While many people might think 'Snowdonian summer' is an oxymoron, and that if you blinked you might miss it, Snowdonia does in fact have a summer, and when it's truly summer there's no place on Earth I'd rather be. My love affair with Snowdonia started in 1993: I had left school, dropped out of university after only three months, and had very little to do other than see friends around the UK. With the idea that I was just heading to visit a friend at a university south of Birmingham, I packed my mum's Astra, tuned the radio to Longwave Radio Atlantic 252 and pointed my car towards Snowdonia.
It was my first road trip. I had just passed my driving test, and with a friend I headed through the gateway to the area - Betws Y Coed - and towards that view of Tryfan from the A5. It is one I've seen a thousand times since, and one that still inspires me that I'm one of the luckiest people alive. I not only live in this crucible of British mountaineering and hillwalking, but work up there among the peaks and troughs of the rugged skyline, too.
In that time I have camped, scrambled, walked, ambled and occasionally run all over the hills. Many I know better than some of my closest friends; I have shared magic personal moments, experienced their darkest moods and rejoiced in their splendour. What I really like about the mountains of Snowdonia is that every day, when you look up, they appear slightly different from the last time you saw them.
As the winter snows disappear and spring returns to the mountains, the fresh shoots of vegetation start to push up through the matte of whithered grass and heather, and then one by one they slowly start to flower, until in May and June the explosion of alpine flora turns the area into a botanical wonder.
The mountain massifs that make up Snowdonia – The Carneddau, The Glyders, Snowdon, The Moelwyns and Cadair Idris - are rich in volcanic rock. Exploring the flanks of Snowdon through Cwm Glas, Cwm Uchaf and the Parson's Nose, you make a journey through a volcanic timeline, as one type of volcanic rock overlays another, each one different to see, to touch, or to scramble over.
None of these geologic marvels would be visible if it wasn't for the ice age that gave Snowdonia its alpine grandeur. As snow fell and turned to ice over millennia, it slowly started to eat away at the rock and form the 'Cwms' that scatter the area far and wide. Here the glaciers were born and, slowly, under the weight and movement of the ice, the mountains were eroded, forming the spectacular pyramid peak of Snowdon, the knife-edged ridge of Crib Coch, the sheer walls of Tryfan, the mighty U-shaped valley of the Nant Ffrancon.
It is because of these glacial processes and geological features that Snowdonia is one of the most compact and impressive places to enjoy alpine style travel in the mountains. Even walking up the long whaleback of the Glyders reveals view upon view out and across some of the most dramatic landscapes that the UK has to offer. Here are a few walks and scrambles for you to follow to enjoy the magic, mystery and majesty of Snowdonia.
Tryfan and the Bochlwyd Horseshoe
The North Ridge of Tryfan shoots up from the A5 like a giant dragon's back. It is steep and committing from very early on, and the scene of many rescues as it attracts many novice scramblers who can get crag fast when they fail to read the many trails that weave up this stunning rocky ridge. It is possible to avoid the majority of the scrambling, although the route should be regarded as a Grade 1 scramble even when avoiding the difficult sections.
The North Tower, which sits guarding the final section to the summit, while never technically that difficult, is a route finding nightmare for novices and the scene of many epics and tragedies. It should probably be viewed as bottom end Grade 2 scrambling, however an easier line lies to its left hand side as you approach it, in the form of a traverse that leads into a gully that leads to the col between the North and main summits.
Descending the South ridge down to Blwch Tryfan, you are met with the first view of Bristly Ridge, another classic Grade 1 scramble, that if you have found the North Ridge difficult should probably best be avoided, as it is a touch more committing. The section over one of the last Bristles is utterly amazing though, and feels more like an alpine route than a British scramble. Again this section can be avoid by taking the obvious footpath that heads up to the left of the Buttress, and both route join on the start of the summit plateau of Glyder Fach.
