The Snowdon group
I’ve climbed Snowdon, or to give the Welsh Yr Wyddfa, three times, at roughly twenty-year intervals. In so doing I’ve used most of the major routes to this spectacularly photogenic hill, with the exception of the Watkin Path from the south. The twenty-year recurrence suggests a revisit in approx 2032 when I shall be in my eighties. I might take the train but you never know.
The Snowdon Horseshoe, Easter 1974
We were young, Dave Travers and I (23). We had Poucher’s Welsh Peaks, outmoded now but then the state-of-the-art guidebook (consultation in progress at Pen-y-Pass, left). We wanted to climb Snowdon. Poucher called the horseshoe ‘a ridge “walk” that is full of interest all the way and reveals the mountain at its best’, so that seemed good enough for us, blithely ignoring the quote marks around ‘walk’. For the horshoe starts with a clamber along the Crib Goch ridge (3026ft), and that is seen now not as a walk but a proper scramble.
Now as it happens I found the ridge rather fun. It helped that it was a stonking early spring day, clement and blue, but these days I would probably have had more respect – and I hope more understanding too, for Dave has since told me he was glad to get to the end of it. By comparison Crib y Ddysgl (3493ft) is a lump, and from there it’s follow the crowds to the summit of Snowdon at 3560ft. Then as now, it was heaving.
The author consulting Poucher, Pen-y-Pas, 1974
Dave Travers on Crib Goch
Y Lliwedd from Snowdon, 1974
Y Lliwedd (2947ft) is one of those hills that deserves 3000ft status but just misses out. Although it’s far beneath the summit of Snowdon, it’s clearly a challenge when viewed from there, and I recall a very rocky descent and ascent between the two and another sharp descent to Llyn Llydaw. A challenging end to a magnificent round, fully worthy of Poucher’s description.
Finishing the Three Peaks, June 1992
Raise money for charity, it said: what a good thing. The Ben Nevis – Scafell Pike – Snowdon Three Peaks Challenge, taking the three great hills of Great Britain one after the other, has long and rightly been viewed as a test of skill and stamina, and the chance to undertake it was alluring. Back in June 1992, when I was 41, commercial firms were just starting to establish organised coach-borne parties for this ‘challenge’; now, they are something of a menace, but back then the idea still had freshness, and I’ve no regrets doing it, with the added bonus of a beautiful midsummer’s weekend. And people were very kind: over £600 raised for cystic fibrosis.
Snowdon of course is the last of the three. Most of us slept on the coach down from Borrowdale; I remember opening a slumbery dawn eye on the A55 to see the sands of the North Wales coast stretching beyond. Yes, another fine day on Wales’s highest hill. We were dropped at Pen-y-pass around 6am and directed up the Pyg track. This is a fine route that quickly gains height; indeed, it shares the first mile with the Crib Goch route, before snaking below the ferocious ridge and Crib y Ddysgl. There is a tremendous view of Y Lliwedd across Llyn Llydaw. A sharp rise leads to Bwlch Glas, where the Crib Goch route is regained.
The organisers didn’t plan any fancy stuff for us now, they just wanted us safe and sound back in Llanberis, so we descended by the tourist path, beside the railway. Below you can see the first train of the day puffing uphill. A breakfast had been laid on in a pub garden, and afterwards I had a snooze in the warm Welsh sunshine.
Pyg track with Snowdon behind, 1992
Y Lliwedd across Llyn Llydaw, 1992
Snowdon Mountain Railway, 1992
Yr Aran and the South Ridge, Sunday 1 April 2012
I was back in Snowdonia for a few days in April 2012, based at a B&B in Rhydd-Ddu, a fine little place with grand hills all around. From here I worked out a nice route which involved both Yr Aran and my one remaining hill of the range, Moel Cynghorion (2211ft) to Snowdon’s north-west.
I set off on the Rhydd-Ddu path, which ascends from the village station on the Welsh Highland Railway. This climbs north-east up to the Llechog ridge, but I soon left it for a bridleway eastward to Yr Aran, a sharp little hill that is a distinctive feature from Rhydd-Ddu. The obvious way up is to turn south at the bridleway bwlch, but that involves a return the same way, so instead I turned south at a path junction just below the bwlch and then freelanced towards the south-western end of Yr Aran’s ridge. From its summit, there’s a short decline to the bridleway bwlch, and then a splendid ascent of Snowdon’s south ridge, not taken by any of the principal routes to the top and all the quieter for it. Eventually, the Rhydd-Ddu path is regained for the short final pull from Bwlch Main, the hill getting more crowded all the time.
That day the summit of Snowdon was the only place in the district with any cloud on top. I left the masses quickly and set off down the well-trodden track north, branching off onto the upper reaches of the Snowdon Ranger path. It was above the cliffs of Clogwyn Du’r Arddu that a hill-runner, all the way from Holland (so probably on his nearest hills), stopped for a quick check. “Is this the Llanberis path then?” I assured him it was not. “Oh. Can I get to Llanberis?” Yes, if you go all the way back up to the railway and follow it down. He wasn’t keen. We had a quick look at my map, and he settled on a descent from the bwlch into Cwm Arddu, but heaven knows if he ended up floundering over fences.
