I’m of the opinion that a sense of adventure is the most attractive thing in a partner. So when I had the urge to drive across the country and climb the tallest mountain in Wales, I was delighted that she not only agreed to come along, but was genuinely excited by the prospect.
I think Snowdonia is one of the most stunning areas of natural beauty within a days drive of London. The national park was the third one established in the UK after the Peak and Lake Districts. It covers an area of over 2,000 km² in north Wales and includes all 15 peaks over 3000 ft. There are a huge number of places to stay and a multitude of outdoor activities to take part in. From walking, scrambling, climbing and bouldering to sailing, kayaking and surfing you can do pretty much anything outdoorsy that you fancy. The pubs are great, the fish and chips most welcome after a hard day being rugged and the accessibility is really good from London. The only downside is that Crib Goch is the wettest place in the UK with over 4,000 mm of rain per year, but I’m willing to overlook this little fact!
Where to stay?
The Snowdon Horseshoe and the Glyderau contain some of the most varied and interesting routes in the park as they contain the majority of the highest peaks and the most technical ascents. There is plenty to tackle both as a complete novice or seasoned professional rock climber. I recommend staying in Capel Curig, Pen y pass or Pen y Gwryd as the start of all the major walks are within a few minutes drive. We stayed in the charming St Curig’s Church – A 19th Century church deconsecrated and converted in 1998 to a B&B by its owner.
When to go?
The weather is best in June, July and August, but if you can hold out until September the crowds thin out and the prices plummet – however the weather can be much more changeable.
What to take?
Whenever you go, you must always ensure you are prepared for the worst. The weather in the mountains can change much, much faster than you can safely get down, so always pack warm clothes and waterproofs. Whilst it isn’t essential to have proper hiking boots and these walks can all be completed in trainers, it is much safer to be wearing a sturdy and comfortable pair of ankle boots with decent tread, stiffer soles and some waterproofing. Below is a brief list of things you might like to take along with you. Some of them may seem excessive, but I’ve used all of these bits of kit at least once when hiking.
- Water – I usually carry about 2 l for a 4-6 hour hike. Take what you need, then double up to be sure. I’ve handed out water to other hikers in need and it sure did make their day.
- Food – The best bit about hiking, make sure you pack a great lunch to enjoy at the top. Take emergency energy snacks too, like a few chocolate or muesli bars.
- Spare food – You’ve packed your lunch, now take extra. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s absolutely no fun being stranded overnight in a mountain hut with no food. Been there, done that, got the hunger pangs.
- Sunscreen – Nobody looks good with sunburn
- OS map and compass – Learn to use them, but even if you don’t know how, someone else might and this could be the difference between getting totally lost, or saving the day.
- GPS – Not essential but a great asset on more remote hikes.
- Waterproofs – A lightweight, packable jacket and trousers are indispensable
- Insulation – A warm fleece-type layer, gloves and a hat
- Spare socks – having cold, wet feet is no fun.
- Swiss Army style knife – Ideally with pliers and a tin/bottle opener.
- Illumination – Torch or headlamp
- Small first aid kit – containing plasters, antiseptic, antihistamines, painkillers, safety pins , tweezers, scissors, second skin or an equivalent and some matches and a lighter.
- Bivvy bag or reflective blanket – These weight about 50 g, cost pennies and can save your life don’t be a hero. Get one.
My favourite route to the summit of Snowdon is the Crib Goch Arréte traverse. I’ve done it a few times and it never gets boring because you really do have to concentrate! I had of course conveniently neglected to mention quite how challenging it is until we were already driving towards the starting point at Pen y Pass. To my relief (and amazement) she agreed to try it out.
I must stress that this route should only be attempted by EXPERIENCED MOUNTAIN WALKERS. It is rated as a VERY HARD walk and should under no circumstances be attempted by anyone without prior experience of mountain walking. The route is VERY EXPOSED with almost sheer drops to both sides of the ridge. Crib Goch has proven lethal even for experienced mountaineers, especially in wet, windy or snowy weather. Please use your common sense and arrange to do it with a guide if you are unsure of your abilities. You’ll enjoy it a lot more. Anyway, now I’ve scared you and covered my own ass here’s how to do it.
Park up in Pen Y Pass opposite the YHA Hostel. Take the Pyg track north of the cafe and follow it towards Bwlch y Moch. Here you’ll notice a path snaking off to the right, whilst the Pyg track continues onwards. Take the track to the right and follow it pretty much straight up. The paved section disappears as soon as the going gets steeper. The route gets very rocky with some sections requiring a bit of scrambling. If you take your time you can see alternatives routes that are much easier than the obvious and direct scrambles. About halfway up, the really difficult stuff that briefly requires hands and feet begins and continues for a little bit, until just before the ridge.
Once you are on the eastern end of the ridge, you’ll (on a clear day) be able to see all the way across the three pinnacles and to the summit of Snowdon on the other side. The easiest way to tackle the ridge is slightly to the left of the crest as the right side gives a feeling of immense exposure and is not for the faint hearted. Either way, take care and move across to the highest point. From here you’ll descend via the three pinnacles. You can either use the well used route around them marked with cairns, or go up and over each pinnacle. Be careful on the final one, as a misstep from the top of the third pinnacle results in a sheer drop almost all the way down into the valley. Just sayin’.
Now its time to tackle Garnedd Ugain which should be directly ahead of you. This is only 20m lower than Snowdon, although it feels much smaller. I’d suggest stopping for lunch here, as it’s considerably less exposed than the summit at Snowdon, it’s much quieter and the view is way better.
From your lunch stop here, you should see the railway ahead and the Pyg track rising up from the valley to your left. Follow the crowds (or the path) up to the summit of Snowdon and chuck a rock on the Cairn. The visitor centre has toilets and a cafe, but I tend to avoid it. I hate transitioning from the serene natural beauty of the walk to a manmade structure and crowds at the summit. It just feels wrong. I can understand why it’s required as thousands of families take the railway, or Llanberis Path up with small children and pets everyday. Anyway, it’s there, use it if you need to!
From here, you can descend using the Llanberis Pass and take the sherpa bus back to Pen y Pass, or take the Pyg Track and follow it through the valley straight back to the start at Pen y Pass. From the GPS data I captured last time it looks like you should give yourself between 4-6 hours to do the complete walk from start to finish. If you don’t stop, you should be able to do it comfortably in under three hours – but whats the fun in that?
So, that’s the highest peak conquered. Feel free to shoot me any questions. Next time, I’ll look at the North Face of Tryfan – a much more technical scramble.
Love and Mayhem,