Conquering Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

Yr Wyddfa (the tomb or the tumulus) is with 1085 m the highest peak of Eryri (Snowdonia), and the highest peak of the UK outside of Scotland. The tomb or cairn in question is said to mark the grave of the fierce giant Rhita Gawr (or Fawr), who made himself a cloak from the beards of the kings he had killed. He was finally killed by King Arthur.

Climbing Yr Wyddfa is a very popular hike, but for those who cannot walk up, there is a train going up from Llanberis from May to October. The top can become very crowded in summer as it is the busiest mountain in the United Kingdom and the third most visited attraction in Wales, with 582,000 people visiting annually. There are six main paths up the mountain spreading the crowds a bit.

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We wanted to avoid the very popular crowded walks in Snowdonia park, but it seemed a bit weird not to climb the highest and most popular peak of Snowdonia when visiting the park. So if we were going to climb Snowdon, we wanted to do it with as little other people as possible and as much beautiful views as possible.

The Llanberis Path up Snowdon has to be the most popular and easiest hiking path where you’ll be able to follow the hordes of other people who have also decided to follow the Llanberis Path – aka the Motorway. It starts from Llanberis, duh.
The Snowdon Ranger offers a quieter, easy walk starting from the ‘far’ end East at Llyn Cwellyn, and is more interesting than the Llanberis path.

The PYG track starts from Pen y Pass car park. It is the shortest walking route with the least amount of ascent but also one of the busiest paths up. It does boast some of the best views of Snowdon.
Also starting from Pen y Pass is the Miner’s Track. It is regarded as one of the easier walks up Snowdon, though it can still be difficult in parts, especially once it joins the PYG track.
The Crib Goch scramble is the toughest ‘walk’ or better scramble up Snowdon. Only for experienced hikers. It starts together with the PYG path from Pen y Pass.

Of all the official ascents, The Watkin Path is the most scenic, starts nearest to sea level and so has more ascent than any other direct route up Snowdon. It starts from Beddgelert on the South side.

The Rhyd Ddu Path up Snowdon starts off, not surprisingly, in Rhyd Ddu, just by the Welsh Highland Railway Station. It was historically known as the Beddgelert Path, as it originally started there. You can take the the train to the start of this walk. Is a lesser known path, but still has it’s share of walkers and is reasonably easy to follow.
Also starting from Rhyd Ddu is the Snowdon South Ridge path or Allt Maenderyn. It usually elicits a blank expression on most walkers when you mention this route. Those in the know realise that this is an absolute gem. And if you are looking for the real quiet path no one takes, this is the one! So keep it a secret if you can.

We wanted one of the lesser used routes, and coming from the South, Rhyd Ddu seemed the obvious choice. It was our first time up, so decided to ascend via the better known Rhyd Ddu path and try to find the Southern Ridge path to come back down.

The walk is 12 km long ( there and back), takes 6 hours ( it took us a bit over 6 hours), is a hard mountain walk and starts from Rhyd Ddu car park.

We bought a map to be on the safe side. We found the OS map 1/25.000 for the area Snowdon and Conwy in the tourist information centre in Beddgelert. They stock a good choice of maps of the Snowdonia park. We continued towards Rhyd Ddu and turned into the car park a bit before the village centre, next to the Welsh Highland railway station, where a very picturesque steam train stops. (Run by the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway)
We were rather late ( 11 PM) and lucky to find the last free parking spot. You have to buy a parking ticket: 2,5 pounds for up to four hours ( too short if you walk up Snowdon ) or 5 pounds for half a day. You can only pay in coins. Better buy a ticket because the next day we saw someone writing parking fines to a whole row of cars parked where it wasn’t allowed in another part of the park. So don’t count on not being checked! It is debatable if fining tourists is the way to go when there is not enough parking space, but that will not erase your fine when you get one.

The walk starts at the far end of the parking lot, where you have to cross the railway: do watch out for trains! You then walk up the track ahead, and go right where the path forks and goes to Ffrid Isaf Farm to the left. After two gates the path will go left through another gate. There is a standing stone pointing to the Rhyd Ddu path to the left. Here is where the Southern Ridge path joins the Rhyd Ddu path. If you want to ascend via the Southern Ridge path you have to continue straight here. Around this point is also a signed track to the right where you can continue to Beddgelert.

The Rydh Ddu path is quite easy to follow up to the top of Snowdon, even when there are no signs along the way, the path is obvious. And since the path still attracts it’s fair share of walkers there are always enough other climbers that show you the way.
About halfway you arrive at the ruins of an old stone hut where refreshments were sold to thirsty walkers. Nowadays you have to wait till you reach the top. Here you can see in the field on your left the remains of what is thought to be the site of an ancient temple called Mur Murianau. (a circle of stones with four large boulders that resemble an altar).
In the valley below you see Llyn y Gadair and Llyn Cwellyn with Dyffryn Nantlle between the two lakes. In the distance you can see the coast.

From here the path becomes a steep climb and later another steep long climb on the shoulder of Llechog ridge. We had good visibility until just under the visitor centre which was in the clouds. The mist gave eery feel to the last part of the climb. It also became very windy and a lot colder at the top. Although the visitor centre is to my taste a really ugly and noisy place, it was a welcome respite from the outdoor windy weather.

The top of Snowdon becomes a very busy place with walkers from the different paths joining the people pouring out of the train at the top. We enjoyed a sugary drink and a snack that revitalised us after a albeit hefty walk. But we were also just as happy to get out again and start our descent.

The Southern ridge path forks to the left of the steep stony upper zig-zag part on the ridge. It is a very small path at the start, but if you look down you can see the rest of the path meandering over the ridge. Further down on the right side of the path you see two lakes and the path will veer to the right just before the second smaller lake.

While everyone continues down via the Rhyd Ddu path we chose the Southern Ridge path. We did not regret it for a second. The views are wonderful, there are almost no other people (and this was the middle of July), and apart from some short scrambles, is not really hard going down.

At the end of the ridge when you reach a stone wall, the path continues at the other side of the wall through the slate stone quarry. You can easily visually aim for this path. The path runs through the quarry, and further through green grassy fields and eventually joins the Rhyd Ddu path again, where you continue to the parking.

Choose a day with good weather to climb Snowdon. The weather at the top is often colder and windier than in the valley. It is a long way up, so if the weather suddenly turns for the bad, it might still be a long climb down. There is a shelter at the top and there is the train back down to Llanberis. The train is often fully booked in summer, so if you only decide at the last minute to take the train down, you might be in for a disappointment. Ticket prices do not come cheap: 23 pounds for a single fare and 29 or 37 pounds for a return ticket to the summit.

What to pack for a day walk:
Coins to pay your parking ticket (5 pounds)
Enough drinking water
Snacks (cookies, muesli bars, dried fruit and nuts, fresh fruit, dried sausage)
A fleece sweater
A raincoat (and poncho or waterproof trousers)
Rain protection for your backpack
A first aid kit
Wear decent waterproof walking/hiking shoes/boots
A map, your mobile phone ( with a compass and flashlight on it)
A hat and sunglasses
Sunscreen
Gloves (especially outside of summer)
Passport and insurance card
Camera

One last thing to set the record straight: it is Snowdon, never ‘mount’ Snowdon. Snow Dun = snow mountain. Or just ‘Yr Wyddfa’.

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