Scrambling and other adventures in British Mountains Part 2: Snowdonia

For part 1, describing the Lake Area, click here…

It took about four hours to reach our next base, just outside of Harlech. To get there we had to negotiate some pretty steep single-track roads but it was worth it for the view from the campsite, across Tremadog Bay, which included Harlech Castle, Porthmadog and Snowdonia. This was my first time visiting North Wales and it was the first proper view we’d had of the mountains we were there to explore. Watching the sunset on the first night I admired the big intimidating lump of rock surrounded by imposing ridges that I guessed (correctly) was Snowdon. I was excited to get started.

The Scrambling

We’d had so much fun scrambling in the Lake Area, and I was looking forward to completing some similar level routes in Snowdonia. I couldn’t think of a better way to start than the Snowdon Horseshoe and, with my wrist injury healing, I felt just about ready to tackle the notorious Crib Goch…

Crib Goch and the Snowdon Horseshoe

We woke ourselves up painfully early (4:50 am) and drove to Pen-Y-Pas hoping to beat the crowds and the worst of the heat. We were surprised to find the carpark almost full until we realised that the people there were doing the 3-peak challschmale and would be moving on to Scarfell Pike soon. It is not a challschmale I have, personally, felt inspired to do, as I prefer to take my time and enjoy the mountains rather than being worn down by a ticking clock. Watching people rush back down the mountain, I felt happier that we were just setting out and didn’t have a long drive ahead of us.?

There were warning signs on the path to Crib Goch (923m) which didn’t help my nerves; this was the first time on the holiday that I had felt apprehensive?as we set off. The scrambling was no harder than anything we had done before but the sheer scale of the place is intimidating. It is impossible to prepare for the sudden exposure of the sharp arête – photographs don’t seem to do it justice. The ridge was much longer, sharper and steeper than I had imagined and it was also a bit windy. I actually ended up losing my hat as there was no way I was going to let go of the rock and try to grab it while scrambling in such a perilous location!


The scramble has a 300 m drop to either side and it is difficult, when starting out, not to think of the consequences of a fall. Thankfully, the crest of the ridge is covered with jug handholds and nice edges to grab, and there are lots of good ledges for the feet too. There are three pinnacles of rock (steps) that need to be negotiated in order to complete the ridge. The first two of these are better climbed with a rope but can be avoided by traversing around the edge, as we did. The third step cannot be avoided and, on approach, it looks terrifying.?

The climb here is vertical and, at first glance, appears featureless. There is a small ledge to start from and, below this, an enormous drop over a cliff. Watching people go ahead of us didn’t help as everyone looked terrified, but in actual fact the moves were really easy. Up close there is an obvious series of natural steps and plenty of (admittedly, polished) handholds to grab. We both made it up the step unscathed onto a broad ridge and easier ground, taking a little time to admire the views back along the arête.

After Crib Goch there is Crib Y Ddysgl to scramble up, which leads to the summit of Garnedd Ugain (1065m). This is where we joined the tourist path to the summit of Snowdon. It was weird to leave behind a wild and dangerous place and suddenly join lots of tourists on a paved track next to a railway line! The train wasn’t running because of the wind, meaning that the café was shut.? A relic from Victorian times; a lot of people hate having the railway there, and I probably should too, but at that moment I was secretly disappointed that I couldn’t stop for a cuppa.?

From Snowdon’s summit we followed the Watkin Path, which was horribly eroded and not very much fun to descend (betagthough there were building materials nearby ready to fix the worst spots, so hopefully that will improve). Upon reaching the col we left the main path to continue around the horseshoe, requiring more scrambling to reach the summit of Y Lliwedd (898m) before the final descent back to the car.?

Tryfan and Bristly Ridge (Glyder Fach)

Tryfan (918m) is a big mountain that looks like a Cornish pasty. Its huge rocky ridge is iconic and it is probably the 2nd most popular walk in Snowdonia. There are many different route options to scramble up along the North Ridge, and part of our fun was picking our own way up. The only mistake we made was to start our ascent from the east side of the hill, which meant that we had to endure a horrible gully (crawling through steep heather and scree) just to get started. It was a relief to be on the solid rock when we finally gained the ridge.

