Snowdon is the highest peak in all of Wales and England, standing at 3560ft (1085m). It’s generally considered a must do if you’re visiting Snowdonia in North Wales – it’s such an iconic mountain.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve walked up Snowdon now – it remains one of my favourite mountains to climb as it’s so varied. Plus the views are just awesome (when you get them). There are eight different routes up Snowdon but for this blog I’m looking at the three routes from Pen-y-Pass. Pen-y-Pass is the highest point you can start your walk from at 359m above sea level.
Your route from Pen-y-Pass
There are three tracks you can take from Pen-y-Pass, which are the Pyg Track, Crib Goch and the Miners’ Track. The Pyg track and the Miners’ Track are generally considered the easiest routes and Crib Goch the hardest.
The Pyg Track
The Pyg Track has a bit of a sharp but fun rocky climb out of Pen-y-Pass up to Bwlch Y Moch (where you’ll split off if you’re doing the harder Crib Goch route). Cross the stile and continue along the path – make sure to stop and enjoy the views, as they’re simply fantastic. You’ll be relieved to find out that after the initial climb the path now levels off for a gentler ascent, following along under Crib Goch ridge. If you look up on a clear day you’ll see people walking along it.
In good weather following the path is clear enough but when low cloud or rain comes in there are points where the path becomes unclear so make sure you’ve got your compass with you to take a bearing. These are only small sections though and before you know it you will be at the last of the steep sections: a series of zigzags. Just when you get to the top of these zigzags and think you’re there, you’ll notice there’s still further to go. Turning left as you come off the Pyg, you’ll now be merging paths with those coming off the Snowdon Ranger Track, Llanberis Track and Crib Goch/Garnedd Ugain. Follow a clear trail up to the summit (there’s now a signpost up there) but don’t veer too far off path as there is a significant drop to your left hand side.
Crib Goch: the red (and scary) ridge
This route is not for the faint hearted. Heed me on this! If you don’t like exposure or heights then carry straight on up the Pyg Track and don’t get coerced into doing Crib Goch – you’ll not enjoy it. On the other hand, if you do like heights (unlike me below) and want to push yourself then go for it!
Crib Goch starts at Bwlch Y Moch, the first col you reach on the Pyg Track. Before you cross the stile to continue up the Pyg you’ll notice a path going up to the right. You cannot accidentally take this route, as you will pass signs and stiles saying where you’re going. The path will take you up Crib Goch’s east face, which isn’t too bad a scramble but enough that you don’t want to be scared of exposure. I also wrote about walking Crib Goch’s north ridge in Trail here, but it’s not one I’m going to recommend for now.
Once you’re on the ridgeback make sure you stay on it. Don’t be tempted to veer down it to get away from the exposure as you’re more likely to have a fall. Equally, no matter how tempting it looks to take a seemingly obvious path on the right hand side of the ridge (about half way along), don’t as you’ll then be highly exposed to the sheer drop down the north face.
When you get to the pinnacles, there’s no other way but to go over them. Once over you will have reached Bwlch Coch, the col between Crib Goch and the next summit Garnedd Ugain. Take the direct path through the crags to get to Garnedd Ugain. It means more scrambling but the sheep track (which looks like a super alternative) actually takes you down to the Pyg Track. It really is a sheep track; one that disappears at points and has exposed unstable points. Only if you’re really eagle eyed, you may spot teeny tiny cairns leading the way. Needless to say that you’re exposed to huge drops for a lot of the route, so a head for heights is a must.
The Miners’ Track
The Miners’ track on the other hand offers a gentle meander up past reservoir Llyn Llydaw and the smaller (legend filled) Glaslyn. Once you’ve reached Glaslyn you’ll be right at the base of Snowdon itself and you now have a steep climb. The Miners’ Track meets the Pyg Track just before the zigzags begin.
Everyone walks up Snowdon thinking everything will be okay because the café’s open, right? Right?
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been up Snowdon now and I think I can count the number of times the café has actually been open on one hand. So don’t count on having the luxury of getting water or going to the toilet up there. I see too many blogs claiming that it’s okay not to carry too much food or water because you can get stuff at the top. Please don’t listen to that! You should always carry more than you need just in case something happens – which it does. The Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team is one of the busiest in the world.
You’ve decided on your route! Now for some extra tips.
- Plan ahead of your walk. It’s good to have your bag prepped, food boxed up, fuel in car and know your route before you go. You’ll wake up feeling ready and raring to go.
- Check the weather. MWIS (Mountain Weather Information Service) usually gives the most accurate weather report.
- Fuel yourself for your day. Breakfast is so important as otherwise you’ll be start to burn out early on in your walk.
- Go early to get there first. You can really improve your experience by getting up and going super early. Not only will you beat the crowds on the paths and to the infamously crowded summit but you’ll have an easier job parking. You could also get the bus but the first one won’t arrive at Pen-Y-Pass until mid morning, where it may be starting to get busy.
