Cadair Idris has always been a favourite mountain of mine. Living in Mid-Wales during the 1970’s, I visited the summit over forty times for both work and pleasure. I got to know the nooks and crannies of this hill in all conditions and came to love the unique outline of crags and cwms. That is, whenever the weather was clear enough to let me see them!
The mountain became something of an obsession when I used it as a measure of whether I was ever going to be able to regain enough mobility and fitness after a caving accident to allow me to continue as a mountaineer. Now that I am living in Derbyshire and a convert to geocaching, I was excited to come across a series of caches placed by the Dysynni Squeezeboxers around the mountain.
What was even more appealing was that the caches were letterbox hybrids. I had visited a couple of letterboxes while walking in the letterbox heartland of Dartmoor and it was these that probably sowed the seed of geocaching. Letterboxes contain a unique rubber stamp for you to ink up and keep an imprint as a record of your visit. They also have a notebook to log your visit; many letterbox hunters have their own personalised rubber stamp to mark the logbook.
Letterbox hybrid caches have both the GPS co-ordinates of a geocache and the distance/bearing information normally available for letterboxes. When I started geocaching, I had searched out the only one of these letterbox hybrids in the UK. The Standing Stone cache in Northumberland has always been at the top of my hit list but it has proved to be too far away for a caching trip.
However, eight letterbox hybrids appearing on Cadair Idris was too much to resist. With the holidays coming up, I booked a three-day, mid-week pass and set off to re-acquaint myself with the mountain after 25 years. On the journey down, I stopped off to bag a couple of caches on the Berwyn Ridge. I combined these with a SOTA (Summits On The Air) activation of NW-012 Cadair Berwyn using my Amateur Radio callsign M1EYO. Now you know what it means if you hadn’t already guessed!
Arriving in Dolgellau, I had the tent pitched by mid-afternoon on the Ty Nant campsite at the foot of the Pony Track ready for early start in the morning. ‘You’re burning daylight’ John Wayne once said (now, which cowboy film was that?), so I set off to the first of the Cadair Idris caches. A short drive and an easy stroll to a great viewpoint above the Mawddach Estuary had the Llynnau Creggenan cache in the bag. I came away with a lovely rubber stamp image featuring a Kingfisher.
The shortest way to the next cache is not for the fainthearted. The single-track road descends steeply through several gates to the village of Arthog. A thankfully flat main road, took me to Friog and the start of the path to the Blue Lake cache.
I had been here before. The lake is in a flooded slate quarry that is entered through a short length of tunnel, complete with rail track on the muddy floor. The cache itself is placed at another great viewpoint at the quarry level below the lake. The rubber stamp image depicts a miner and rail truck in the entrance tunnel to the quarry.
The alarm rang too soon – it still wasn’t quite light. Peering out from the tent I realised it wasn’t the clock that was wrong but the weather. Cloud down to the campsite was going to make a long day on the hill all the more interesting. A rough cross-country walk with nothing to look at except the GPSr took me to the Goat Lake cache. I bet you can’t guess what the picture was on the rubber stamp!
The route to the next cache followed the well-worn Fox’s Path steeply uphill to another lake. The weather was no better, in fact, it was much worse. The cloud was still as thick and persistent drizzle had me soaked by the time I reached Llyn Gadair. The cache would be a great viewpoint looking out across the lake to the estuary and mountains beyond but not today. Red Kite country: so a fearsome bird’s head on the rubber stamp.
Zig-zagging up the scree slope above the lake was interminable. With no view there is nothing to judge your progress in the clouds. You concentrate on your feet. You notice the wind picking up and the rain getting heavier. It was with some relief that I reached the summit plateau and veered away from the next cache to the summit shelter.
Constructed of rough stone in the rocks at the very top of Cadair Idris, I have been thankful to enter this dark, damp retreat on more than one occasion to escape the weather outside. A dry shirt, a cup of tea, a biscuit and everything is much brighter. I just couldn’t resist sticking the antenna on the roof to activate NW-009. Consoled to chat to a couple of other equally wet SOTA activators on the much more exposed summit of NW-035 Manod Mawr above Blaneau Ffestiniog.
The rain had eased by now but the cloud was just as thick. The route to the Chair of Idris cache took me eastwards along the ridge from the main summit of Penygadair to the slopes of the subsidiary top of Mynydd Moel. The GPS was spot-on and I was rewarded with a neat image of the two peaks and the name of the mountain in Welsh and in English.
Now the way onwards to the next cache was a little more problematic.
Llyn Arran is not much further east but it is several hundred metres lower down in a corrie guarded by steep cliffs. There is no direct path to this cache that is by far the remotest of the series. I could, of course, descend the ridge via Mynydd Gwerngraig and return along the foot of the cliffs but that would be over three kilometers of extra walking over rough terrain. Not the most appealing of route choices.
I took my chances on finding a route that we had once forced in questionable snow conditions on a staff training day one cold February. From Llyn Arran, I remember climbing a diagonal line upwards below the main cliff to reach the back of a rocky buttress that dominates the lake. Now, the question is, could I find the top of this buttress from above with the limited visibility in this cloud?
Trusting in the technology, I moved out from the main ridge to the closest position to the lake that the GPS would put me. Was this the right buttress? I still wasn’t keen on descending through the cliffs unless I was sure of the route. If in doubt, have a biscuit. It feels more purposeful than dithering on the edge but it worked. The clouds lifted ever so slightly to give me a glimpse of the lake and my intended line of descent. Ten minutes later I was pulling the cache out from among the curiously shaped rocks on the edge of Llyn Arran. Nice image of a Heron on the rubber stamp.
There were four rough kilometers of walking back to the campsite. The cloud lifted occasionally to give me a view down the hill and across the estuary but never enough to reveal the cliffs that I was traversing below. This is the sort of walk that gets you thinking. After the prompt start this morning, it was still only lunchtime. Six caches down and two to go – wouldn’t it be a good wheeze to complete all of them in 24 hours? A pleasant stroll became a route march.
No traffic mid-week for the drive around to the other side of the mountain. The car park at Minfford wasn’t there the last time I came this way, nor the steps up through the woodland to the rocky slopes of Cwm Cau. I met people walking for the first time today. Was it because the cloud was dispersing and the weather warming or were they just starting the day at a more sensible hour? Nice view for the first time today from the cache location; this one is above the shores of Llyn Cau. Intricate image of a Welsh Dragon on the rubber stamp.
Last one of the series to go. A quick drive around to the Dysynni Valley and a grassy walk to the upper slopes of Craig yr Aderyn.
Blue skies and warm breeze contrasted with the conditions for the cache hunting this morning. TheBird Rock cache has neat image of a Cormorant on the rubber stamp and a great view back towards Cadair Idris to make a fitting end to the series. Not quite completed in 24 hours but close enough.
Now I notice that there are now two more letterbox hybrids in the UK. However, Brockhills Box andVixen View on Ingra Tor don’t have the same emotional attraction for me as the Cadair Idris series. Although when I do them, I hope they provide as memorable a day’s caching as these have. Thanks to the Dysynni Squeezeboxers for great sport on my favourite mountain.