Idwal Staircase, Cneifion Arete, Shark Buttress, and Nor Nor Buttress

Summary:

A link up of classic scrambles around Tryfan and Glyder Fach. The route starts at Cwm Idwal with the Idwal Staircase and Continuation before tackling the Cneifion Arête and Shark Buttress (aka Hawk’s Nest Buttress). A descent down to Tryfan is then made via Bristly Ridge where the difficult Nor Nor Buttress is climbed on the east face, followed by Notched Arête on the west face.

The Route:

I’d been eagerly waiting for this day for some time. It was July and I’d managed to go the whole year so far without a single Snowdonia scramble. I had arranged a day with accomplished experienced climber and scrambler, Neil, who can usually be found climbing in Snowdonia more often than he can be found at home or at work. The plan was to link up a load of scrambles in the hope that I could squeeze a years worth of scrambling into a single day.

I met Neil at Ogwen Cottage, along with Guy – another climber who’d joined us for the day. We headed up the path to Cwm Idwal. It was actually the first time I’d walked up to the cwm, having only ever been up on the surrounding mountains before. I wasn’t expecting to arrive there as quick as we did and can see why it’s such a popular climbing and scrambling area; tons of good clean rock and and only a relatively short walk to get to it from the road.

Walking by Llyn Idwal, with Idwal Slabs ahead
Walking by Llyn Idwal, with Idwal Slabs ahead

Idwal Staircase and Continuation:

First scramble on the agenda was the Idwal Staircase. This begins to the right of the popular Idwal slabs in the overhung black gully. The climb can be a wet and slippery affair after rainfall, however on this particular day the conditions were quite good making for a straightforward climb. Handholds were plentiful and difficulties minimal. Once the gully was completed, we traversed left to open ground, aiming towards an area of orange tinted rock. Here we continued upwards, trying to keep to an interesting line until the crest of Seniors ridge was reached. So far so good.

The start of Idwal Staircase
The start of Idwal Staircase
Idwal Continuation
Idwal Continuation
Almost at the top
Almost at the top

Cneifion Arête:

From Seniors Ridge, we crossed Cwm Cneifion to the beginning of the Cneifion Arête – our second scramble on the agenda. This was one I’d always wanted to do and so was really looking forward to it. We were initially going to rope up for it, however after I realised that this was purely for my benefit , I opted to proceed without the rope as the first pitch looked more straight-forward than I’d imagined. The scramble starts with a short steep pitch that, in rock climbing grades, would be classed as a mod or diff depending on the exact route taken. If I’m honest, I thought it was a doddle compared to what I was actually expecting. For the best experience and scrambling, it’s best to stay on the overhanging crest, however for those who are finding the exposure a little too much, there are some easier options just to the left in a few places. It wasn’t long before we topped out on the Y Gribin ridge. That’s the biggest problem with this scramble – it’s over far too early! Looking back, I don’t recall any single move on the arête as being overly difficult. The scrambling was sustained and the exposure rather airy in places, but in terms of technicality, it was relatively simple – especially when compared against the Shark Buttress and Nor Nor Buttress scrambles that I was to do later in the day. I know from browsing various forums on the web that a lot of people wonder which one of the Clogwyn y Person Arête and the Cneifion Arête scrambles is the hardest. Having done both now unroped, I would say that the Cneifion Arête is the more exposed, but also the easiest in terms of technicality, and both are equally frustratingly short! I should also add that doing them unroped was a personal choice I made, but that doesn’t mean it was the wisest choice.

Cneifion Arête initial pitch
Cneifion Arête initial pitch
On the Cneifion Arête
On the arête
Working our way up the easier section of the Cneifion Arête
Working our way up the easier section of the Cneifion Arête

Shark Buttress (Hawks Nest Buttress):

We crossed the Y Gribin ridge and dropped down the other side , making our way around to the scrambling nirvana that is Glyder Fach’s northern face. The next scramble on the agenda was Shark Buttress (aka Hawks Nest Buttress). This starts around 50 metres east of East Gully and is the longest scramble on Glyder Fach’s north face. It’s graded at 3S and so technically more challenging than anything I had done beforehand. The start was scrappy but easy, and got us up the cliff until just beneath Hawks Nest Buttress itself. This is where the real scrambling started. We headed upwards, trending right across slabby rock until we arrived at a grassy channel running up to the right of the buttress. The exact route is actually difficult to remember now – I should have been paying more attention! Somehow, we ended up back on the buttress and in a recess. The wall within the recess needed to be climbed via a difficult move that required careful balance and a smooth shifting of weight. This move brought me up onto the ridge beneath Shark Pinnacle and marked the end of the grade 3 scrambling. We had the obligatory photos taken on the pinnacle and then continued on to the summit of Glyder Fach. It was very straight-forward from here with no further major difficulties.

