Climbing Mount Snowdon: The Highest Mountain in Wales
Walking up Snowdon in Wales: a challenge for the mind and body!
This past weekend, my fiancee, parents and I finally crossed off one of the more challenging goals on our bucket list - to climb the highest mountain in Wales, Mount Snowdon. Known locally in Welsh as Yr Wyddfa, it attracts thrill-seeking tourists from all over the British Isles and beyond. To climb up and down the mountain, it takes a relatively fit person around six hours, broken up by well-deserved picnics and a tea break at the restaurant on the peak of the mountain along the way.
In this article, I will be sharing with you our breathtaking experience of climbing Snowdon for the first time. If you are planning a trip to Snowdon yourself, you will find mountain-loads of information that will help you organise the most enjoyable climb for you and your family.
All photographs property of Heather Broster, the author of this article, unless otherwise stated.
Snowdon: Our Paths of Choice
The Miner's Track going up and the Llanberis Path going down
Since this was our first attempt at climbing Mount Snowdon, we decided to opt for the two most frequented paths up and down the mountain - the Miner's Track and the Llanberis Path.
The original idea was to leave our car at the parking lot near Pen-y-Pass, but being a fine day and the middle of August, the parking lot was already wall-to-wall with cars, tour buses, and amateur climbers by the time we arrived at 10 a.m.
In the end, we left our car to sleep under a tree in the Nant Peris parking lot, about 3 miles from the Pen-y-Pass. Luckily, the local Sherpa bus, which takes climbers to the starting points of various paths up Snowdon, was already there waiting for us, and by 11 a.m., we were on our way up the gently rolling slopes of the Miner's Track!
The first lake you'll see on the Miner's Track is Llyn Teyrn at 1,237 feet above sea level. It is flanked by the ruins of the miner's barracks and is home to much rare flora and fauna, including wild goats as you can see below!
Travel Tip #1
Snowdon is a very popular mountain to climb, especially in the summer. To be sure of getting a parking space at popular starting points like the Pen-y-Pass, you must leave as early as possible.
The Sherpa Bus
The best way to reach any Snowdon starting point
One thing we soon discovered on our trip to Snowdon was that parking lots near the most convenient starting points fill up rather quickly. In order to find a parking space at Pen-y-Pass, for instance, you must arrive before 7 a.m. or you will be promptly booted out of the lot by an apathetic traffic warden.
This is why the Sherpa Bus is so handy. For a very reasonable price, you can travel to any of the eight starting points, as well as nearby towns and tourist attractions, around the foot of Snowdon. Some of the most important stops include Llanberis, Caernarfon, Porthmadog, Betws-y-Coed and more.
In our case, the Sherpa Bus only cost one pound as there was a special 'park-and-ride' service running between Nant Peris (where we parked our car in the end) and Pen-y-Pass (the starting point for the Miner's Treck) on Saturday and Sunday.
To see the timetables and prices for the Sherpa Bus, click here.
From Llyn Teyrn to Llyn Llydaw
The wonderful scenic route between two lakes
The four of us were lulled into a false sense of security as we strolled from Llyn Teyrn to Llyn Llydaw. The path is so flat that even the most unfit individual would not have to stop and catch his breath along the way.
Not that I am complaining. The initial gentleness of this path gave us the chance to enjoy the stunning scenery, from the amazing views of the Gwynant Valley to the terrifying peaks of the Snowdon Horseshoe consisting of Lliwedd, Snowdon, Garnedd Ugain, and Crib Goch. Even the rather out-of-place white pipe line snaking from Llyn Llydaw to the Cwm Dyli hydro-electric power station was an interesting sight to behold. Apparently, it has been supplying power to the National Grid since 1906.
However, the cheery beginning to any story is always followed by a challenging twist in the plot. Just after passing what is left of the Britannia Copper Mine crushing mill on the edge of Llyn Llydaw, we were faced with the first "stairway to Snowdon" - a steep pathway embedded with stepping stones of all shapes and sizes leading all the way up to the final lake, Llyn Glaslyn. Now three fourths of the way up to Snowdon distance-wise, we felt it was high time for a picnic...
Mathieu (my fiancee) enjoying a well-deserved break before heading up the scree-ridden slopes which eventually connect to the Pyg Path.
