Scrambling on Milestone Gully Approach, and Main Gully
This day of scrambling on the mountains of Tryfan and Glyder Fach in Snowdonia took in two scrambles which I’d never done before – Milestone Gully Approach on the western face of Tryfan, and Main Gully on the Glyder Fach north face, before descending the Y Gribin ridge and heading back to the A5.
The day was organised on a popular walking forum as a group meet-up. As I normally do my walks and scrambles alone, I thought it would make a nice change to do something a bit more social so I put my name down to go. The arranged time to meet in the Milestone car park was 8am so this meant having to wake up at 4am and leaving the house by half past. Getting myself out of bed in the morning is not known as one of my greatest strengths, and I was convinced I was going to ignore the alarm clock but I miraculously managed to drag myself up on time. The drive to Snowdonia was really difficult due to being so tired, and my eyelids felt very heavy for the latter part of the journey. Within 5 minutes of me arriving, the rest of the group turned up – Dave, Ged, Lee, Dom, and Carl – and we were ready to make a move.
From the milestone layby, we ascended up the path that runs up the left-hand side of a wall, before crossing a stile at the top and continuing right, around the buttress itself, and to a damp and uninviting gully that’s hard to miss. This is Milestone Gully Approach. The images below will hopefully help to clarify the starting point of this grade 1/2 scramble.
The initial section was straightforward enough with nice steppy rock, and shouldn’t pose any problem for amateur scramblers. Before long we arrived at the crux of the route – the mantelshelf. This is a chin high smooth shelf with no footholds or handholds to use. To make it easier, it’s possible to stack a few rocks at the foot of it , thereby starting a little higher. If you’re really struggling then it’s also possible to bypass to the right. My technique was to just jump and then push myself up and forward onto the shelf. The dips I do regularly at the gym probably helped me a lot here. As fun as it is climbing up, the best fun is to be had watching other people attempt it!
After the crux, the route up the left-hand side of the gully remained interesting with sound rock offering good traction, even when wet. It’s steep enough to offer a bit of excitement but not so steep as to feel any real exposure. It’s of a grade 1 standard and shouldn’t feel any harder than the usual route up the north ridge.
The scramble of Milestone Gully eventually ends on an area of flat ground that lies between the gully scramble, and the milestone continuation scramble. We had a little look at the starting point of the continuation route before skirting around towards the north ridge, taking the opportunity to pick out interesting lines to scramble up that were not on the usual route. Eventually, we arrived at the cannon stone where we all did the traditional pose on the end whilst photos were taken. Well, all except me anyway as I did it the last time I was up Tryfan. The cannon stone is relatively easy to get up, especially if your soles are grippy on the rock. If this is the case, and you don’t mind heights, then it’s possible to simply walk up it. If you’re a little more wary of heights or your boots aren’t gripping very well on the polished rock, then it may be easier to straddle the rock and shimmy your way up slowly.
Once finished here, we continued picking out interesting scrambling opportunities until we arrived at the start of the north ridge proper (the nose), where we all made our own way up using whatever route we fancied. There’s an almost infinite amount of possibilities here, some harder than others. One of the main difficulties is that all the rock in this area is extremely polished and so if you’re not wearing footwear that’s grippy, it’s quite easy for the foot to slip. Apart from that, there’s handholds and footholds galore and it makes a fun introduction to scrambling.
Once at the top of this, there was the notch to navigate before heading over easier ground to the foot of the imposing looking north tower. The usual route heads up to the right-hand side of this but Carl and Lee decided to tackle a far more impressive and unlikely line to the left. I watched from the bottom to make sure it was doable before committing myself to the same line. It was actually a little easier than it looked from the bottom although there was a tricky little manoeuvre half way up that involved getting a leg over and straddling a protruding lump of rock in an area that you certainly wouldn’t want to fall from, before climbing into a chimney for the last part of the ascent.