So feeling smug I kept on my way. Shortly after the bwlch, I went north-west up to Moel Cynghorion, a straightforward ascent which was just as well as this is a ten-mile day with 4,500ft of climbing. I freelanced back down to the Snowdon Ranger path, but didn’t stay on it for long; following it to its end would have meant an anti-climactic long road-walk home. Instead, I took the path through old mine workings recommended by the B&B; it skitters this way and that, and could have been a nightmare to follow, but is well signposted and I was soon back down in the village.
The Glyders (more properly, in Welsh: Glyderau) rise on the other side of the Llanberis pass to the Snowdon massif, with the Carneddau to their north and east across the gap formed by the Ogwen and Ffrancon valleys. The range of five 3000-footers is named after the two highest hills, Glyder Fawr (3279ft) and Glyder Fach (3262ft); just to the latter’s north is perhaps the most striking of all the Welsh hills, the remarkable Tryfan (3010ft). The more northerly pair, Y Garn (3104ft) and Elidir Fawr (3030ft), are less well-known but highly rewarding too.
I have been lucky with the Glyders. I have only spent three days on them, the weather has been magnificent each time, and potentially complex map-finding has been simple and straightforward – with one single youth-induced exception, as you will see. No doubt these hills can be frightening and challenging; maybe they are more fun that way, but I doubt I will ever know.
Fawr, Fach and Tryfan, Easter 1974
I had no idea what to expect. I had Poucher’s then-classic guide book, and so some pretty decent pictures to go by, but there is nothing to prepare the unknowing for the sheer impact of Tryfan as you drive west from Capel Curig – or even better, as I was to find out more than 30 years later, to walk along the old road and turn the corner just before Gwern Gof Isaf.
Back in ’74, Dave Travers and I parked at Ogwen Cottage and tackled the famous north ridge of Tryfan. I remember boulder after boulder, but never any doubt over the route. On the summit, we bottled out of the hop from Adam to Eve, the twin rocks of the summit that can be seen from the valley below. Glyder Fach is next, then the utterly sensational shattered rock of Castell y Gwynt – castle of the winds – before the bwlch between the two Glyders and the final climb up Glyder Fawr.
And then it’s all downhill. The descent to Llyn y Cwn is sharp, and from there to the valley floor the main track goes through the Devil’s Kitchen, a damp dark and spooky place carved through a great fissure in the rocks. Except that on this calm and pleasant April evening, few people around if I remember, I completely mistook my bearings and we set off to descend, not by the Kitchen at all, but by the steep ground to the west of Llyn Idwal. Nobody shows a route there, nobody: I remember clutching at grasses, descending mostly by bottom, as I wondered why no path. Somehow, we got down; I’m not sure what Dave thought. It was probably the single worst error I have ever made in the hills. If it had not been dry and clement, I might not have been writing this page, or worse Dave might not have had a career. My 2006 return had to descend the Kitchen safely, for that reason: see below.
The author models 1970s hillwalking gear at Castell y Gwynt
Elidir Fawr and Y Garn, Saturday 14 October 2006
I’m sharing a wonderful quiet way up, in the hope that you don’t all go and scar a quiet cwm with an unsightly path. From Ogwen Cottage, there is a good route to Y Garn’s summit (3104ft) by its NE ridge, but that makes for an out-and-back day with a lot of backtracking to pick up Elidir Fawr (3029ft) as well. Peter Hermon, in his invaluable two-volume Cicerone guide Hillwalking in Wales, mentions the ridge above Cwm Cwyion, further north, above the scrambler’s Mushroom Garden, but I wasn’t sure if it might itself be a bit too scrambly, or indistinct, to try solo. I’m glad I took the risk: it’s a pearl, not difficult, but continually interesting and crowd free. I found little path initially, but it was clearly visible crossing a patch of scree just over Afon Cwyion from around 636604, and then takes a curly but always sensible line above the Garden and on to the Foel Goch ridge.
On Foel Goch (2726ft) I had company. I had picked up the Sherpa bus to avoid a couple of road miles to Ogwen Cottage, and on it got talking to another walker, similar vintage, objective also Elidir Fawr. Coincidentally, we summitted together on Foel Goch – he had come up Y Garn’s NE ridge. Rather than make a beeline for Elidir Fawr, we took advantage of the lovely sunny day to pick up Mynydd Perfedd (2664ft) and Carnedd y Filiast (2694ft) before turning round for the climb up to Elidir Fawr, its striking conical aspect well-seen from the Carneddau.
From the summit, my companion dropped down towards Llanberis while I retraced my steps to the col below Elidir Fawr, then strking out below Foel Goch to Y Garn. The summit here was heaving; another chance for a chat with the like-minded, and trace a train puffing up the Snowdon railway. Now it was time for the Devil’s Kitchen. No mistakes.
