What you absolutely need to know before you climb Snowdon

It has always been a regret of mine that I never climbed Snowdon as a teenager. In fact in Great Britain this is a common challenge.

The Princes Trust encourages you to climb Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Pike in England and Snowdon in Wales – all over a weekend. This is commonly referred to as the Three Peeks Challenge. And who ever achieves it is rewarded with a medal. At the same time money is raised to help change the lives of the UK’s most disadvantaged young people. I clearly remember admiring my friend’s brother when he set off on his journey.

Pictures clearly depicting Snowdon’s beauty aren’t an uncommon sight in the UK. Snowdon is gorgeous in every weather. On a lovely clear day, on a less clear days and even covered in snow.

At last, everything came together and Gary and I finally set off on the Miners Track. We didn’t quite make it to the top, but we had an incredible time trying.

There are numerous ways up the mountain. In summer, there is even the option of hopping onto a train. Thankfully there is a path for everyone. The problem is just picking the right one.

I want to take this opportunity to once again thank Visit Wales for challenging me to Find My Epic. I am not sure I would have gone on this microadventure, if they hadn’t.

> Read more about our Winter Hike up the Miner’s Path

> Read about our Rib-Ride down the Menai Strait

> Read more about Visting Caernarfon Castle

HIKING IN SNOWDONIA

Snowdonia is probably one of the best places to go hiking in the UK. The region has a large network of trails for people of all abilities.

Snowdonia has a very varied terrain from rugged mountain peaks, long sandy beaches to crystal clear lakes and rivers. So whether you want the challenge of ascending Snowdon or would rather opt for a leisurely walk along the coastline, you are guaranteed breath-taking scenery and a diverse landscapes.

SNOWDON

Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and England. Its Welsh name, Yr Wyddfa, means tomb or monument. Legend has it that it is the tomb of the ogre Rhita Gawr, who supposedly met his end when King Arthur climbed to the top of Mount Snowdon and killed him. Snowdon is a part of a close-knit family of jagged peaks and offers views across Snowdonia, Anglesey, Pembrokeshire and Ireland. The whole area has been mined for copper since the Bronze Age, and you will find the ruins of old mine buildings and tramways across the whole mountain.

If you are moderately fit – like me – climbing Snowdon is definitely within your reach. Although Mount Snowdon is one of the three highest mountains in the UK, it is probably the friendliest for the Novice Walker to ascend. In the summer months you can even rest your feet and grab a welcome beverage in the café at the summit. And if you’re feeling tired after the strenuous climb up you can always get the train back down. (Note: the Café is only open when the trains are running, from mid- May to the end of October)

No one knows who first conquered the mountain, but ascents of the mountain became particularly popular after Thomas Pennant published ‘Tours’ in 1781 and included his visit to the summit. Since then 350 000 people ascend to the summit each year (either by foot or by train).

LOCATION

PLEASE BE PREPARED

Whether you are planning to tackle Crib Goch or hike up one of the other six paths, the ascent of Snowdon can be demanding and even treacherous at times.

The mountainous terrain with its steep gradients and rocky paths can be challenging and will even require a certain amount of scrambling. All paths have some fairly steep parts to them, so none can be described as an easy stroll. Although many thousands of people climb Snowdon each year, it is still a mountain with steep cliffs in places, and can be very dangerous.

Whichever route you take up the mountain, be sure to look out for markers which will show you the way down – it is easy to take a wrong path, and some are not suitable for inexperienced walkers, or those without proper climbing gear.

Because of the numbers of visitors conservation work is ongoing in the mountains.  Be sure to keep clear of areas where the path has been diverted to guard against erosion.

Please also make sure to look out for loose scree and steep slopes. It is easy to lose your footing!

Most of the walks will take you across farmland, where sheep roam freely.  If you take your dog with you it must be on a lead.

If you are climbing Snowdon for the first time opt for an easier path. If you enjoy the experience you can always return and select another path with totally different views.

If you are planning to undertake your journey in winter (like us), please be aware that the ground underfoot can become treacherous and should not be attempted by novice walkers.