- Pay attention to the warden’s notice. At the base of these trails you’ll see a whiteboard. This whiteboard is where the mountain warden writes the conditions at the summit. Please pay attention to this sign! If it says ice axe and crampons needed – they’re needed! The mountain will still be there for another day if you decide the weather and conditions are a bit too risky. Don’t feel bad about turning back.
- Parking at Pen-Y-Pass is limited. The car park is tiny and really does not cater for many cars, plus it’s expensive. It’s £10 for a day or £5 for four hours (something like that). You can chance getting a space there but you’ll need to be there before 8.30am or you can choose from a couple of alternatives. You can park on the A498, where parking is only £4 for the day. There is an extra bit of walking to do – not more than a mile – but it’s a nice option. Just make sure you park with all wheels completely off the road or you’ll 100% get a parking fine.
- Or you can get the bus. You can park in Llanberis or Beddgelert and get the Snowdon Sherpa Bus to Pen-y-Pass, too. This bus service also gives you the option of doing a bigger and more varied route.
- Sheep’s wool when you can find it is a great anti-blister material. If you think about it, it makes sense as we generally opt for wool hiking socks. Clean but unwashed sheeps wool when applied between the foot and sock can help prevent rubbing due to the lanolin (natural oil) in the wool. I’ve had so many odd looks from picking up clean wool when I see it but this trick has saved me on countless occasions.
- Carry an extra battery for your camera. If the weather is good then I can almost guarantee you’ll run a battery down for all the photos you’ll be taking. Plus, the cold is notorious for draining a battery’s life so make sure your spare is wrapped up in some spare socks.
- Have OS Maps loaded onto your phone. It’s a great little tool for checking your position/route and isn’t that expensive for a yearly subscription but you do need to make sure your maps are preloaded/saved. It does also drain your phone battery so use sparingly!
- Use walking poles. I know, I know, I sound ancient but walking poles have saved my knees an untold amount of times. Used properly they take a lot of weight off your legs. They also help you to walk quickly – you really can get a march on as you’re now using your whole body to propel yourself forwards. Just beware that if you’re not used to walking with them your core, shoulders and arms may ache a little the next day. Set them to about waist height for flat and slight uphill and a little longer for downhill. I always loop my hands through the mesh loop, which helps support my weight on the pole when descending.
- Have spare clothes and water in the car as you’ll be so grateful to get out of walking gear and into fresh and dry clothes after your walk. You may be a little damp, whether that’s from rain or sweat, so it’s always a good idea to change to avoid getting a chill.
- Grab a cuppa (or beer) in the YHA over the road. You don’t need to be staying in the hostel to go into the bar. Both the coffee and beer is good and the people behind the counter are always nice.
- Know how to call Mountain Rescue because if you get into trouble, they’re the ones who will be helping you out. You need to call 999 and ask for the police. Once you’re through to the local police operator then you can ask for Mountain Rescue.
On to what to wear for your walk:
- Choosing good footwear is very important. You see people in converse, vans, ballet pumps and even flip-flops sometimes. Don’t be one of these people, please! Wear good sturdy footwear whether that’s supportive train running shoes, walking shoes or walking boots with ankle protection. Most Mountain Rescue call outs are because of inadequate footwear so spare a thought for those people who give up their time with friends and family to come and rescue you – for nothing – because of a silly footwear choice.
- It’s really up to you what you wear on your bottom half. I often opt for gym/running leggings because they’re comfortable and dry really quickly if they get wet. They also make it really easy to slip waterproof trousers on over the top. Having said that, I do always like my Fjallraven trousers, Keb Curve or Nikka Curve, when the weather is a little worse as they’re super hardy. Just don’t wear jeans. If you get wet, you’ll get cold.
- Wear a comfortable top. There’s nothing worse than being uncomfortable because your t-shirt is sodden with sweat and now your bag is rubbing… I usually opt for a merino (mix) top, such as my Ice Breaker tee or Rab Meco tee as they’re fast drying and high wicking. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoy my Patagonia base layer, which I gave Best in Test when I reviewed base layers for Country Walking magazine in 2017. Although it’s synthetic, it kept me nice and cool throughout our walk but still provided that extra bit of protection and warmth because of the long sleeves.
- Socks. I am definitely a fan of thick socks – whether that’s a walking or running sock. Either way, you need to wear a pair that you know won’t snag and bunch. I always pack an extra pair of socks in my bag. It’s SO nice to put on a dry pair, especially if you’re sweating on a hot day. Dry feet reduce the chance of blisters. I’ve enjoyed all Smartwool socks I’ve tried, thick Icebreaker socks (best things ever) and also Wigwam. Bridgedale also do good socks.
- A gilet is a nice alternative to wearing a coat. I hate starting out wearing a coat as I know that I’ll have to stop really soon to take it back off – unless the weather is terrible. That’s why a gilet is a nice midway ground. It’s great for regulating your temperature a little more. I’ve a few that I like to choose from and recommend all of them; including the OMM Rotor vest, Rab Microlight vest and Patagonia Nano Puff.