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Snowdon for starters

Fancy something challenging this weekend? Mounting Snowdon is as easy or as hard as you like

by Matt Game


Did you realise that there’s a place in the UK that’s battered by winds of over 150mph, drenched by 5 metres of rain every year and where the temperature can plummet to -20°C? A mountain that’s been used to train for multiple Everest attempts? It’s Mount Snowdon, which at 3,560ft is the biggest mountain south of Scotland. Despite its popularity, it’s still a serious undertaking.

Perfect for both casual daytrippers and those looking for a bit more adventure, Snowdon's accessibility means that it is now one of the busiest mountains in Britain. That shouldn't put you off though, the mountain still rewards with varied routes, spectacular scenery and, on the admittedly rare clear days, some of the most impressive views in the land. More importantly you can also get a decent cup of tea at the new cafe on top - a welcome treat for those more used to the lukewarm horrors of a dodgy thermos.

The route

Throwing our bags into the boot of the car we set off from our rented cottage at nearby Waunfawr to head for the Snowdon Ranger path up the Western side of the mountain. Choosing this route as a change from the popular paths on the other side of Snowdon, we also thought that the relative ease of the track was sensible given that one of our team members was just eleven months old.

One of the first things that has to be considered when choosing routes on Snowdon is the start and finish points. Many of the routes on the Eastern side of the Mountain, such as the Snowdon horseshoe or the Pyg and Miners' tracks, start and finish at the often-full Pen-y-pass car park.


If you don't want to take a car then you can easily get there on the excellent Sherpa bus network that links most of the surrounding towns and car parks. The Sherpa is also handy if you are starting and finishing in different places and don't fancy a road-based slog when you get back down.

Due to the logistics of transporting vast amounts of nappies and wetwipes around we opted to take our cars, pre-positioning one of them at the finish point and driving the other to the start.


After a considerable fuss trying to find the exact £4 change for a machine that did not accept £2 coins (a handy tip in itself, bring small change) we pulled on our boots and set off. From the car park, our route takes you up past the Ranger Youth Hostel (formerly the home of early mountain guide John Morton, the eponymous Snowdon Ranger).

What to pack

Clothes-wise we had packed the full range of lightweight waterproofs, despite the hazy sunshine. Snowdon is typically one of the wettest areas in the UK and conditions can change quickly catching the under-prepared out. We also had a standard map and compass set - although we did not expect to use them on the well marked paths - and of course plenty of water for the Camelbaks. As far as we could work out there was nowhere free to refill in the cafe at the top: the taps are hot only and the water bottled, so take as much as you normally would for a round trip.

The Western route

The journey up is fairly straightforward, an initial zig-zagging climb that flattens out after the first ascent as you approach the imposing, Mordor-like bulk of Snowdon itself. The silhouette of the Cafe at the top makes your target clear nearly all the way up and the only major impediment to progress were the friendly fellow walkers stopping to admire the fortitude of our youngest hiker – and her father's loud panting.

Once you've passed the track of the famous mountain railway then the beautiful views west towards the sea and Ireland are soon complemented by the vistas on the other side of the mountain as you reach the top of the ridge. Looking down, you can clearly make out the alternative routes up, including the infamous razorback of Crib Goch, a sharp-sided ridge that's an exhilarating scramble in summer, but a Grade 2 mountaineering route in winter.

The final push up to the summit felt a bit like we were working our way to the front of the stage at a high altitude festival. At least three charities were carrying out sponsored walks that day, many with backpacks full of beer, and rumour had it that over five thousand people were present somewhere on the hill. After ritually touching in at the summit trig point we headed for the new look cafe and that long anticipated cup of tea.

The last time I was here it was a snowy winter and my most enduring memory of that trip was crouching miserably in the lee of the closed concrete monolith that was the old cafe. The new one however is fairly welcoming, a sleek slate affair with huge panoramic windows, reasonably priced snacks and plenty of podgy tourists that you can look down on for taking the train up.

Descent via Rhydd Ddu

Fed and watered, we began the descent back west via the Rhydd Ddu route. Winding downwards relatively gently the path has some stunning sunset views, but does go on for longer than expected. At the bottom however the nearby Cweyllen Arms has a cosy little beer garden with sweeping views back towards Snowdon. The perfect place to visually trace back over your route and reflect on your achievement over a well earned shandy.