Approaching the Glyder Fach cliffs
Approaching the Glyder Fach cliffs
Neil starting the Shark Buttress scramble route
Neil starting the Shark Buttress scramble
Approaching the crux of the route
Approaching the crux of the route
Guy posing on the Shark Buttress pinnacle
Guy posing on the Shark Buttress pinnacle
Pretty straight-forward from here on
Pretty straight-forward from here on
Almost on Glyder Fachs top
Almost on Glyder Fachs top

Bristly Ridge:

We were initially going to descend down the scree slopes towards Tryfan, however instead we decided to descend via Bristly Ridge to keep scrambling interest to a maximum. I’d been up Bristly Ridge quite a number of times before but never descended it before. It made a nice change and was relatively simple although obviously care still had to be taken – as it does on any descent. Sinister Gully initially looks daunting looking down, however there are hand and footholds galore and nothing too technical, although naturally slightly harder than going up. Once we’d got down to Bwlch Tryfan (the col between Tryfan and Bristly Ridge), we headed around to the start of Tryfan’s Heather Terrace path and followed it along the east face as far as Nor Nor Gully. This marked the start of the next scramble route up Nor Nor Buttress.

Me at the crux on Shark Buttress
Me at the crux on Shark Buttress
Climbing down Sinister Gully on Bristly Ridge
Climbing down Sinister Gully on Bristly Ridge

Nor Nor Buttress:

Nor Nor Buttress is a grade 3S scramble and was the hardest one I did on this day. There are two popular versions of this route. The easier version bypasses the hardest section by dropping into the gully and climbing back out of it again a little later. The version we did on this day was the direct route which takes on all difficulties. On the whole, the scrambling is great up the whole route, but looking back over a week later, there are two sections that still stick in my mind. There’s the committing climb up the edge of the very steep and scarily exposed arête. I’m not afraid to admit that I requested the rope for this section. It’s amazing how much easier sections feel when you have that security of the rope – evidence that psychology has a big part to play when doing this sort of stuff. The second section that I remember well was a vertical corner a little higher up that perhaps might have been easier had my legs not been quite so stiff after the days activities so far.

Nor Nor Buttress
Nor Nor Buttress
Neil about to start the route
Neil about to start the route
Quality scrambling on Nor Nor Buttress
Quality scrambling on Nor Nor Buttress
Quality scrambling on Nor Nor Buttress
….and again
The crux - rope required
The crux – rope required
The difficult corner on Nor Nor Buttress
The difficult corner

Notched Arête:

This was going to be the last scramble of the day, however we were doing well for time and so decided to squeeze one more in – a climb up Notched Arête on Tryfan’s west face. The arête is classed as grade 2, and the technicality of the climbing is sustained from the start of the route to its finish. The route is steep and slabby, with enough holds and a nice enough angle to keep moving at a good pace. It was a seriously enjoyable climb, but over far too quickly. The day was at an end and it was time to descend back to the car.

Neil at the start of Notched Arête
Neil at the start of Notched Arête
Me climbing up the arête
Me climbing up the arête

Useful Information and Links:

All my photos (as well as a handful taken by Neil) can be found in my Flickr album

All these scrambles can be found in the new Scrambles in Snowdonia book (Cicerone Press) where the routes are described in much more detail.

1. Idwal Staircase and Continuation, Route 45, Grade 2+ ***
2. Cneifion Arete, Route 40, Grade 3 ***
3. Shark Buttress, Route 36, Grade 3S ***
4. Bristly Ridge, Route 30, Grade 1 ***
5. Nor Nor Buttress, Route 11, Grade 3S **
6. Notched Arete, Route 27, Grade 2 ***

A note on scrambling grades

Grade 1 : Routes that require no special mountaineering skills and should be accessible to any experienced hillwalker
Grade 2 : Increased technicality or exposure. May include short passages of Moderate grade rock climbing. Some difficulties may require rope protection. A wide experience of scrambling or mountaineering is essential.
Grade 3: Similar attributes to grade 2 scrambles but with the added complication of one or more short pitches of rock climbing, often up to Difficult standard. Rope protection is usual

The grades can also have a suffix of a plus or a minus symbol. These denote scrambles that are at the easiest and hardest ends of that particular grade. Those looking to move to grade 2 would be best starting with a grade 2-

The exception is the highest grade which is 3S rather than 3+. The S stands for Serious. Grade 3S scrambles have more sustained or exposed passages of Difficult grade rock climbing, or crux sections on wet or suspect rock. Good judgement and knowledge of ropework are essential.

The star ratings give a guide on the quality of the scrambles

* Routes of merit but which lack continuous interest
** Routes of high quality
*** Acknowledged classics or routes of exceptional quality and interest

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