When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to be brought up to North Wales by my brother for a weekend in the mountains, it was the start of my obsession with climbing and mountaineering. I loved being in the mountains straight away, but I definitely preferred scrambling to slogging up hills (the afternoon we arrived, my brother took us up the South Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen, a slog if there ever was one!)
The best mountain in North Wales? Has to be Tryfan! Despite not being massive, it looks like a proper mountain with all it’s rocky buttresses flanking it’s North to South ridge. Tryfan has many classic scrambles and rock climbs on all sides and can be a great day out in it’s own right, or form part of a longer day, such as the superb Bochlwyd Horseshoe.
This consists of ascending the North Ridge of Tryfan, where cunning route finding can either keep you on easy Grade 1 terrain or you can hunt out trickier Grade 2 sections, maybe passing the Canon, which will eventually lead you on to the summit where Adam and Eve reside – are you brave enough to take the jump…? From the summit the descent along the South Ridge is still scrambly in places and requires concentration to stay heading in the direction of Bwlch Tryfan, the col between Tryfan and Glyder Fach. Here you have a choice of tackling Bristly Ridge, which is a step up in terms of scrambling and although still a Grade 1, can feel closer to a Grade 2, it’s a bit steeper and has the odd bit of loose rock, helmets would not be unwise, or tackling the scree to it’s left which is a loose slog but thankfully not too long. If you’re confident in your ability then Bristly Ridge is definitely the better option. Once through the initial gully section (Sinister gully left of a dry stone wall) you arrive onto the ridge, passing over the Great Pinnacle Gap, leading onward to the Glyderau.
Up here you’ll have to pause to get your photo taken atop the Cantilever Stone, before continuing across the plateau, where you’ll need to use your navigation skills, especially if the visibility is poor, with lots of big drops around this is not a place to be “navigationally challenged”. Hopefully the weather will be clear and you can get the classic view of Castell y Gwynt with Snowdon in the background, as you make your way towards Glyder Fawr. Now this is where your navigation must be super precise as you’ve got to find the top of Y Griben Ridge, easy enough if you can see it but requiring good skills if you can’t. This marks your descent route back down towards the valley and is another Grade 1 scramble, stick to the ridge for fun and a bit of exposure or stay just left of it to make life a little easier. Once you’ve reached the large flat grassy area known as the football pitch, the difficulties are over but keep concentrating as there still a way to go back to Llyn Bochlwyd, down the knee jarring steps and eventually back to the car. Time for tea and cake at the Moel Siabod Cafe in Capel Curig.
You can make this day longer by taking in Glyder Fawr and then descending via Twll Du – The Devil’s Kitchen, or even further still ascending Y Garn as well, it depends on how much the cafe is calling your name….
Hopefully you’ve still got some gas left in your legs, because day 2 is a big one! Remember looking over to the Snowdon massif yesterday? That’s what day 2 is all about, but not by one of the walking routes, but by the ridge everyone’s heard about… Crib Goch. The Snowdon Horseshoe, it has to be done, preferably on a quiet midweek day when Snowdon is not covered with people, on a quiet day the atmosphere is altogether different. For that reason when I’m guiding it I always start from the Llanberis Pass rather than the Pen y Pass car park.
Park or get dropped off near the Climbers Club hut Ynys Ettws and meander your way up along the stream (you’ll need to break left at the last steep section) to the beautiful Cwm Glas which is simply a stunning place. Have a break here, you’ll have earned it and it’s too nice not to take some time to soak it all in. From here you’re going to break out in an Easterly direction to pick up the North Ridge of Crib Goch which is such a quiet and lovely easy scramble leading to the main ridge itself. You probably won’t have met any other people yet, but you probably will do about now!
You’ve read the articles and seen the pictures and now you’re here, on the knife edge, death defying ridge. It’s not quite that bad! But it is exposed and you wouldn’t want to slip, the terrain is easy, take it steady and you can always use your hands, if it weren’t for the drops you wouldn’t give it a second thought, but look left, look right and embrace the position you’re in, stunning! As you get to the end of the ridge the scrambling gets a little trickier, with one particularly exposed step but all too soon Crib Goch is behind you. The grassy area of Bwlch Goch is another good spot for a break and gives you opportunity to collect your thoughts and regain your composure if Crib Goch proved a little nervy!
Onward and upward though! Garnedd Ugain next, with a little more scrambling thrown in, as you reach the top here, you’ll probably see lots of people to your left on the Pyg Track and plenty more coming up the path from Llanberis, you may also scoff at the people sat on the train getting an exercise free ascent of Yr Wyddfa, not for too long though, it’s still a long way to go! As you continue now, on towards the highest point in Wales, you’ll be on the much busier path up from town and it won’t be long before you’re at the top, take a quick photo, enjoy the view if there is one, but this is often a busy place so not somewhere I stay longer than necessary. Anyway, the quieter Lliwedd is the next mountain on the list and daylight is being burnt…
As you approach Lliwedd check out the size of the cliffs on it’s side, these really are the preserve of climbers and mountaineers, home to the amazing but very adventurous Bilberry Terrace, Grade 3 and climbing routes such as the almost 300m long route Avalanche, V Diff. If the cafe was calling you yesterday, after today’s long day so far it’ll calling you loudly now, but don’t worry, as you drop down from Lliwedd the terrain gets easier and easier, and before long you’ll be on the mini motorway back towards the Pen y Pass car park. Once you get here you can either walk back down the Pass to your car, hitch or get a bus down. Either way, you’ll have certainly earned your tea and cake after this mega day out!
North Wales has loads of great scrambling, we really are spoilt but these two days are a couple of the best easier scrambles. Because they’re so good it’s rare for them to be quiet, unless you can get here midweek and even then in good weather you’re unlikely to be alone – but that’s great, I love seeing people enjoy the outdoors! If you want those quieter scrambles, they are there to be found as long as you’ve got a sense of adventure and are keen to get exploring, but you’ll have to find them yourself, I’m not sharing all my lesser known gems…!
These two days left a lasting impression on me, they quite literally changed my life, after these two days all I wanted to do was be a mountaineer and scrambling was the gateway to a life of climbing and travelling all over the world to climb. I bought a book by Steve Ashton called Scrambles in Snowdonia, which I still use today, and I just worked my way through nearly all of the routes. These days I love passing on my knowledge and enthusiasm and will never forget the influence of those early scrambling days out.
If you want to get into scrambling but are unsure you have the skills, we run various courses to help get you up to speed: Intro to and advanced scrambling courses