Hiking in Snowdonia

If you’ve ever read my website (cheers for that), you’ll probably be aware that I’m pretty heavily into fitness and running (seriously, if you’re reading it for fashion and grooming advice, you’re going to be disappointed). Sure, I do loads of other stuff as well, but predominantly most of my time is either spent lifting weights or taking part in some sort of race (or watching Romancing The Stone). Walking and hiking has always been a sort of secondary “fitnessy” thing I do if I fancy a break or want to take some nice photos. Well, it was, now it’s very quickly rising the ranks of my favourite things to spend a weekend doing.

After a few long-distance events and a couple of walking trips to places like the Lake District and the peaks, I wouldn’t have particularly classed myself as a hiker. Sure, I enjoyed it, but for the most part I was doing it as a more of a fitness challenge. Recently however, I’ve started to become a bit more obsessed with the whole mountains thing.

Basically, I was invited to Snowdon a couple of months ago with a few experienced climber friends. It was the same weekend we had all those ridiculous snowstorms, so actually arriving there was a gamble, especially after spending an hour digging the car out of snow about two hours into the journey. Luckily, we made it through and spent a pretty damn amazing weekend clambering through the Welsh mountains, in the same sort of conditions I imagine you’d find in the Himalayas. Alright, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it was pretty scary at some points. We even attempted to climb Snowdon one day, but blizzards, along with zero visibility meant we had to give up about 200 metres short of the summit.

We also headed up a peak called Y Garn, Wales’ fourth highest mountain at 947 metres. A walk that started with a chunk of scrambling and, on the time we went, had such poor visibility that we ended up pottering about for at least two hours in what we estimated to be a circular area of about 100 metres.

I’m not going to talk about that time too much though. Not because it wasn’t interesting, but more because if I do I’ll end up writing a 4,000-word diary entry, and nobody wants that. Instead I’ll just reference it to highlight the difference a few weeks of seasonality can make when you’re up a mountain. Which trust me, is pretty eye-opening.

So yeah, in April, we decided that after our inaugural trip to Snowdon, we were going to head back to the area and do it again. Only this time the weather might mean we could battle our demons and actually see enough to get to the top of the mountain. The other reason we wanted to go to Snowdon again is that we were taking a load of friends that hadn’t been before, so we could act as guides on the routes that we’d done before (and hopefully look like we knew what we were doing).

I’m going to focus this account on people who haven’t been to Snowdonia before, because then I can actually throw a few useful facts in. Any of you seasoned climbers out there can just sit back, grab some table lager, and look at some nice pictures.

Day 1: Snowdon – The Rhyd-Ddu path

So, a quick fact overview. Snowdon is the highest peak in Wales, standing at 1,085m (Scafell Pike in the Lake District is 978m and Ben Nevis is 1,345m). There are six official ways to get to the peak, one of which actually has a train that goes to the top of it (The Snowdon Mountain Railway https://snowdonrailway.co.uk/summit-visitor-centre/). The names of those routes are the Llanberis Path, the PYG Track, the Miners’ Track, the Watkin Path, the Rhy-Ddu Path or the Snowdon Ranger Path. Each has varying degrees of difficulty and distance. There’s also a coffee shop at the top that’s open from spring to the end of October. Livefortheoutdoors.com created a rather useful guide to the routes and how difficult they are (credit: livefortheoutdoors.com) – I didn’t actually know there were eight routes.

The route we took on both trips was the Rhyd-Ddu Path. A 3.75 mile hike with a few hairy bits, largely in the form of thin paths with massive drops on one or both sides. The Rhyd-Ddu path is mainly famous for the fact that it isn’t usually very busy. Presumably because it hits a sweet spot between the tourists and the serious climber types. It starts at the Welsh Highland Railway Station in, unsurprisingly, Rhyd-Ddu, before heading east up towards the summit.

The first few kilometres of the route are relatively steady, although there are a couple of points where you pick up a few dozen metres of height fairly quickly. Once you get to about 700 metres things start heating up a fair bit (and getting colder) and the steepness and drops become significantly more prominent. In snowy conditions the route is actually pretty terrifying in some parts due to the fact that you can’t really see where the path is and next to you is an 800 metres cliff. In nicer weather the path is pretty easy to use, unless you’re scared of heights.