You should never attempt to climb to the summit of Snowdon, without being prepared or doing at least a bit of preliminary research. Always remember to wear appropriate clothing and footwear before venturing out into the mountains and check the Snowdon Summit weather forecast before you set off.

EQUIPMENT YOU WILL NEED TO CLIMB SNOWDON

When climbing Snowdon, make sure to be suitably dressed for all weather conditions. Check the weather forecast before you start your walk, and always carry waterproofs with you even if you think the day will be fine.  Even though you might start your ascent on a bright and sunny day, you could still find yourself climbing through thick clouds at the summit. That doesn’t mean you have to wear your waterproofs in the sunshine. Overheating is just as much of a risk, in Summer, as hyperthermia can be in Winter.

I would advise against wearing jeans and cotton garments, as these tend not to cope very well when they become wet. Instead choose a modern synthetic garment that dries quickly and doesn’t trap sweat like cotton. If you can afford it, opt for Merino Wool. Also make sure to take a fleece, jumper or an insulated jacket. The temperatures drop significantly as you near the summit.

On top of all this, a pair of thin gloves and a hat are desirable in winter and may even be needed in summer.

On your feet, boots are the standard item of gear but some find these heavy in the summer and wear trail shoes instead. Ensure that you are wearing walking boots that are comfortable and that you have worn a few times already. You really won’t want to get blisters half way up Snowdon!

Be sure to pack plenty of food and water. Although chocolate and sweets will provide you with a quick energy boost it is preferable to opt for a balance meal with a piece of fruit. Don’t plan to stick to a diet whilst hiking up Snowdon. You will burn a lot of calories during your ascent and it is important that you provide your body with enough nutrients to cope with the strain. It is imperative that you bring enough water (2 litres to be safe).  There is only one café at the summit and it is closed in winter. Water or diluted fruit juice are good to keep your thirst quenched and contain natural fruit sugars, unlike many fizzy drinks.

To tell you the truth Gary and I weren’t as well prepared as we should have been and had to stock up on a fair bit of equipment the day before in Bangor. The weather was far chillier than expected and we ended up buying a pair of merino leggings, gloves and a map. We were lucky and everything was on sale. But being so ill-prepared could have seriously gone wrong.

Although the paths are well marked it is advisable to take a map and compass with you.  On top of that it would be best to take some survival equipment including: some spare high calorie food, a first aid kit, a torch, a whistle and a survival bag. In winter you might need some additional items to get you to the top, like crampons and an ice pick. But please be aware that these need specialist training.

TIME AND LENGTH UP TO THE SUMMIT OF SNOWDON

You should aim to get to your starting point early in the morning ­ as the car parks fill up very quickly. Trust me you don’t want to add those extra miles to your journey. The ascent to the summit is tiring enough. We learned this the hard way!

Plan to spend at least 6 hours or more walking up and down Snowdon. The exact length of the hike obviously depends on the path you choose to follow and your level of fitness. You will be covering between 7 and 10 miles and ascending up to 1005 m (3300 ft) of the total 1085 m (3560 ft) mass of Snowdon.

We started our hike at the overflow car park of the Pyg and Miner tracks at 11h00, reached the highest lake at 14h00 and returned to the car absolutely exhausted at 16h30.

WHICH TRACK UP TO SNOWDON SHOULD YOU CHOOSE

Picking a track up to the summit of Snowdon isn’t easy. We didn’t reach a finally decision until the actual day of the hike. Apart from Crib Goch, there are six different paths to choose from. Each path requires a different set of skills and level of fitness. Certain paths are a little easier than other.

The Watkins path is the hardest trail. On this route you will also be ascending 1001m (3,300 ft) – starting only a couple of hundred feet above sea level.  The Pyg and Miners tracks are of a similar length but start at 356 m (1170 ft) above sea level, so are a little less strenuous in comparison.

One of the benefits of walking on this mountain is that you do not need to go down the same way you went up. In fact, there are so many varied routes up to the summit that it would almost be a shame to walk up and down the same path in a day!  The convenient Sherpa Bus Network conveniently connects all six main routes and the surrounding villages in summer. You could, therefore, choose to hike up one path, come down another and catch a ride back to where you parked your car.

