Snowdonia is jam-packed with stunning scrambling. Here are the top ten routes as chosen by Carl McKeating and Rachel Crolla, co-authors of the new edition of Steve Ashton's classic Cicerone guidebook Scrambles in Snowdonia.
It is no closely guarded secret, but Crib Lem is the best route of any grade in the Carneddau and kicks off our list at number ten. Superbly situated in the secluded Cwm Llafar, the spur rises above the menacing Llech Ddu Crag and leads directly to the summit of Carnedd Dafydd. The line is simple to follow along a long low-angled stepped ridge that is comparatively safe on sound and quick-drying rock. It offers a mouth-watering array of consistently interesting bursts of scrambling up micro chimneys, broken walls and exposed narrowings. The highlight for most scramblers will come as they sweep up the crest and pass over a distinctive diamond-shaped block. Here the shadowy cliffs of Black Ladders loom to the left while to the right lay expansive views of the Menai Straight and Anglesey. The only drawback to Crib Lem's beautiful slender sections is that they do not last longer and the stony summit dome of Carnedd Dafydd is reached all too soon. Yet the day is easily elongated by following an excellent horseshoe around the rim of Cwm Llafar above the Black Ladders and over Carnedd Llewellyn and Yr Elen.
Tryfan is a scrambler's Mecca and pilgrims are provided with ample entertainment on both its enormous east and west faces. Arguably the best of a long list of terrific routes on Tryfan, Bastow Buttress Variant is the first scramble encountered on the Heather Terrace that functions as a launch pad for the east face routes. Bastow gives a tightly focussed line up a concatenation of vertical ribs, each at just the right angle for the scrambler. It has the feel of some of Tryfan's more famous rock climbs and, although sustained at its grade, textured quick-drying rock and a profusion of clean positive holds ensure an amenable outing for the experienced scrambler. Bastow has the added bonus of delivering ascendants to the foot of Notch Rocks with some of the best scrambling on the North Ridge still to come.
Scrambling meets caving on this entertaining and memorable outing up the main cliff of Glyder Fach. The huge variety of quality moves on this route merits its inclusion on our list just ahead of the other classic hard lines on Glyder Fach that include the popular Dolmen Ridge, Shark Buttress and East Gully Arête. Where the vast majority of this scramble wends its way up the cliff's exterior rocky faces, the most unique section of The Chasm Face actually delves unforgettably into the stony heart of the mountain. This section requires a satisfying squirm into a narrow rocky cleft to make your way up a dark vertical constriction where claustrophobia rather than exposure is the feeling in your stomach. In contrast, the rest of the scramble gives significant moments of exposure on moves that include: the infamous Main Gully chockstone; a traverse across the yawning chasm after which the face is named; a steep wall leading up to the airy but relatively straightforward narrow Cat Walk; and finally open scrambling on easier terrain to reach Glyder Fach's summit plateau.
This pleasingly long and adventurous route encapsulates the freedom of scrambling, perhaps more than any scramble in Snowdonia. You could ascend Idwal Staircase and Continuation countless times and never take precisely the same course. And while some find this openness intimidating, to us this freedom is the essence of scrambling. The route also gets our vote on account of its variety of contrasting terrain. The first part takes a waterworn deep and gloomy cleft at the right hand side of the impressive Idwal Slabs. During or after rainfall this section can be unpleasant and nerve-wracking, but waiting for decent conditions gives an atmospheric and surprisingly straightforward breach of Idwal's steeper walls. In complete contrast, the last two-thirds of the route take a variable line up a vast open expanse of tiered slabby rock. The magic of this scramble is that a degree of mountain sense and finding your own line is needed to weave a way through the rock furniture of the immense upper reaches.
It was a close call between this route and another impressive arête – the Cniefion – for inclusion on this list. The Clogywn y Person just edges it for us because of its tantalising line, its length and the sheer amount of quality scrambling it boasts. The route takes an eye-catching ridge rising from Upper Cwm Glas to meet the Snowdon Horseshoe at Crib y Ddysgl. It is a solid grade 3 with significant challenges, particularly if the exceptional but rarely used route up the right-hand edge of the Parson's Nose is included (rather than the scrappier start up Western Gully or the harder direct start on the Nose). The majority of the arête is quite blunt and there is much scope for varying your line. The airy downclimb from the Nose itself is a memorable moment, along with the gymnastic heave required to overcome a steep recess just afterwards. Nonetheless, for us the real joy of the route is that, whenever the way up the arête seems too hard or obstacles too intimidating, there is always the perfect solution or hold just around the corner.
