Total distance 6.3km | Total ascent 740m | Scramble rating Grade 1-2 | Go there ideally when it’s dry
In a place as scramble-rich as north Wales it takes something a bit special for any particular route to stand out. But stand out Bristly Ridge does, both figuratively and literally. From the llyn’s watery edge in Cwm Bochlwyd, the enigmatic ridge bristles against the skyline above, every bit a visual match to the sharp-backed Tryfan on the other side of the bwlch, and certainly a more menacing one. It doesn’t look like it’ll give in easily, but among the jumble of pinnacles and the maze of gullies, a few routes thread their way through the spined architecture of the ridge. Easily? Well, probably not. At a very minimum it goes at a Grade 1 scramble that requires careful route-finding and repetition of that most preservative scrambling mantra: don’t climb up what you can’t climb down. It’s all too easy to stray into Grade 2 territory and the exposure that comes with it.
But this variety of challenge is another string in Bristly’s taught arrow-flinging bow. The seasoned scrambler can be left to their own devices to explore the gullies and stacked blocks at their leisure, while the relative novice can still gain the essence of the ridge by following a more logical and continuous route. The heightening drop at your back, the expanding views over Tryfan, and the reward of arriving atop the shattered rock playground of Glyder Fach are all there regardless.
For all these reasons, Bristly Ridge is the epitome of all that’s great about scrambling in Snowdonia. Let’s take a closer look…
From the Ogwen Cottage car park, climb the steps past the visitor’s centre. Go through the ornate metal gate and over the bridge, and follow the path south-east, forking left and continuing south-east when the main path swings right to the west. Ascend the rough path beside Nant Bochlwyd into Cwm Bochlwyd. From the outflow of the llyn, follow the well-constructed path up to the saddle on the skyline: Bwlch Tryfan. Follow the wall that stretches across the bwlch to the right (south-west) to where it meets the toe of Bristly Ridge.
Turn right away from the wall and skirt the lower rocks for about 10m until arriving at a short gully. Ascend this gully and climb out to the left, arriving at a strangely placed and somewhat unexpected man-made stone wall.
Behind the wall is the entrance to Sinister Gully. Despite its name (which comes from the Latin adjective meaning left) it is the preferred ascent route, avoiding other gullies (including Dexter Gully from the Latin for right) which contain loose and dangerous rock.
Scramble up the gully, looking ahead for a jutting prow of rock which indicates you are on the correct line. Beneath the prow the ground steepens. Climb past this by ascending the left wall of the gully. Shortly before the head of the gully look for a quartz-covered ramp leading up to the left to the crest of the ridge.
Now on the back of the ridge, follow it upwards finding the lines of least resistance. The most reliable scrambling, but also the most airy, is found closest to the spine. Soon the ridge narrows and is blocked by a turret cutting across the crest. Climb to its top and take a moment to consider your next move.
Carefully climb down the other side of the turret and descend into a steep notch in the ridge known as Great Pinnacle Gap. The 10m gap takes its name from the towers above. Scramble up a shorter step to the right of it then climb back left up a system of grooves to regain the crest of the ridge. Continue along it until the ridge joins with the boulder-covered summit plateau of Glyder Fach.
Onward routes are myriad. The most direct route down is to take the scree path beside Bristly Ridge back to Bwlch Tryfan. A far more pleasing route involves descending the Grade 1 scramble of Y Gribin (after clambering onto the Cantilever Stone, Glyder Fach’s rock-stack summit and the spired turrets of Castell Y Gwynt) back to Cwm Bochlwyd. Or, if this has been part of a bigger day that may also have included a scramble up Tryfan, then Glyder Fawr and the Devil’s Kitchen beckon with a walk around Llyn Idwal as the perfect way to warm down.