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Snowdon History

At 1085m, Snowdon is the highest peak in England and Wales.

It’s also the busiest mountain in Britain with around 400,000 visitors a year reaching the summit.

Early history has Snowdon formed through glacial movement of volcanic rock, thus forming the various slopes and ridges that define the mountain. Amazingly, 500 million years ago the summit lay on the seabed. This can be evidenced today with the occasional summit find of fossilised sea shells.

Later on, legend has it that King Arthur fought and slayed Welsh giant Rhita Gawr on the summit, and on Snowdon rests Rhita’s tomb. The Welsh name for the mountain is ‘Yr Wyddfa’, which means ‘Great Tomb’. The name Snowdon comes from the saxon ‘Snow Dun’ which means ‘snow hill’.

18th century naturalist Thomas Pennant suggested that a fair was held on the summit to mark Edward I’s conquering in 1284, but what is certain is that botanist Thomas Johnson climbed the mountain in 1639. This is believed to have been the first documented ascent.

In 1820, a small stone shelter was built by ‘Lloyd’ and from this place, William Morris sold refreshments.

By 1847 a large number of huts had been erected on the summit. This developed and, still in the 19th century, two hotels opened.

In the 1930’s Clough Williams-Ellis, the architect who designed the nearby village of Portmeirion, designed a new hotel, café and railway station. He incorporated an enormous picture window that gave an amazing view. Unfortunately, due to the winds encountered, it blew in and had to be replaced. 

During the Second World War, the summit became off limits to tourists as it was taken over by the Ministry of Defence. The hotel thus ceased for good.

By the turn of the century, the café and station had become dated and were due to be replaced. A competition was held for the best design and it was won by Ray Hole Architects. The old building was demolished in 2006 and the new building opened in 2009. The summit complex is called Hafod Eryri and is run by the Snowdon Mountain Railway.

 

Snowdon Visit

Snowdon is one of the most tourist-friendly mountains imaginable.

I suppose the main reason for this is the cafe at the top and the mountain railway that can take you to the summit in relative comfort. The cafe is open when the railway is, as the train is used to transport staff. The first train in the morning (at around 8.00am) is used for this purpose. The train presumably also ferries supplies. The railway/cafe generally runs from Easter to October.

Hundreds of thousands of people walk or climb to the summit every year and in late morning/early afternoon in the middle of summer you’d be amazed by the size of the crowds that ascend. All shapes and sizes too, with kids of around 4 years old often seen walking up with parents. People come from a long way too. It’s the highest British peak south of the Scottish border, so a convenient challenge for people from Wales and much of England. Part of the challenge also for people doing the ‘Three Peaks Challenge’. This entails climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon, respectively the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales all in 24 hours including travelling in between. The astonishing thing is that in the summer, if you’re going up the Llanberis Path or Pyg Track, at any time of the day or night, it would be quite unusual if you saw nobody else. People often camp on the summit.

There are a number of routes up, due to the shape of the mountain, and this can be a blessing as it spreads out the crowds, but there are obviously the most popular ones.

Pyg Track

This is one of the classic routes, with the walk starting in Pen-y-Pass car park. This can be found by either taking a right turn (up A4086) by the Pen-y-Gwrd hotel (and going about 600 yds up the road) when travelling from Capel Curig to Beddgelert, or travelling about 3 miles up the Llanberis Pass, which runs up the hill on the A4086 out of Llanberis and towards Capel Curig. The car park is small and is fairly expensive. There seems to be room for about 70 cars and costs are about £5 for up to 4 hours and £10 for over 4 hours (all day). If you’re very fit and don’t stop you could do the return journey in under 3 hours, but that would be a test. Be warned that the car park is often full at the weekend in the summer by 7.30am.

If fit, this may be the easiest route, as you start a good deal higher than from Llanberis, which is the start of the most popular path. It’s also a good deal shorter than the Llanberis Path. The Pyg Track has a steady gradient (not easy) for the first mile or so until you reach Bwlch Moch, the point that, if you want to reach the summit via the spectacular Crib Goch route, you turn right at. If you carry on up the Pyg Track, at this point, you walk along a merciful flat section, which even goes downhill at one point. A few hundred yards later the steady uphill gradient starts again and this pretty well continues up to the summit. There are a few flat sections though.

