Attack of the flies: Why not to bivvy without a midge net!

Posted by Sam Harrison on July 17, 2013 at 03:48.

 Mountaineering and climbing

bivvy glyders midges scrambling snowdonia

It's not often that you get perfectly still bright sunny days out in Snowdonia, which probably describes why bringing a midge net didn't even cross my mind on a bivvy trip me and Lorna did a couple of weeks ago. Bad mistake...

The Saturday was spent enjoying an impressive spectrum of colours and smells in the gardens of Powis Castle with my Mum and Dad, before we all headed to Snowdonia on the Sunday. The plan was for us to do a walk on Sunday and then for them leave me and Lorna there few a couple of days of Alps training. The walk we chose was the popular Carnedd Llewellyn horseshoe from Llyn Ogwen - comprising of the summits of Pen yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Daffydd and Carnedd Llewellyn. It's a route I know well, but one that Lorna hasn't done for many years. Unexpectedly, it was quite cloudy and Carnedd Llewellyn - the highest mountain in Wales outside of the Snowdon range - has a whispy covering for most of the day. It was still very hot though, and this made for hard work; by the time we were back at the car I hardly felt like the walk-in to our bivvy spot of Llyn Bochlwyd!
 
Powis Castle
Powis Castle
 
Clouds rolling over the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen
Clouds rolling over the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen


We picked the windiest spot we could find for the evening, though that only amounted to the odd breath every now and then. After a quick swim, we settled down for our tea of couscous and quiche, and before too long a black cloud of midges had descended. Even after applying Avon Skin So Soft (which apparently is a good midge repellent, though I'm not so sure I agree now), we were still being plagued, and so headed to bed. Unfortunately for me, the drawstring closure on my bivvy bag (an Alpkit Hunka) doesn't close properly, and even if you do close it properly it's very difficult to breathe inside the bag - a bit of a design flaw. This meant that I was still being plagued and after an hour or so of torture I gave in and somehow managed to squeeze into Lorna's hooped bivvy bag (it's a good job we're both thin!) and finally got some sleep.
 
Lovely sun set
Lovely sun set


 

Main Gully Ridge, 3***


The midges were still out in full force the next morning, and so our breakfast of Sainsbury's Basics scotch pancakes (surprisingly tasty!) was rather rushed. We dumped our gear around the far side of the Llyn and started the slog up to the base of our route - the three-star grade 3 scramble of Main Gully Ridge on Glyder Fach's northern face. The route follows a vague ridge line that borders Main Gully on the right, before traversing left across the Chasm Face and joining up with other routes on the face for a few hundred metres of fantastic grade 1/2 scrambling. Even though it was only 7am, it was already very hot work and we had to have a large rest at the base of the route to recover.
 
The line of Main Gully Ridge, 3***
The line of Main Gully Ridge, 3***


We decided to move together at the start, but after gaining the ridge by an easy groove I was presented with a foothold-less chest high block that I didn't like the look of. I think the guidebook talked about "pulling strenuously over a block"... I shouted down for Lorna to put me on belay, placed my trusty number 4 nut safely in a crack and awkwardly heaved myself over the obstacle. The next couple of steps weren't much easier and so Lorna stayed belaying me whilst I worked my way up the difficulties, placing a few slings along the way. After creating a nice belay, I brought her up before pitching the next bit again to overcome pretty much all of the difficulties that the route posed. It is this section that gives the ridge its grade 3 rating.
 
The start of the grade 1 Main Gully (left) and Main Gully Ridge (right)
The start of the grade 1 Main Gully (left) and Main Gully Ridge (right)


From then on, we moved together, practicing placing gear on the rope between us even though it (or the rope) weren't really necessary at this point. This style of movement - moving together in "Alpine style" - is different to usual "pitched" climbing in that no belays are taken and both climbers move at the same time. It is generally used on "easier" ground where the chance of a fall is less but still present, and it is typically used in Alpine ascents where moving at speed is imperative. Coils of rope are taken around the chest to leave 10-20m of rope between climbers (depending on how hard the ground is). The leader places gear - known as runners, as the rope runs through them - which the second then removes, trying to keep two or three bits of gear on the rope at the same time. The rope can also be wound around rocks to help increase the friction in the event of a fall.
 
Moving together at the top of Main Gully Ridge
Moving together at the top of Main Gully Ridge


This initial plan was to then drop down to Llyn Bochlwyd, pick up our bivvy gear and walk over to the base of the Clogwyn y Person arete for the following morning. However, we were both far too worn out (I blame the heat!) and so instead we simply headed down the Gribin ridge and stayed at Llyn Bochlwyd for a second night - totalling an impressive 3km for the first day's walking! Of course, being the weather as it was, another swim was simply compulsory!
 
Lovely views of Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr
Lovely views of Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr


 

Bristly Ridge


It wasn't quite as midgey on the Monday night, but I still had to resort to Lorna's bivvy bag again. The following day, instead of climbing again, we thought it would be a good option to take our bivvy gear with us and walk out to Capel Curig over Bristly Ridge. This proved as strenuous as I had feared it would be with 15 kg of gear on my back (I weighed it when we got home!), but it definitely served good Alps practice. For me, Bristly Ridge surpasses most other scrambles I've done - it is such a good quality route for its grade, and there is lots of exposure to be had by taking the most direct line.
 
The Great Pinnacle. The way down in to the right.
The Great Pinnacle. The way down in to the right.
 
There are lots of feral goats on the Gylders. It's impressive watching them negotiate the steep rocky steps that us humans struggle with!
There are lots of feral goats on the Gylders. It's impressive watching them negotiate the steep rocky steps that us humans struggle with!


The walk out seemed to go on forever, made only worse by hoards of horse flies that bugged us (pun intentional!) for most of the descent of Y Foel Goch. After what seemed like an age, we arrived back in Capel and caught the bus to Betws-y-Coed and then the train back to Chester, via Llandudno Junction.
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