Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | March 17, 2012

Snowdon – Snowdonia National Park, Wales

February 14th 2012

7.5 miles  2510′ elevation gain

We are spending a few days in North Wales with our daughter, Laura, and son-in-law, Fernando and have planned to climb Snowdon, weather permitting. Snowdon, or Yr Wyddfa in Welsh, is the highest peak in England and Wales at a modest 3,559′ but is no cakewalk particularly in winter. We last did this about 35 years ago when I carried Laura to the summit on my back! My intent was to ascend by the Pyg track and return by the Miner’s track. However, the owner of the bed and breakfast where we are staying suggested the reverse to avoid a possible navigation error that would put us on the trail to Crib Goch, that being potentially very dangerous in winter. She did tell us that guests had made the ascent by the Miner’s a few days earlier but did encounter snow and ice near the peak making the going a little tricky. The weather is cold and dry but the mist is hovering over the hills around Betws-y-Coed where we are staying. The forecast is not so good for tomorrow so we decide to give it a try with the understanding that we will retreat if conditions are bad.

We drive the short distance to the trailhead at Pen y Pass, passing the Pen y Gwryd hotel where Edmund Hilary and John Hunt stayed while training for the first successful ascent of Everest. There is a large parking area here and several cars, so we will not be alone. The Miner’s trail starts right here where we are parked so this will be our outbound route. The wind is howling through the pass and it is bitterly cold. We put on almost all our clothing, and as soon as I remove by boots from their plastic bag it is snatched from my hands and balloons off across the slopes! We can see Crib Goch from here although mist swirls around the top. The Miner’s Track is paved, though potholed, and reasonably flat. The sign here says to allow six hours for the round trip. It is 10:00 am and we can see some other walkers ahead so off we go.

Snowdon & Crib Goch

As we come into the shelter of the Crib Goch ridge, the wind drops and we warm up a bit. There are big bags of large stones by the side of the track, so presumably some quarrying is still practised. As the track bears to the right we get our first glimpse of Snowdon, like Crib Goch it is speckled with snow and the peak is obscured by swirling mist. To our left we pass our first tarn, Llyn Teym perched at 1,237′. As the track straightens out we lose sight of Snowdon but can now see the twin peaks of Y Lliwedd (2,947′) in the distance. As Snowdon comes back into view, we pass some ruined wall and then can see the valve house at our next tarn, Llyn Llydaw (1,416′). Here the Miner’s track takes a sharp right to cross Llyn Llydaw by way of a causeway. As we cross, Crib Goch looms above us and Snowdon hangs across the tarn behind the Gribin Ridge. To the left of Snowdon is the notch of Bwlch Y Saethau.

Llyn Llydaw & Snowdon

Once across the causeway, the track swings left and we pass the ruins of an old crushing mill used for the nearby copper mines. We have been making good time, but the going has been easy with little elevation gain – we are maybe halfway in distance but have gained only about 300′. We are a little intimidated but the sight of the Snowdon massif, another 2,000′ or more above us, ominously beckoning us on. The track moves away from the tarn and we appear to be heading straight for the peak.This is our first real uphill section and the paved track is replaced with a rocky pathway. The effort warms us and jackets are unzipped or removed. To our left a stream tumbles down from the as yet unseen tarn above. This is the beginning of the Glaslyn River.

The peak!

The climb begins.

We reach some ruined walls which present a great photo opportunity with the bulk of Snowdon dancing in and out of the cloud in the background. Shortly thereafter we reach and skirt around Glaslyn the last of our tarns. Here a large standing stone invites us to ascend a steep trail up the mountain. We hesitate, but with jackets rezipped, leave the main track here. As we climb we see walkers returning along the track that we have just left (we later learn that this goes to the copper mine). However, we can also see hikers on the slopes above us and so plug on. The trail is quite steep and very rocky and we soon encounter our first snow and ice. The trail is a little indistinct in places but Laura leads the way. It is a little exposed here but the horizontal views are impressive. Above, the swirling mist limits visibility but we can see walkers coming in above us from the east, presumably on the Pyg track, which will be our return route. The ice is a little slippy in some areas and the trail a little hard to follow as multiple sets of footprints spread out across the mountainside. We scramble to the top and meet the Pyg trail by a large cairn. We turn left on the Pyg and shortly come to a large standing stone – this is where we should have come out!