And how on earth could I have gone wrong last time. Maybe the tracks are deeper now, and there are bits of duckboarding which lead the right way, but really it’s not something I should have missed way back when. Dark and gloomy though the Kitchen, and in ice or a downpour the chances of a slip down this dank passage would render it very different. Taking the right-hand variant from the exit, there was a step over a stream at 642588 which concerned a mother, her son only eight or so; ‘I can swim’ he was saying, but she and I knew that he would slip only once. We talked about the rough ground leading direct to Llyn Idwal; a better option, which I am sure she took. But for me, place the poles and head for home, surveying my morning’s route far away.
Carnedd y Filiast
The ridge to Elidir Fawr
The Devil’s Kitchen
The Heather Terrace
The Heather Terrace, May 2009
I came back to these hills in May 2009, for a change not leading. Barbara and I were staying at the Holiday Fellowship house in Conwy for a few days, and one of the walks was planned as the Tryfan / Glyders traverse, with ascent by the Heather Terrace, the prominent sloping route that runs about halfway up the eastern face of Tryfan before turning right for the summit. It’s a great way up and I much enjoyed it.
There’s a sharp descent to Bwlch Tryfan thereafter, and a tough ascent by the scree-ridden Bristly Ridge to the top of Glyder Fach. Unfortunately our leader was having a bad day – same problem as would hit me the following week in Scotland – and as we met another group from the house on the way to the top of Fach, who were to make an easier way down (by Cwm Tryfan) than our planned Devil’s Kitchen, it was decided to miss out Glyder Fawr and join them. A bit of a shame but as Barbara was in the other group I didn’t mind too much.
Nobody says the Carnedds, by the way. For once the Welsh wins out. The Carneddau form the largest group of the great hills of Snowdonia, both in number and area. Carnedd Llewellyn (3490ft) is the centre of the range, with a number of ridges: south-west to Carnedd Dafydd (3425ft) and Pen yr Ole Wen (3211ft), north-west to Yr Elen (3152ft), and north to Foel Grach (3196ft) and Foel-fras (3092ft).
Personally, I would include a seventh 3000-footer, Carnedd Gwenllian at 3038ft, so increasing the Welsh total to 15. The question is how one defines a mountain; the archetypal British 3000-foot index, to the Munros of Scotland, has been revised several times as ideas vary on what is a peak and what is merely an outlying top. Garnedd Gwenllian has a splendid rocky top and a pivotal position as principal ridges diverge – all plus points – but ascent from the col to the south is minimal – a negative that for many outweighs the positives.
The western tops, Friday 13 October 2006
There is a good panorama of the western tops of the Carneddau from the vicinity of Gwern Gof Isaf. I had plenty of time to savour this over three days, just by stepping out of the farm’s bunkhouse door. But they are laid back somewhat from here, and for more dramatic views you need to get closer up. The view from Ogwen Cottage of the first on the circuit, Pen yr Ole Wen, is especially dramatic, its shattered southern face looking daunting, as indeed it is; primarily scramblers’ territory, there is a walkers’ route but erosion is taking its toll. I chose the south-east ridge from above Ffynnon Loer, an enjoyable climb after an indistinct start above the wall at 666617, with a good little scramble just above a patch of quartzite visible from some distance away.
It’s a characteristic of the Carneddau that once on top there is little up-and-down. Indeed in the mist I went a few yards past the top of Carnedd Dafydd before realising it was there. The cloud lifted thereafter and to pick up Yr Elen I contoured below Carnedd Llewellyn’s peak on its western flanks, coming out just above the col between Llewellyn and Elen. I found no contouring track but no difficulty either. Yr Elen is a lovely little viewpoint, with good views back where you had come and down into the cwms below.
Carnedd Llewellyn itself has a reputation. Guide books say it is confusing in mist owing to the breadth of its summit and the multiplicity of paths and ridges. Well, I was a newcomer, a little bit of cloud hung around, but it was nothing like a conundrum. From the col after Yr Elen, or anywhere else really, it’s just a case of walking uphill till you can’t any more. Once on top, take a bearing certainly, locate the relevant path and keep on line. It might have been different long ago (1974?) when the hills were less walked, perhaps. On my route off, above Craig yr Isfa, there is one little scrambly descent that needs respect, but no more.
By the col below I had enough time in hand to pick up Pen yr Helgi Ddu as well; it’s a sharp pull up from the col (not one I would have been keen on in descent), but the top is broad, the summit not immediately obvious but pick the big circular cairn, and a long, easy, grassy descent with Tryfan and the Glyders in full view follows. By the time you reach the leat draining Llyn Cowlyd, you’re nearly home.
Cairn on Pen yr Helgi Ddu
The Carneddau traverse, Sunday 15 October 2006
This grand 15-mile hike across the highest unbroken ground south of the Scottish Highlands formed the final stage of my cross-Wales walk. It’s fully described in my Across Wales pages.
The eastern tops, Friday 15 April 2011
In 2011 I came back to the area to pick up some of the Hewitts in the area below 3000ft. On one of the routes, aimed at the northern heights of Llwytmor and Bera Mawr, it was quite natural to revisit the 3000-footer of Foel-Fras as well. This was a great day out too, and I’ll describe it soon on my Welsh Hewitts page.