Walking up Snowdon in Winter and Snow
With Snowdon being such a popular mountain and with summer routes that are reasonably straightforward, you’d be forgiven for thinking that walking up Snowdon in winter and snow isn’t much different. With wide paths in summer, it’s surprising how they change under winter conditions of snow and ice and become a totally different proposition. Remember that people do come to grief on this mountain and you’ll need to be prepared. Read Aberglaslyn Mountain Rescue’s Safety tips before setting out on the mountain.
Being under winter conditions means any day where the ground has snow or ice, which could be anytime from September to June! However, you may find that walking up in the middle of winter is snow free, but it may still be exceptionally cold up there especially if it’s windy.
Is Walking up Snowdon in Winter too Hard for me?
If you’ve got to ask yourself if it’s safe to walk up any mountain in the snow, then the answer is probably not. If you’ve previous hill walking experience and are asking which route would be the most straightforward for a suitably equipped party, then here are a few pointers. Anyone else should look at either up-skilling with a winter skills course, or paying for a qualified guide to take them up.
Which Route is the Easiest up Snowdon in Winter?
While in Summer, the Llanberis Path is generally regarded as the easiest route up Snowdon (by us and Llanberis MRT) – this certainly isn’t the case in winter! The Llanberis path has a particularly hazardous section called the Killer Convex between Clogwyn Station and Bwlch Glas. It’s called that for good reason, there’s no hyperbole here. Three unlucky souls lost their life in one season when they slipped on this innocent looking section of the Llanberis path. The problem being that the path here is a cutting into a steep slope and disappears in deep snow, so you’re crossing a steep snow slope with a dangerous convex and steep slope beneath you. So unless you can stop yourself pretty quickly, you’ll speed up on the steepening slope until you fall over Clogwyn Coch far below. There is a cutting for the railway, but that will also be snowed in and won’t stop the fall.
The Watkin Path is also considered difficult in winter. The top of the Watkin Path essentially crosses a cliff, and the path totally disappears under snow, so it treacherous in winter. The South Ridge and Rhyd Ddu path can also be difficult if the snow cover is heavy as you need to cross Bwlch Main. This is a pleasant, if narrow, grassy ridge under normal conditions but with enough snow and ice it becomes a much harder route where a single slip could prove fatal.
The PYG Track and Miners Tracks are better options with the Miner’s being the easier of the two. The PYG contours below Crib Goch, so this does become harder under snow than the approach along the Miners. Though the section between the Miners’ and PYG is steep and can be tricky if iced up. It’s the very final section to Bwlch Glas that can pose the hardest section. We’ve found this corniced over, even when the rest of the path isn’t particularly wintery. This can mean an almost vertical clamber of around head height that can be difficult without ice axe and crampons. The biggest hazard being unequipped idiots who’s slip and take you with them.
The Snowdon Ranger Path is reasonably uncomplicated, but steep and easily lost towards the top. We’d say that this is still a tough and technical proposition under winter conditions, but the easiest winter route up Snowdon in our opinion. That comes with the usual proviso that easiest is a relative term and under no circumstances would we call any route up in winter easy (something we have to say due to litigation culture – sigh).
What’s the Hardest Route up Snowdon in Winter?
Technically, that would be one of the many possible ice climbs on Snowdon. But of the usual summer’s walker’s routes, we’d leave routes such as Crib Goch and Y Lliwedd well alone. They’re full on alpine routes in winter conditions and snow and you’ll need to be highly experienced in order to even think about attempting it.
What Equipment do I need to Walk up Snowdon in Winter?
Our What to Wear To Climb up Snowdon Safely article outlines the general kit you need to walk up in Summer and Winter conditions. However, you’ll need to ensure you’ve got the proper warm and waterproof clothing to start with as well as some specialist hardware. While walking poles are OK to help balance on some of the flat sections of path, they are no substitute for an ice axe. We’ll repeat it. Walking Poles are no replacement for an Ice Axe. They do help stability in deep snow, but that’s it. Ice axes are designed to help stability on steep slopes, to help cut steps in hard snow where needed and CRUCIALLY – to arrest a fall. You’ll need to be able to perform an Ice Axe Arrest – which means if you slip that you can stop yourself from sliding too far down the slope.
Another popular question is do you need crampons to climb Snowdon in Winter. We’d say that if it’s winter conditions, then it’s a resounding yes. Micro crampons don’t cut it, but can be useful if you expect small icy sections in mixed conditions on the lower sections as they’re quicker to put on and are more suitable for mixed conditions. Knowing when you need them is down to experience and not something you’ll pick up from reading one article online! Like the ice axe, you’ll need to know how to use crampons. They’re fiddly to put on, especially so with cold hands, and require a certain walking gait to use safely.
Whichever path you choose, you’ll need to be confident in your abilities in winter conditions. There aren’t any ‘easy’ routes up under those conditions and you have to be properly equipped and skilled. I have walked up the PYG on a winter day and passed many a group and individuals and could count on one hand those who were properly equipped, including a well known and not particularly funny radio presenter (who had no crampons and while their leader was cutting steps – they weren’t particularly steady on their feet and should probably have worn crampons). When someone looks at you when you’re putting crampons on and says “that’s a good idea” you know they shouldn’t be on that mountain on that day.
Remember that the cafe will be closed and the mountain deserves respect.
Best of luck!