Winter ascent of the tallest peak in Wales.

Quick Stats

  • Distance: 12.24km
  • Height Gain: 929m
  • Round Trip Time: 4h23m
  • Kane Ratting: Easy
  • Resources:
Snowdonia National Park, Wales. To save you a Google search, Wales is a country that forms part of the UK. Snowdonia is the largest national park in Wales.
Snowdonia National park is home to 9 mountain ranges, scenic winding roads, numerous hiking trails and sheep, so many sheep.
Although Snowdonia National Park is certainly worth a visit, this is why we are here. In the center of the picture, hidden behind the clouds, is Mount Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa in Welsh), the tallest mountain in Wales.
Our journey up Snowdon starts on what the Welsh call a track. This particular route is named the miners track because it was built in the early 19th century for miners to access a copper mine and crushing plant. Now that it is a national park, the mine is no longer active.
The trail starts off at a reasonable grade and we make good progress. We knew a weather system was incoming so we had to start early (ugh) and move quickly to get off the mountain before the conditions became too dangerous. At 3560 feet above sea level, Snowdon is the highest peak in Wales and the highest peak in the British Isles outside of the Scottish Highlands.
The Welsh legend is that mount Snowdon is the tomb of an ogre named Rhita Gawr who would kill ruling Kings and make cloaks from their beards. However, King Arthur climbed Mount Snowdon and killed the ogre. A cairn was built on the summit by the Welsh to honor the ogre. This would be the very first man made structure to appear on the mountain sometime in the 6th century.
We pass a number of picturesque lakes along the way as we climb closer to the clouds hanging above. Note the remains of a building built into the hillside. This was a copper crushing plant many decades ago.
The miners track changes from easy compacted gravel to an old stone walkway. It also starts to get a bit steeper.
We pass a waterfall as we grind uphill. The rocky pathway was perhaps more difficult to walk on compared to a normal hiking trail. However, with the 500cm of rain that Snowdon gets each year, I would imagine a regular hiking trail would be a muddy eroded disaster. With that much rainfall, we are lucky to still be dry at this point. File that under foreshadowing.
The last lake we will pass before really starting the steep ascent. This lake is often the final destination for hikers but we have a selfie to take. Legend has it this lake is home to a monster named Afanc (which is Welsh for beaver). This monster beaver would thrash around in lakes and would cause flooding to the nearby villages. So the local people captured the monster Afanc and moved it to this lake high in the mountains where it wouldn’t cause any more floods. Disappointingly, we didn’t see any mythical monster Welsh beavers.
As we continue to climb, the path becomes a bit more rugged and we are now up in the clouds. The sign at the bottom of the trail warned us this area is an “accident black spot. Very dangerous under snow and ice conditions”. There are over 200 rescues and 4 deaths each year on Snowdon so we carefully reassess the situation as we ascend, but compared to the Canadian Rockies, it is so far manageable.
We are now well above the cloud line and surrounded by snow and ice. We had been protected from the winds on Snowdon up to this point but were now getting blasted by strong winds and snow. This large rock standing up marks where two trails merge. Mental note, on the way down, go right at the tall rock.
We are really challenged by the weather now. The wind gusts are reaching 110KM/h and there is a mix of heavy wet snow and ice pellets that sting as they hit any exposed skin.
The summit cairn, built in memory of the King killing ogre, is now within sight. The weather conditions are miserable but with the summit so close, we push on while trying not to become one of those rescue statistics.
It is so windy and icy that Sian turns on her 4 wheel drive to make the final last few steps. Fun fact, in the winter before the very first ascent of Mount Everest by Sir Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the British expedition team used Snowdon as a training ground for their attempt on Everest.
Success! Or at least half success, we still have to get down. We are hiding behind the summit pillar as a small block from the 100+km/h wind. Everything we have is soaked, frozen or both. Even Goretex is no match for Snowdon.
Although this feels like a monumental ascent, it is only because we are climbing Snowdon in the winter. In the summer, over 350,000 people stand on the summit. Most of them arrive in comfort by a train that goes right to the summit. Perhaps we should have just waited a couple months and done that instead?
We follow the train tracks down for a bit, both as a navigational aid in the whiteout and hopes the sides would block the relentless wind (they didn’t). The train was built in 1896 and in 1935 a station was built on the summit of Snowdon. Over the years, the top station would be used as a hotel and even for military operations during the war. It fell into disrepair with King Charles once famously calling it “the highest slum in Wales”. So it was demolished and replaced with a fancy new station in 2009. Unfortunately for us, it is closed in the winter.
Although there is a train to the top, it is a mountain after all so the gradient is steep. The train has a cog down the middle that gears on the train mesh into that allow it to climb the steep gradients. When the train first opened, the engine plummeted off the mountain in a serious accident. Some changes were made and there have been no train incidents since.
Happy to be off the summit ridge and out of the snow. But the weather has moved in and we are both soaking up some of that 500cm of rain the mountain gets each year. We are both absolutely drenched. There are no dry parts anywhere. Even my supposedly waterproof cell phone started to get moisture behind the lens. I worry our rental car keys may not work when we get to the parking lot.
So much rain. But it does make for nice green scenery. We decided to take a different trail down, this one is called the PYG track. Nobody seems to know the origin of the trails name, but speculate it comes from the pass we are about to go over called Bwlch y Moch, which means Pigs pass. Not sure why they would spell it Pyg though, must be a Welsh thing.
Occasionally the clouds would break and we would get nice views. Below us is the miners track we came up on and the cool stone bridge you may remember from an earlier picture in this album.
After descending through the rain, soaked to the bone it was a huge relief to see the alpine hostel at Pen-Y-Pass as we had left the car there. We spent the next two days attempting to dry out our possessions as I imagine the extra water would put us over the luggage weigh limit for the flight back home. Side note: the rental car key worked just fine.


Teditor · April 3, 2024 at 4:48 pm

Very interesting as usual, thanks for providing. As a side note, according to the small weather station in our back yard, our house in Calgary sits at an elevation of 3,591 feet which is slightly higher than Mount Snowdon which peaks at 3,560 feet according to your text. Who would have thought!

    Shawn · April 5, 2024 at 12:59 am

    If your house was in Wales you would have quite the view! I knew nose hill top was around 4000 feet which is higher than Snowdon. Wild to think about that.

Christine · April 3, 2024 at 9:16 pm

Diolch yn fawr iawn. (thank you very much!). Loved pictures and everything you wrote. My family and friends in Wales admired u both for tackling the elements considering it hadnt stopped raining in months but still thought u were nuts.

    Shawn · April 4, 2024 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks Christine! I’d say overall we were pretty lucky with the weather. It could have been much worse!

Daphne Nairn · April 12, 2024 at 4:00 pm

Enjoyed your picture trail to the summit of Snowdon & back from the comfort of my home!). What a trek in reality; brave if not foolhardy, obviously determined to do what you came for.

    Shawn · April 12, 2024 at 4:26 pm

    Thank you Daphne. Glad you enjoyed it!

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