ESC - Wales -

Snowdon

, 1085m - Info | Trip Report | VR Tour

A Big Impression:



My first ascent of Snowdon was at the age of eleven. I was at an impressionable age, looking for adventure and no doubt eager to boast on my return. Snowdon was not just the highest mountain in Wales, it was and still is referred to as the highest mountain in England and Wales, which makes it twice as impressive a boast.

We were on a week long holiday; my mother, father, elder brother and I. We had spent the previous days site seeing around North Wales; Ffestiniog Railway, Portmeirion, the usual places. The walk up Snowdon was going to be a highlight of the holiday and I had been eagerly awaiting it. My father had chosen the Watkins path which lead up to a col between Snowdon's east ridge and Y Lliwedd. Here mother, exhausted with no desire to walk further, opted to wait in the sun whilst we continued the adventure upwards. The path began to zigzag up a slope of broken rock buttresses and loose scree. Being summer, the trail was crowded and on this narrower path we often found ourselves at the back of a queue. The three of us; father, brother and I, stepped off to allow a group of soldiers to pass by on their way down. We might have tried to cut the corner of a zag, I don't think we stepped far, but before we knew it cloud descended and we were enwrapped in a white veil so thick as to be disorientated, the path lost. It seemed obvious to my father which way to go, up. I still remember vividly images from that moment on. The climb was not hard, a scramble on loose rock, never exposed but sufficiently scary to get the adrenalin pumping in child. I loved it. When we reached the summit trig point we weren't tourist, somewhere in the swirling vapours of Snowdon's breath, we had become mountaineers.

Seven years passed before I returned to the mountain. Like most teenagers, I had stopped going anywhere with my parent many years before, and so on this occasion I had ridden up to North Wales with a school friend. Phil took a delight in attempting potentially dangerous manoeuvres on steep ground, he was totally fearless. A day out locally was not complete without a leap down the near vertical face of a sand or gravel quarry, riding the debris as it parted from the wall and jumping clear of the mini avalanche before it engulfed him at the bottom. Phil was not interested in long walks up steep hills. A trek across Scotland the previous year had made this clear. Snowdonia, I promised, would be full of steep climbs and exposure. Our first route was a scramble up the North Ridge of Tryfan, a route with which I was familiar having completed it with the Venture Scouts that Easter. Tryfan served as reference from which we could judge our abilities, because the second route would take us up Snowdon via the airy Crib Goch (Red Ridge). This was a route with which I was not familiar and came only from the recommendation of the AA's "Illustrated Guide to Britain", a volume borrowed from my father and not widely known for it's mountaineering content. The guide simply read; "The Crib Goch route could be dangerous for the inexperienced climber." Neither Phil nor myself knew anything of grades, and this seemed a solid endorsement. Adventure could not be more guaranteed. So on a beautiful sunny day at the end of May, we nervously left the car at Pen-y-Pass and headed on up the Pyg Track. The track reached Bwlch y Moch (Pass of the Pig) and contoured round on the other side. We stayed firmly on the ridge line and continued westward. Soon feet alone were no longer adequate, and hands were required to haul ourselves upward as we picked off the most challenging line. The route was everything we had wanted. Easy scrambling, but nothing like either of us had experienced before. The shear exposure blew us away, and when it came to make the traverse of the knife like ridge towards Crib-y-Ddysgl, we were grinning like men possessed. I remember nothing of the summit itself, nor the descent.

Crib Goch & Snowdon Summit, May 1990.
Crib Goch & Snowdon Summit May 1990.

Just over three months later I returned to the same route, this time with a different companion. Mark and I had spent a rain sodden week on the Isle of Skye where we had nearly topped ourselves in descent from the Cullin Ridge. The continuing rain had driven us off the island and we thought to make our way home via Ben Nevis. This completed, we thought it a grand idea to deviate from the M6 motorway into the Lake District and knock off Scafell Pike, to North Wales and Snowdon there after, thus complete the threesome of the UK's highest mountains. So there we were, our first dry day, parking the yellow Vauxhall Caviller beneath a mountain whose upper reaches where hidden in cloud. Mark was looking for a quick route, he was doing all the driving and didn't want to arrive home late at night. I suggested Crib Goch, and he followed. The name calling and cursing began as the ground rose steeply skyward and the wind did it's best to pluck us from the rock.

