The vast bulk of Cadair Idris dominates the Mawddach Estuary at the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park, its soaring ridgelines lifted almost 3000 feet above the sheltered tidal sands. The mountain is probably the second best known in Snowdonia – after Snowdon itself – and the summit panorama rivals that from the highest mountain in Wales. The name Cadair Idris means the Chair of Idris with the name of the highest peak – Pen y Gadair or “Top of the Chair” in English.
Ascents are usually made from the North (Mawddach and Dolgellau) by the easy route with the rather uninspiring name of the Pony Track or by the much more adventurous Foxes Path which picks a way through the precipices that skirt the summit. From the South the Minffordd Path – the way described here – makes a rough and steep ascent past the mysterious Llyn Cau to Pen y Gadair via the subsidiary summit of Craig Cwm Amarch.
I had attempted this ascent before with my last effort thwarted at Craig Cwm Amarch by a combination of gale force winds, horizontal rain and mist so thick that the ground was only just visible but today a benevolent westerly breeze brought in a fine Spring day with the morning rain clearing eastwards to be replaced by blue and white skies with temperatures a pleasant fourteen celsius in the valleys and a slightly chilly four on the higher tops.
We left the National Park car park (£2 half day £4 all day) at Minffordd to follow the well marked path over the river (Nant Cadair) and steeply up through the forest where much of the path was built into steps up as far as the wall. Beyond the wall the angle eased somewhat and taking it slowly (my companion Ian had recently had a knee operation and was unsure of the wisdom of doing this) we reached the edge of the forest where the path forks and the right branch crosses the rushing stream. There is now a slate bridge – last time I was here there was not so the torrent would have needed fording – for what is the return route for those doing the full circuit and returning over the other subsidiary peak Mynydd Moel. We had not planned to do this and would return the same way.
On up to the left then and soon we had reached the vast cirque in the mountains that contains Llyn Cau. this tarn is in a superb location beneath the sheer cliffs of Craig Cwm Amarch (which appears higher from here) and the almost as inhospitable flanks of Pen y Gadair.
Just before the tarn the path branches off up to the left – we missed it at first but if you reach a huge bare rock feature on the right just head up the grassy slope on the left to pick it up. The junction of paths is unclear with the path straight on leading the short distance on to Llyn Cau – a place of sublime beauty.
The route now became steep again after a respite and height was rapidly gained to the broad crest of the ridge where the views opened up to the South over a pleasant scene of hills and forest into Mid Wales. Turning to the right the path led up to a flat area like a false summit before the rough steep climb to Craig Cwm Amarch with occasional spectacular glimpses down to Llyn Cau through gullies in the rocks. The top of the first peak lies on the far side of a fence which is surmounted by a stile. The view now lay out over the west Wales coast and the Irish Sea as well as the forests and mountains inland.
We were curious as to 3 prominent hills far to the East – a later study of the map revealed them to be (probably) the Long Mynd in Shropshire though if anyone knows any different please correct me. I’m not as familiar with this area as I am with Snowdon or the Carneddau to the North.
Ian at this point – probably wisely – decided to remain here after a brief foray down the ridge while I continued on to Pen y Gadair a kilometre to the North. The path after an initial steep descent crossed a wide grassy area with some marshy bits then climbed the opposite slope to reach some very rough terrain. I have heard Lakeland’s Great Gable described as a desert of stones – well the name could apply to this mountain as well!
The path was always obvious though and soon led me past some striking rock formations to the bouldery summit which was crowned by an OS trig point. The view over the far side was even more spectacular with vast crags falling away towards the wooded shores of the Mawdach Estuary backed by the sands and the sea. To the North the Snowdon area was shrouded in cloud still but Arenig Fawr and the Arans rose clear and high in blue skies.
From here one may continue along the ridge to Mynydd Moel and return to the bridge we passed earlier to make a circular walk but my route lay back to Craig Cwm Amarch and a return by the same route. As walked the route is 9km in length with a high point of 893m or 2930ft at Pen y Gadair. The other top of Craig Cwm Amarch is 791m or 2595 ft. The circular route via Mynydd Moel (863m/2832ft) is only slightly longer.
Pete Buckley April 2011