I’ve grown up coming to North Wales to visit my Uncle, but somehow this year was my very first time climbing Snowdon. I’ve wanted to for my whole life, but somehow every other time I have visited, we haven’t been able to for some reason or another (and knowing Wales, weather was always most of those reasons…).
Snowdon is the highest mountain in England/Wales, and the highest mountain in all of the British Isles really if you don’t count the Scottish Highlands. Standing at a great 1,085 meters (3,560 feet), Snowdon looks out over a beautiful range of mountains in Snowdonia National Park.
Anyway, my uncle and cousin finally took me up climbing Snowdon this year – and I should have known that, if they were making the decisions, it definitely wouldn’t be the easy way up. And I also should have known that when they said we were ‘climbing Snowdon,’ they meant ‘climb’ in the most literal of ways… If they meant ‘walk,’ they would have said that instead. Basically what I am saying is that we took the hard way up… but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was incredible.
We parked in Llanberis, the cute little town closest to Snowdon where a few trails that lead to the mountain originate. But for our special route that my uncle planned out, we jumped on about a 30 minute bus from Llanberis to Pen-y-Pass to start our trek through the top of Snowden that would end up back at the car.
From Pen-y-Pass, there are three peaks to pass on the way to the highest one. The first peak, Crib Goch, looked ever so daunting when we arrived at the parking lot and turned our heads skyward toward the misty, rocky peak.
Our first view of Crib Goch. Vertical much?!
“Is that Snowdon?” I asked.
My uncle laughed. “Nope, not even close. You can’t even see Snowdon yet. But we climb that one first.”
Ah, great. I looked at the top of the mountain that seemed to be at least a 50 degree incline. “And there’s a trail all the way to the top?”
“Nope. You just climb.”
Ah. Of course. I finally understood what I was in for… and I was excited.
Summit 1: Crib Goch
The first part of the trail was pretty easily followed, but as it got higher and higher it was understood that you really just get yourself up the rock in any way that seems doable. We spent a lot of the time using our hands to pull ourselves up steep faces and through crevices.
The rock here really is perfectly formed for climbing; it’s really jagged and you can nearly always find a handhold when you need one. It gets a bit slippery at times, but they generally always have plenty of places to step and grab.
When we got to the top of the first peak was when the adrenaline rush really started (if it hadn’t already). We traveled along the ridge of Crib Goch (which means ‘red ridge’ in Welsh).
This ridge is probably a few yards wide at best, with a casual drop of a few hundred feet on either side. And I am not kidding when I say ‘drop!’ If you looked at your feet, you could also see the lake hundreds of feet down down below the mountain on one side and the road we drove in on, on the other. It was a steep drop. Enough to make my legs wobbly, and this does’t happen very often. Anyone who knows me will know how much I love heights – I tend to enjoy sitting on the edges of cliffs a bit too much to be normal. But looking off the edges of this ridge made me light headed and made my legs a bit weak. It had been a long time since I had felt this much adrenaline on a hike… and to be honest I loved it. It made me feel alive.
After stopping for a nice warm coffee from our thermos, we clambered along this ridge mostly on our hands and feet to stay stable. My uncle informed us that he used to run along this ridge… which should give you an idea of the kind of person he is and why I should have expected something like this from him; at 65 he still climbs mountains regularly and much faster than me. But I digress.
He told us that we should stay along the top of the ridge to get the best views, so we climbed up and down the highest bits and enjoyed panoramic views of Snowdonia. By this point, the actual summit of Snowdon was well within view, looking both beautiful and daunting in the distance. We could see tiny little ant-looking people all standing at the top, and knew we would be there soon! We watched a helicopter doing some training down in the valley over the lake – it was strange to be looking down on a helicopter!
As you can see by the expression on my face… it was a liiiiittle bit intense.
The view of Snowdon from between Crib Goch and Carnedd Ugain
Waaaaay zoomed in to the top of Snowdon – we would be there soon!
The point where our trail met up with the other trail. One summit to go!
Summit 2 and 3: Carnedd Ugain and Climbing Snowdon!
After the ridge of Crib Goch, the most adrenaline-inducing bit was over, but we still had a ways to go! We rejoined a trail and followed it down again and up again, climbing a even higher again to reach the top of the second summit, Carnedd Ugain. These Welsh names… they’re insane.
After the second summit, we had joined up with the ‘easy’ trail that gradually comes up from Llanberis for those who are climbing snowdon in a bit more manageable way. There’s also a train that comes up from the same direction for people who aren’t quite hikers but what to see the view. The last half mile or so was a nice dirt trail straight up to the top of the mountain, coming up next to the train tracks. This bit was much more crowded and crazy. When we reached the top, we climbed up a little structure they they built at the highest point, took a deep breath, and looked out over all the mountains we had just climbed. There aren’t many better feelings of satisfaction than climbing a mountain and looking out at a beautiful view.
After stopping for a snack and some water at the cafe (they have a cafe at the top of the mountain… I found this pretty impressive) we set off down the mountain by following the train tracks and path back to Llanberis. We made friends with some sheep, walked along the train tracks, and enjoyed the view. What a day!
I commented something along the lines of “of course we took the hard way,” but my uncle fired back – “it wasn’t hard. What would be hard would be slowly inching your way up that long boring trail for 3 hours without anything exciting to look at or do,” and I must admit, he was right 😛
A panorama from the top – If you can see that ridge on the left- that’s the route we took. All the way from the far left of the photo (Carnedd Ugain) towards the middle-left reddish ridge (Crib Goch). We walked all along the top of that!
Selfie from the tip top!
Pano from the second summit, Carnedd Ugain.
Watching the train chugg up the mountain on our way back down to Llanberis.