Crib Goch and Llyn Llydaw September 1990.
Looking down from Crib Goch to Llyn Llydaw, September 1990.

Ascending higher the open vistas disappeared, and it began to drizzle. When we were lucky, we were able to see the rocky crest rising and falling maybe a hundred metres in front of us. When the cloud closed in, visibility was limited to a few metres. It was fearsome by most people's standards; manoeuvres on narrow wet holds, huge drops, and gusting wind. I was enjoying every minute of it, felt confident on the rock, and took Mark's cusses with good humour. When we reach the level ground of Bwlch Coch he swore at me a final time and then said "that was bloody brilliant". Crib-y-Ddysgl came and went and the last of the exposure was disappointingly behind us. A broad path ran gently up to summit, running parallel with the cog track of the Snowdon Mountain Railway, and there we completed the trio of summits that made up the British Three Peak Challenge.

I repeated the route many time in the years after. More often than not the weather was favourable, sometime my companions and I choosing to complete the entire Snowdon Horseshoe, sometimes selecting an alternative. Perhaps the best of these was the harder scramble to Crib-y-Ddysgl via the Clogwyn y Parson's Arete (Parson's Crag) on a perfect day in mid May. Gary and I left the car parked low in the Llanberis Pass and took a faint trail up the steep wild hillside away from the crowds higher up at Pen-y-Pass. Entering the high basin of Cwm Glas (Blue Valley), we located the small pool of Llyn Bach and from there identified the slabby buttress. In preparation we put on harnesses, unpacked a rope and began the scramble upwards. Soon the ground began to unnerve me and rope came out for protection. As technical climbs come, this route does not even register, but it was just what we were looking for. The crux passed quickly, and the rope was put away. Topping out we joined the walkers for the traipse up to Snowdon's summit along side the railway track, ate lunch and then descended the east ridge towards Y Lliwedd. In the saddle between the two peaks we diverted once again from the well trod path. The broad rocky ridge of Y Gribin (the Rake) provided an easy scramble down to the Miner's Track between tarns of Glaslyn (blue tarn) and Llyn Llydaw. A quick cross country brought us back up to the Pyg Track from there to Pen-y-Pass.

Parson's Arrete and the Snowdon Lakes from Y Gribin.
Parson's Arrete and the Snowdon Lakes from Y Gribin.

Until this time, my attention had always been drawn to the eastern side of the mountain and I was keen to explorer the unseen western side. The opportunity came in February 2000 during a weekend away with my brother. We drove via Beddeglert to the Snowdon Ranger Hostel and took the foot path of the same name eastwards. This was not however to be a simple slog, the route took a twist at Bwlch Cwm Brwynog, a col between Snowdon's west ridge and Moel Cynghorion. Whilst the Snowdon Ranger footpath zigzagged up the west ridge, we dropped down the other side of the col into a cwm centred upon Llyn Du'r Arddu. Here a faint climbers path winds it's way beneath the high north facing cliffs of Clogwyn Coch. We followed it, nervously trying to identify the Eastern Terrace. The guide book suggested this was an easy but exposed scramble, but warned us not to accidentally venture off into climber's territory. Settling on narrow ramp we began our ascent on grass and rock. At a high step we bulked and after an unsuccessful direct attempt, opted for a more exposed diversion before reaching an angled terrace that brought some relief before exiting through a narrow, snowy gully close to the Snowdon Ranger Path. We ate a hurried lunch on the snow covered summit, before descending on the south ridge towards the smaller isolated peak of Yr Aran. Bagging this, we follow the boggy path westward towards the road south of Llyn Cwellyn, a mighty long winter's day, but mighty memorable.

Eastern Terrace of Clogwyn dur Arddu</B> and the Snowdon summit cafe.
Eastern Terrace of Clogwyn dur Arddu and the Snowdon summit cafe.