At about 30 minutes from the summit, the ‘Miner’s Track’ path comes up from the left and merges with the Pyg Track. About 20 minutes from the summit you hit the ‘Zig zags’, a section of the track that turns sharply twice to overcome a particularly steep part. The Pyg Track then has a steady rise up to the Standing Stone which marks the spot where the Pyg Track ends as it joins the main path from Llanberis. When walking up to the Standing Stone, walkers, who have been sheltered from the prevailing wind, often suddenly feel a strong wind that has been blowing across the Llanberis Path.

From the Standing Stone, when coming up the Pyg Track, you turn 90 degrees left and have about an 8 minute walk along the main Llanberis Path to the summit. As the Miners Track to the summit starts from the same Pen y Pass car park, walkers often go to the summit one way and back down the other way. Whilst there are drops in a few places, in summer, accidents are rare.

Crib Goch

This probably is the classic route of Snowdon – a high scramble over an exposed ridge as well as plenty of mostly upward scrambles. Whilst care must be taken in good weather, this route becomes extremely dangerous in bad weather, particularly in winter. But in good summer conditions, plenty of fit, active people with a head for heights, but no mountaineering experience have successfully reached the summit via this route. And if you go up here on a good day – what a view! If in doubt though, stick to the Pyg Track that runs fairly parallel, down below. In the summer, hundreds of people can go over Crib Goch on a good day. To do Crib Goch, you normally start at Pen-y-Pass car park and walk up the Pyg Track to Bwlch Moch. You then take a 90 degree turn right from the main path. In front of you then, you can see a massive rock face, almost shaped like a traffic cone that is leaning away from you. It’s actually a great gradient for the inexperienced climber to scramble up, although lower down there are a couple of tricky bits. If you encounter one, there’s a good chance that you’ve gone off the best scrambling route. If in doubt, on a busy day, it’s usually a good idea to wait for experienced climbers and follow them. Once at the top of the huge rock, and at the highest point that you can see from the bottom, you then do a bit of ridge work. There’s a very steep drop to the right and a more gentle one to the left, so it’s often best to stay a little left in places. Once over the ridge, there’s much scrambling to be done, as well as a short, flat walk in one place, before you get to the peak of Garnedd Ugain. From here, it’s a gentle walk downhill to meet the Llanberis Path that comes up to your right. It’s then about a 10 minute walk up the Llanberis Path to the summit. Almost all the people who do Crib Goch, do it upwards and then walk back down the Pyg Track or Miner’s Track to the car park.

It’s hard to put a time on the Crib Goch route. A very fit person could rush it and be back at the car park in under 4 hours, having been on to the Snowdon summit. But it’s not a place you want to rush. Sensible people take a lot of care and a lot of time, move safely and enjoy the views.

The Crib Goch route is part of the ‘Snowdon Horseshoe’ – a route that starts at Pen-y-Pass car park, runs up the Pyg Track, takes the detour over Crib Goch and then up to the summit. From there you carry on in the clockwise direction down the start of the Watkin Path for the first few hundred yards before you climb on ahead over ‘Lliwedd’ before descending down to the lake and joining the Miner’s Track back to Pen-y-Pass car park.

Miner’s Track

Again, this is from Pen-y-Pass car park. It’s a bit longer than the Pyg Track and takes longer. Having done these climbs dozens of times, I think it’s much harder as the Pyg Track gobbles up height in a subtle way – in many places you’re moving slightly uphill, but not enough to really tire you. With the Miners Track, there’s much flat walking and very gentle gradients until you reach the far end of the second lake. You then have to scramble up quite a steep section to reach the Pyg Track and carry on from there. You also happen to join the Pyg Track at a point where it’s a bit of a test for a while, just what you don’t want if you’ve exhausted yourself climbing up.  When walking up the Pyg Track, you can see the Miner’s Track hundreds of feet below. The Miner’s Track is scenic, beautiful around the lakes and a decent option. Many walk up the Pyg Track and down the Miner’s. The steep section isn’t too bad downhill and then it’s a fairly flat walk back to the car park.

Watkin Path

The Pyg Track, Crib Goch and the Miners Track all start at the same place – Pen-y-Pass. For other routes, if we deal with them in a clockwise fashion around the mountain, the next one we come to is the Watkin Path. For the start of this path, if travelling on the road between Capel Curig and Beddgelert, instead of turning right at the Pen-y-Gwrd hotel and going up to Pen-y-Pass, you carry on in the direction of Beddgelert. About 2 or 3 miles before you come to Beddgelert, you see a car park on your left with room for about 50 cars. This is near a stone bridge and you simply walk across the road from the car park and take the Watkin Path to the summit.

