Smith, Oxford Historian and a recent Captain of the School.
Steve’s account shows how there’s arduous training and there’s the Traverse of the Rhinog Ridge.
Everyone has a dream of some kind, which usually consists of a challenge. Mine has been 40 years in its realisation: The complete traverse of the Rhinog range. This is an area of mountains in southern Snowdonia, which offers a rare opportunity to be away from the crowds and trek through some really wild country.
The route always starts from or finishes at Barmouth; the finishing/start point can be Talsarnau or Llandecwyn in the north. Why would I want to walk the 25 or so miles and ascend the 7500ft to complete the traverse across some of the most remote, desolate and pathless moorlands that is only 3 miles from the nearest road? The answer is in the three key italicised words because they aren’t common outside of Scotland. With my walking partner – Kodi Beveridge-Smith, we would be self-sufficient and move essentially “Alpine-style” – minimum food, a bivouac tarpaulin and a wild camp. Since first walking part of the route on my MLC training in 1979, other segments for the preparation of the 1982 Iceland expedition and several times in the years that followed, I had maintained a hankering to walk the entire route in one go. That hankering was intensified after completing the Taith Ardudwy Trail in 2019 with Kodi. I’d attempted the whole ridge in 2008 at the tender age of 54 and just failed 2 miles short of Barmouth. Physically better prepared this time, but 13 years older, I set off with Kodi on the 10th of August in bright sunshine, mindful that our second day could be challenging just in terms of weather. We were, however, well equipped for whatever was thrown at us .
Day 1 involved a slow ascent from Barmouth up to Dyffwys at 2106’ over 8 miles. The views off the ridge were superb, and we were going well. The main problem was carrying enough water for the whole day as there’s nothing on the ridge. Hydration is the key to walking well, and because of the heat of the day, it proved a problem in the latter stages of the descent off Diffwys; I was beginning to cramp up. We arrived at our wild campsite at Cwm Hywel quite late but in great spirits as neither of us felt completely drained. We ate our rations and made numerous hot brews. The night was made a little more difficult because the wind strengthened, and fine drizzle began to fall. We survived it but were a little damp.
Day 2(15 miles) was longer than Day 1(10 miles) and required the ascent of Rhinog Fach & Fawr: a trek over a very isolated pathless section to Clip, where we would ascend to re-attain the final and most desolate part of the ridge, which would take in Ysgynfarnogod and Foel Penolau. The problems associated with the final section are mainly boggy areas, bare rock surfaces, and above all, short boulder-strewn or rock step ascent/descents across narrow ravines. It was raining steadily, and the wind was blowing strongly from our arrival at the summit of Rhinog Fach to nearly blowing us off the last part of the ridge.
Each descent was steep and made more difficult by the foot placings on rock being wet and concealed by heather or bracken. Each footstep had to be carefully placed, making the task physically tiring and mentally taxing. Such were the weather conditions that we had to modify our intended route for a safer, acceptable alternative from the Roman Steps to Clip. Time was slipping by; I had train times up until the last one at 21.09 from Llandecwyn. We were getting behind. Our final descent off a high flat area – Dyffwys, was incredibly steep, and the lower parts were a jumble of boulders hidden by waist-high bracken. Finding the final path to take us off was difficult; the light was fading, but the rain had stopped. A two-mile walk down a metalled track lay between us and the train back. A glance at the watch showed that we wouldn’t manage the distance in the 35 minutes we had left to cover it.
We arrived at LLandecwyn very tired but utterly elated that we had finished. A phone call to a taxi firm in Barmouth allowed us to be back at the campsite by 22.25hrs for a shower, change, and a meal of fillet steak and chips washed down with a celebratory bottle of bubbles. It had taken us 25 hours of walking to complete the traverse and 25 minutes by taxi to return.
Any report will always describe the problems and hardship. It takes time to realise just what has been achieved. For Kodi, it was the hardest walking he’d completed outside the Himalayas. In my case, finally achieving my dream, especially in walking the route in the reverse direction to usual and managing it, at the age of 67, with what I would consider to be some ease. Kodi and I tried to discuss our initial feelings as we walked down the track; one mutually agreed point was that neither of us had moaned once nor stated that we wouldn’t make it to the end. One comment from a young man we met on Rhinog Fawr gave me great heart. He asked what we were doing and then how old I was; I told him, and he exclaimed that he just hoped he would still be able to do the Rhinog Ridge at the same age. I took the compliment in the way it was intended.
My sincere thanks go to Kodi for being a great companion and a source of determination when things were becoming really tough. We formed a great team for two people of such disparate ages.
My walking dream had been achieved at last.