The rain battered down on the window. It was 7 am, and the light was just starting to come through my dorm room window, at YHA Pen-Y-Pass in Snowdon. My heart sank a little. I had journeyed over 250 miles to get there, and only had the one day to complete the climb, so naturally I was feeling disappointed.
Despite this, I got up and dressed in my walking gear. Wolfed down my hopefully sustaining breakfast, then went out in search of my friend ‘Wolverhampton Dave’ who was travelling from Wolverhampton that morning to meet me. Though I had my doubts he would actually arrive given the forecast, and I had no way of contacting him, as I was in the middle of the mountains.
The story of meeting Wolverhampton Dave
I first met Dave, who is from Wolverhampton (naturally), in the ferry terminal in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, a little over a year ago, and suddenly found myself travelling with him for 3 days from Malaysia, to Brunei and on a 14-hour bus ride back down to Kuching in Malaysia, and we have continued to keep in touch. This guy has more adventure in him, that anyone I’ve met. He is the king of blagging, having hitchhiked from Asia through Europe and back home. He is also a keen mountaineer, so I knew when planning my trip up to Snowdon, he’d make a good mountain buddy for the day.
I stood outside in the rain, and looked up at the mountain, a little despondent. Then from behind me I heard a loud midlands accent shout ‘Oi’. Wolverhampton Dave had got up at 4am to get here, despite the outlook – I was suitably impressed.
After catching up, we decided that we would wait until 10.30 am and make a decision then, as we didn’t want to start out too late.
10 am came, and so did the blue skies, though admittedly these weren’t directly over Snowdon, but it had stopped raining, and this was enough for us to pick up our rucksacks and hit the mountain.
Hiking Snowdon – The Pyg Track
Which path to take?
Snowdon stands at 1,085 metres, and there are various paths (6 in total) you can choose to get to the summit. If you are staying further down the Mountain in Llanberis, you’ll start on the Llanberis path. This can also be known as the tourist path, as many choose to start out that way, and it is also where the start of the Mountain railway is (yes, you can cheat even more, and catch the train up). The Llanberis path is known to be one of the easier paths to take, as despite being longer (9 miles), it is the most gradual climb.
The other option is the Pyg track, taken from Pen-Y-Pass. This is what we chose to do, as it was on our doorstep. The Pyg track is 7 miles long, but is known to be one of the most challenging paths, out of the 6 paths. So even though you are already 359 metres up in the mountains, it is by no means a headstart.
The path starts just behind the car park, and helicopter landing site on the right hand side. You will start off on a steady incline, and the path is well marked and maintained.
After the first 10 minutes, I had to stop, and wondered how on earth I’d complete this. Thankfully, the views were stunning, and so I could stop more often, with the excuse of taking photographs.
After about 20 minutes, I could make out the hostel in the distance, and proclaimed that we had come a long way. Dave then dampened my spirits by saying ‘we’ve still got a long way to go’.
The track will then come to a dividing point, where there is a stile, and you can decide to continue on the Pyg track, or get to the summit via Crib Goch.
Crib Goch can often be mistaken for the summit, but the summit is a little beyond this. Initially, we were toying with the idea of doing Grib Goch, though decided against it, judging the way the clouds were moving, and we decided well, as the clouds lowered in, and it disappeared quickly in the hour that followed. Crib Goch is a knife edge ridge and has a steep drop either side. It is virtually a vertical climb, and can be treacherous at the top, with many people coming into difficulty.
We continued along the Pyg track, and I continued to admire the incredible views, including the stunning lake of Llyn Llydaw.
At times during this part of the walk, there were a number of rocks to climb over, and a these were tricky to negotiate, due to the earlier downpour, so we had to tread carefully.
Looking up toward the peak, low cloud was still hanging on the summit and it didn’t look as though it would shift.
At this stage, I decided that getting some photos in an area, where you could see some surroundings, would be a good idea.
We had a few more stops along the way; mainly as I was flagging and needed to put on more layers. We were not far from the top, and Dave pushed me to continue to the ridge.
After reaching the ridge, I wanted to collapse, but we still had a little way to get to the summit. It was really cloudy on the ridge, but I could just about make out the train and railway track, which was undergoing repairs. It was quite busy around the top, but as the train was not running, it wasn’t as busy as it usually would be.
