A Frosty Day on Snowdon


Welcome readers to yet another amazing blog post! That was me being sarcastic by the way. But seriously, thank you for coming 🙂

Finally, after numerous (read: five PC crashes this afternoon alone) I can get on with writing the post.

T’other day I wandered up to the summit of Snowdon, or ‘Yr Wyddfa’ in Welsh. This does not translate literally, as Wyddfa actually means ‘tomb’, because you guessed it, Welsh folklore says that there is a giant called Rita Fawr that was slain and entombed under this iconic mountain by King Arthur himself. If you’re not from the UK, Snowdon, and please definitely not ‘Mount’ Snowdon, is the highest mountain in Wales, England and Northern Ireland standing at a modest 1,085 metres or 3,560 feet above sea level. Sure, a pimple by European, American or Himalayan standards, but she’s a beaut nonetheless. The mountains of the UK may not be huge, but what they lack in height, they certainly make up for in character; the UK’s highest being Ben Nevis in Scotland at 1,344 metres or 4,409 feet.

I’d only been up the mountain a couple of days previously, as if you want this mountain to be peaceful and/or devoid of the 500,000+ people that ascend every year (and leave their associated crap on the summit), you have to ascend it in winter when the train (yes, you heard me right) is not running to the summit. It has been for over 100 years and for me personally, is quite a source of annoyance. But it does however, allow the less able who want to experience this beautiful mountain access they would not otherwise have had; every cloud and all that.

Snow was forecast for around midday, so I wanted to get up there for then. I chose to follow the Watkin Path which in my humble opinion, is the most scenically stunning way up. This starts at around 60 metres above sea level a couple of miles east of the hamlet of Beddgelert, next to one of my favourite haunts, Cafe Gwynant (not open until 5th February) and is around 4 miles long with the most ascent of 1,020 metres. A fit walker will get to the summit in average weather conditions in around 3 to 3 1/2 hours, however, it is also one of the most challenging ascents, which I’ll touch on shortly. So I parked up, laced up my Scarpa’s, had a brief fight with my walking pole, and off I went.

From the start you can either choose to go through the woods of Hafod y Llan (recommended) or you can carry on along the farm road and rejoin the main path at the black gate. Please close them behind you folks as there are roaming sheep and feral goats. And dragons. No haggis here though, wrong part of the UK.
This first section gradually brings you up and contours around the hillside until it opens out, and one of the first things you’ll see are the stunning water falls to your right of the Afon Cwm Llan and the old, steep incline chopped into the hillside ahead of you. Here’s a close-up shot of one of those falls:

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The water is always a lovely jade green

A little further after the falls, the path really opens out before you as you become enclosed by the huge, black walls of Craig Ddu in front of you, the far end of Snowdon’s south ridge and the lovely peak of Yr Aran to the left:

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Beautiful

Carrying on you will arrive at some ruins of a building that was used prior to the D-Day landings in 1944 for training purposes. The scars of munitions are obvious as you pass it and look at its west facing wall that is riddled with bullet holes:

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I can almost hear the crack of rounds flying through the air

This is always a talking point when I am guiding clients up this way as they often never take the time to look as it’s just a ruined farm building to most peoples’ eyes. Snowdonia has many secrets, all you have to do is look for them.

From here on, we approach a rock to the left of the path, known as the ‘Gladstone Rock’. Named after Sir Edward Watkin, who was a liberal member of Parliament and a railway entrepreneur, who upon retirement, lived in Cwm Llan, which is pretty much where you stand at this rock. There was already a path that ran through the quarry on the hillside, however this did not go all the way to Snowdon’s summit and Sir Watkin wanted this to become a reality so folk could walk up without going through the quarry (dangerous places in Wales). This was to be the first designated footpath in Britain and paved the way (pun intended) to allowing access to the countryside for walkers. It was opened officially in 1892 by the then Prime Minister, William Gladstone at the site of the rock where he addressed 2,000 people. Imagine all those people stood in that area! At 83, I hope he had a very loud voice! Unfortunately, Edward Watkin hardly got a mention, so it’s fitting that the path is named after him 🙂
Have a look at the plaque that adorns the rock:

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The Gladstone Plaque
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The 747 metre top of Yr Aran, rises gracefully upwards to the rear

After a while, that strange yellow body in the sky decided to grace my presence for about one minute, shining a sliver of golden sunlight across the flanks of Wyddfa’s mighty south ridge:

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Quick, get the camera out!

