The Rhinogydd are infamous as being the roughest hills this side of Knoydart, and even then it’s a close run thing.
Forming the rotten ‘tooth’ centre of what’s known as the Harlech Dome, these are the oldest rocks in Snowdonia, broken down by nature over millennia. Whilst the southern end of the range, if you choose to ascend from Barmouth or along one of the old coach roads, is easy going and grassy – it’s a facade that conceals what’s hidden beyond. Rhinog Fach and Fawr are themselves tough cookies, the real challenge in these hills comes from an area of ‘badlands’ that lies between Rhinog Fawr and Moel Ysgyfarnogod.
Peppered with bare rock that ends in 90° drops, which are often just too high to clamber off, or deep crevasses in the rock threatening to break a leg or possibly two. Just to add a bit more excitement, as if imagining yourself in a 127 Hours situation wasn’t bad enough, any holes are well hidden by a generous growth of heather. So at least you won’t know what’s hit you till it’s too late. This short section of terrain is undulating, with some easy scrambling as you’re continually losing and regaining about 50m height. In between all this are tiny lakes, Llyn Twr Glas, Llyn Pryfed and Llyn Du, not to be confused with the other Llyn Du under Rhinog Fawr. You may miss Llyn Morwynion, being off path and just shy of the safety of Bwlch Tyddiad that most people are rushing towards at this point. They’ll be missing one of the best wild camping spots in the park if they do, though it involves a thankless clamber to reach the shore that may not be worth it just for a soggy sandwich.
Despite that, this is one stretch of mountain that has to be experienced, and to venture into it you also need to possess some of that experience. There’s a path that can be carefully followed for the entire walk, but it will vanish at the most inopportune times such as at a 50m sheer drop, or at other times a 50m sheer cliff. Just don’t look at it on the map and expect to cross it in anything approaching average time. Double it at least. Ideally ensure that you’ve got a couple of hours in hand the first time. You may do it in an hour, but get lost and you’ll appreciate that time in hand. Visit this link for more information on the unique Rhinogydd Rules.
The Rhinogydd are only crossed proper by three paths – one boggy and indistinct path between Cwm Bychan and Trawsfynydd in the North, and either side of Rhinog Fawr. One of these is the mis-named Roman Steps, which are far from being Roman. The steps are probably more recent and the route itself most likely predates them. Whatever their origins however, they ease your passage through these hills. You can imagine bandits hiding in the crags in the past and I’m sure if you were willing to do some serious exploration then you’d possibly come across some hidden dips where bandits could have holed up and not be found?
Here are a few recommended routes, with all the routes being at this link.
Rhinog Fawr from Cwm Bychan – There are so many routes in the Northeren Rhinogydd that you can choose, ironically this is probably going to be the busiest. The first section takes you across the infamous Rhinogydd Badlands that aren’t as bad as you’d imagine. Just allow a couple of hours for the 2 or 3 km that the cover.
Rhinogydd from Traws to Bontddu This one is best done as a wild camp unless you know these hills. Starting off in Trawsfynydd in order to climb the pain in the penolau and Ysgyfarnogod, before heading south over the badlands and then the 4 hard won summits. Once you reach Y Llethr, the going becomes much easier, thankfully. The only summit you won’t ascend is Y Garn, though you could easily extend the trip in order to do so.
Rhinogydd from Llandecwyn to Talybont – The Rhinogydd, despite their difficulty, are reasonably accessible from many points. Trawsfynydd to the north east has always been a favourite starting point, but an arguably more scenic approach is from the opposite side of the mountain at Llandecwyn. It has the advantage of a return via the Cambrian Line Railway.
Y Diffwys from Ganllwyd. An unusual walk in that we bagged a Rhinog hill that’s not often seen on it’s own. You could use this route as an alternative ascent to climb the range from the south, or as an ideal descent once you’ve completed the hard work.
Moel Ysgyfarnogod and Craig Drwg from Trawsfynydd. This is the northernmost Rhinog, along with some of the ‘badlands’. Craig Drwg is possibly a 600m hill in it’s own right as it has a 600m contour on some of the Harvey Maps. If some guys go up there a measuring, then remember that we spotted it first! In fact, we had a blog post up about 2007 on the subject.