Wandering Aengus Treks
Mountain Information : Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

Location: Barc Cenedlaethol Eryri (Snowdonia National Park), North Wales
Height: 3560 feet or 1085 metres  

Yr Wyddfa, also known as Snowdon is the highest peak in Wales and highest point of the United Kingdom south of the Scottish Border. The mountain and the area round about are steeped in Arthurian legend. Its name means 'The Barrow' (a burial mound) and legend has it that a giant named Rhita Fawr who was slain by King Arthur lies buried beneath. Later the Anglo Saxons named it Snow-dun meaning 'hill of snow' which before the days of global warming, was exactly what it was from November to March.

Snowdon sunset

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) from the Gwynant Valley

 

Snowdon horseshoe picture
Click in the picture for an enlargement

The Snowdon 'Horseshoe' follows the ridges of Crib Goch (left) and Y Lliwedd (right) which enclose the mountain lakes of of Glas Llyn (near distance) and Llyn Llydaw (far distance). Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is the massive peak far right.


This photograph is taken from the col col below Garnedd Ugain
close to where the PYG track emerges on the ridge.

 

 

 

 

Yr Wyddfa is unique among mountains of Britain in that its summit can be reached almost without any physical effort. A railway line built in 1896 climbs the long north ridge from Llanberis to within 67 feet of the top. Many hill walkers have a love-hate relationship with the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Mostly they hate the crowds it brings to the summit and the intrusive summit station buildings, once described by the Prince of Wales as the country's "highest slum", but on a wild day when the cloud is down and the wind is blowing it provides great shelter and on these occasions a hot cup of tea is hard to resist even by the purest purist.

The old summit buildings which drew such approbation from the Prince and walkers alike were replaced by a new visitor centre cum cafe known as Hafod Eyri. Following a feasibility study in 2001 and planning permission in 2004, the old buildings were demolished towards the end of 2006. The new summit station was originally due to open in the summer of 2008 but the top of Snowdon is not the easiest place for a construction project and bad weather hampered work to such an extent that the project was delayed and it wasn't until June 12 2009 that the new summit station and cafe finally opened. The love-hate relationship is expected to continue unchanged.

This mountain has a character far greater than its altitude suggests and its several ridges hide lakes and cwms which can only be properly explored on foot. The ridges and the valleys between also provide routes of ascent of differing character and scenery which together with a wide variety of weather, means that no matter how many times it is climbed, the experience of 'going up Snowdon' is never the same twice.

Eastern Approaches
   

The most popular routes up Yr Wyddfa are the eastern approaches, either from the summit of Pen-y-Pass on the A4086, or from the much lower elevation of the Gwynant Valley. Of the two starting points Pen-y-pass is by far the most used, partly because it enables the aspirant ascentionist to do the first 1000 feet by vehicle. However, car parking here is limited and on a summer weekend or bank holiday, unless you are up with the sparrows you will have to park down on the A498 some 250 feet further down. Please note that you are not allowed to park in the Pen-y-Gwyd hotel car park. A good alternative to this dilemma is to catch the bus between Llanberis and Capel which will drop you off at the car park.

Down at Nant Gwynant between Llyn Gwynant and Llyn Dinas there is less pressure on parking, though even here at busy periods you might have a problem if you arrive late in the day. From the Gwynant Valley you are going to have a minimum of 3,400 feet of climbing to reach the top.

Snowdon locator map

Route 1. Crib Goch Ridge. 3 miles. 2,900 feet of ascent. Grade III -(MAP.1).
The finest route to the summit and probably the best route in the whole country. Best done as part of the 'Snowdon Horseshoe' - the other half of the shoe being the less scambley but equally magnificent ridge from Yr Wyddfa over the cliffs of Y Lliwedd. The Crib Goch Ridge is not for the novice hiker and you should have a good head for exposure and be comfortable with scrambling (where you use rock climbing techniques), before thinking of tackling this route. Being a ridge the route presents little in the way of route finding difficulties and can therefore be done even when the cloud is down. It is however best avoided in windy or wintry conditions. (In full winter conditions when the ridge has a good covering of snow it is a superb climb at Scottish Grade 1, requiring crampons and ice axe)