That was the last I saw of the blighter. But I didn’t mind, Snowdonia is beautiful in any weather, sun or no.

A little further up I stopped for a natural and a small bite to eat, a banana, ensuring I bagged the skin and carried it off the hill in my pack. Please, please, please readers DO NOT drop your banana skins on the ground. It can take two years, yes two years for a banana peel to decompose in a mountain environment and they do not get eaten by animals or birds and they are an absolute bloody eyesore. This also applies to orange peel.
Snowdon is a beautiful mountain, but unfortunately, due to the amount of people that walk on it, rubbish is quite a problem. This ranges from empty bottles, plastic and glass, wrappers, clothing, dog waste and also, human waste and associated tissue/wipes. Yes, disgusting. This stuff DOES NOT bio-degrade, it was never designed to.
Think about the damage you are causing to the environment, flora and fauna and the unsightly mess it creates. I suspect if you’re reading this, then you are not one of those kinds of walkers. A lot of people that climb Snowdon are not hill walkers and treat the mountain as their local high street, and just leave their rubbish on the ground, for people like me to clean up after them which I do every time I walk the mountain. In Summer, I can leave the hill on the way down the main path to Llanberis with at least 2 kilograms of rubbish in a bin bag and any people I see littering I ask them kindly to pick it up and take it with them, or give it to me to put in the bag.
Why do I and many of my friends do this? Because I love my mountain. Prince Charles famously said once that Snowdon was “the highest slum in Britain” and I really do not want this beautiful slice of the UK to become so again.
From the summit this time, I collected two one litre, half empty glass beer bottles. Glass takes 1,000,000 years to bio-degrade. Aluminium, 80-100 years. Cigarette butts, 1-10 years. It’s thanks to annual clean ups provided by the ‘Real Three Peaks Challenge‘ and RAW Adventures that is completely volunteer ran, we can ensure that Snowdon, Scafell Pike in the Lake District and Ben Nevis in Scotland, get a proper clean up.

So if you care for the environment, please crush it and bag it: if it came out of your bag full there is plenty of room in your bag for it empty.

Anyway, I’ve got that off my chest at least and I hope that you’re still with me 🙂

A little further up, I took the opportunity to shoot a panorama before I reached Bwlch Ciliau and cloud base:

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Snowdon’s stunning south ridge and Yr Aran, far left.

I’d done most of the hard walking now, as it is quite a long slog on the twisting path up to the bwlch, where I turn left along the ridge. The path is mostly clear along here, but please take care in low visibility. Normally, I would walk right along the ridge edge so I can view the massive Cwm Dyli from on high, but I just wanted to get on today so plodded along towards the dreaded screes, but not before a quick view back to Y Lliwedd:

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Y Lliwedd, 898 metres. Always an awesome sight. It has some of the highest near-vertical cliffs in Britain.

Just before I reached the bottom of the scree path and Bwlch y Saethau (‘Pass of the Arrows’), I veered up to the right as I normally do to get the shot of Llyn Glaslyn (literally, ‘Blue Lake’) a full 200 metres/660 feet below me:

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In bright sunshine, this lake is even bluer! Crib Goch is centre in the cloud. This lake is also home of the mythical beast ‘Afanc’

I dropped down after taking the shot and took one more before I started the steep slog up the screes:

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This path strikes fear into a lot of people. It is steep, very loose and dangerous and if you don’t know it, you could easily stray off it….