More details:

Our walk took place in good, sunny conditions but make sure to check the weather and take proper walking equipment whatever the time of year as Snowdon can catch the unwary out. Do not assume that the cafe is open or that the train is running as they close during winter and often during summer as well. Details of the train and cafe can be found here. Last year Llanberis Mountain rescue recovered over 100 people from Snowdon including several fatalities - so do all your homework!


The Western Routes:

Snowdon Ranger/Rhydd Ddu

Our horseshoe-shaped route consisted of the ascent up the Snowdon Ranger’s path (start at the carpark by the Ranger Youth Hostel SH56555, make sure that you have exact change, all day parking is £4) and then back down the Rhydd Ddu path to the Rhydd Ddu carpark (SH571526). The total journey time was 5-6 hours going at a reasonable pace with a 45 min stop in the cafe. This route is not particularly technical or hard to navigate, but it is nevertheless a reasonably challenging walk in terms of sheer effort.

The Eastern Routes:

There are a number of routes that start at the Pen-y-pass carpark. Two of the most popular are the Pyg track and the Miners' track of which people usually ascend one and descend the other.

The Pyg track

The Pyg track starts at the Western end of the carpark (SH647557) and ascends beside and below the fearsome Crib Goch ridge. There are spectacular views across the Llyn Llydaw reservoir towards the summit.

The Miners' Track

Starting at the far end of the same car park The Miners' track follows a roughly parallel path to the Pyg Track but crosses the reservoir on a small causeway, before rising steeply past disused mineworkings to connect with the Pyg track just past Glasyn (The Blue Lake).

This route in either direction is not technically complicated but does have some steep, rocky sections and can be treacherous in winter. It should take a total of at least 5-6 hours at reasonable pace. Navigation is fairly straightforward but care should be taken not to turn off the Pyg track towards Crib Goch (a situation that regularly strands people not prepared for the harder route) or to go left onto the more difficult Y Llyed from the Miners' track.

The Snowdon Horseshoe

One the most famous and more technically challenging routes, the Snowdon Horseshoe starts off following the Pyg track from Pen-y-pass carpark before turning off about 40 minutes later towards the mighty Crib Goch. Crib Goch is a fantastic and rather scary 200m long knife-edge, especially steep on the right hand side. If you are reasonably fit and vertigo free then it's a fairly straightforward but exhilarating summer scramble.

Unless you really know what you are doing it's probably best to avoid it in winter. Once across you eventually join up with the path from Llanberis to the summit. The return is over Y Llyed, Snowdon's sister peak and a route that involves a fair bit of scrambling to ascend. This area was famously used for training by both Mallory and the 1953 British Everest expedition.

From the summit of Y Llyed the path eventually leads down to rejoin the Miners' track for the final leg back to the car park. Allow at least six hours and enough daylight for wiggle room.

Other Routes:

Llanberis Path

On of the easiest but longest paths to the summit the Llanberis route starts from near the town (gate and cattlegrid at SH58159, follow the easy to see 'Footpath up Snowdon' sign) and roughly follows the path of the mountain railway. Don't forget to fuel up at the excellent Pete's Eats before you leave and if you get peckish along the way the Halfway House cafe is located about as far along the path as you would expect. It's a relatively easy route, but like all of those on Snowdon needs to be treated with respect, weather and equipment-wise. It's easy to take a wrong turn and end up on a harder route so keep an eye on navigation. The railway track is best avoided. In winter it's slippy, in summer it has trains on it.

The Watkin Path

The Watkin path is a relatively difficult trail from the South that encompasses the greatest altitude change of all the Snowdon routes. Parking is at the Nantgwynant car park (SH628506) and the path starts at the public footpath sign on the nearby A498 (SH627507). Ascending over 3300ft it's a steep climb that boasts outstanding views and passes by the old copper mines, waterfalls and bullet-ridden houses that mark the location where commandos trained for D-Day. There's also a two-tonne stone plaque that commemorates the spot where Gladstone gave a speech when opening the route to the public in 1892. The upper part of the path is very steep and navigation can be difficult. The easiest return is back down the same way, a trip that should take around 5-6 hours, although it is possible to descend using one of the other paths once the summit is reached.


You can check the weather before you start on 09068 500449 (60p per minute) or at the Met Office website


Whatever the weather proper walking boots are essential. You should also have spare waterproof and warm clothing and a map and compass. Sensible additional items include a headtorch, whistle, first aid kit, charged mobile, spare water and food.

Accommodation and food:

We stayed at the comfortable Ystrad Isaf

Pete's Eats is in the middle of Llanberis

Cweyllen Arms - turn right out of the Rhydd Ddu carpark and it's about 100 metres down the road on the left.

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