This way!

The trail now becomes steep and rocky. There is more snow, but little ice. I assume the snow has not melted to refreeze as ice. In fact, the snow doesn’t even melt on clothes or boots so we remain dry. Unfortunately, there are no views through the mist, but in any case we need to concentrate on keeping to the trail.

Are we there yet?

We reach a small rock band where several people are pausing prior to the final bash for the ridge top. This is the famous Zig Zag.There has been no thought of turning back – at least no one voices any concern. We take a few seconds rest but then Dee and I push on. At this point Dee is zooming up the mountain in fine form – or maybe she just wants to get the climb over! We can see Laura and Fernando leaving the rock band below us. Just before we reach the ridge (Bwlch Glas) a couple of young men humble us by almost running past, albeit equipped with crampons and ice axes! At the ridge the visibility is no better than 20 to 30 yards. A couple of walkers come in from our right, presumably having ascended by the Ranger or Llanberis path. As soon as Laura and Fernando reach the ridge we set off for the final push to the summit.

Zig Zag

Bwlch Glas

It is very cold and windy here, so no place to hang around. I have already had to remove my glasses on the Zig Zag being unable to clear them of ice. We meet the rail line coming up from Llanberis and follow it until we see the cafe nestled just below the summit. Needless to say, both rail and cafe are closed for the season. The visibility is poor and we are at the base of the summit marker almost before we realize. We enlist a fellow walker to take a picture.

The Summit

The steps leading to the marker are covered in ice and everywhere the wind has carved fins and nodules into the ice. We can hardly stand in the wind. Dee has ice balls hanging from her wooly hat. I also try to take pictures, but my camera lens is iced over and I can’t clear it. On retrieving Dee’s camera from our “volunteer” photographer, he reports the same problem with her’s. I take a couple of pictures of Laura and Fernando anyway as they climb the top. Fernando confides in me that there was nothing like this on their recent trek in the Himalaya.  Enough of this already. Dee’s thermometer registers just below freezing, but the wind chill brings it way below that. We descend and make our way back to Bwlch Glas. Dee takes one look at the way down and exclaims, “we can’t go down there”. The initial descent does look imposing as, buffeted by the wind, we wait for Laura and Fernando. A cramponed hiker who has just gone past comes back up to see if we are alright! This breaks the spell and by now Laura and Fernando have caught up. So with Dee sandwiched between Laura and me, we slide and slither down without too much trouble. At the rock wall I am finally able to clear my glasses of ice, not that there is anything to see. Again we pause here and take a few pictures, though my camera is still a problem.

Rock Wall

We pass the standing stone at the head of the Miner’s track and continue on the Pyg track. visibility below is restored and we see Llyn Llydaw below. Soon the Pyg track is relatively clear of snow and we make better time along the relatively flat, rocky trail around the south face of Crib Goch. Laura and Fernando lead the way. We even stop for a snack, although the cold makes this brief. Eventually we round the flank of Crib Goch at Bwlch Y Moch. As we approach we can hear the wind howling and screaming through the pass. As we hit the notch the wind almost lifts us off our feet. A strap on Dee’s backpack whips across her face and cuts her just below the eye.

Bwlch Y Moch

We soon reach quieter territory and the path steepens as we descend back to the road. It starts to rain, just as forecast and we are all glad to finally see the youth hostel and parking area ahead though it still takes us a while to reach. We have completed the hike in about 5 hours and 20 minutes. Not bad given the conditions. Definitely a hike to remember. We have been denied the gorgeous views from the top but the weather and trail conditions have made this quite an adventure.


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