Certain tracks also lead back to the same starting point. You could for instance ascend to the summit via the Pyg track and then return to your car via the Miner’s Path. A very popular route indeed!

There are many walking and scrambling routes to the summit of Snowdon, so I have listed your options below in order of difficulty:

Most routes are fairly easy to follow. Particularly now that route markers have been erected. There is one route however that should be avoided by most people apart from the most experienced mountain walkers: Crib Goch.  The Crib Goch scramble certainly is the toughest ‘walk’ up Snowdon, and one of the best scrambling routes in the country.  If you are not an experienced mountain walker, are walking with a dog or suffer from a fear of heights do not attempt this route!

Crib Goch is a highly knife edged arête which features sheer drops on either side. You will find yourself scrambling on your hands and knees for a large part of the way. At best it can be described as a scramble. Imagine walking on the apex of a roof and you might get the picture.

The route starts at Pen-y-Pass, and follows the Pyg Track to a fork (Bwlch y Moch).  The left path continues on the Pyg Track, the right path goes up to Crib Goch.  The route to Crib Goch is clearly signposted on a marker rock. From here you will follow a steep path uphill. The trail then turns into the full-on scramble described above. Once Crib Goch is conquered the path continues to the summit of Snowdon joining the Pyg Track once again.

On busy days there can be a queue of people waiting to cross Crib Goch, but don’t let this fool you – it really is a dangerous route, not for the faint hearted or inexperienced.

Crib Goch is a hot spot for accidents on the Snowdon Massif, some of which have been fatal. It should not be attempted even by the most accomplished mountaineer on a windy or rainy day, since it is highly exposed.

Apart from Crib Goch, the Watkin Path certainly is one of the hardest tracks you can follow to reach the summit of Snowdon. This however means that you are likely to find a space in the car park and that your journey won’t be crowded by other hikers. Of all the official trails, The Watkin Path starts nearest to the sea level and so has more ascent than any other direct route up to Snowdon. The sheer drops and loose scree make it easy to lose your footing. The track is also said to be hard to follow. I would advise that you only attempt the Watkin Path if you are pretty fit and an experienced mountaineer.

This path was named after Sir Edward Watkin, Liberal Member of Parliament and a railway entrepreneur. Watkin had a summer house by the start of the path was responsible for creating the path. The Watkin path was originally a donkey path and never truly finished. At the time it connected South Snowdon Slate Quarry to Snowdon’s summit. It was officially opened to the public in 1892 by Gladstone, who gave a speech at what is now known as Gladstone Rock.

The Watkin Path starts at the road junction in Nant Gwynant. The old track can be followed, but I would recommend you take the new path to the left and through the forest. The start o the walk is quite pleasant and soft under your feet. But you will soon hit the the rocky man-made path that climbs up into Cwm Llan. The climb up the Watkin path is pretty steady and you will pass many old quarries as you ascend. You will arrive at Bwlch Ciliau sooner than you think. The next 300 meters are a lot tougher but you will be rewarded with views across across Glaslyn, Llyn Llydaw, Crib Goch and Yr Wyddfa. Here the path traverses sheer scree slopes and becomes somewhat indistinct. Even a map won’t help you. You need to be skilled at reading the terrain and making decisions on where to tread and what to avoid. You would therefore be best advised to avoid this part of the route in poor weather or if you aren’t that confident in your hiking skills. Please remember that this part of the track is a blackspot for accident and has been fatal in the past. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of the Watkin Path!

The Watkin Path is definitely the most scenic of all the routes up. It starts off through some ancient woodland before passing a spectacular waterfall and ultimately ascending to Bwlch Ciliau and Yr Wyddfa. A pleasure to walk for most of its distance, the final eroded scree chute up to the summit rather detracts from the Watkin Path’s overall appeal.