A true mountaineering classic, Bilberry Terrace unashamedly wanders indirectly up the immense and complex face of Lliwedd's West Peak and tops out on the Snowdon Horseshoe. The route's technical tests demand a rope should be packed, but they pale in comparison to the psychological challenges. This is a very long outing – only escaped by retreat or continuation – that threads a course up the easiest terrain on the face. As such it requires considerable navigational skill and experience. For the scrambler it is a major commitment that has the feel of a big mountain route. Yet this is the very reason that makes Bilberry Terrace such a great outing. Parties will feel a real sense of adventure as they step through the distinctive notch of Pinnacle Corner – too far from the start to consider retreat sensible, yet too far from the top to feel the route to be in the bag. When that last hold on the very summit of the West Peak is finally clasped, the sense of achievement is considerable.
It is with a wry smile that we enter this – by far the longest continuous upwards scramble in Snowdonia – at number four. Tackle Bryant's Gully on a warm spring or summer's day after a period of dry weather, when the sun alternates between flooding and dappling its snaked recesses, and you will find the route delights throughout: slender waterfalls will be negotiated by secure dry bridging, giant obstructing boulders will be overcome on perfectly spaced juggy holds, sublime rock scenery will please the eye and even the challenge of a chest-slither up an – albeit avoidable – wet slab will be deemed 'good fun'. You will probably even reach the dry upper quarter on the remote cliffs of Esgair Felen above the gully and find you have kept your feet from getting wet. Yet while Bryant's Gully is never going to give you the sort of assault on the senses offered by something like the Devil's Kitchen – the other gully classic in the region – undertake an ascent of it in rain or after wet weather and words such as 'soaking' 'slippery' 'survival' and 'epic' will no doubt punctuate your post-scramble pub talk. You have been warned... or challenged!
First climbed by Owen 'the Only Genuine' Jones in 1888, the Cyfrwy Arête on Cadair Idris is the most famous route of any grade in southern Snowdonia and will surprise few that it makes our top three. The Arête has attracted scramblers for generations and with good reason: its rock is sound and quick-drying, the positions – that include a famous step down from the Table to the Notch – are continuously interesting, while its setting opposite Penygadair above Llyn y Gadair is absolutely stunning. In all, Cyfrwy Arête is an unforgettable way to approach the top of a mountain steeped in Welsh myth and legend. At grade 3 a difficult steep section on the Arête proper can be dodged by a nifty recess, while experienced roped parties prepared for a grade 3S/Diff can incorporate this and also elongate the route with a superb approach climb on Table Direct that, although steep, is nonetheless slightly easier than the 3S section on the Arête proper.
The name of the Bochlwyd Horseshoe may not be familiar to all, but the mere mention of its constituent parts, including Tryfan's North Ridge and Glyder Fach's Bristly Ridge, should be a clue to the fact that this is one of the finest outdoor outings in the UK. The horseshoe encircles Llyn Bochlwyd and allows for an array of Snowdonia's landmarks to be visited including the jutting Cannon Stone and twin monoliths of Adam and Eve on Tryfan, and the improbably balanced Cantilever stone and spiky fairy tale Castell y Gwynt (Castle of the Winds) on Glyder Fach. Plenty of scramblers simply focus on the two most famous scrambles on the circuit mentioned above, but in doing so they miss out on the charming symmetry of the horseshoe's interesting descents. Tackling Tryfan's South Ridge Direct (rather than using the nearby scrambly path) and sticking to the true crest of the Gribin Ridge (again forsaking the nearby path) adds a surprising amount of value and scenic scrambling.
It is easy to forget just quite how amazing the Snowdon Horseshoe is – especially given the intermission of Snowdon's summit circus with its train station and cafe. It can feel like every man, woman, and feral Welsh mountain goat has made their way around the Snowdon Horseshoe at one time or another and this popularity may detract from its magic. Yet let us make no bones about it, this mountain horseshoe remains truly world class. The moment you overcome the East Ridge and behold, arcing towards the distant summits of Crib y Ddysgl and Snowdon, the sharp crest of the Traverse of Crib Goch – that exposed knife-edge that no camera quite seems able to capture properly – you are reminded once more that this is an extraordinary outing of the highest order. Okay, the route has been known to be quite busy, especially on summer weekends... but even then a pleasant atmosphere of shared experience seems to settle on the community of scramblers inching along its majestic course. Head to the Snowdon Horseshoe in the evening or on a quiet weekday however and it is not uncommon to find you have the entire route to yourself. At these times the mountains seem to speak to you, ghostly clouds spiral upwards from the llyns and shadows are cast as Brocken Spectres on shifting surfaces, ferocious crosswinds storm over ridges – you are terrified and enthralled, yet there is no better place to be... although maybe that is just us?
Scrambles in Snowdonia is the classic definitive guide to the region's scrambling. It was written 40 years ago by Steve Ashton, who popularised scrambling and invented the grades as we now know them.
For the 2017 edition of the guide, the updaters have re-climbed and re-appraised all the scrambles, adding 16 extra routes to give 80 of the best scrambles in Snowdonia.
Colour photo topos, pictures of scramblers on all the routes and OS mapping have been included to give the book a new lease of life for the modern scrambler.
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