People think of Snowdon / Yr Wyddfa as just one hill, but it’s more complex than that. The horseshoe itself traverses three 3000 feet peaks and one of 2900 feet, and there are two other distinct hills within the three A roads and the national park boundary that form a natural border to the group – Moel Eilio (2,382 feet), which has its own mini-range, and the freestanding Yr Aran (2,451 feet, do not confuse with the Arans of Dinas Mawddwy).
I’ve climbed Snowdon three times, at roughly twenty-year intervals. In so doing I’ve used most of the major routes to the summit, at least in part, with the exception of the Watkin Path from the south, so this page is a useful ‘how-to’ guide for anyone with an interest in this magnificent hill. 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 horseshoeWe were young (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.
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
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 the British nation 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. I’m at Snowdon’s summit rocks in the penultimate picture opposite.
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. The sidebar shows 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.
Yr Aran and the South Ridge
I was back in Snowdonia for a few days in April 2012, and picked up Moel Eilio and its outliers on an approach day, soon to be described elsewhere. Settling in at a B&B in Rhydd-Ddu, a fine little place with grand hills all around, 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 4,800ft 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.