Distance: 8 miles (there and back) Total Climb: 1,015m (3,329 ft) Time: Approx 7 hours (there and back) Start an Finish: Bethania Bridge, Nant Gwynant (SH 628507 / LL55 4NL) on the A498 turning towards Hafod y Llan Farm Map: Explorer OL17 Ordnance Survey Parking: Pont Bethania, Nant Gwynant car park (SH 628507 / LL55 4NL) Sherpa Bus Stop: Nant Gwynant Car Park

The Rhyd Ddu Path starts off from the WHR station, which has a car park as well as a daily bus service from Caernarfon, Beddgelert and Porthmadog. The actual path starts to the left of the car park and you will need to cross the railway with care to reach the gate. From here the track is wide and easy meanders at a reasonably easy slope for a kilometre before you hit Pen ar Lon. Here the pat branches of to the left and is clearly marked. Once you reach the South Ridge the path becomes a lot narrower. It does however continue at an easy gradient until it hits a couple of old ruins on the flat of Rhos Boeth. Now you are going to have to face the final zig zag up to Bwlch Main. Beware, the path is covered in scree. Bwlch Main is a narrow ridge. Although not quite as difficult as Crib Goch, it is nonetheless one of the narrowest walking ridges in Snowdonia. The path weaves its way through the rocks, but barely becomes a scramble. This part of the track is however a huge challenge for anyone with a fear of heights. Finally the ridge widens out as you reach the Watkin Path. Now to the finally slog!

Also known as the Beddgelert Path, the Rhyd Ddu Path is one of the easiest and least used routes. Similarly to the Llanberis Path, this path starts at the Station of the Mountain Railway. This path is easy to follow and climbs steadily to the summit. However, just like with all the other paths, the going gets harder for the final stretch and the last stretch will lead you across a steep narrow path with sheer drops below. So although the Rhyd Ddu Path is one of the easier trails, it shouldn’t be attempted by individuals who are easily stricken by vertigo.

Distance: 7.5 miles (there and back) Total Climb: 895m (2,936 ft) Time: Approx 6 hours (there and back) Start and Finish: Rhyd Ddu Car Park (SH 571526 / LL54 6TN) Map: Explorer OL17 Ordnance Survey Parking: Rhyd Ddu Car Park (SH 571526 / LL54 6TN) Sherpa Bus Stop: End of Rhyd Ddu Car Park

The origin of the name of this path is steeped in mystery. It is believed that the track was named Pyg Trail due to the fact that this path was once used to transport pyg (black tar) down from the Copper Works in Cwm Glaslyn. Others are determined that the origin of the name can be found in a path that crosses the track – the Bwlch y Moch or Pass of pigs. Finally more recently the rumour is being spread that the trail was named after the Pen y Gwryd Hostel, which can be found near the route. Finally in Welsh, Pyg actually means pitch. And in parts the path is indeed as black as pitch, creating incredible panoramic views, especially in winter.

Whatever the origin of its name the Pyg Track can probably be accomplished by anyone who is moderately fit and not all too scared of heights. The path starts at 357 m (1,170 ft) above sea level which gives you a helpful start on your way.  The Pyg track is both the shortest walking route up Snowdon, and the one that involves the least amount of ascent.

Despite this, the Pyg Track is not the easiest path up to the summit. Much of this walk is rugged, steep and rocky. It can therefore be very challenging in parts, but the scenery is more than worth it. Remember to allow time for breaks and stopping to take in the sights, of which there are plenty. In fact the views of Snowdon are among the best of any route up.

The Pyg and Miners Track start at the same point, a relatively small car park. Be warned this car park fills up quickly! If you don’t start your journey early in the day, you will find yourself having to park in the overflow car park – a 45 minute walk downhill.

The start of the path is clearly marked on the gate and starts slightly to the let of the main café building. It is quite straightforward from here, initially descending in big rocky steps towards Bwlch y Moch before levelling out. The peak that dominates the view ahead is in fact Crib Goch. The Pyg Track contours the hillside below this ridge and above Llyn Llydaw. If you look up you will probably spot the brave souls attempting the airy traverse far above. The going get a little tougher and rockier where the Miner’s Track and Pyg Track meet. The route also splits into different directions. So be careful to keep to the path as it can be easy to stray off. If you get stuck in thick mist, turn back. It is not worth the risk and the mountain won’t go anywhere. Ascending slowly, the Pyg Track and Miner’s Track eventually reach the sheer cliffs below Garnedd Ugain. Her e the path turns right and turns into the infamous zig zag up to Bwlch Glas. This is probably the toughest part of the ascent and is a notorious spot or accidents in winter. Do not cut across the zig zags. Stick to the path! Now you are nearly there. Only 100 more meters to climb until you reach the summit.

