Not going up Snowdon

Tell people that you are going to Snowdonia for the weekend and the first question will usually be “are you going to climb Snowdon?” I’ve climbed Snowdon and I’d happily climb it again but I would encourage anyone visiting Snowdonia for the first of fiftieth time to really think about when and how they might want to climb Wales’ biggest peak and I would suggest that on an August bank holiday is not the best time.

Hopefully you didn’t take much convincing that you need to look elsewhere for your Snowdonia fun in high summer but where should you look? I propose some suggestions forthwith!

Y Garn and the Nantlle Ridge

I have to credit TRAIL magazine for this beautiful route. A good lung testing climb with interesting rocky sections up to the summit of Y Garn got the walk off to a good cardiovascular start. Popping over the first unexpected stile of the day to see a view all the way across to Snowdon one way and down to the sea the other was stunning. It is a view that really took me by surprise and one that will stay with me for a long time. The summit of Y Garn also gave a great view out along the ridge, our lunch spot had a fine obelisk marker on it and intermittently through the cloud our route there was clear.

contemplating the ridge
Looking towards the Nantlle Ridge

A mini-scramble along the first part of the ridge was really accessible for any hillwalker and brought us to some fairly exposed views that at one point saw me welling up, overcome with emotion at the beauty of the mountains. I’m not usually soppy about nature but honestly the views were just something else and I was having such a lovely time scrambling along.

lichen and exposure
Great times – nature, lichen and an amazing view
Lunchtime obelisk
Lunchtime obelisk

More fantastic views were won as we advanced along the ridge and before we knew it we were at the obelisk. The descent through Beddgelert forest was beautiful and opened out onto a great accessible trail back into Rhyd Ddu.

Cnicht and Moelwyn Mawr

The next day my Cicerone ‘Hillwalking in Snowdonia’ guide came to our aid. Having heard Cnicht described as the Matterhorn of Wales I couldn’t wait to climb it. Looking at the area it seemed a perfect mountain day to combine it into a circular walk along with Moelwyn Mawr. Feeling pretty pleased with ourselves to have scrambled up the summit ridge we were then blown away to meet a local fellrunner on the summit who was marshalling the annual Cnicht fell run. He blushingly told us that the record for summit and descent of Cnicht from Croesor was just over 30 minutes! I was fairly embarrassed to admit it had taken us 90 fairly gentle minutes to just get to the top.

fell run
Fell runners exhibiting the ‘grile’
LOVE the chap in jeans - he was up there supporting his son!
LOVE the chap in jeans – he was up there supporting his son!

As the first runners began to appear on the horizon I couldn’t believe the speed at which they were moving. When their faces popped up over the spiny summit ridge to the plateau the effort was etched into every muscle of their contorted faces. Each seemed on the very limit of human effort but many even managed an expression somewhere between a smile and a grimace – a grile I would say as they did an about turn and began to run the descent. Reluctantly we left the racers to it and continued our amble around the moorland of the Moelwyns. Many a bog later we reached an abandoned slate mine that marked the ascent of Moelwyn Mawr. The track was less exciting than the ascent of Cnicht but its wildness was spectacular. A descent down the western ridge gently lead us back into the valley and homeward.

Beautiful if boggy terrain in the Moelwyns
Beautiful if boggy terrain in the Moelwyns

These two routes are just two of many that can be created in Snowdonia’s lesser known areas. I encourage you wholeheartedly to use these or look for your own; the big peaks can wait until the crowds have gone.

So when should I go up Snowdon I hear you ask… For me it’s a mountain for winter. The hoards are gone, the hill is spectacular and some fantastic winter hill walking can be had for those with the right kit and knowhow. If you haven’t got the kit or the knowhow (I pretty much fall into this group) I can’t recommend Plas Y Brenin’s courses enough. I had a fantastic time there a couple of winters ago including one of the most memorable days walking I’ve had in a long time up Snowdon.

winter snowdon 3
Summit views are never guaranteed whatever the time of year!
winter snowdon
But pick your day and the views on the way up are spectacular!

I hope these routes have inspired you to search out some lesser known corners of your own favourite national parks.


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