The Carneddau’s Southern Ridge Circuit

Route Summary:

The Southern Ridge Circuit is one of many classic Snowdonia mountain days that can be started from Ogwen Valley. This one makes use of the horseshoe of ridges that start at Pen yr Ole Wen and work their way around to Pen yr Helgi Du. Viewing it on a map, it’s easy to see where the name of the route comes from — it’s the southern ridge of the Carneddau range of mountains.

Route Information

  • Ascent: 1110m
  • Length: 10.4 miles
  • Area:
  • Start: A5, Bangor LL57 3LZ, UK
  • Date:13-09-2018
  • GPX File: Download

Other POI: Llyn Ogwen, Pont Pen-y-benglog, Bwlch yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Fach, Cefn Ysgolion Duon, Bwlch Cyfryw-drum, Penywaun-wen, Bwlch Eryl Farchog, Y Braich, A5

Route Description:

The walk starts by Llyn Ogwen, at any free parking space that you can find. There are quite a few parking areas on the stretch of road between Ogwen Cottage and Tryfan. Head west to the end of Llyn Ogwen. As soon as the bridge is crossed at Pont Pen y Benglog, cross the style on the right and begin following the track up the south-west ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen.

Tryfan from the car park
Tryfan from the car park
An early view of Llyn Idwal
An early view of Llyn Idwal

This is what you call a proper mountain track. No defined paths, arduous, small sections of scrambling, and small sections of steep scree. It’s a completely different kettle of fish from something like the Llanberis path. It’s also a path that you don’t want to be descending at the end of a long walk — not if you value your knees. Eventually, after much slogging uphill, the summit plateau is reached. Looking back across Ogwen Valley at any point during the ascent rewards you with some astounding views of the mountains opposite, from Tryfan on the left, across the Glyders and Y Garn, and ending with Mynydd Perfedd and Carnedd y Filiast on the right.

The way ahead up Pen yr Ole Wen
The way ahead
Looking back down Pen yr Ole Wen
Looking back down
Ascending Pen yr Ole Wen
Working my way up the south ridge
Looking towards Porcupine Ridge
Some decent scrambling over there!
A view back towards Foel Goch
A view back towards Foel Goch

Once on the summit, head north across Bwlch yr Ole Wen, then follow the edge around to the north-west past the large cairn at Carnedd Fach, and eventually to the second summit of the day at Carnedd Dafydd. Approaching from this side, it barely even looks like a mountain. More like a slightly elevated part of the ridge. The impressive features of this mountain aren’t visible until later when, looking back, its impressive north face comes into view. The area down to the right is Cwm Lloer and houses the lake of Ffynnon Lloer.

Pen yr Ole Wen summit wind shelter
Poor visibility on the summit
Heading along Bwlch yr Ole Wen
Heading along Bwlch yr Ole Wen
Looking down at Ffynnon Lloer
Looking down at Ffynnon Lloer
Looking back at Pen yr Ole Wen
Looking back at Pen yr Ole Wen

The route continues east along the top of the Ysgolion Duon (Black Ladders) cliffs and offers great views looking north-west into Cwm Llafar. On this section, I made my first sighting of the Carneddau wild ponies down on the slope to my right. I kept my distance as I have an irrational fear of anything that’s bigger than me! The route eventually curves around to the north-east as it passes Bwlch Cyfryw-drum, and the drops to the left become less dramatic. A zig-zagging ascent path to Carnedd Llewelyn is clear to see and this is the one that should be taken all the way to the summit.

Approaching Ysgolion Duon (Black Ladders) from Carnedd Dafydd
Approaching Ysgolion Duon from Carnedd Dafydd
The atmospheric Ysgolion Duon (Black Ladders)
The atmospheric Ysgolion Duon
Cwm Llafar from Ysgolion Duon (Black Ladders)
Cwm Llafar from Ysgolion Duon
Approaching Carnedd Llewelyn
Approaching Carnedd Llewelyn

From the summit, head east then south-east as the route descends Penywaun-wen and towards Pen yr Helgi Du. As the ridge narrows, the impressive Craig Yr Ysfa Amphitheatre can be seen down below on the left. Down on the right is the Ffynnon Llugwy reservoir, and ahead is the narrow ridge of Bwlch Eryl Farchog that leads across to the final summit of Pen yr Helgi Du. It’s a fantastic viewpoint and a great place to stop for a brief rest and properly absorb the atmosphere.

Carnedd Llewelyn summit plateau
Carnedd Llewelyn summit plateau
Heading down Penywaun-wen
Heading down Penywaun-wen
Looking towards Pen yr Helgi Du
Looking towards Pen yr Helgi Du
Passing above the Craig Yr Ysfa Amphitheatre
Passing above the Craig Yr Ysfa Amphitheatre
Bwlch Eryl Farchog and Ffynnon Llugwy
Bwlch Eryl Farchog and Ffynnon Llugwy

To get down onto the ridge involves a short scramble and downclimb. In good weather, it’s a fairly simple affair — but in icy conditions, it can be treacherous and has been the scene of a few accidents in the winter months. After navigating the scramble, the ridge is crossed south-east and Pen yr Helgi Du is ascended directly and steeply. Legs and knees are probably feeling a little weary at this point, but luckily the descent route from the summit of Pen yr Helgi Du is possibly the easiest and gentlest descent route in Snowdonia. It’s a very easily angled, grassy slope that heads south all the way back to the A5 where a bit of road walking is in order to get back to the car.

The short scramble pitch
The short scramble pitch
Looking back at the scrambling section
Looking back at the scrambling section
Looking across the ridge to Pen yr Helgi Du
Looking across the ridge to Pen yr Helgi Du
The steep climb to Pen yr Helgi Du
The steep climb to Pen yr Helgi Du
The sun shining over Ogwen valley
The sun shining over Ogwen valley
The simple descent path down from Pen yr Helgi Du
The simple descent path
A young Carneddau wild pony
A young Carneddau wild pony
Farm road back to the A5
Farm road back to the A5
Route Map
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