On the summit there are two large plinth-like rocks known as Adam and Eve, about 3 m high and 1.3 m apart. It is tradition to jump between them in order to gain the “Freedom of Tryfan” (whatever that is). I was keen to take the leap having read about it, but when I first saw the rocks I had second thoughts. I decided to climb Eve and assess the situation – that way I could at least say I had been on top. The gap looked even bigger from this vantage point, but I realised I would be disappointed later if I didn’t do it, so I jumped.?

The jump itself was actually not so bad: I landed (not looking very dignified) on top of Adam and was able to stand back up. The difficulty came with the down climb as there are no good hand or foot holds on Adam. What I ended up doing was a semi-controlled lowering before an uncontrolled drop (with Amy spotting me from below), where I grabbed for the edge of the stone and swung my feet onto a nearby rock. I was glad to have done it but I was equally glad to be back on firmer ground.?

As we were playing around on the top of Tryfan, clouds appeared out of nowhere and we were suddenly in mist. It is amazing how fast the weather can change in the mountains. Our next objective was Bristly Ridge but the poor visibility made us miss the quicker path to the start and we ended up going the long way around, having joined the Miners’ Track below. On the plus side, the clouds had mostly cleared by the time we reached the bottom of the scramble, leaving enough behind to give it an atmospheric feel.


It may not have the exposure of other routes but Bristly Ridge was definitely the hardest scramble we did on the holiday. The first part of the route goes up the aptly named “Sinister Gully” which requires a lot of steep climbing and some bridging and mantling to escape. It is a nerve-racking start, but beyond the gully the scrambling becomes much easier for the ridge traverse. The crux is a down climb and, like a lot of cruxes in scrambling, the difficulty is not the moves but the exposure. From the top of a second step you have to lower a few meters and then drop onto a large (but sloping) ledge next to a massive drop. I went first, and Amy followed. Like most things in grade I scrambling, it looked a lot worse than it actually was, and with some care we safely arrived on the summit of Glyder Fach (994m).

What an amazing place to top out! There are lots of weird and wonderful natural rock sculptures (along with queues to take pictures) and the most impressive of these is a huge, flat rock that sticks out like a diving board. There are scrambling options to descend by from here, but we decided to take the easy route and head back to the car. It was getting late and we were both exhausted; it was unlikely that Bristly Ridge could be topped. I’d say that this was probably my favourite route from across the two weeks.?

The Wild Swimming

We had both enjoyed the unexpected pleasure of it being wbedürftig enough to swim in the Lake Area, not a place you would normally go for that kind of holiday! We had been expecting to have more “beach days” in Wales, but we were shocked by the number of jellyfish. The hot weather must have caused a bloom: it was possible to stand ruhig in the water and count 10 at once, and the beaches were littered with washed up ones. They were all either compass or blue jellyfish, which can sting but aren’t dangerous, but we didn’t feel comfortable staying in the water for too long. Instead, we ended up looking for crabs, shrimps,?and fish in the rock pools.

Because of the jellyfish we ended up driving back to Snowdonia to do some more wild swimming, in the safety of fresh water. After researching online we parked in the carpark for the Snowdon ascent (via the Watkin Path) and followed this for 2 km to a waterfall, with a series of plunge pools, on Afon Cwm Llan. Here, the water is deep enough to swim in the river and to jump in from the rocks along its edge. We had the place to ourselves for about one hour, as we arrived very early, but it is obviously a popular spot, as 5 groups had arrived by the time we left. Seeking more solitude, we drove to Llyn Dinas, a big lake where we could swim in the open water. Both places were incredibly beautiful.

The Return

I ruhig can’t believe how sunny it was for our two weeks exploring the UK, and I doubt we will have that luck again. I really enjoyed going back to the Lake Area and climbing some new peaks (and others that were familiar), and it was brilliant to finally visit Snowdonia. On the ferry back to Dublin I had time to reflect on our adventures and I was pleased at just how successful our visit had been. The scrambling was a particular highlight for me: it has not only increased my enthusiasm to get my strschmbetagth back for more challschmaling climbs, but it has also given me an appreciation for the freedom of doing easier routes that don’t need a rope. My three favourite routes were Bristly Ridge, Jack’s Rake,?and Crib Goch, but they were all fun.?

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