View from Milestone Buttress

How good were you at ‘reading the view’?

The Milestone Buttress, low down on the West face of Tryfan above Llyn Ogwen is a place where many instructors will spend a little time looking at the view. On ascents and descents of Tryfan by the North Ridge or the west face this is a good chunk of your view. In this view there are features left being by glacial erosion, ridges of different rock types, fluvial features of erosion and there is also significant human impact. As a Mountain Leader or Mountain Instructor can you read the view?

Mike Raine's 'Reading the View' article was published in this autumn's edition of the Professional Mountaineer magazine and posed many questions to the reader. Now here's your chance to find out whether your answers match up:

Natural Formations

Can you identify features of glaciation; arête, cwm, rock bar, scree, truncated spur, ribbon lake, Moraine debris? Can you explain them?

Notice how the land with moraine debris on it is drier than the ground without it; this can lead to different species growing. Can you explain why this is and what difference there may be in species growing?

Can you identify fluvial features; ‘V’shaped valley, gorge, alluvial fan? Did water or ice play the greater part in shaping this landscape?

Can you identify a ridge of dark dolerite rock and a ridge of light coloured Pitts Head tuff? Can you suggest where softer rocks, faults or weaknesses in the rock maybe?

I hope you identified the features of glacial erosion; most of us can cope with that. Make sure you can talk a little bit about the process behind the formation of the features too. You also need to understand that glaciation has just been putting the finishing touches to the landscape and that water, over millions of years, has been the major agent of erosion.

I like the fact that you can pick out the area of moraine from the vegetation. You should be able to see moraine, formed of loose ice ‘bulldozed’ debris, notice how the land with moraine debris on it is drier than the ground without it; this can lead to different species growing. The moraine material will give better drainage that the thin soils which are underlain with impermeable bedrock. So we’ll see Matt Grass, Bracken and Gorse colonising the moraine and rushes, reads, Cotton Grass and Bog Asphodel colonising the darker wetter ground in between. Of course the areas of moraine will be more heavily grazed but a walkers finely tuned eye will follow these areas to pick a dry way through.

Could you identify the ridge of dark dolerite rock and a ridge of light coloured Pitts Head tuff? The darker dolorite has cooled down more slowly than the extruded volcanic ash which forms the Pitt’s Head Tuff. The dolorite is hard and blocky, it has led to the formation of a blockfield of rough ground. Dolorite produces a slight more favourable soils than the ash falls tuffs, this coupled with the tricky access for sheep has led to a clear line of heather species highlighting this area below the prominent dark ridge.

Human Impact

Can you see the A5, who built this, why, when and what was here before?

Can you identify areas of heavy grazing and lighter grazing? Can you explain this and how it might be useful to Mountain Leaders?

Can you see a car parking area, dry stone walls, a boat house? Who built these things and why?

Can you see any boats? Can you see any evidence of walkers? Are there any trees? If so where and why are they there?

Are there any buildings? What stories might these buildings have?

The A5, famously built by Thomas Telford, was built to improve connectivity between London and the port of Holyhead which serves Dublin. Alongside the road is car parking which has been formalised over the years, responding to demand from outdoor recreationalist. Interestingly there is no-one on the lake. The lake is closed to the public by the local anglers club who own the rights to the water, you can see their boat house. The lake has a small dam at its outflow which has raised the level a little, though this remains a shallow ribbon lake. There are drystone walls, used and disused, some sound ones on the Carneddau side of Llyn Ogwen mark the ‘ffrith’; the area around a farm where sheep can be kept in and tendered to with more attention at times such as lambing.

Reading the view brings together landscape components in a way that can inform you and your groups. It is almost never ending, within this landscape there are elements of human impact spreading back over thousands of years, the vegetation has changed, the built environment has changed, the communications network has changed. The physical landscape is dominated by its geology, its fluvial features, slope process and its glacial features. There are habitats within the picture from high montane heath, through moorland, meadowland, bogland some woodland both past and present, both deciduous and coniferous. Look out for more on ‘reading the view’ or join us on a Nature of Snowdonia workshop.

Answers by Mike Raine

Mike works at Plas y Brenin as a Senior Instructor. As a regular hillwalker, climber and former Geography teacher he has a keen interest in the environment and will be running Nature of Snowdonia workshops based on his best selling (to Mountain Leaders and Instructors!) book, Nature of Snowdonia (Pesda Press 2009) in 2015. You can follow him on Twitter @mikerraine or by liking his Facebook page Mike Raine: Notes from the Hill.

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