Epic walk-ins through remote valleys are part and parcel of scrambling in Scotland, but a more unusual experience in Wales. The Carneddau massif of Snowdonia feels like it’s been borrowed from the Highlands, and nowhere is this more keenly felt than when walking into Cwm Llafar to tackle the Llech Ddu Spur. Also known as Crib Lem (and misprinted, deliberately or otherwise, on OS maps as Grib Lem), its position at the head of Cwm Llafar overlooking the dark wall of Ysgolion Duon (the Black Ladders) is enough to make this narrow ascending ridge special among north Wales’ wealth of scrambles. That it is such a joy to climb, with drama and delight swelling as you rise, is the reason it’s usually given the full ‘3 stars’ in guidebooks.
Distance 14km | Ascent 1085m | Scramble rating Grade 1 | Go there when the wind is gentle. The rock dries quickly, but it’s no fun being up there in a gale.
After leaving the town of Bethesda on foot, head east along the south bank of Afon Llafar towards the head of Cwm Llafar. As the end of the walk-in is neared, the brutal dark crags of Ysgolion Duon come into view ahead, looking fierce and unwelcoming.
After nearly 4km of walking, the valley walls to the right open up into Cwmglas Mawr with several large boulders below the triangular cliff of Crib Lem. Above the crag, horizontal bands of white quartz mark the start of the Llech Ddu Spur.
Head up a loose path to the left of scree into Cwmglas Bach. As the head of the cwm is approached – roughly level with the base of the crags to the right and a deep vertical cleft in the crags to the left – cut back left and ascend a grassy ramp above Crib Lem and out onto the Llech Ddu Spur itself.
Once the quartz bands are reached, begin the scramble directly up the rocks of the spur. Initially the spur is broad and it’s possible to pick a multitude of lines through the crags and clefts, but soon the ridge narrows with steep drops to Cwmglas Mawr on the right and Cwmglas Bach on the left, and more than one knife-edge is presented.
Sticking to the apex of the arête where the scrambling is best (most tricky manoeuvres can be bypassed), continue to clamber up the ridge. Without letting your mind lose too much concentration from the task in hand, be sure to let your eyes wander to the slick black cliffs of Ysgolion Duon and the expanding panorama over your shoulder.
Eventually the ridge merges with Carnedd Dafydd and it’s an easy walk to the summit. From here, the quickest descent is down the north-west flank towards Mynydd Du and Bethesda. A far more deserving route is to cross to Carnedd Llewelyn via the top of Ysgolion Duon (take a careful peek over the edge to experience their truly intimidating grandeur) and return to Bethesda via Yr Elen, admiring the profile of Llech Ddu as the tops are rounded.