At about 850 metres you get to the bit which shouldn’t really be attempted in poor visibility; a big ridge which undulates a fair bit before a final hike/scramble to the summit. The first time we got this far was, as previously mentioned, in a blizzard. All we could see apart from a few rocks was snow. We knew we were high, but as that was the first time we’d been up Snowdon we didn’t actually have any idea what the drop looked like. It was that point that we gave up. In nicer weather you can see how high you actually are, beautiful, but not the kind of thing you take chances on. As long as you’re confident with heights and your own balance, it’s completely manageable for the average walker though.

I can’t tell you about any of the others paths as I haven’t actually tried them yet, but Rhyd-Ddu is ruddy lovely. Right from the start the scenery is pretty damn impressive and once you get to about 700 metres you walk along a massive cliff/ridge that looms over the valley below. The lake on the left in this picture is near where you start.

We actually took a bit of a detour on the way back down and made our way through the old slate mines. Some of which looks like set pieces from the Lord of the Rings, complete with strangely out of place old ruined buildings. Pretty amazing though. You just have to be careful not to slip over as most is essentially just loose piles of smooth rubble.

So that was day one, a moderately taxing five-mile hike up Snowdon and back that started with grey skies and ended in a fair bit of sunburn (seriously, the thought of taking sun cream to Wales in April hadn’t even crossed our minds). A great route for anyone with an okay level of fitness who doesn’t mind heights. Probably not a route for adverse weather conditions though, definitely not wind and snow.

Day 2: Llyn Ogwen and Y Garn

Mythology aficionados will know Llyn Ogwen as the lake that King Arthur is meant to have been laid to rest, which, when you’ve seen it on a misty day, is not really that surprising. It sits about 310 metres above sea level between two mountain ranges and look pretty spectacular. A bit higher up is Llyn Idwal – a popular spot due to the fact that it’s surrounded by the sorts of topography that climbers and hikers love. Basically it’s like a little theme park for outdoors people, with all sorts of scrambling, climbing and varying difficulties of hiking tracks. Occasionally people even swim in the lake itself (I didn’t).

The tracks that go around the lake lead to various routes to the top of the surrounding mountain ranges. Otherwise you can stick to lower ground and do a bit of climbing or scrambling. The first time we went it was so cold that there were people climbing massive ice walls, occasionally shouting to warn anyone below because massive chunks of ice had fallen off. Here’s a picture comparison of the temperature between the first and second time I went (that’s Jon by the way, not me).

The route we took up to the top of valley is a nice steady walk for a few kilometres before turning into a light scramble, depending on the weather. When it was icy the route was fairly precarious, under nice conditions it’s just a bit physically taxing.

Once you’ve climbed up the gulley you go past a little wall with a gate and then end up overlooking the valley. To your left is Glydr Fawr, a rather daunting looking 1,001 metre peak, and in your distance to the right is Y Garn. The route up here is pretty simple if you can see where you’re going, you basically walk along a little path that skirts the side of a big cliff face. Might be a bit windy but the views are amazing.

If it’s poor visibility, then things get a bit harder. The topography around the area is fairly difficult to use as landmarks. The first time we went, we walked around in circles for the best part of two hours trying to find the route back down again. We walked past the same lake (Llyn y Cwn) at least three times before eventually finding some seasoned dog walkers who knew the way. Definitely don’t do any of these routes unless you either know what you’re doing, and you’ve got a map, it’s daylight and you can see. When the fear sets in that you may have to spend the night in a little bivouac shelter with three middle-aged men, then you’ll understand.

Y Garn is to the right of this picture. That lake is Ogwyn.

Instead of heading back down the way we came we took a path further along that would take us back down to the lake via Pinnacle Crag. A route which looks a bit daunting to begin with, but isn’t actually too bad once you get on it. There’s a big drop from one side and the ground is a bit gravely, but once you get used to it, it’s fine.

So there you have it. Two different walks in Snowdonia done in extremely different conditions. Both suitable for your average hiker in good weather, but neither worth trying unless you’re ridiculously experienced in adverse conditions. Definitely get yourself some proper walking boots, waterproofs and a damn good OS map if you’re planning on attempting either though.

Stuff I took with me

Patagonia Men’s Simul Alpine Pants

Danner Explorer 650

Cairngorm GORE-TEX Gaiters

North Face Bones Beanie

All weather OS map Snowdonia

North Face Thermoball gillet

Finisterre Mistral jacket