Travel Tip #2
If you make the decision to climb Snowdon, do not become the bumbling tourist. Flip-flops and high-heels are a no-no. Mini-skirts probably aren't the best attire. Rain jackets and sweaters are good company, as are walking sticks, compasses and maps. Small and non-athletic dogs are not.
Map of Snowdon - See a Google map of Snowdon and the surrounding area
To get a good idea of where Mt. Snowdon is situated relative to nearby peaks and towns, just have a look at this Google Map. If you want to see Snowdon's landscape in high definition, why not give Google Earth a try?
From Llyn Glaslyn to an Unexpected Stop
A steep ascent flavoured by an air ambulance rescue!
About halfway up the treacherous route connecting Llyn Glaslyn to the standing stone on the Pyg Path, it came to our attention that the peaceful skies were now filled with a distant buzzing that continued to grow louder with every step.
To our surprise, a yellow RAF air ambulance came sweeping around from behind a nearby peak. Apparently, someone had knocked his head and broke his ankle while climbing. From one of the craggy rocks, a rescue worker cried out: "As the helicopter lands, winds are going to get very strong and debris will start to fly. We advise you to lie down, hide your faces, and stay close to the rocks!"
She certainly wasn't joking. We were directly under the helicopter as it inched its way towards the injured man. The hurricane-force winds blew Mathieu's glasses onto the rocks, smashing one of the lenses. I could feel my heavy bag fly up and down with every gust of wind. For fifteen minutes, dozens of tourists clung on desperately to the rocks and one another, praying not to be blown off the side of the mountain.
Though I probably should have been concerned about safety of my camera lens, I managed to sneak in a couple of pictures as you'll see below.
The RAF air ambulance trying to find the best position to rescue the injured climber.
Is this the end of our climb up to the top of Snowdon?
What is RAF Search and Rescue?
The Royal Air Force organisation that saves hundreds of lives every year
The RAF Search and Rescue plays a vital role in saving lives of people in Wales.
Since many Welsh towns tend to be separated by roads that are often windy and congested, it is difficult for traditional ambulances to reach injured individuals within the Golden Hour, or the first hour after the accident.
Welsh RAF helicopters, on the other hand, are able to reach any location very quickly from their base in Holyhead, Anglesey. Ready to respond to military and civilian emergencies 24-hours a day, they save hundreds of lives every year.
Another famous air ambulance is the Wales Air Ambulance, supported mostly through charitable donations and fundraising held by the Welsh people. Without these donations, the organisation would not have the sufficient funds to dispatch their helicopters, each of which costs an average of 1500 pounds to fly on each mission.
Did you know that...
Prince William is a qualified RAF helicopter pilot, and has mostly recently helped rescue a 16 year old girl off the coast of Anglesey.
Arrival at the summit of Snowdon
Three and a half hours from the starting point and only halfway!
Once the air ambulance had gone on its merry way, we recomposed ourselves for the final leg of the climb - the steep and shaley mule's path (Llwybr y Mul) up to Bwlch Glas and then, to the summit of Snowdon.
The walk up to Bwich Glaswas technically no harder than what had already come before, but our legs were now weary and the experience with the helicopter had slightly shaken our nerves. However, we were constantly comforted by the increasingly beautiful scenery. Llyn Glaslyn was now fully visible below us, and the beginning of the path, a mere pinpoint off in the distance. It was hard to believe we had trekked such a long way.
The biggest relief was reaching the standing stone at Bwich Glas and being able to walk on relatively flat ground once again. This "flat ground" to which I refer is actually a knife-edge ridge that leads up to the peak of Snowdon. In icy conditions, this leg of the walk is quite dangerous for amateurs and professionals alike.
The peak of Snowdon was bustling with people - professional mountain climbers, families, men and their dogs - all exhausted save those who had decided to come up on the famous Snowdon Mountain Railway, which has been shipping tourists up and down the mountainside since 1896. We treated ourselves to a lovely hot cup of tea at the UK's highest cafe before taking to the slopes once more, this time heading ever closer to home. I can confirm that tea tastes a million times better on the top of a mountain than it does anywhere else!
The amazing view of the valley below from Bwlch Glas. It was worth every bruise and bump!
