The Rhinogydd are a not-so-well-known range of mountains that lie between Dolgellau and Porthmadog. They are not especially high but have a rocky landscape unlike anywhere else in Snowdonia.
Today's objectives were to get some dawn photos of Rhinog Fawr (the most familiar, if not the tallest, peak) and then to take in a circuit of the rest of the range. I had never visited the southernmost summit, Diffwys, so my route would be dedicated to crossing that one off my list.
This walk is 17 miles long. Most of it is on fairly obvious paths, although there are a couple of awkward ascents (and one descent) across heather-clad, pathless, ground. While the highest point on the walk is only just over 750 metres, the total ascent is around 5,300 metres. A GPX file of the route can be downloaded here.
The northern Rhinogydd (Rhinog Fawr and Fach) have a reputation for difficult, rocky, terrain. This is deserved but as long as you stick to the paths this feature is more tiresome (you never quite get into full stride) than dangerous. Although when walking alone without a phone signal, even a twisted ankle can be problem; I didn't see any other walkers at all today, so help may have been a long time coming.
I parked for free in the remote parking area at Craigddu-isaf. At the far end was a camper van. It was six o'clock in the morning, so there was little sign of life; however I assumed there was probably someone at home.
I had worked out where the sun was going to rise and wanted to be at the small lake called Llyn Cwmhosan when it did. This position ought to give me some good shots of Rhinog Fawr bathed in first light.
The first half an hour involved easy walking by torchlight, heading along gravelled forest tracks towards Bwlch Drws-Ardudwy, the pass that separates Rhinog Fawr and Rhinog Fach.
By the time I reached the Bwlch itself, there was enough light to pack away the torch and it was easy to find the rocky path that breaks south and upwards towards Lake Cwmhosan.
I am usually behind schedule and rushing breathlessly to reach my early morning photography targets. However, today I was early. I found a rock to sit on and while away the half hour or so it took for the sun to break the horizon. When it did so, I was rewarded with a wonderful vista of Rhinog Fawr glowing blood-red.
First objective completed, I continued my journey south, climbing gently until I met the shores of a much larger lake called Llyn Hywel.
On reaching it, a glance at the map shows a path heading a short distance along the northern shore before seemingly coming to an end. In reality (and provided you don't mind picking your way over and around boulders) it actually continues all the way round to the eastern shore. From here, it is an easy clamber up to join a path that sits in the col between Rhinog Fach and Y Llethr.
I made my way up to the top of Rhinog Fawr and for the first time today the landscape opened up and allowed me distant views in every direction.
Then, it was an about turn to retrace my steps back down to the col. I recalled the time I made this same descent a few years ago, only to find my dog was still at the top, rock-bound. Cursing as I sweated all the way back-up, I was within yards of her when she decided she wasn't stuck after all and bounded her way past me, tail wagging.
Back in the present, the next stop, Y Llethr, is the highest mountain in the range and looks a bit of a slog when viewed from the col. However, it's actually a straight-forward climb and is over before you know it.
Now, the terrain changes. The rocky paths are replaced by a pleasant grassy ridge and it is a gentle amble to the next destination, Diffwys, taking in fantastic views west towards the Irish Sea and Llŷn Peninsula.
From the flat summit of Diffwys, I continued west along the grassy ridge for another mile and a half, until I met a very obvious vehicle track heading northwards and downwards. This wends its way all the way down to Pont Scethin in the valley below. It is clearly well used and worn by off-road vehicles, meaning that in places you have to pick your way through knee-deep wheel ruts.
Pont Scethin is a lovely spot and affords some great views back towards the main Rhinogydd.
However, it was also the point where (for me at least) the visible paths seemed to come to an end. On the map a bridleway is shown heading due north; unfortunately, I couldn't see anything on the ground so I just picked my way towards and then up the lower slopes of Moelfre.
Clambering over a stone wall (it is resolutely unbroken, even where the bridleway is shown on the map to pass through it), I then embarked on a slightly tricky scramble down the other side of the hill, through heather, hidden fissures, rocks and scree. In my experience, coming off Moelfre by any route other than the main ridge path is always unpleasant.
As I reached the start of the field system I found the bridleway, which was now very clear. Maybe it had been all along and I'd just missed it. Following it, I reached the tarmac road at the bottom of the Nantcol valley and it was then a mile or so of road-walking up to the head of the valley.
Here, at the farm called Maes-y-garnedd, there is a choice of either the well-walked path that heads back through Bwlch Drws-Ardudwy where I had started the day, or a lesser known one heading north to skirt around the western slopes of Rhinog Fawr.
As it was a new route to me, I opted for the latter, not appreciating that immediately after Nantcol holiday cottage, the path disappears and I'd be faced with an arduous uphill slog through thick heather and bogs. I didn't enjoy this part of the day.
To my relief, the ground eventually levelled out and views of a distant Snowdon range opened up before me. The last 40 minutes were all forgotten.
As I dropped down the far side, I once again found paths and followed them towards the lake called Gloyw Lyn. What a spot! I could have stayed there for hours.
Deciding that doing so probably wasn't an option, I made my way along the path that runs up the eastern shore. From a distance, it looks as though you are going to encounter a tricky traverse across a bare rock face but once you reach it things are very straightforward.
Clambering over the adjacent ridge, I picked up the network of faint paths that make their way down to the western end of Bwlch Tyddiad. From here, there is a well-used path that heads up the Bwlch, although I did manage to walk straight past it initially. If you reach a gravelled path, you have gone too far!
It's a long trek up through the Bwlch and it involves regaining quite a lot of height. However, it is thoroughly exhilarating with the Roman Steps beneath your feet and rocky slopes rising either side of you. This is true Lord of the Rings country.
You soon snap out of it on reaching the top, where you start to find visitor interpretation boards and a sense of having returned to civilisation.
Continuing east and away from the mountains I soon re-entered the forest I'd walked that morning, the first section of which has been clear-felled. The path was now gravelled and made for brisk walking. Passing Pistyll Gwyn ("white waterfall") I was soon back at Craigddu-isaf and the car-park.
The camper van was in the same place and there was still so sign of life. I began to think my assumption that morning had been wrong; there hadn't been anyone at home and I had been alone in the dark after all.