It starts at Pen-y-pass car park located opposite the Youth Hostel. Take the path that leaves the car park from the top right. This is the Pyg track which is followed as far as the saddle of Bwlch y Moch (pass of the pigs) at 1867 feet. Reaching the saddle you are suddenly confronted with the fruits of your toil as you find yourself overlooking Llyn Llydaw almost 500 feet below. This is where you leave the Pyg track which now crosses a double ladder stile to continue on a contour parallel to the Crib Goch Ridge above. Your path climbs the grassy skirt of Crib Goch and then becomes vague with several splits and choices as it enters the rocky buttresses which guard the summit ridge. There are paths around the steepest sections of rock but given what is to come, no point really in looking for the easiest way - just follow the polished rock, but do take care. Above the buttress you find yourself on a delightful slabby rock ridge which narrows as you approach the summit of Crib Goch at 3022 feet.

Now the essence of this great route is apparent as you look along an undulating rock arete which snakes its way for three quarters of a mile to Garnedd Ugain. It does look daunting but its great fun and nowhere does it get really intimidating. The first part of the ridge can be walked on its crest but most people will succumb to the security of footholds just below the top on the left, using the crest as a handhold. Next you must negotiate three pinnacles, the last being the crux of the route. There are various paths which traverse beneath these but the finest way (for brave purists) keeps to the crest. In any case you should avoid paths which take you too far away from the top as these can lead into difficulties, particularly when the ridge is covered in cloud. Climbing down from the last pinnacle you reach a broad grassy saddle approximately a quarter of a mile from Crib Goch summit.

From here scrambling continues but is more easily avoided on the Crib-Y-Ddygyl ridge which climbs to merge with the slopes rising to the trig point on the summit of Garnedd Ugain. All that remains is a short descent to the finger stone marking the emergence of the PYG track onto the ridge, and just beyond here you join the Llanberis Path and the railway line which together climb the final 300 feet of Yr Wyddfa's north ridge to the summit cairn.

Snowdon Horseshoe 6.8 miles. Total ascent: 3728ft.
To complete the Horseshoe, head south for approximately 500 feet to a finger stone of upended slate. This marks the start of the descent path to Bwlch Ciliau, the col between Yr Wyddfa and Y Lliwedd. The final section of the horseshoe over the whale-back hump of Lliwedd, is every bit as exhilarating as Crib Goch's ridge though nowhere as exposed or difficult. Having passed along the top of the cliffs of Lliwedd the path drops in a series of zig zags to reach the causeway of Llyn Llydaw where you pick up the Miners Track for the stroll back to the Pen-Y-pass car park. A truly spectacular day out in the mountains.

Altitude profile Snowdon

 

Map 1. Looking West

Snowdon Map

Key to Map

A = Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)
B = Garnedd Ugain
C = Crib Goch
D = Y Lliwedd

1 = Snowdon Horseshoe
2 = PYG Track
3 = Miners Track

Route 2. The PYG Track. 3 miles. 2,550 feet of ascent. Grade I (MAP.1).
The Pyg track (named after the Pen-Y-Gwryd hotel, adopted home of the 1953 British Everest expedition), is one of the two most popular ways to the summit of Yr Wyddfa. This is probably because it offers a flying start at a little over 1,000 feet of elevation at the summit of Pen-y-pass. Each year thousands of walkers, not to mention charity runners doing the Three Peaks Challenge, use the Pyg track and the path has been highly engineered, surfaced and drained so that it is now a veritable highway. This is the route of choice for most people doing the 24 hour challenge.

It wasn't always thus and I remember when I first went this way to the top (over forty years ago now) it wasn't so much a track as a vague trail of boot marks across steep ground above the lake, and it required the crossing of some lethal slabs before reaching the safety of the cwm of Glaslyn. Back then there weren't too many people about as walkers and climbers were considered crazy people - to be given a wide berth on buses and trains. With the increase in traffic generated by the active lifestyle revolution of the past thirty years a trail as popular as the Pyg could not be left to its own devices. As the vague boot marks became highly visible erosion scars and the toll of fatal slides from the slabs rose, it was decided to make a safe, erosion-proof path.