Today I was pleased to get to the top of the screes in twenty minutes, which tops out at 1,000 metres. There’s another ten minute uphill walk from here to the summit. The wind today was ferocious. I knew this would be the case as I changed to a thicker jacket prior to ascending the scree path; there were strong and freezing westerlies today. I also changed to a thicker pair of gloves. Wind chill today was up to -23Âșc so it was very important that I protect myself.
I made the summit and declined an offer of whiskey from a few young walkers (not a big fan) as I much prefer a nice hot cuppa on a mountain summit. They wanted me to celebrate reaching the summit with them, but as I have summited Snowdon in excess of sixty times, I said no! A couple of other people came up whilst I had my lunch, including one mouthy guy who decided to shout “I am the highest man in Wales, England and Northern Ireland!” What is it with people making a noise in the mountains!? I come up here for peace, go and shout in your own bloody home! I silently said to myself that he was ‘a dick more like’ and packed up and headed off.

I was full into the wind and icy hail now so I put my goggles on and made sure my hood was protecting my head and face. It was so cold!

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Any moisture on my right side was completely frozen within a couple of minutes. As much as I enjoy this feeling of braving the elements, I was glad to get below the altitude of the ground’s freezing point, as the rocks were lethal and some of the loose pebbles were like walking on marbles in places, so I did have a couple of falls. There was no snow on the ground so crampons were not required, but my walking pole was worth its weight in gold to brace me against the relentless winds.

On reaching the lower point of the ridge and leaving cloud base, I wanted one shot of the mountain I was climbing next, Yr Aran:

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Descending down to 500 metres, only to climb up to 747 metres afterwards!

I negotiated my way across Bwlch Cwm Llan and readied myself for the short but steep push up to Yr Aran. It’s a case of following the drystone wall until you reach the ‘shoulder’, where you turn right and carry on again steeply to the summit. It was only 13:30 so I had plenty of time.
The wind was insane up here and unfortunately on this peak, there is zero shelter and it was still freezing cold, but I did shoot a little windy video (watch at 1080p):

I beat a hasty retreat off Yr Aran and headed east down the ridge before dropping down into the quarry and out of most of the wind. I took stock of the day so far from here and took my pack off and sat to have a little food and some coffee in the ruined little huts here, thinking that this would make a great wild camp spot. I took a couple of panoramas and one selfie from here, looking back north to Y Lliwedd and Snowdon in the cloud, encompassing Cwm Llan and the stunning Cwm Tregallan:

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Yours Truly

Nearly finished if you’re still here, thank you if you are!

I carried on but wanted to leave the hill by a different route. So I mosied around the hillside to the old tramway and to the top of the incline that I mentioned at the start and took a couple of pics over-looking the old structures:

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Old wheelhouse at the top of the incline, with Moel Meirch, rear.

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Looking straight down the jaws of the very steep incline, towards Cnicht, in cloud. I descended this way but I DO NOT recommend it; it is a very dangerous way down. I broke my own principles/countryside code by having to clamber over a wall at the bottom that wasn’t clear from the top, as I thought I could get out. Please don’t go this way folks.
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Back over the wheel house to Y Lliwedd

As I made my way down, I stubbed my right big toe so hard I let out a yelp. This had me hobbling around for a bit, only for me to do it again a little further down, on the same bloody toe! It’s now black and will fall off eventually, another one lost to the trails of life, whether running or walking!

Despite that, I had a superb day and enjoyed every minute of it. The route walked was around 15 kilometres and took me 6 hours 45 minutes inclusive of stops.

Thanks for visiting folks, a lot to read I know, but I’m nothing if not thorough 😉

See you on the hills.

Elt

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2 thoughts on “A Frosty Day on Snowdon

  1. Some stunning pictures there! I’ve only ever walked up Snowdon in the summer and under clear blue skies (got lucky with the weather a couple of times!), and as you can imagine I was accompanied by several hundred others. Looks great when there’s no-one there!

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