The north tower was the last obstacle before arriving on the main summit where we stopped for a break and some much-needed food, but not before we’d taken turns doing the leap of faith across the Adam and Eve stones. Along with the cannon stone and the cantilever on Glyder Fach, this is one of the most photographed landmarks in the area. The two stones sit at the edge of the mountain on it’s highest point. On one side, the view is of Tryfans top. This is the side that the stones are usually climbed from. On the other side is a view straight off the side of the mountain, and it’s a long way down. If you’re scared of heights but are still crazy enough to try this jump, it’s probably not advisable to spend too long admiring the view. I’d personally only attempt it in dry weather too. Despite having been up Tryfan quite a few times, I’d never attempted this before – mainly because it’s normally a weekend and I’m too impatient to queue (it gets quite busy up here on a fine day at the weekend).
And a video of the jump from Trail magazine:
I left the group behind on the south ridge descent from Tryfan, and there were two reasons for this. Firstly, I find it easier on my knees if I bound down the mountain at a natural pace, leaning forward slightly. When I descend slowly, I end up leaning back too much and bracing my legs, resulting in painful knees. Secondly, I wanted to get to The Glyder Fach cliff well in advance to give me some extra time for a little scouting mission along the bottom to check out some of the other scramble routes I plan to do in the future. Once I got to the path that separates Tryfan from Glyder Fach, I decided to take the direct route straight towards Alphabet Slab – a rock feature of the Glyder Fach cliffs of which the left hand side marks the beginning of Main Gully.
It was whilst I was walking along the scree slopes, and almost at my destination, where I lost my footing. Losing my footing on scree is something I’ve done many times before, but this time I completely lost my balance and did a couple of complete head over heels rolls down the slope before luckily stopping. Could have been worse as the slope continued for some way. My backpack also cushioned the fall so no real damage done apart from a grazed arm, and a slight groin pull which I’m assuming was caused by my flailing legs. I knew that there were a couple of climbers at the foot of the slab, and my tumble was probably observed so I got straight back up and continued as though nothing had happened! I felt a little silly to be honest.
It wasn’t long before Carl – who’d also managed to get ahead – caught up with me. We decided that we’d have enough time to climb partway up the Dolmen Ridge route (grade 3) as far as the crux, so I could take a good look at it. My conclusion was – no way am I doing that without a rope! It didn’t help that I’d had a little blow to my confidence a short time before with my tumble on the scree. We returned to the bottom and made our way back to Alphabet Slab to join the others.
As it turned out, the others had already got there and had started the route. Main Gully is pretty much a grade 1 scramble, with the exception of the chockstone (a stone wedged between the sides of a gully) halfway up which is the crux of the route. The move to get over this is difficult enough for the route to be upgraded to a grade 2 and, should the case arise where you just cannot get past it, the route is down-climbable. We caught up with the others at the chockstone, where Dave, Dom, and I really had a battle to get over the obstacle. Lee and Carl were a bit more versed in the secrets of the chockstone as they’d completed the route before and so luckily I had them to guide me from above as I struggled with the correct manoeuvre. I would try and describe it here but unfortunately, I can’t quite remember exactly what I did! Beyond this, it’s back to solid grade 1 scrambling up and out of the gully and up the remainder of the ridge.
Eventually we all arrived on the top of Glyder Fach, all feeling a bit weary. The cantilever was situated conveniently nearby and I’d never managed to get photo on it before – but I really couldn’t be bothered with the effort. My legs felt shot. I did manage to take a photo of Carl taking a photo of someone taking a photo of 2 people on the cantilever so I guess that’s something. The photo is below.
After a short rest, we headed over Castell y Gwynt towards the Y Gribin ridge – itself a grade 1 scramble – for the final descent back to the A5. A little fact: Both the Cantilever Stone and Castell y Gwynt were used in the 1981 Disney film, Dragonslayer. Fact Number 2: I’ve never seen it. We finally arrived back at the cars at around 7pm. A long day indeed! The only thought I had in my mind all the way back home was the hot dog stuffed crust pizza that would be waiting for me. How could that not motivate anyone?
Walk Completed on 13th May, 2016.