From Bwlch Y Moch, the track keeps fairly level for about half a mile before gradually ascending (300 feet in a further half mile) to a junction with the Miners Track coming up from Llyn Llydaw. From this point the route ascends steep ground but made relatively easy by a series of zig zags up to the ridge emerging at the finger stone (a 7 foot splinter of slate planted upright) mentioned in route 1.

Crib Goch and the PYG track

Crib Goch and the first part of the ridge. The Pyg track can be clearly traversing the slopes below. The mountains behind Crib Goch in the mid distance, are Glyder Fawr, Glyder Fach and Foel Goch, and in the far distance is Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn.


Route 3. The Miners Track. 4 miles. 2,762 feet of ascent. Grade I (MAP.1).
The Miners track was constructed in the early 19th century when the slopes of Yr Wyddfa were exploited for their mineral wealth, particularly copper. It provides probably the easiest access to Snowdon's summit (except for the train). Go through the gate at the back of Pen-y-pass car park on left hand side and follow the wide unmissable trail past the small mountain lake of Llyn Teyrn to the larger Llyn Llydaw which is crossed on a raised causeway. Now follow the shore of this lake passing several old mine buildings before making a steep climb into the cwm and the third lake of Glaslyn. A further climb now brings you to the junction with the Pyg track (route 2.)

 

Map 2. Looking North

Snowdon map

Key to Map

A = Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)
B = Garnedd Ugain
C = Crib Goch
D = Y Lliwedd
E = Bwlch Main
F = Yr Aran


2 = PYG Track
3 = Miners Track
4 = Watkin Path,
5 = Bwlch Main Ridge

Route 4. The Watkin Path. 3¾ miles. 3,405 feet of ascent. Grade II (MAP.2).
The Watkin Path explores a completely different side of the mountain from the previous three described routes. It starts in the beautiful Gwynant Valley at the Nant Gwynant car park at Grid Reference 628507. At an altitude of just over 200 feet, this is the lowest starting point of any of the routes up Yr Wyddfa so there's quite a bit of ascent involved. It is however a gem of a walk through some very pretty scenery.

The path is named after Sir Edward Watkin a Victorian railway entrepreneur and Liberal MP who had a summer residence here. He wanted his own path up to Snowdon and presumably having successfully built railways all over the country and in the US and Canada, he didn't have too much trouble getting this done. The path was officially opened in 1892 by Watkin's friend and Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone who was then 82!. The opening was attended by around 2500 people and Gladstone took the opportunity to give a rousing speech on "Justice for Wales" which laid the case for devolution. Well he only had to wait a hundred and seven years for it to come about!

The track is easy to locate and follow and starts as a tarmac road opposite the car park across the A498. The trail climbs through woods of oak and rhododendron and emerges in open mountain country as it climbs to meet the tumbling waters of the Afon Cwm Llan with its beautiful waterfall and rock pools. The path follows the river into Cwm Llan where you pass the ruins of the old copper mines buildings and come to a huge boulder known as Gladstone Rock. This is the spot where the famous Liberal Party Prime Minister, then in his record 4th term of office addressed the assembled throng on September 13th 1892. You now pass through the dilapidated buildings and spoil of the old South Snowdon slate quarries before beginning a long climb on a zig zagging path which takes you up to Bwlch Ciliau, the saddle between Yr Wyddfa and Y Lliwedd. There are fantastic views here into both Cwm Glas and back over Cwm Llan, and south to the Afon Glaslyn estuary.

You are now on the 'Snowdon Horseshoe' at the part of the ridge known as Bwlch y Saethau (Pass of Arrows) where it is said King Arthur was fatally wounded. It was from here that sir Bedwyr (also called Bedivere) was sent to hurl Arthur's magical sword Excalibur into the waters of Glaslyn. Opposite, on the other side of Cwm Glas, the exciting ridge from Grib Goch to Garnedd Ugain (route 1) forms the skyline. The final climb to the summit is quite steep and strenuous. The path zigs and zags heading left of the summit to meet the south west ridge at a finger stone, approximately 500 feet distant and 200 feet of elevation below the summit.

Snowdon above Glaslyn

Looking into the Cwm of Glaslyn from the lower ridge of Y Lliwedd. Yr Wyddfa is the pyramid on the left with the Crib-Y-Ddysgl ridge on the right leading to the Crib Goch ridge. The Miners track comes up from the lake to meet the Pyg track which contours across the slopes.

