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The Far Side of Snowdon

The route from Rhyd Ddu

sunny 17 °C

For just over 110 years the little train has chugged its way through sunlight and storm, from its home in the old slate mining town of Llanberis, to the end of the line just beneath the stony peak called Yr Wyddfa – better known as Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales.

Most ascents of the peak originate therefore from Llanberis with the assistance of steam power.Some of the railway passengers at least walk down or part way down the mountain though many never leave the café. If inappropriate or downright ridiculous attire amuses you then the summit area can be good for a laugh on a busy weekend – or not.

The walking route up here from Llanberis is the easiest – if not the most interesting, being long – over 10 miles for the return trip. The other most popular routes are from Pen Y Pass, the Pyg and Miners’ Tracks which converge at Glaslyn beneath the summit are almost as crowded as the Llanberis side in summer. Braver souls climbing from Pen Y Pass will venture across the exposed arête of Crib Goch (not recommended in icy or windy conditions) to reach the summit by an altogether more exciting route. The path I’ve chosen here however is neither the easiest nor the hardest, but perhaps the most varied way up.

The village of Rhyd Ddu just north of Beddgelert is as an idyllic spot as one could wish for. Here the high peaks of Snowdon and Moel Hebog are tempered by the soft valley greens and swathes of coniferous forest. The place has neither the rugged harshness of Ogwen nor the pastoral tameness of Betws Y Coed but seems to combine the best North Wales has to offer.

Arriving here on a clear and sunny morning in April, the only sound in the air was that of the birds and I was pleased to count just 7 cars on the car park including my own. In the light of the fact that the previous day at Pen Y Pass, the car park full sign had already seen some use, this was boding well as a crowd avoidance technique. Passing the station of the Welsh Highland Railway which goes to Caernarfon from here, I crossed the line and followed the marked trail past a curious stone ruin on the left. In front Snowdon rose 3000 feet above, its outline oddly unfamiliar from here.

After maybe half an hour the track forks by a large rock on the left and where Yr Aran appears directly ahead. We take the left fork through a gate signposted to Snowdon. The way here is obvious and meanders gradually uphill in the direction of our objective, the views behind expanding with every bit of height gained. The end of the Nantlle ridge appears across the valley while the prominent peak to its left is Moel Hebog. On its other side, Mynydd Mawr falls steeply to the blue waters of Llyn Cwellyn. Crossing a stile and climbing more steeply brings the sea into view sparkling beyond the encircling hills.

Pausing at a rest rock by some ruined stone buildings I realised that I hadn’t seen one person since starting the walk and as I drank my water, hardly a sound broke the silence of this tranquil spot.

Resuming my upwards journey, the path became rougher and steeper and after a short while divided in two to pass a huge cairn before climbing the hillside above to cross a stone wall at a newish looking iron gate. Beyond the gate, both the roughness and gradient eased a little as the route made its way slowly around to the right to end up on a broad ridge known as Llechog. Here the ground to the left dropped away in spectacular fashion revealing the summit across a rocky cwm, disappointingly still at least 1000 feet above.

Following this wide ridge, the slope eased again and I re crossed the same wall higher up by another new gate before it was time for a break again. Further ahead the ridge climbed steeply again to Bwlch Main so here was a good place to pause before tackling the last part of the climb. I was encouraged to see that I was now level with Moel Hebog – past 2500 feet – and could now see over the top of Yr Aran. These things are always good progress markers when you can at last see over a peak that’s been above you all morning!

The path to Bwlch Main became incessantly steep and climbed beside a fence straight up the ridge at first and then in wide zig zags before its final ledge like traverse across the steep slopes leading to Snowdon’s South Ridge. Reaching the ridge opened up the view to the East side of the range over Y Lliwedd to Moel Siabod, its familiar shape marking the end of the high summits in that direction. Snowdon itself was now much nearer but before the final ascent I turned right and walked up to the top of the Bwlch Main ridge which looked interesting. The path from that side skirts the top but climbing up a few feet revealed a crest of grass and rock a couple of feet wide seemingly suspended in the sky. There was not a sound and far below the Watkin path could be seen winding up from the valley near Beddgelert while across the void the sharp peak of Y Lliwedd rose up to just below my position.

Returning along the path I began the last section. The ridge, narrow in one or two places though always safe and without difficulty, rose steadily towards Snowdon’s pyramid like summit now only 15 or 20 minutes away. The sound of voices increased as I neared the summit and reached the inevitable throng who had gathered here. I’d seen just one person so far today and he’d been just below the top. He’d told me that the summit station was being completely rebuilt and would open again in 2008 but in the meantime the trains would only run as far as Clogwyn. The thousand or so feet of ascent from there was seemingly enough to deter the flip-flops and pushchairs brigade so the top was hardly crowded. I just hoped they made a good job of the new station – after all the old one never really blended in did it! The new station building has since been completed and it does look better than the old one.

The summit though is a fine spot – no wide boggy field this. The trig point stands on rocks overlooking the 1500 foot drop to the mountain tarn of Glaslyn and the view, when there is one, never fails to impress. There were however just a few too many people so I continued on the main path following the railway down the far side and at the col set off up neighbouring Crib y Ddysgl.

The second highest mountain in Wales, the 3495 foot Crib y Ddysgl is probably as hard to pronounce as the Crib Goch ridge is to climb and it is normally only climbed by survivors of Crib Goch continuing their way around to Snowdon. That and antisocial walkers in search of peace and quiet for lunch!

Back again to the tranquillity of the hills then and some spectacular views down to the Llanberis Pass Road over 3000 feet down. Even the seagulls took their time in spotting a solitary figure perched on Crib y Ddysgl eating salami sandwiches.

My journey down returned to the col before crossing the railway and heading towards distant Moel Eilio picking up a path descending in a roughly north westerly direction. The descent began easily, becoming more knee jarring as it became steeper and rougher lower down. Following the crest of the ridge would provide better views down the cliffs of Clogwyn du'r Arddu towards Llanberis but time was getting on now.

Passing the small lake of Llyn ffynnon y Gwas I joined a fairly level path across grass leading back towards the Snowdon Ranger Youth Hostel. The last part was down wide zigzags and led past the railway station where I checked in vain if a train was due to avoid the 2 miles on the road back to Rhyd Ddu. In the summer you’d probably get a train here at this time. A timetable is displayed on the platform revealing that I was a bit late midweek in April. Equally I’m sure a bus would have been along had I the patience to wait but there are far worse places than this to do a road section. Just over half an hour brought me back to my start point where there were still only 7 cars including my own and the only sounds were the birds and a distant river.

Pete Buckley April 2007 also a Tale From the Hills

Essentials >>> Up 1015m >>> Down 1015m >>> How Far? 16.1km

Here are some photos of this route or for more walks in Snowdonia please see the table of contents below.

Posted by PeteB 07:53 Archived in Wales Tagged foot

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