Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Snowdon Horseshoe

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Route: Pen-y-Gwyrd, Bwlch y Gwyddel, Pen-y-pass, Pyg Track, Bwlch y Moch, Crib Goch, Bwlch Coch, Garnedd Ugain, Crib-y-Ddysgl, Bwlch Glas, Yr Wyddfa, Watkin Path, Bwlch y Saethau, Bwlch Ciliau, Y Lliwedd West Peak, Y Lliwedd East Peak, Lliwedd Bach, Llyn Llydaw, Cwm Dyli, Miners' Track, Pen-y-pass, Pen-y-Gwyrd

Date: 24/05/2016
From: Pen-y-Gwyrd Hotel

Parking: Laybys on A498
Start Point: Pen-y-pass
Region: Snowdonia

Route length: 9.7 miles (15.6 km)
Time taken: 05:15
Average speed: 1.8 mph
Ascent: 1,232m
Descent: 1,232m

Summits: Crib Goch (923m), Garnedd Ugain (1065m), Yr Wyddfa (1085m), Y Lliwedd (898m), Y Lliwedd East Peak (893m), Lliwedd Bach (818m)

Other points of interest: Glaslyn, Summit Station, Hefod Eryri

The Snowdon Horseshoe needs little introduction. It is widely regarded as one of the best mountain days in the whole country, and probably the best outside of Scotland. We managed to find a weekday to tackle this immense route with the promise of light winds and patchy clouds - the perfect combination to tackle some of the exhilarating ridges and arêtes that form the famous route.

Both being first timers, we also opted to bring along a more experienced head - that of Chris Jackson, a Mountain Leader who lives and works in the national park. I suppose that brings me nicely to a disclaimer of sorts. While the Snowdon Horseshoe is a superb mountain outing, it is not without its challenges, namely the exposed arête of Crib Goch which we'll have a look at later. Care should be exercised when undertaking many parts of this walk