On the left below Yr Wyddfa and just hidden by the cliffs of Y Lliwedd, is Bwlch y Saethau where the Watkin path emerges onto the ridge. The skyline ridge on the left is the Bwlch Main.

 

Route 5. Bwlch Main Ridge. 3¾ miles. 3,382 feet of ascent. Grade II (MAP.2).
This is a variation on the Watkin Path which follows Yr Wyddfa's south ridge all the way to the top. It is quieter and to my mind a better way to the top from the Gwynant valley offering superb views once the ridge is gained. The Watkin Path is followed as far as the pools of the Afon Cwm Llan. Just beyond, take the left fork and follow the old quarry track which keeps to the south side of the river. Before reaching the ruins and spoil heaps at the head of the Cwm, start a rising traverse across the pathless grassy slopes, aiming for a scarred trail coming down from the saddle between Yr Wyddfa's south ridge and the shapely Yr Aran. Once the ridge is gained at the saddle there is little in the way of route finding difficulties. Keep to the ridge crest negotiating a couple of rocky steps along the way and ascend to a junction with the path coming up from Rhyd Ddhu (route 6) at 2950 feet. Continue climbing the ridge with great views on both sides, passing the finger stone where the Watkin path emerges, and on to the summit.

 

Western Approaches
   

From the west Yr Wyddfa presents an entirely different prospect. Though not particularly longer than the paths from the east they do feel bigger and certainly there is a lot more ascent involved than starting from Pen-y-pass (though not from Gwynant). Views from this side of the mountain are completely different with more emphasis on the coast.

This side is not used to anything like the same extent and this is the way to go if you are looking for more solitude on a busy weekend. The two routes shown here are normally accessed through Beddgelert. The starting points of Ryd Ddu and the Snowdon Ranger are along the A4085 which is the Caernarfon road out of Beddgelert.

Snowdon map

Route 6. Rhyd Ddu Path. 3½ miles. 3,047 feet of ascent. Grade I (MAP.3)
This and the Snowdon Ranger path (route 7) climb the less visited western flanks. The path starts in the village of Rhyd Ddu 3½ miles north of Beddgelert along the A4085. From the car park a well defined track heads first north and then turns east to ascend the fell. In just under a mile and after 450 feet of ascent the track enters a level area and here you turn left onto the Rhyd Ddu track proper. Heading north east the path now climbs into Cwm Caregog. The trail is a little vague in places but well cairned as you ascend to gain the Llechog ridge. From the top of this ridge you can look down over vertiginous cliffs to the three lakes of Cwm Clogwyn. Turning now to the south west the ridge is followed along its crest as it rises to merge with the south ridge at a junction with the Bwlch Main Ridge path (route 5).

Map 3. Looking East

Snowdon route map

 

Key to Map

A = Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)
B = Garnedd Ugain
C = Crib Goch
D = Y Lliwedd
E = Bwlch Main
F = Yr Aran


6 = Rhyd-Ddu Path
7 = Snowdon Ranger Path,

Route 7. Snowdon Ranger. 3¾ miles. 3,046 feet of ascent. Grade I (MAP.3)
Start at the Snowdon Ranger youth hostel beside Llyn Cwellyn about a mile and a half further along the A4085 from Rhyd Ddu. Cross the stile and follow the track of the Welsh Highland Railway until you can turn right onto the metalled track going up to Llwyn Onn Farm. Beyond the farm the trail climbs steep ground but is well graded on a series of long switch backs eventually reaching more level ground as it enters Cwm Clogwyn with Yr Wyddfa towering above. The path crosses a couple of streams and skirts round the edge of Llyn Ffynnon y Gwas before beginning another zig zag climb to gain Bwlch Cwmbrwynog, the ridge connecting Yr Wyddfa with Moel Cynnghorion (see route 8).

From the ridge there are tremendous views north across the Cwm of Brwynog to Llanberis and Lyn Padarn. Behind you to the south and west are the lakes of Cwellyn and Gader, the peaks of the Nantile Valley and the forests of Beddgelert. The path ascends the ridge passing above the brooding cliffs of Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, the forcing ground of a generation of talented rock climbers in the sixties and seventies. The cliffs rise above the small Llyn Du’r Arddu. On the other side of the ridge to your right you can see the three lakes of Cwm Clogwyn. With more zig zags the Snowdon Ranger ascends to meet the Snowdon Railway coming up along the north ridge. There is another finger stone marker here. Cross the line and follow it for the final 15 minutes and 350 feet to the summit.