Not far away is the second most photographed feature in the area after the Cannon on the North Ridge of Crib Coch. The cantilever faces towards the summit of the mountain, and in poor visibility it is easy to walk past it. After you have done the obligatory jump up and down on the end you can traverse the moonscape of the plateau and head onto the top of Y Cribau, The translates to 'the Ridge', so resist the temptation to call it the 'Cribau Ridge', as you are calling it 'the ridge ridge'!
Follow this down - the brave will take the crest, others may take various lines off this exposed walkway - below and right of you is Llyn Bochlwyd, known locally as Lake Australia, heaven knows why!
This day out is a solid Grade 1 scramble, and not to be taken lightly, the complete circuit is a long and demanding day, but there are few like this in the UK that offer so much scrambling so close to the road.
Y Garn and the Devil's Kitchen
Situated above Cwm Idwal there are many ways up Y Garn, most of which are walks. None are more spectacular than the East Ridge, which is a wide grassy affair that has no scrambling. It is however steep and exposed in places, giving amazing views out across Nant Francon and the Ogwen Valley. While the majority of hillwalkers make a beeline for the Devil's Kitchen, the East Ridge is somewhat overlooked, as it is not obvious from Cwm Idwal.
Head up the main motorway to Cwm Idwal along with the crowds of day trippers, walkers, climbers and mountaineers, to reach Llyn Idwal and cross the new slate bridge. Across the 'beach', as you turn the corner a path breaks up towards Cwm Clyd and soon turns into a good 'stairway' as it get steeps.
When you reach the Cwm the ridge leads up the right hand side in a truly amazing position, until you reach the main Glyders ridge just short of the summit. Traverse across this, and join the inevitable crowds as you head back down to Llyn Y Cwn, before picking up the path down through the impressive Devil's Kitchen.
Snowdon – Via The South Ridge and the Watkin Path
Snowdon is a mountain that has been lost under a veil of tourism, railways and cafés. I, however, love the mountain, and if you really try hard you can avoid the crowds until the bun fight to reach the summit cairn and enjoy a coffee in the café before returning to pleasant solitude on the descent. To achieve this you need to take the most demand route up the mountain, I say demanding but it is never technically difficult, and is mainly just simple walking, with no scrambling beyond what you get on the PYG track.
Start from the Watkin Path car park in Nant Gwynant, and early start is advised as this is the lowest start point and longest path. Head up into Cwm Llan, and as the path levels off take a path that leads up and left across the hillside to reach Blwch Cwm Llan, this is the start of the South Ridge of Snowdon, a long undulating ridge that leads straight to the summit, and is one of the most aesthetic walks in Snowdonia.
Only when the path reaches the Narrows of Blwch Main does the true nature of the ridge reveal itself with impressive views down into the top of Cwm Tregalan, and whilst narrow the route is still a reasonable flat path. In spite of this a head for heights would be advisable, although once crossed you are back on a wider ridge that leads to the mayhem on the summit.
On this final section take note of the finger stone that marks the start of the Watkin path, as you will need to backtrack a 150m or so back down this ridge to gain the rugged traverse across the south face of the Mountain. Don't do what many have done and try and descend the East Ridge direct from the Summit of Snowdon to Blwch Y Saethau, as this is a serious grade 2, which has been the scene of several tragic accidents.
Take your number, get in line and tick the summit, then run down to the Café to conquer Mt Cappuccino, remember to pack a heavy wallet though. Head back the way you came to the finger stone and across the loose scree of the Watkin path with care to avoid losing the main trail. The path soon turns back to a pleasant well-maintained affair that leads down through the quarry works of Cwm Tregalan past the Gladstone Rock to familiar territory. When at the car park, take the time to visit the Gwynant Café, 100m down the road, the cake is exquisite.
Snowdon - The Cwm Uchaf Horseshoe
This is a serious route with sustained scrambling at grade 2, unless you are an expert or highly experienced mountaineer consider getting a qualified mountaineering instructor to take you on this route, as the use of a rope is highly recommended. Disclaimer aside, this is perhaps one of my favorite alpine days in Snowdonia, the journey takes you up through successive layers of rock, each one different from the last, it also tackles the most amazing ridges in the area that of The Parson's Nose and Crib Coch, before descending the lesser travelled north ridge of Crib Coch.