I pushed on, up the perfectly maintained steps to the summit (for the benefit of the lazy buggers that get the train up), and touched the marker that told us we had arrived.
The small summit was quite crowded, so we snapped a quick photo and continued down, to seek shelter, and grab some lunch.
We didn’t stop long at the top of the mountain, as it was rather chilly, and wet, and the only sheltered area, smelt badly of wee. There is a cafe, but as there was no train running, this was not open.
I ate my sandwiches, which tasted like the best sandwiches in the world, after the hike, and prepared to climb down.
The climb down was much more challenging than I anticipated, mainly as my legs were shot, but I slowly made it. We went down the same way we came up, but split and took the miners track back to Pen-Y-Pass.
After making my way down to the lake, I stopped for my celebratory cider, Dave laughed at this, and told me I was adding unnecessary weight to my pack, but after hiking over 3 hours, I felt it was well deserved. Added to the fact, when I climbed up to the Mueller Hut in Mount Cook, New Zealand, I had a lot more gear, a lot more food, including 2 bottles of cider and stuff to sleep in the hut, so the weight didn’t bother me at all. I am a great believer in rewarding effort, no matter how small it is.
The walk along the miners track, back to base, was relatively flat and we had a nice relaxed walk and talk. This section of the walk appeared to go really fast, and I was surprised when we finally made it back to the hostel, safe and well.
How long does it take to climb Snowdon?
This will depend on a few things – your level of fitness, and the track you take up the mountain. We climbed it (up the Pyg track and down Miners) in 5 hours 15 minutes, this does not include the stops along the way up and down (including a quick stop off to wee in the bushes). We also had about 20 minutes at the top of the mountain, which I’ve not added in. So if you start at 11 am at the latest in the autumn/winter months, you should be able to make it down before it gets dark.
Practicalities of climbing Snowdon
Snowdon is no walk in the park. However, even with my relatively small amount of training, I was able to do it. That said, I have climbed a fair few mountains in my time, including the Tongariro crossing in New Zealand, and Mount Batur in Bali and would say I have a moderate level of fitness. If you’ve never climbed a mountain before, you may want to start out on something a little easier.
Things to pack
- A rucksack for your gear – I took my 35L pack, which was more than adequate, and included a rain cover, which is essential.
- Wet weather gear (some people bring full on waterproofs, such as waterproof pants, but I packed my rain jacket, which was sufficient enough).
- Layers – it is all about the layers. I wore a pair of leggings and only needed to put on my running pants (jogging bottoms) at the top. I wore a base layer (icebreaker) and a thermal top for most of the walk, throwing on my jacket every now and again.
- A hat and gloves (possibly a scarf/balaclava)
- An emergency kit – I possibly over prepared for this, but I am blaming this on my healthcare background and so I had everything from a torch and bandages to a thermal emergency blanket. My motorbike accident in Vietnam taught me that I needed to be more prepared for mishaps.
- Food and water (Again, I probably packed too much, but I normally eat like a baby bear, so wanted to make sure I would have enough with me). I packed a few sandwiches, cereal bars, lots of fruit and about 2 litres of water, as well as sugary sweets (Haribo)
- A map and compass – I was lucky that with Dave, he was more prepared than I was, with a map in a waterproof bag, plus he had completed Snowdon a number of times before. We didn’t have a compass, though unless you are doing any major detours, you shouldn’t really need this.
- Proper footwear – Dave once told me that he met a Japanese dude on Snowdon, in flip flops. He had no pack or water with him – don’t be this stupid. Sensible walking shoes are required. I don’t own walking boots, but didn’t feel that they were needed on this walk. Basically anything with a good grip is best.
Points to note
- Before setting out, if you are staying somewhere, make a statement of intention, which will include your planned route, estimated time of return, and an emergency contact number. Make sure to let them know you have returned to, so they do not need to send a search party out.
- If you are planning to hike up, and get the train down, be prepared that the train may not also be running to the summit, or at all, depending on weather, and it may be busier, and therefore have no space to bring you down, so prepare yourself to walk down also.
I had a wonderful time conquering the highest mountain in Wales. Next up is Ben Nevis (in Scotland), but that may require a little more training.
Have you done any epic mountain climbing? – I’d love more ideas of where I can hike in the future.