 

Northern Approaches
   

Routes from the North start in the ex slate mining town of Llanberis, which can be accessed from Bangor if on the A55 coast road, or via Betws-y-Coed, Capel Curig and over Pen-y-Pass if approaching from the A5.

The two routes described here are at opposite ends of the spectrum of difficulty and popularity. There is another route from the north which is not described here. That is the journey on the Snowdon Mountain Railway. A good day out for the whole family including Gran and the little ones. The trains leave Llanberis station for the summit at regularly everyday from late March to the first week of November inclusive, subject to weather conditions and minimum numbers.


Route 8. Moel Eilio - Moel Cynghorion Ridge.
7½ miles. 5,157 ft ascent, 1,993 ft of descent. Grade II (MAP.4)
This is by far the longest and most strenuous of the routes to Snowdon's summit and it does involve a fair amount of descent as well as the impressive 5,000 plus feet of ascent you will accumulate during the walk. It is however a fantastic way to the top in good weather giving great views the whole way, straightforward walking conditions on a mostly grassy ridge, and best of all, you may not see another soul until the last 20 minutes of the climb, which on this mountain is not something you can confidently predict on any other route. This route basically follows Yr Wyddfa's undulating north west ridge taking in the summits of Moel Elio (2366ft.), Foel Gron (2058ft.), Foel Goch (1976ft.), and Moel Cynghorion (2209ft.) on the way.

The route starts in Llanberis. From the centre of the village follow the road signposted to the youth hostel. Go past the hostel to a T junction and here turn right on a track which brings you to another metalled road. Turn left and follow this road which deteriorates to a track as it climbs to Bwlch y Groes. Leave the track and ascend the grassy south ridge to the summit of Moel Elio. The views towards the coast are outstanding and encompass Anglesey and the Llyen Peninsula. Continue along the ridge which drops then rises over Foel Gron, drops again and climbs to Foel Goch. Dropping steeply down from foel Goch you cross an old drovers road at the pass of Bwlch Maesgwm and then climb once more to the summit of Moel Cynghorion. To avoid the cliffs on the north east side, head initially towards Llyn Ffynon y Gwas below and reach a saddle between Cynghorion and Bwlch Cwmbrwynog. Ascend the ridge to meet the Snowdon Ranger path (route 7) coming up from the Lake and follow this to the summit.

Map 4. Looking South East

Snowdon route map

Key to Map
A = Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)
B = Garnedd Ugain
F = Yr Aran
G = Moel Cynghorion,
H = Foel Goch
I = Foel Gron
J = Moel Eilio

6 = Rhyd-Ddu Path
7 = Snowdon Ranger Path,
8 = Moel Eilio - Cynghorion
9 = Llanberis Path.

Route 9. Llanberis Path. 4½ miles. 3,185 feet of ascent. Grade I (MAP.3)
The Llanberis path is the longest of the popular routes up Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) but is considered one of the easiest because it follows a good well graded trail the entire way. This path was originally constructed for the newly emerging Victorian tourist who wanted to ascend Snowdon. Of course walking was out of the question for these ladies and gentlemen so a pony road was made.

The route starts opposite the Victoria hotel at a sign marked "Footpath up Snowdon" and more or less parallels the railway line, crossing over and under the track occasionally. There are good views throughout getting more expansive as you gradually gain height and with excellent underfoot conditions you should be able to take it all in without stopping. Particularly impressive are the black cliffs of 'Cloggy' across the valley of Cwm Brwynog. When the train is running you can stop for refreshments at Halfway House at 1,700 feet.

The going gets a little tougher as the path comes to the head of the Cwm and begins to climb the slopes of Garnedd Ugain, but it never gets as steep as on most of the other routes. At around 3,000 feet the gradient eases and the path meets first the Snowdon Ranger and then the Pyg Track with just 300 feet of north ridge left to climb to the summit.

 

Wandering Aengus Treks. +44 (0)16974 78443 : 1-888-811-4256 (Toll Free from the US & Canada)