This may be the hardest route of all. Of all the paths around Snowdon, this has the lowest starting point. On the path, you walk through a forest for a few hundred yards and then through a gate and along a path that has great views of small waterfalls that cascade down a large stream. At the top of this section, you see a water course with a type of dam and then you have a fairly flat walk past some old stone buildings. You then turn a corner and go uphill past much stone or slate ruins and carry on up a large number of steps. The stepped section carries on for a fair time before you reach the top path that takes you to the base of a steep scramble up to the summit. There have been accidents up here, but in good weather, I’ve never seen anyone having a problem. It’s an easy scramble or walk up. In bad weather, it’s easy to mistakenly drift right. Staying left keeps you away from the dangerous drops of the north face. Once to the top of the scrambled climb (by the standing stone), simply turn right and join the Rhyd Ddu route that takes you a couple of hundred yards up to the summit. If very fit, this route could take around two hours to get to the top. This isn’t a busy path.

Rhyd Ddu Path

Carrying on from the Watkin Path car park, travel down to Beddgelert and take the road to Caernarfon. You’re essentially going to Beddgelert and turning right and taking the road system that circumnavigates Snowdon. A few miles down the road, you’ll see a car park on your right. This is the car park by the Rydd Ddu Railway Station. From the car park, you go to the end of the car park and go through the gate and over the railway track and carry on up the path. After a few hundred yards, you notice an arrow and a gate on your left and you go through the gate, seeing the summit in front of you, but miles up in the distance. Via paths and scrambles, you come to the edge of a rim around the Clogwyn valley, this giving a spectacular view down the valley towards Llanberis. Going around this elevated rim, you walk on up and then go over quite a spectacular short ridge-type section before carrying on straight ahead to the summit. You can see the summit cafe in front of you and, as you walk towards it, you notice the Watkin Path joining you from the right. The actual summit stone is the other side of the cafe to the direction that you’re walking up. This isn’t a busy path.

Rhyd Ddu South Ridge

Same start as the main Rhyd Ddu path, but instead of turning left through the gate (by the arrow or sign), you carry straight on. This takes you past a series of ruins before you take a sharp left up steps. These are steep and testing, but meet the main Rhyd Ddu path by the short ridge-type section. This is a very quiet path.

Snowdon Ranger Path

If you carry on along the road to Caernarfon and don’t stop at the Rhyd Ddu car park, a few miles down the road, on your left, you’ll see the Snowdon Ranger Path car park. You park and then cross the road and, after walking past houses, make your way up the hill path which is in the form of zigzags. Once at the top, it’s a fairly flat walk for a very long way. You wonder if you’re on the right path as climbing is one thing that you certainly aren’t doing. Inevitably, the path starts to rise and it eventually makes its way up to the standing stone at the top of the Pyg Track. When approaching it, you can see the main Llanberis Path joining you from the left. In reality, you are joining the Llanberis Path and you use it to get to the summit, which is 10 minutes away. Again, this path can be relatively quiet.

Llanberis Path

Again, using the road system that circumnavigates Snowdon, the next route is the Llanberis Path. This is the main route up Snowdon and the relatively gentle slopes gave them the perfect place to lay the railway tracks up to the summit. It’s hard to give a good estimate, but of around 10 routes up to the summit, about half the people who walk up use this path. Maybe more than 50%. It’s comfortably the busiest path. But at around 5.5 miles, it’s pretty much the longest too. But the same elevation over a longer distance, does give a gentler walk. You start from Llanberis town in which there is plenty of parking. Car parks seem to charge £5 or £7 for the day. From the town, you walk past the Railway Station and turn right by the mini roundabout by the Royal Victoria Hotel. You walk down Victoria Terrace and over the cattle grid. A steep tarmacked piece of road takes you past a pub, before the road bears right past a farm building and on up to the top of a rise. This is the vital point as it’s where you leave the road (on the left), walk through the gate and follow the path to the summit. It’s as simple as that!