The Pyg Trail is one of the busiest routes up to the summit. Avoiding the crowds, is another good reason to set-off very early morning or mid-afternoon. If this isn’t possible and you start your journey in the afternoon, make sure you have enough hours of daylight left for your descent. Especially in winter, the upper section of the path becomes very treacherous and should not be attempted in snow unless you’re properly equipped and experienced.

Distance: 7 miles (there and back) Total Climb: 723m (2,371 ft) Time: Approx 6 hours (there and back) Start and Finish: Pen y Pass Car Park (SH 647557 / LL55 4NY) Map: Explorer OL17 Ordnance Survey Parking: If Pen y Pass car park is full, you can park in Nant Peris (SH 607582 / LL55 4UF) and catch the Sherpa bus back up to Pen y Pass. Sherpa Bus Stop: Pen y Pass Car Park

The path partly takes its name from the Snowdon Ranger Youth Hostel, near which it starts. John Morton, the self-proclaimed Snowdon Ranger, used to guide Victorian Tourist up this path to the summit. He also opened a tavern on the dame site of the Youth Hostel, and called it the ‘Snowdon Ranger Inn’.

This track is fairly easy and offers beautiful views across the landscape of Snowdonia. The Snowdon Ranger Path is located on the other side of the mountain and offers a far quieter experience.

The route starts to the side of the Hostel. You will be following the railway for a bit before crossing it. At the farmhouse take the signposted path right. The track now gains a lot of height by way of the zig-zags before some well-earned respite. Here you will be able to enjoy views onto Yr Wyddfa. The final stretch is relentless and has quite a steep gradient but enough interest to keep it from being a pure slog. The trail follows a blunt ridge. It is steep, but gets you up quickly. After a hard climb, the path eventually relents. The railway and other paths come back into view up ahead. You are now on the home stretch.

There’s a Welsh Highland Railway station at the start of the Snowdon Ranger Path. You could therefore easily plan your walk, with the train in mind. Walk up the hill and take the train back down. In Summer the Snowdon Ranger Path is ideal for your first ascent up the mountain. And a lot more interesting than the Llanberis path. It also doesn’t feature the rocky steps that you will find on the Pen y Pass paths on the other side. In winter however it can be difficult to follow the path – as it disappears under the snow –especially along the blunt ridge.

Distance: 8 miles (there and back) Total Climb: 936m (3,070 ft) Time: Approx 6 hours (there and back) Start and Finish: Snowdon Ranger YHA, Llyn Cwellyn (SH 564551 / LL54 7YS) Map: Explorer OL17 Ordnance Survey Parking: Llyn Cwellyn Car Park (SH 564551 / LL54 7YS) Sherpa Bus Stop: Llyn Cwellyn Car Park

The Llanberis Path has to be the most famous route up to the summit of Wales’ highest mountain. It is one of the easiest walks but also one of the longest. In normal weather, it poses no problems for the fit walker, with even the navigation being reasonably easy.

Originally, tourists were carried up this path on ponies and mules, and to this day it continues to be a pony path.

The Llanberis Path is incredibly popular in summer. It features a large car park and has the same departing point as the mountain railway. As the wait for a train can be very long in summer, many tourists decided to hike up the Lllanberis path instead. This of course means that by following the Llanberis Path you might find yourself within a crowd of people.

While the initial climb is arguably one of the steepest parts of the whole trip, the path is generally a steady climb for the first two thirds of the way. The hike then gets arguably a little tougher at Allt Moses. The track rises by 250m over the next kilometre. Allt Moses starts off as giant steps, but deteriorates further up into a rougher path. Beyond this you will finally start being rewarded with beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. The Llanberis is certainly not the most interesting route, but you get great glimpses of the trains! The path continues to pull up a little less steeply before finally relenting. Here the path is wide and easy, but if you take a look at the slope on either side you realise how steep the slope actually is. Be warned that in winter conditions, this section is known as the Killer Convex for good reason! In snow, the path vanishes and you end up having to contour across a very steep slope. Even fully equipped for winter, this can get hairy and has sadly been fatal to hikers in the past! Finally you will join the Pyg and Ranger track for the home stretch. The views only get better from here on.

