Scaling Snowdon – the highest mountain in Wales
Snowdon – the highest mountain in Wales at an elevation of 1,085 metres above sea level. It’s also one of the highest mountains in the whole of the UK and features as one of the climbs in the famous Three Peaks challenge (the other two being Ben Nevis in Scotland and Scafell Pike in England). It’s located in North Wales in the Snowdonia area, which is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the UK. And also happened to be very close to where we stayed on holiday in Wales last month, so of course we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hike up Snowdon one day.
This was actually my 3rd or 4th time (not 100% sure!) up Snowdon, having previously done several other routes up the mountain when I was younger. Snowdon has a total of 8 routes to choose from to get to the top, with varying levels of difficulty. I’ve previously done the Llanberis path, which is by far the longest but also the easiest in terms of terrain as it’s the shallowest route. There’s also a train that takes this same route up the mountain if you don’t fancy walking all the way! A few years ago I did the Rhyd Ddu path with my brother, which was somewhat challenging with narrow paths and sheer drops in places but rewards you with incredible views for miles. However, we wanted to try something different this time so we opted for the Pyg track on the way up and the Miners’ track on the way down, two of the most popular options for Snowdon hikers.
We started off by doing our prep the day before (highly recommended when attempting to climb large mountains) to work out exactly where we needed to go to start the route and other practicalities such as parking etc. I was surprised to see numerous reports that the car park at the bottom of the Pyg track at Pen-y-Pass usually gets filled up by 7am and was sure that this wouldn’t be true. However, to make sure we did get there on time, we made sure to set off at 5:45am the next day from Llandudno to allow time for stocking up on supplies at Tesco en route and to get there promptly. When we did arrive at the car park at the crack of dawn, it was actually nearly full, so this was definitely good advice to follow!
The Pyg track
The Pyg track is the shortest walking route up Snowdon at around 5.5km. It also starts fairly high up the mountain, so has the shortest ascent to reach the summit: around 800 metres. However, in terms of difficulty, the Pyg track is probably around medium. You don’t need crampons to reach the top but you will need to be prepared for some scrambling in places where the track gets rocky. The inital ascent was fairly steep but then evened out in the middle of the walk. We got some great views of both the lake on our side of the mountain as well as the summit. During this part of our hike the weather was extremely changeable. It started off misty, cleared to sunshine within an hour or so in the morning before completely clouding over with poor visibility as we neared the end of our climb. There was also still a fair amount of snow on the mountain, particularly at the top.
As we started our hike at around 7am most of our ascent was fairly quiet, although it started getting busy as we reached the summit. Snowdon is now a very accessible mountain for hikers of all abilities so it can get crowded on the paths at times. We finished our climb at around 11am, so it took us about 4 hours to ascend (this hike made me feel distinctly unfit). There is a cafe at the top of Snowdon that’s sometimes open but it looked like they were renovating it, so there were no facilities when we reached the summit. Fortunately, we’d planned ahead and had bought our trusty meal deals at Tesco in the morning, so we pulled up a patch of grass and had our sandwiches before starting our descent.
The Miners’ track
We’d already spied the Miners’ track from various vantage points on our way up the Pyg track. The two tracks actually meet for the final part of the climb as you’re heading up the mountain. As they were so close to each other and the Miners’ track also finishes by the same car park, we decided to mix it up and try this route down. The first part of the descent was fairly rocky, and by this point it was also really packed with people climbing Snowdon – to the point at which we had to wait for people to go past at certain points and take it in turns to go through different parts of the track. When we turned off to go down the Miners’ track, it was pretty steep and rocky, but was worth it for a shallower descent by the lake and reservoir further down. There were also some lovely photo opportunities as the weather had cleared up again by the time we were heading down the mountain.
It probably took us another 3 to 3.5 hours to complete our descent. I think at this stage the track was really taking its toll on our knees! We completed our hike without doing any training beforehand and coming from a rather sedentary lifestyle place, which was doable but painful for a few days afterwards! If you don’t already do a lot of walking and you’re considering hiking Snowdon, then I’d probably recommend some kind of training beforehand to mitigate the pain you’ll inevitably be in after. Having said that, it’s well worth the effort and it’s one of my favourite walks I’ve done in the UK! It also made us think we should get out and try some of the other mountains that are on our doorstep, so watch this space.
Snowdon hiking prep checklist
- Check the weather before you set off – as we saw, the weather on Snowdon can be unpredictable and changeable, so make sure you’re prepared for anything! Head to the Met Office website for the latest reports.
- Arrive at the car park early, particularly for the Pyg/Miners’ track routes. If you aim for 7am then you should be able to get a space fairly easily. The other option is to hike up late afternoon, but you need to be confident you can make it down before sunset.
- Appropriate clothing – layers, gloves, sunglasses. You might feel cold when you start your hike but you’re bound to warm up pretty quickly, particularly on the ascent so it’s good to have layers to peel off as you warm up and put on again when you’re resting or at the summit.
- Good walking shoes/boots with proper ankle support – we actually saw so many people who were wearing completely inappropriate shoes with next to no ankle support. This isn’t a fashion contest guys; you’re climbing a mountain.
- Walking sticks optional – we didn’t have any with us but I think they could have been useful at times. Not necessary but you may find them helpful if you’re a less experienced hiker.
- Snacks and lunch – bear in mind that you’ll probably be out walking for around 6-8 hours and you’ll expend a lot of energy getting up Snowdon. We had a stash of chocolate biscuits, cereal bars and sandwiches for our lunch, which kept us going.
- Lots of water – absolutely critical. Don’t even contemplate going up a mountain like Snowdon without water. You’ll need lots of it throughout the day as you’re actually doing a lot of exercise, even if it doesn’t feel like it at times!
- Suncream (especially in the summer) – even in April when it was fairly chilly, we definitely caught the sun. Remember that you burn much more easily at higher altitudes as you have increased UV exposure.
- First aid kit – we didn’t need this on our hike but it is worth having a basic first aid kit with you in case you get a headache, cut or blisters.
- Backpack to carry everything in – not necessarily a huge expedition rucksack, but something around 20 litres will be sufficient for you to carry water, food and also your layers/suncream/first aid kit etc. such as this one from North Face.
If you have any other tips for hiking up Snowdon and the different routes, let me know in the comments below!