The Snowdon Mountain Railway
"A majestic mountain top adventure for the whole family"
The Snowdon Mountain Railway is the most popular way for families with young children, disabled individuals, the elderly, and anyone else who wishes to avoid the long walk to experience the beauty of Snowdon.
If you have done the Snowdon walk before, remember that taking the train is an experience in itself and should be tried at least once. It consists of either a diesel or steam engine pulling a handful of coaches which run once every half hour from 9:00 a.m. onwards depending on the demand.
As of 2012, adult tickets cost 25 pounds return/18 pounds single and child tickets cost 18 pounds return/15 pounds single. You have 30 minutes on the summit before the train takes you back down again. Along with the train ride, you also receive access to a free exhibition and film show at the Llanberis station.
Keep in mind that the train only runs in fair weather conditions. If you have booked a ticket and the weather is poor, the train will not run and your money will be refunded. However, if you decide to forfeit your ticket even if the train is running, you will not receive a refund.
To read more essential information about the Snowdon Mountain Railway, click here.
Travel Tip #3
Snowdon is a capricious mistress on the best of days. Always check the weather forecast before leaving, as climbing Snowdon can be extremely dangerous in bad weather conditions. Many inexperienced climbers have found themselves in great difficulty because they did not check the forecast beforehand.
Heading Down: The Llanberis Path
The gentle slope back to the town of Llanberis
The Llanberis Path is considered the easiest route up Snowdon as the climb is the most gradual. However, it is also the longest, at a total of nine miles there and back again.
Since my family and I didn't want to attempt clambering down the slippery slopes of the Miner's Track in the midst of hundreds of tourists trying to climb up, we opted for Llanberis, which looked much friendlier.
For much of the beginning of the walk, we were surprised to find ourselves slipping and sliding on shale that had been left scattered on the path. Conditions stayed this way until we reached the first intersection between the Snowdon Mountain Railway and the path - a small tunnel built under the tracks. Later, we discovered that we had been skirting Cwm Glas Bach, a deep valley that has claimed many lives in cold and wintery conditions.
Interestingly, to the locals, it is known as the 'Valley of the Hats' because in the Victorian times, ladies who passed Cwm Glas Bach on the train would often lose their hats to the strong winds. These hats would end up in the valley, where children would collect and sell them!
A steam train passing over the bridge near Cwm Glas Bach.
Basic Equipment You'll Need For Snowdon - The few basic things you'll need for a successful climb up Snowdon or any challenging mountain
A good waterproof hiking boot that will keep you dry on those wet Welsh days, and stop you from twisting your ankle as many a climber in sandals tends to do!
During our walk, my dad's left knee decided to collapse. A fellow climber we met along the way suggested that he buy trek poles to take the pressure off his knees. They are especially useful if you are not a regular climber!
In Wales, you are more likely to encounter rain on a mountain walk than not. In fact, Snowdon is one of the rainiest spots in Wales! As such, you'll need a 100% waterproof breathable jacket to keep you warm and dry.
You'll definitely need a smart, versatile backpack to carry your lunch, water, compass, map, sweater, rain jacket, and emergency supplies if you're climbing up Snowdon. This Gregory backpack has been voted one of the best!
The Final Leg of the Journey
Down Allt Moses and towards the town of Llanberis
The rest of the walk, though very beautiful, was relatively uneventful. The path's construction would change from shale, to large boulders, to dirt and grit at varying intervals. Sometimes, we even found it easier to stray from the path and walk along the soft grass as a way to soothe our aching feet.
On the way, we passed dozens of abandoned farmsteads, once part of a close knit farming and slate quarrying community called Gwaun Cwm Brwynog. Over the years, its residents dispersed into towns and cities, leaving the old buildings and their way of life to the elements.
For those looking for a moment of respite, there is also a Halfway House where drinks and food are sold. Many people enjoy sitting on the hills outside this small cabin to momentarily bask in the magnificent views of mountains Mynydd Drws y Coed and Garn.
Since the Llanberis Path closely follows the Snowdon Mountain Railway, you also have many opportunities to see and photograph the trains as they scale the mountain, passing each other with a friendly toot as they have been doing for more than 100 years.
When we finally reached the bottom, a total of three hours had passed. Seeing the small town of Llanberis spread out before us was a sight I'll never forget. After crossing over a cattle grid and passing the Royal Victoria Hotel, we caught the last Sherpa bus of the day back to Nant Peris where our little car was waiting for us. It had been the longest climb of our lives, but we had never felt so full of life and vigour!
