Shortest route up Snowdon with the least amount of ascent – but far from being the easiest!
Start and Finish: Pen-y-pass to Snowdon Summit
Distance: 5.19 km
Ascent: 704 m
Time: 3 hours
Timings are approximate and depend on the individual. Calculate the time using Naismith’s Rule and factor in your own pace.
Before You Walk up Snowdon, ask yourself – Are you equipped? Do you know what you’re doing? Are the conditions safe? If you answer no to any of these, stay safe, don’t go! Check the weather forecast and make sure you know about walking up Snowdon in the Snow. If you lack experience – hire a Snowdon Mountain Guide.
Good cafe and YHA with bar, public toilets at Pen y Pass.
Sherpa Buses from Llanberis and Betws y Coed
Zig Zags are an accident blackspot when iced and navigation from the PYG/Miners juncition to the zig zags can be tricky in mist.
Remember that we cannot outline every single hazard on a walk – it’s up to you to be safe and competent. Read up on Keeping Safe on the Wales Coast Path, Navigation and the Gear and Equipment you’ll need.
The Pyg track is both the shortest walking route up Snowdon, and the one that involves the least amount of ascent. Despite this, the Pyg Track is not the easiest path up as it can be steep and rocky in places but the paths are generally very good all the way and reasonably straightforward to follow. The Pyg Track is 5.5km in length and involves around 800m of ascent. If you’re reasonably fit, you should make it up in three hours. Remember to allow time for breaks and stopping to take in the sights, of which there are plenty.
The views of Snowdon are among the best of any route up. The Pyg is also one of the busiest routes up, so consider setting off very early in the morning or mid-afternoon to avoid the crowds. If you do set off later in the day, make sure you’ve got enough hours of daylight left to descend safely. In winter conditions, the upper section of the path becomes very treacherous and in common with all the other routes up, should not be attempted in snow unless you’re properly equipped and experienced.
1 You’ll find that the Pyg Track is straightforward from here as the path starts off gradually on short rocky steps with a few sections requiring scrambling. The peak that dominates the view ahead isn’t, as you may think, Snowdon, but Crib Goch (which translates as the Red Ridge – the reason for which is obvious if you can see it). This is a knife edged arête with sheer drops on either side and is regarded as one of the classic scrambles in the country. The Pyg Track skirts below this ridge and if you look up then you’ll probably be able to see the people on the airy traverse far above.
The walk starts from the Pen y Pass car park. You need to cross this to the left of the main café building and the start of the path should be obvious as the gate is marked as the Pyg Track.
2 The path is reasonably straightforward. It ascends initially in big steps towards Bwlch y Moch before levelling out. Just make sure you don’t take the path to the right here, marked Crib Goch! You should get your first views from here of the summit, if you’re lucky.
3 The Pyg Track contours along the hillside below Crib Goch and above Llyn Llydaw and is a good path all the way, ust take care in the wet as the rock is well polished in places. It’s only once the Miner’s Track joins the Pyg Track that the going becomes rockier and often threads in different directions. I tend to keep right, the routes to the left tend to find scree. Be careful to keep to the path on this stage as it can be easy to stray off as some points.
4 If it is thick mist and you have any doubts then turn back, the mountain will still be there next time. Chances are there will be a crocodile train of people going the same way, making keeping to the path a lot easier. On old maps and still by some, this section was know as Llwybyr Mul – the Mule Track, though it’s hard to imagine mules hauling passengers up this part.
5 Ascending slowly, the Pyg Track / Miner’s Track eventually reaches the sheer cliffs below Garnedd Ugain before the wire gabions mark the point at which the path turns right up the infamous zig-zags. In fact, it’s just a zig and a zag and you’re on the crest of the ridge marked by a finger post, Bwlch Glas. If you’re descending, keep to the path. Taking short cuts across the zig and zags just causes erosion. In winter, this section is a notorious accident blackspot, so beware.
6 Take the path to your left, as the PYG Track now joins both the Llanberis and Snowdon Ranger paths to the summit. While the summit of Snowdon is close now, but still another 100m climb. There are steps either side of Snowdon summit and it can often be quite a melee to get to the top on a busy summer’s day. If you do, then you may be able to see the brass plate on the trig point that can be used to identify all the different summits.
If you face down the railway you’ll see Llanberis and its lakes, then clockwise towards Elidir Fawr and the Dinorwig Quarry that scars its surface. Inside is a massive pump storage power station which you can visit on guided tours and is well worth the few hours it takes. Across to Y Garn and the Glyderau with the Carneddau behind. The next peak, standing alone is Moel Siabod, and then the views become more distant and more difficult to discern.
You can certainly see the Arenig Hills, Aran Fawddwy and Cadair Idris far to the south and then Cardigan Bay, Moel Hebog and the Nantlle Ridge. The solitary lump of Mynydd Mawr and finally the grassy ridges of Moel Eilio stretching off from Yr Wyddfa itself and you are back in Llanberis.
Even if the cloud is obscuring the summits, you will certainly be able to see the new summit building, Hafod Eryri – or Summer Dwelling, which while some do not welcome its presence on the mountain it is certainly much easier on the eye than the previous lump of concrete. There has been a building on the summit for a couple of centuries, and it was William Clough Ellis – who built the most beautiful Portmeirion – who built the previous café. He must have been having an uncharacteristic bad day. This building was described in many ways, usually negative, given the unflattering tag of ‘highest slum in Wales” by Prince Charles. Anyone who remembers the old building, regardless of their philosophy, would agree that Hafod Eryri is certainly less intrusive and much easier on the eye than the carbuncle it replaced. Remember that some people still refer to it as a hotel but be under no impression that it is, there is no accommodation available on the summit and the building closes with the last train, and for winter.
Hafod Eryri is open for refreshments and an exhibition, but is also the station for the railway. You may be able to get a return ticket down, but it is not guaranteed and you are recommended to ring and book if you intend on doing that. It doesn’t feel very remote now, so take a quiet route down to make sure your day’s been worth it. Better still, if you’re confident of your fitness and hill skills, walk up in the late afternoon. This is the only time I’ll go up for pleasure these days. You’ll rarely see another sole/soul up there at that time, and usually get the summit to yourself. Of course, you’ll get the comments on the way up that you’re going up late. I just smile and tell them I’ve got a bed booked in the hotel!
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Recommended Walking Guides: A Pocket Guide to Snowdon: A Guide to the Routes of Ascent, The Ascent of Snowdon: The Six Classic Routes Up Snowdon, Snowdon – The Story of a Welsh Mountain: Biography of a Mountain
Walking Books – Snowdonia Ridges of Snowdonia: The Best Ridge Walking, Mountain Walks: The Finest Mountain Walks in Snowdonia, Great Mountain Days in Snowdonia , Day Walks in Snowdonia, Mountain Walking in Snowdonia
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