If the parking is full in the Llanberis Pass lay by's head back to Nant Peris and use the park and ride to get to the Cromlech Boulders, as rising traverse line will lead you to Cwm Glas Mawr, where a path can be gained leading up the side of Cryn Las, until you reach the Cwm Glas. Above you dominating the skyline is the majestic ridge of the parsons nose. Steep and intimidating, the scramble takes a devious line up, and requires basic climbing skills.
Eventually the ridge relents and you are face with an alpine style ridge sticking up like a gigantic sharks fin towards Crib Y Ddysgl, when you gain this turn left and go against the flow of the traffic, as the hordes cross Crib Coch. This is a nightmare at weekends, as the flow can be overwhelming, however you will eventually reach the end of the main ridge of Crib Coch, arcing out to the north is another ridge that leads down to the edge of Cwm Uchaf, this provides another test of nerves and skills, and whilst it is easier than the Parson's Nose, reversing requires care and similar skill level, as the rock is much looser than the well travelled main ridge.
From the bottom of the ridge a short section of scree leads to a vague path that heads down into Cwm Beudy Mawr and on down to the road in Llanberis Path, and the Sherpa bus back to Nant Peris.
The jokes are abound about the Welsh making mountains out of Moel Hills, but this mountain has great views of the surrounding area, and the rocky south ridge gives and impressive grade ½ scramble to the summit, before descending down to Plas Y Brenin the national Mountain Sports Centre. Be warned though the rock here is extremely slippery if it is at all damp, and should be avoided in these conditions.
Park in Capel Curig behind the Pinnacle Café and Joe Brown's, and walk down the road to Pont Cyfyng, where a public footpath leads up behind the mountain past some old slate working to Llyn Y Foel, from here the rocky South East ridge can be seen curving up to the summit. Follow this with relative ease for a scramble until the final step onto the summit.
From here there are two options for the descent, the first is along the flat rocky ridge that leads North East which can be followed all the way back down to the path you approached on, or alternatively and more easily a path that isn't marked on the map descends across the northern slopes of the mountain from the flat area just before the flat rocky ridge.
Pen Yr Ole Wen and Carnedd Dafydd
Looming over the Car Park at Idwal Cottage Pen Yr Ole Wen is a giant mountain, and despite a reasonable looking path leading straight up from here, the mountain is best tackled from Cwm Lloer, as the path is steep and unrelenting if taken from Idwal Cottage.
Park on the road by Tal Y Llyn Ogwen, and make you way up the signposted path towards Ffynnon Lloer, from where the path flattens out take the east ridge up to the summit of Pen Yr Ole Wen, there are a couple of moderate rocky steps, but nothing that really constitutes scrambling.
From Pen Yr Ole Wen head north across the saddle to Carnedd Dafydd where you past by some massive Neolithic Cairns as you journey onto to the Summit. The ridge now leads east towards Carnedd Llewellyn, follow it to the a shoulder above Craig Llugwy, and make a decision to either descend down the hillside to towards the Ogwen Mountain Rescue Team base or continue on to Carnedd Llewellyn.
If you decide to head on and have the time, then consider heading down in Cwn Ffynnon Llyffant, where the remains of an RAF plane scatter the hillside, and small memorial to the airmen. It is quite impressive, and when I first visited there I asked for a grid reference to the wreckage, to which the person I was asking just laughed. I got the joke when I entered the Cwm.
If you do head on to Carnedd Llewelyn then you are best off descending down the service road to Ffynnon Llugwy Reservoir.
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About Mark Reeves
Mark Reeves has lived and worked in Snowdonia, North Wales since 1995, in that time he has explored the area extensively through climbing, hillwalking and mountaineering. He served as an active member of the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team between 2005 and 2011. Mark now works as a freelance instructor and holds a Mountain Instructor Award and Winter Mountain Leader Award. As well as working for many centres in North Wales, Mark runs a small coaching, guiding and instruction service, Snowdonia Mountain Guides, and last year his book 'How to Climb Harder' was published by Pesda Press.