Winter On The Black Ridge
Trail UK|March 2017

To Snowdonia, where Trail discovers that a silent valley, raking ridgeline, classic scramble and fresh dump of snow make for a truly magical route.

Oli Reed

I look up from my snow-crusted boots, taking a break from the monotony of focusing hard on every delicate foot placement, and allow myself a few seconds to absorb the surroundings. My concentration has been broken by the hum of helicopter blades thumping somewhere beneath me, shattering the silence of the empty valley below. Ahead of me is a beautifully sculpted ridgeline, crowned by a pristine dollop of snow, knobbled like the backbone of an enormous alligator, leading straight to the summit of the third highest mountain in Wales.

I don’t mind admitting this place has taken me by surprise. I know I’m in Snowdonia because I drove through Bethesda a couple of hours ago, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. It feels vast, empty, brutal, forgotten. Cwm Llafar, the gaping valley above which our ridge sits, is certainly more Scotland than Wales. It’s almost three miles from the nearest road, with the only indication of prior human habitation found in the decaying relics of industry we passed on the long, lonely walk-in.

We chatted briefly with a cheery Dutch walker shortly after setting off from the village of Gerlan, but we’re all alone now, perched high on the monstrous northern crags of Carnedd Dafydd, about to tackle the kind of ridge your parents would warn you never to go anywhere near. The ridge is the Llech Ddu Spur (otherwise known as the black ridge), a masterful scramble in a setting so spectacular you could be forgiven for thinking you’d jumped on a plane and jetted 1,000 miles into the heart of the Alps. The vicious, beautiful arc of the Ysgolion Duon cliffs – 1000 metres wide and 250 metres high – sweeps away to my left, encircling the head of Cwm Llafar. I can’t quite believe I’ve never been here before, or heard so little about it. Surely those cliffs, this ridge, these views, should be plastered across every Snowdonia National Park postcard or fridge magnet? But thankfully they aren’t, because then we wouldn’t have it all to ourselves.

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