If you miss the gate on the left, the road goes downhill and you’ve gone too far. For me, there are three sections that are hard on this route and the tarmacked road rise is one of them. It’s quite steep. In fact, I’ve seen people who have done the 3 peaks being dropped off at the top of the tarmacked road, by the gate on the left. That saves about half a mile from the town!

From the gate it’s a fairly gentle walk up steps and through a wooden gate (next to a wide metal one). At this point, you could take the detour left up and over the ridge which rejoins the path by Clogwyn Station. I’d say 1 in 5,000 take this detour. Almost all carry on ahead and they’ll reach the ‘Halfway Cafe’ a while further up the gentle gradient. This is open in the season and is a great place for refreshments. There’s a toilet also.

From the cafe, after about half a mile, you come, in my opinion, to the second two hardest sections. The first is a series of steep steps up to a railway tunnel and the second (and last!) is a steep section over fairly loose ground, which you come to about 100 yards after the tunnel. It can be hard, and I’ve seen a number of people turn back here, but after about 150 yards, the path starts to turn right across the slope and it gradually flattens out. I always think that once you’ve got to the top of this 150 yard stretch and started to turn towards the right, you’ve cracked the climb. It gets easier, even being downhill at one point soon! After a few hundred yards (after the downhill bit), you come to the points where other paths meet. You’ll notice on your left people who are coming down from the Crib Goch route, and then 50 yards or so later people joining from the Snowdon Ranger Path (there’s a standing stone where they join). Soon after, you’ll notice the big Standing Stone at the top of the Pyg Track and probably people joining you from that route. You all make your way to the summit and the cafe and it could take around 8 minutes.

Timewise, if very fit and you don’t stop, it could take around 1 hr 45 mins up and about 1 hr 25 mins down. If in a group or strolling up with plenty of stops, it could take 3 or 4 hours to get up.

Given that this is the easiest gradient, you often get runners and mountain bikers. The bikers, I believe, are restricted to times before 10.00am in the season.

Moel Elio Route

Whilst the Llanberis Path is the longest main path, this one is actually longer, but isn’t what you’d call a main path. This one’s very quiet. The route starts off by the High Street and you walk up Capel Coch Road. This takes you past houses, then farm buildings etc. You eventually get out into the countryside and head straight to the top of the hill in front of you – this is Moel Elio. It;s a fair walk up. When walking up, if you look left you can see down below the Llanberis Path and the railway track. At the top of Moel Elio you can then see the whole route to the summit in front of you – but it’s a long way! Once at the top of Moel Elio, you simply carry on over Foel Gron and then Foel Goch, each with the Snowdon valley down to your left. The fourth peak is Moel Cynghorion and after walking down the other side you join the Snowdon Ranger Path to the summit. If you’ve walked up the Llanberis Path, the hills that you see to your right and run parallel for the first couple of miles are part of this Moel Elio route. This route takes time, but if fine weather could give the best views. If pretty fit and you don’t stop, it could take 5-6 hours to get to the summit. The beauty is that you can then simply walk back down the Llanberis Path back to Llanberis, taking a fraction of the time.

Ynys Ettws or Nant Peris Route

We’ve now virtually circumnavigated Snowdon with these paths (in a clockwise direction). From Llanberis it’s a few miles up the Llanberis Pass to take you back to the Pen-y-Pass car park. About three quarters of the way up there’s parallel parking on the right next to the road and a hundred yards or so after this there’s a wooden bridge with metal railings and a house ahead and to the left. If in doubt, there’s a stone bridge a few hundred yards higher up for access to the Ynys Ettws mountaineers hut. To go to the summit, you go over the wooden/metal bridge and bear right (away from the house) and upwards pretty well following the stream. You should be able to make out a faint path. You basically locate this small water course that comes down from the mountain and follow it. It eventually takes you to a very damp, wet gorge and it’s then a matter of safely negotiating this and getting to the top. When you get to the top, you join the Llanberis Path and this is about 100 yards before the Crib Goch route joins the Llanberis Path. You can get some surprised looks from Llanberis Path walkers, because this is a route that virtually nobody uses. Much care is needed and it would probably be unsafe outside the summer season.

How popular are the routes? This is a bit of guesswork, but over a year, I’d imagine around 67% go up via the Llanberis Path, 20% via the Pyg Track, 6% Miner’s Track, 2% Watkin Path, 2% Rhyd Ddu, 2% Snowdon Ranger, 1% Crib Goch.