The icon of Wales. The gem of Snowdonia. The highest peak in the UK south of the Scottish boarder. It can only be; Yr Wyddfa, or Snowdon as it’s better known as.
This is a mountain I normally stay well away from, apart from in the depths of winter when its height and north facing slopes offer a winter playground, with none of the summer tourists. Ironically, it is still probably the mountain I have been to the top of maybe the most or at least a close second to neighbouring Tryfan.
There is no getting away from the abundance of climbing and mountaineering adventures to be had on this mountain and in its surrounding Cwms. It is all fantastic. From a winter traverse of Crib Goch, probably the best winter hillwalking excursion in the whole of the UK, to the historical routes on Cloggy and Lliwedd, and Llanberis pass that boasts a whole host of crags and routes to explore. Then there is the famous Snowdon horseshoe. Wow!
It is as good as Welsh mountaineering gets! The only thing that detracts from the experience is the army of ants that relentlessly stream up the Pyg and Llanberis paths to stand on the over-crowded summit. Then there is the famous train that dumps lazy people off wearing trainers, just so they can buy a coffee or send a postcard from the top inside the cafe. It is for this reason, I stay away until the railway packs up for the year. Or if I do go and climb Snowdon, it’s normally first thing in the morning or by the last light of the day. And almost never up on either the Pyg or Llanberis paths. Truth be known I don’t think I have ever walked up via the Llanberis path in my whole life.
However, recently I took my girlfriend Liz up for a traverse of the full horseshoe. Something she has never done before and I felt it was almost a rite of passage to baptise her into the Welsh mountaineering community. I have slowly introduced her to climbing and mountaineering over the past two years and this year has been our first full climbing season together. I tried to convince her last winter to come up Crib Goch with me but she wanted to do it without the snow first. Sensible I suppose – so we packed the gear up and took off one Sunday to complete the horseshoe.
True to form, on arrival Pen-y-Pass was full, as were the surrounding lay-bys in the Llanberis pass and on the A498. This was 9.00am on a Sunday! Nevertheless, we went down to Nant Peris to park and rode the Sherpa back up to begin our trip.
The forecast was good, dry all day with sunny spells and due to get clearer as the day progressed. Perfect for her first horseshoe experience. We left via the Pyg track, treated early on to some fine clear views down the Llanberis pass. Soon we arrived at the col of Bwlch Coch, our cue to turn off and head up to the east ridge of Crib Goch.
Here was our first view of the Lliwedd range on the opposite side, the sun glowing behind it made for breath-taking scenery. We began to head up the rough track that leads to the bottom of the scramble up when we passed a group of around eight young people. They were looking a little exasperated at the rocky steps they had been scrambling up and asked if this was our first time and how long was Snowdon’s summit from here. I quickly explained that the path was only going to get more arduous complete with the famous knife edge at the top. Well, their eyes almost popped out of their heads! They said that they were part of a larger group and were supposed to be on the Pyg track. I showed them this track and told them the safest way was to go back the way they came and re-join the path. Lucky escape for mountain rescue I thought, but they thanked me and continued on their way as Liz and I began to ascend.
Some nice easy scrambling lead us up to the summit of Crib Goch, always interesting on bullet hard rock – super fun! Once at the top the views were great with high clouds and large patches of blue in perfectly still windless space. It was great conditions for a first timer. Superb views down to Llanberis and back round over towards the Glyders and southwards towards the Moelwyns.
I started out across the main ridge of Crib Goch walking with my hands in my pockets. Liz freaked out seeing me walk over with such exposure and said if I was going to do that she needed to be in front. So, much to her displeasure I hopped onto a blocky rock and let her pass. To be fair, she bossed it, a little bit of hands but that was all good. She claimed to have enjoyed it and we both agreed that a year of regular rock climbing helped her deal with the exposure. We even overtook a team of about five people who were helping one of their party over. Apparently also a first timer, but not dealing with it quite as well as Liz.
Nice work Liz! We scrambled around and down the pinnacles through cloud and started up on the track towards the little scramble of Crib-y-Ddysgl. Not as fun as Crib Goch but more sustained than the main ridge. We reached the lonely summit of Garnedd Ugain – one of my favourites, on account of its technically the second highest peak in Wales and there is no one ever there due to being on the other side of the Pyg and Llanberis paths. Even though it’s only a ten minute walk from that bloody cafe. So, their loss and a fine spot for lunch away from the crowds. By this time as well, we were in full sunshine with some of the most stunning views the UK has to offer.
We headed down to where the paths joined and got a fast spurt on up to the summit of Snowdon past the droves with all the tourists for company. Liz wanted a little look in the cafe as the other times we had been up was in the snow and the cafe was shut. I waited outside in protest and then we hopped over the summit quickly and made our way down towards the Lliwedd and away from hustle and bustle of the summit.
We hadn’t noticed but on our descent down to the Watkin path, as we approached Lliwedd the sun had begun to sag in the sky and the lighting and views were just spectacular over the most stunning landscape. The annoyance of the droves on the summit melted away and I realised how beautiful it actually was. This is the reason why we come to these places and do these things. We took a few minutes to soak it all in before leaving the Watkin path and making our start on the Lliwedd.
We stuck to the left-hand side were the big drop down the face is for the most entertaining scrambling and were treated to fantastic lighting from the low sun casting spectacular shadows into the deep Cwm below.
As we gained the summit of the west buttress we stopped and sat down taking it all in. We chatted about the day we had and how exhilarating the knife edge was as we admired it in the late day’s sun from the opposite side of the horseshoe, just as we had admired Lliwedd from the other side that same morning. Now perched on top of the Lliwedd we could also see the bay of Tremadog and the busy landscape, picking out the peaks of Aran Fawddwy and Cadair Idris.
We made our descent down with tired legs, after nearly 11 km of mountain climbing and rocky terrain. We eventually made the Minors path and followed it for the couple of kilometres back to Pen-y-Pass. On the way, we appreciated the last of the evening sun as it cast across the breath-taking landscape of Snowdonia with the lingering rays of the day. What a truly fantastic day in the mountains and a fine experience under a blue bird sky that was rapidly beginning to turn to a glowing orange as the sun sank behind the peaks.
We arrived back at Pen-y-Pass, the whole experience had taken us a few minutes shy of six hours and we even had a Sherpa bus just coming up the road in the right direction as we closed the gate behind us. Perfect timing.
As we climbed back into the car down at Nant Peris we both smiled knowing the adventure was another day to remember and in tremendous weather conditions. Hopefully we will get some calm blue bird skies this winter and I can coax Liz into a winter traverse – Now wouldn’t that be something worth writing about!
As always, the video of our adventure is available on my YouTube channel here. Thanks for reading!!