The Welsh Giant: Mount Snowdon

We drove up to Snowdonia National Park in Wales this past weekend to walk up Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales and third highest mountain in Britain by relative height. As with the last road trip Chris and I took to Dartmoor, it took us much longer to get there than our SatNav implied. The SatNav calculated a driving time of 4-5 hours for a distance covering roughly 255 miles/411 kilometers. Well, it took us about 7 hours to get to our campsite with the unpronounceable (unless you’re Welsh) name, Tyn-yr-Onnen. The campsite is operated by a farm and popular with families, due to there being donkeys and sheep available for kids to pet and feed, and there was also a well-equipped playground.

It was much easier to set our tent up this time around, and we soon settled in for the night. A family was occupying the pitch to our right with two big tents (and a marquee in between), while two women from Germany were staying  on the pitch on our other side with two tiny one person tents. In terms of size, ours was right in the middle. Our first stay at the campsite was the night of the Blood Moon, but as the sky was terribly overcast, we saw nothing of that phenomenon. Instead, we woke up several times to see and hear the rain whip violently against our tent. The following morning, the outside of our tent was soaked but we remained dry within it. So, I feel the need to give an honorable mention to our cheap-but-cheerful tent in this blog post: the Eurohike Avon Deluxe 3 Person Tent.

There are several ways to get to the summit of Mount Snowdon. The easiest route by far is by rail: the Snowdon Mountain Railway operates between May and October, taking you from the town of Llanberis all the way to the summit in 2.5 hours. If you prefer to hike up the mountain, there are several options available with a wide range of difficulty.

There’s the popular ‘Llanberis Path’, for example, that’s fairly accessible due to its more gradual ascent (though the path is longer because of it). A lot of tourists use this path – some call it the ‘motorway’ because it’s so ridiculously busy. Many choose to go up the railway and hike down the Llanberis Path or vice versa as both these options share the same starting base: Llanberis.

We chose to hike up the lesser used Rhyd Ddu Path for our ascent – a happy medium. It’s not as easy as the ‘Llanberis Path’, but not as treacherous as the ‘Watkin Path’ or as technically challenging as the ‘Snowdon Horseshoe’ (with the infamous ‘Crib Goch’ knife-edge ridge). We parked our car at Rhyd Ddu Station at 8.30 a.m. in the morning. Many other hikers were arriving there at the same time. It was a little drizzly, which was to be expected after the night we had… but somewhat annoying considering we were having ‘Britain’s Hottest Summer’. The signage was very clear for everyone to see: cross the rail tracks for the path up to Snowdon. So, off we went.

On the other side of the rail tracks was a path that seemingly led to nowhere. But there were hikers in the distance. From there, we needed to walk about a mile to get to the proper starting point of the Rhyd Ddu Path. There were only a few other hikers around us, so the whole thing had the feel of an expedition, which was kinda cool. We had great views along the way.

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At some point, we saw a sign that told us the Rhyd Ddu Path was about to start. Things were about to get exciting. Due to the weather, Mount Snowdon was enveloped by a thick layer of mist.

The Rhyd Ddu Path officially starts here

It all looks ridiculously easy, and had I been the age of sixteen, I’d probably have found the climb not too bad. But well, I ain’t no spring chicken… and my dive into all things healthy only began a couple of months ago. So I actually found the climb reasonably hard. Mount Snowdon was covered in mist, and hikers were seemingly disappearing into the thick clouds above us. But the mist shifted along with us the higher we climbed, revealing the route further up to the summit.

By the time we got half-way up Mount Snowdon, the wind was lashing at us, at times even nearly blowing me over. It sent the sudden downpour of rain into every direction imaginable. My hands were freezing. I needed gloves… which I didn’t have. They always say you should never attempt scaling a mountain without a pair of gloves but I couldn’t find mine, and judging by the summer we’d been having… I didn’t think I’d need them. So, Chris gallantly offered me his pair instead.

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The last picture in the collage above shows the ridge we walked along to get to the likely most exhilarating part of our journey: Bwlch Main… also known as Crib Goch’s little brother. Let’s just say that if you suffer from vertigo, you might want to stay clear of this place. It’s a very exposed area of the mountain, providing little shelter from the weather. Sometimes, you had to climb over rocks or venture onto narrow paths, with steep drops on either side. From here, you could see the summit beckoning from the distance.

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The collage above shows you some parts of Bwlch Main. The path you can see in the top left picture was about 35cm wide. In the top right picture, you can see some hikers in the distance following the path we had just taken. By the time we reached the summit, we only had a few minutes of sun and an unobstructed view… but we were so hungry by that time, we just sat down and had our packed lunch out in the cold. When we finished, the whole summit was covered by mist. You could only see a few meters ahead of you, which made it tricky to find the path we were looking to descend. We were sort of blindly walking and hoping for the best (not a good idea, I know).

For our descent, we chose another path that shares the same top stretch as the busy ‘Llanberis Path’. That part of our walk was full of people. It was like Snowdon’s version of London’s Oxford Street. Some people were tourists; some were scaling Snowdon for charity; some were ‘driving’ small, remote-controlled trucks up the mountain for – presumably – a challenge; a few were crying due to injuries they’ve sustained walking up the mountain. The path soon branched off into the Snowdon Ranger Path, and things became calmer again.

The top of the Snowdon Ranger Path

This particular path was full of loose stone and steep in some instances. About a third of the way down, we bumped into teenage girls who seem to have taken the wrong route. They wanted to get back to the town of Llanberis, and probably should have taken the Llanberis Path, as the town is a fair few miles away from where the Snowdon Ranger Path would have taken them. I told them there was (a highly irregular!) bus at the base of the mountain linking up all the towns. They were behind us, but we never saw them again after that, which worried me slightly. I think they may have either gone up to the summit again to go down the correct path or arrived at the base of the mountain much later than us.

Our day out in Snowdon was fantastic. If you do get the chance to visit this very beautiful part of Britain, do so. If you love the outdoors, don’t mind the rain and have a sense of adventure – you will not be disappointed.

 

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