There are several buildings along the way. You will find a little café just before you head into the wilderness of Snowdon and another Half Way House after 4 kilometres.

Distance: 9 miles (there and back) Total Climb: 975m (3,198 ft) Time: Approx 6 hours (there and back) Start and Finish: (SH 582 598 / LL55 4TY) Map: Explorer OL17 OS Parking: (SH 582598 /LL55 4TY) Numerous car parks in Llanberis. Sherpa Bus Stop: Llanberis Interchange

The Miners Path was originally built to carry copper from the Britannia Copper Works near Llyn Glaslyn to Pen y Pass. From here it was transported all the way to Caernarfon. The mines were later on abandoned in 1917, but their ruins can still be spotted on the path today. The Miners’ path is steeped in history!

The Miner’s Path is the perfect track if your main aim isn’t to reach the summit. Indeed the first part of it is very gentle and makes for an easy stroll. Starting at Pen-y-pass means you have considerably reduced the total. The path does however get considerably steeper closer towards the summit and in Winter you might find yourself incapable of reaching the summit without specialist gear.

Both the Miners Track and Pyg Track start at the Pen Y Pass Car Park. Make sure to start your journey early in the morning in order to get a parking space.If you don’t you will find yourself having to park in the overflow car park down the hill. The ensuing hike to the starting point is far more challenging than most of the Miners Path walk.

The actual route starts to the left of the car park and is clearly marked on the gate. For the first few kilometres the Miners’ Track is essentially wide and very even.  The path continues to climb gradually as you pass Llyn Teyrn (the first lake) down below. Look out for the ruins of the old miners’ barracks near the shore. At Llyn Llydaw (the second lake), the path turns right to cross a causeway. The track then runs along the far side of the lake. You will now be able to spot the ruins of the old copper mines. Around the lake the track almost completely flattens out. But the gradient soon increases, as the trail heads into the next valley. The path now steeply climbs up towards Llyn Glaslyn (the third and final lake). Here you will see some of the grandest mountain scenery in North Wales and despite the steady climb you soon forget the hard work as you enjoy the views.  From there on out the track becomes a hard climb. Follow the stony steps to the left of the old barracks uphill until you join the Pyg Track. From here the path is quite tricky to follow and can be easily lost in the mist. It is hard to climb and can be very slippery.  The path then zigzags up to Bwlch Glas, and on to the summit.

Distance: 8 miles (there and back)

Total Climb: 723m (2,371 ft)

Time: Approx 6 hours (there and back)

Start and Finish: Pen y Pass Car Park (SH 647557 / LL55 4NY)

Map: Explorer OL17 Ordnance Survey

Parking: If Pen y Pass car park is full, you can park in Nant Peris (SH 607582 / LL55 4UF), and catch the Sherpa Bus back up to Pen y Pass.

Sherpa Bus Stop: Pen y Pass Car Park

 

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HEADING TO NORTH WALES ?

Further reading North Wales

If you are planning a trip to North Wales, you might want to consider buying one of the following guidebooks. All of these books are ones that we used ourselves on our trip and that I highly recommend.

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4 Comments

  1. Annmarie Slattery
    January 23, 2017 / 6:21 pm

    Excellent and comprehensive narrative of Mount Snowdon. I am climbing it this September for the first time. This article has been so informative. Thank you.

  2. October 20, 2016 / 10:52 pm

    Great post! Hiking in Snowdonia is such a great experience.

  3. April 21, 2016 / 10:58 am

    Hey! I’m climbing Snowdon in June with my boyfriend and this guide is exactly what I needed to read. Thanks!

  4. April 18, 2016 / 1:05 pm

    A very detailed and well written post, sounds like fun!

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