Despite being mid-week, the car park at Pen-y-pass was already full by the time we decided to show up so it was back down the valley to park in the lay-bys that line the A498 as it passes the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel, rumoured to be one of the sources of the name of the Pyg Track that climbs Snowdon from Pen-y-pass. A path takes you around the knoll of Bwlch y Gwyddel and up along the Afon Trawsnant to the car park. Now we could really get going.
First task of the day - reach Pen-y-pass
The valley of Afon Glaslyn
Craig Penlan
The sun was beaming as we set out along the Pyg Track, one of several routes that will lead you to the summit of Snowdon and probably one of the most popular along with the Miner's Track and the Llanberis Path. It climbs steadily around Carreg Gwalch up to Bwlch y Moch - or "Pigs Pass" (another possible source for the Pyg Track's name), all the while under the watchful eye of the rising pyramid of Crib Goch. Many mistake Crib Goch for Snowdon itself, such is its imposition on its surroundings, and a number of warning signs are placed to deter the unwary. Crib Goch is not a place to find yourself unexpectedly.
The beginnings of the Pyg Track
Crib Goch pierces the skyline
The Pass of Llanberis
Looking back along the Pyg Track around Carreg Gwalch
Crib Goch
The Pyg Track continues on at Bwlch y Moch
Y Lliwedd across Llyn Llydaw
At Bwlch y Moch, a slate stone marks the way to Crib Goch as the paths go their separate ways. Here the route becomes much steeper and more hands-on as it climbs steeply up the eastern ridge of the mountain. It's clear from the colour of the rocks why Crib Goch means "the Red Ridge". As the route climbs, a couple of tricky rock steps have to be negotiated - the easiest routes having a scrambling grade of 1. It was here that the experience of our leader Chris was invaluable, especially for a pair who had never travelled this way before - there's only so much you can gather from reading other trip reports and staring at photos.
Up towards Crib Goch
The steep flanks of Crib Goch
The beginnings of some sustained scrambling
Looking down to Llyn Llydaw
Only one way to describe the route - up
The immense Glyder Fawr
We made it up and over the rocky steps from where Crib Goch takes on the familiar, blocky appearance you'll no doubt have seen in numerous pictures. It's still very much hands on as you climb up the ridge towards an obvious summit, leaving Llyn Llydaw and the Afon Nant Peris far below. We had a quick break just below the eastern summit, giving a group ahead of us time to make their way along the ridge. Soon it would be our turn.
The final push up to the the eastern top
Looking down the east ridge to the Pyg Track and Pen-y-pass
We emerged at the eastern top with the ridge stretching out ahead of us - it's an awe inspiring sight and not one for the feint-hearted. 500ft drops on either side make it an intimidating place but the crest of the ridge makes an ideal handhold and adds a measure of reassurance. It is possible to walk right along the top and there are many places where this is the easiest option if you can stomach the exposure and, sure enough we did in places. It is without a doubt one of the best ridges I've ever walked (or scrambled) along.
A line of walkers on Crib Goch
The Crib Goch ridge
Proof I actually made it this far
Panorama from Crib Goch
The scramble ahead of us clears of people - time to go
We made it the the summit which stands around half way along the ridge and paused to take in our surroundings. It's easy to forget that this is actually a mountain summit and one over over 3,000ft for that matter. Up ahead are the tall, spiky pinnacles that need to be negotiated before you can reach the relative safety of Bwlch Coch. The most obvious and well worn route heads around the base of the first and second pinnacles into the gap before the third. A short scramble up some slabs takes you around the third and final pinnacle before dropping down into Bwlch Coch.
Heading out on to the ridge
The view down into Cwm Uchaf
A fine example of the arête
Looking ahead to the first pinnacle
Crib Goch's summit
Snowdon and the first pinnacle
The first pinnacle
Scrambling down around the pinnacles
A final slabby climb
A brief view through the gap
A superb panorama as you exit the Crib Goch ridge
In hindsight, I found Crib Goch much less intimidating that I thought it was going to be and it would appear that the presence of exposure seems not to bother me much. From the experience I have, I would say that it bore many similarities to Striding Edge, only higher and narrower. I'd say if you have walked along the crest of Striding Edge without any trouble then Crib Goch should pose you no problems.
The western end of Crib Goch over Bwlch Coch
Cwm Uchaf
Onwards from Bwlch Coch is another long scramble up the eastern ridge of Garnedd Ugain. As with Crib Goch, this steepens and narrows towards the summit before thrusting you out on to a broad grassy plateau, capped by the customary trig pillar. Around from Garnedd Ugain is the busy Bwlch Glas - the meeting point of the Llanberis Path, the Pyg Track, Miners' Track and the Snowdon Ranger Path. It is here that you start to experience the surreal nature of Wales' highest summit.
The beginnings of a surprisingly long ascent of Garnedd Ugain
Y Lliwedd
Snowdon from the scramble up Garnedd Ugain
Crib Goch's eastern top
Crib Goch
The scramble up Garnedd Ugain is similar to that of Crib Goch
The final rocky climb towards the summit
Crib Goch
Y Lliwedd
Snowdon
The summit of Garnedd Ugain
As you well know, the summit of Snowdon is home to a railway station, bringing hundreds of tourists up from Llanberis without the arduousness of of a four hour climb. Having come along one of Wales' premier scrambles its a strange sensation to be rubbing shoulders with grandparents and toddlers alike. That said, I loved it - there's nothing quite like it in the country.
The view from Bwlch Glas
Towards the summit
Garnedd Ugain
Hafod Eryri - the cafe on Snowdon's summit
Busy when we arrived
Looking along Crib Goch
The industrialisation of Britain brought about the creation of the railway that runs from Llanberis to Snowdon's summit. In 1894, 150 men with picks, shovels and dynamite built two viaducts, carved out a hundred-metre cutting from solid rock, constructed several bridges and laid almost eight kilometres of track up a one-in-seven gradient to the top of a mountain – all in fourteen months. It is the only public rack and pinion railway in the United Kingdom.
A train arrives as the station
As for Snowdon itself, it has a magnificent view, befitting its position as Wales' highest peak. I was lucky enough to be able to stands momentarily alone on the summit platform, an all too rare occurrence for the country's busiest mountain.
The summit begins to clear
A large trig pillar marks the summit
Atop Wales!
The view east from Snowdon's summit
It was 4pm by the time we set off from Snowdon's summit, the day had been a tough one so far. Ahead is a steep, slippery descent down the Watkin Path into Bwlch Saethau and Bwlch Ciliau, the depressions that separate Snowdon from Y Lliwedd. Viewed from here, Y Lliwedd is a magnificent mountain and were it not for the presence of Snowdon next door, it would be much busier that it is.
The Watkin Path leads off the summit towards Bwlch Saethau
Y Lliwedd over Bwlch Saethau
The magnificent profile of Y Lliwedd
The cliffs and crags of Y Lliwedd
Another scramble is required to reach the summit
Looking back to Snowdon
More scrambling is required to reach the summit of Y Lliwedd but the rewards are more superb views across Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw, including a profile of Crib Goch, complete with solitary scrambler.
Crib Goch
Llyn Llydaw, Crib Goch and the Glyders
Panorama from Y Lliwedd
The summit of Y Lliwedd
Y Lliwedd has a second peak which we visited in due course before beginning a long descent down to Cwm Dyli and the shores of Llyn Llydaw. It's remarkable that such an exciting walk is completed by a relatively straightforward rocky path. Eventually, we reached the shores of the reservoir and joined the Miner's Track, the tarmac motorway that leads back to Pen-y-pass, which was largely empty by the time we arrived. We retraced our route back along the path the car in the valley below.
Y Lliwedd, Snowdon and Garnedd Ugain
Crib Goch
A view along Y Lliwedd's ridge
Lliwedd Bach
Llyn Llydaw
Moel Siabod
Cwm Dyli in the afternoon sun
A solitary cloud obscures the sun
Y Lliwedd and Snowdon from the Miners' Track
This is, without a doubt one of the very best mountain days in the country - certainly the best I've ever completed. It has a mix of everything from the edge of your seat drama of Crib Goch to the bustling summit of Snowdon, hands on excitement and a few moments of contemplative strolling. The views and scenery throughout that day are absolutely epic, from the moment you leave the car to the final few metres of the Miners' Track. This is a proper day out.