We are aiming to make the most of the Covid 19 lockdown by keeping you inspired with words and images and we are kicking this off with the first in a series of essays about some of our favourite peaks. The order they appear isn’t a ranking and hopefully after reading about them you will either be transported back to fond memories or start to make plans for the future!
Let’s face it, there are days when is seems as if Snowdon is everybody’s favourite mountain. Days when the queue to reach the summit cairn is as long as the queue to climb the Hilary Step on Everest, days when the sheer volume of people spilling out of the train and café make it the last place on earth you’d want to be and days when the volume of litter left behind on the paths makes you want to cry, and yet, Snowdon is definitely one of our favourite mountains and in this article we will tell you why…..
Snowdon, or Yr Wyddfa as it is known in Welsh, is the highest peak in Wales and England , the highest point outside of Scotland and as such it attracts attention of those wishing to bag the peak. It’s the same fever for superlatives that sees Scafell Pike or Ben Nevis claim thousands more visitors a year than the peaks around them whose prominence is only marginally less and who may, arguably, be more interesting mountains. It is perhaps most famous for having a railway running up it and a café at the top and these indiscreet invasions by mankind are the reason many purists refuse to add it to their favourites, but in reality the majority of the mountains of the UK are interfered with in one way or another by humans. It’s true it can be galling when you have huffed and puffed your way to the top to then have to cue behind a gaggle of excited Italian Grannies (this has happened to me) dressed in attire more suited for the streets of Milan than the paths of the Welsh mountains, but why shouldn’t they be able to enjoy this view too? And, does the wait really matter in the big scheme of things? We decided not……
One of the things we like most about this mountain is the sheer number of routes that get you to the top. You can slog out of Llanberis on the eponymous path that follows the railway line. It might not be the most scenic but the path is broad, the walking easy and you can roll out of your BNB, bacon sandwich in hand and straight onto the route without worrying about the vagaries of public transport. If you tire, in season, there is even a coffee en route. This route is accessible and relatively straightforward in Summer conditions though it’s to be avoided in the Winter unless suitably equipped due to the notoriously icy area above Clogwyn Coch where there have been fatalities. You can head up to Pen Y Pass (take the bus or arrive super early to bag a spot in the carpark) and from there follow the Pyg Track or the Miners Track on a more scenic route above the lakes of Snowdon, Llyn Llydaw and Glaslyn. The two paths merge below the formidable ridge of Crib Goch and the summit often swims in and out of the clouds as you ascend the final push up the zig zags to the summit ridge. You’ll never be alone on this track, it’s busy with “Three Peak Challengers” in the Summer months, but it does feel wilder and more mountainous as the terrain around you becomes rockier and more rugged and the views more expansive. Crib Goch itself is a serious route only for the experienced and those with a head for heights, but what a route it is. A jagged, knife edge arrete which oozes adventurousness and provides superb views in all directions. It’s our favourite way of summiting Snowdon as long as the conditions are good and it feels like a proper mountain adventure.
Less well known routes mean less people and a different perspective on this much climbed peak. The Watkin Path, named after Sir Edward Watkin who created the path, takes you past Gladstone’s Rock where the 83 year old Prime Minister addressed a crowd on the day the path was officially opened. It is the path with the most height gain and starts and finishes close to the excellent Caffi Gwynant where the cakes are almost reason enough to choose this route alone. It has woodland and steep scree slopes and a very different feel from some of the more popular ascents. Quietest of all is probably the Rhyd Ddu Path which starts near the village railway station and has views of the beautiful Nantlle Ridge and onwards to the coast. It’s another route that passes old slate workings and can be pretty dicey in Winter conditions with large sections of ice and compacted snow, but the lack of other walkers makes it one of the best for those seeking some mountain solitude.
The mountain and surrounding area are rich in history and mythology and this adds another dimension to a visit to this great mountain. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first successful summiteers of Everest trained on the mountain and stayed at the Pen-Y-Gwryd Hotel which is just half a mile down the road from the car park at Pen-Y-Pass. The hostel at the pass itself was formerly the Gorphwysfa Hotel (a Welsh word meaning resting place) and there are records of an inn or hotel being on the site since at least 1773. Legends too abound, the Arthurian sword, Excalibur, has many claimed resting places and Llyn Llydaw is reputed to be one of them. The Welsh name for the mountain Yr Wyddfa is reputed to be a derivation of Gwyddfa Rhitta (Rhitta’s Tomb) named for a Giant vanquished by Arthur and buried beneath the rocks of the mountain. Most intriguingly a mythical monster, the Afanc, a kind of Giant Beaver, is reputed to have been dragged to Llyn Glaslyn from it’s home near Conwy where it had terrorised the local folks and remains there to this day trapped by the sheer cliffs that surround the most beautiful of Snowdon’s lakes.
On the mountain itself we frequently see Mountain Goats, now running wild they are descended from animals that used to be farmed in the area and with their distinctive beards and horns provide quite a spectacle when looming above you on a miniscule outcrop. Birdlife abounds on and around the mountain with Buzzards, Peregrine Falcons, Chough and Ravens all present not to mention Pied Wagtails and Black Headed Gulls who are often to be found around the lakes. There is even the Snowdon Beetle a red, gold, green and blue striped beetle which feeds on the Wild Thyme found on the mountain.
So, yes, we know that Snowdon might not be everybody’s cup of tea! It can be infuriatingly busy, you can strive for the summit only to be swamped in cotton wool clouds and your moment of silent contemplation can be destroyed by a loud blast from the train’s whistle, but we hope we have done enough to convince you that it is certainly worth a visit, and, maybe try one of those lesser known paths for a quieter day on this magnificent mountain!
Come walk with me UK offers private guiding for groups and individuals on Snowdon. We can run charity challenges and also explore the wider area should you be interested. Please contact us for further details. Thank you/Diolch