Happy and in need of a walking stick!
Click HERE to see the
Routes Up Snowdon - The eight paths you can take to reach Snowdon's summit
As with most mountains, there is always more than one way to reach the top. While no route up the highest mountain in Wales can be called "easy," some routes are more trying than others on unseasoned knees. In this section, you'll be introduced to the eight main paths you can choose from when climbing Snowdon.
- The Miner's Track
This is the path most frequently used by first-time climbers and tourists. It is so called because it served the Britannia Copper Mine years ago. The route starts at the parking lot at Pen-y-Pass and winds by three famous lakes - Llyn Teyrn, Llyn Llydaw and Glaslyn - before taking a near 90 degree turn upwards towards Bwlch Glas and the summit. Along the way, you can also see a number of ancient abandoned mine buildings.
- The Llanberis Path
The Llanberis Path, at nine miles there and back, is the longest and least demanding walk up Snowdon. It is also considered the most uninteresting in terms of scenery. It starts in the town of Llanberis and closely follows the tracks of the Snowdon Mountain Railway, intersecting with it twice along the way.
- The Pyg Path
The Pyg Path starts at the Pen-y-Pass parking lot like the Miner's Track, but is an unquestionablly more dangerous route. It follows the narrow ridge of Bwlch y Moch until it meets up with the Miner's Path once again at Glaslyn lake. Much of this walk is rugged and challenging, so make sure you have the right shoes and equipment.
- The Snowdon Ranger Path
This path was named after John Morton who used to work as a guide taking people up and down Snowdon. The youth hostel by Llyn Cwellyn is both his original home and the starting point for this route. It passes Llyn Ffynnon-y-gwas and comes in contact with most of the other routes including the Llanberis Path, Miner's Track and Pyg Pass. While this beautiful walk is one of the easier routes, it is less known.
- The Rhyd Ddu Path
This lesser-known route is the only one that allows you to have the summit in your sights from the start. It begins in Rhyd Ddu and works its way up to the ridge Llechog and then to Bwlch Main, which connects you to the peak of Snowdon. It is considered one of the easiest of the seven routes.
- The Watkin Path
The Watkin Path is the most gruelling of the eight. It begins near sea level and takes a direct route up many steep and slippery slopes. It was named after Edward Watkin, a railway entrepreneur and Member of Parliament who decided to link the South Snowdon Slate Quarry to the summit of Snowdon via a path for climbers.
- Route Over Y Lliwedd
To follow the route over Y Lliwedd, start at Pen-y-Pass and follow the Miner's Path up to Cwm Dyli. From there, head up to the twin summits of Y Lliwedd and follow the path until you reach Bwlch y Saethau and the Watkin Path.
- Crib Goch Route
The Crib Goch Route is intended for experienced mountaineers only. It remains part of the Pyg Path until Bwlch y Moch, where the two routes divide. From there, you begin your sharp ascent up Crib Goch.
Find out more about the various routes up Snowdon - Links to websites that explicitly detail each Snowdon walk
- Snowdonia National Park: Hard Mountain Walks
A great resource which describes each walk in detail, with estimated walking times, distances, and geographical features. There is also an ascent and descent video posted for each walk.
- MountainWalks.com: Walking Up Mount Snowdon
A brief description of six of the most popular walks up the mountainside.
- Ramblings (and scramblings) with Arthur on the Snowdon Horseshoe
A nice blog post about one traveller's ascent up Snowdon. He's taken some lovely photos!
Mount Snowdon and King Arthur - The majestic mountain and legends of long ago
Mount Snowdon and Snowdonia National Park are abound with legends associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. This is hardly surprising as most evidence points to Arthur having Celtic roots. If the real King Arthur ever did exist, it would make sense that he originated from Wales.
Below you will find two websites which describe legends that link Mt. Snowdon to King Arthur. You will be fascinated by the degree to which Arthur and Snowdon are intertwined!
- The Death of King Arthur
The legend of Arthur's final battle and the return of Excalibur to Llyn Llydaw and the Lady of the Lake.
- King Arthur of Snowdonia - On the Trail of the Once and Future King
A very nice summary of the various legends associated with King Arthur and Snowdonia.