Grib Goch up to Snowdon

Date: 04-Apr-2008

Map: Landranger 115

Weather: Foggy in the valley, sunshine up to around 850m, thick mist above.

 

A circular walk from Pen-Y-Pass, up the PYG track until Crib Goch, along the ridge and up to Garnedd Ugain and along to the Snowdon Summit. Returning down the PYG track and Miners track back to the car park: 7 1/2  miles – as measured by a memory map track, the pedometer said about 10 miles, it felt like 12!

I had a busy March at work, with many nightshifts. I wasn’t feeling full of energy today but the weather forecasts were not good for the following week so I took my chances. The BBC forecast showed low clouds later in the day and the met office forecast hill fog! I took a couple of maps with me ad if it was too misty I would continue to Anglesey and have a walk around Newborough Warren – a delightful stroll along sandy dunes. The drive down from Manchester took a couple of hours and as I approached the Llanberis Pass I could see Crib Goch clear ahead of me, but also the clouds scudding across the hillside.

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Crib Goch on the right

Hoping for the best I turned up the Pass and it was clear approaching the hills. Crib Goch loomed large ahead. It was looking dark and very steep to me. It has a very distinct profile with the pinnacles very intimidating. I had spent quite a bit of time looking at various journals on the internet, and wasn’t sure if I could handle the exposure along the ridge. My sister asked if I was mad, and to phone her up if I survived! 

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The Pinnacles to the west end of Crib Goch, fog ahead!

It was very foggy as I gained height up the pass, so much that I missed the turn into the Pen-Y-Pass car park and had to continue down to the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel to turn around. The car park was fairly busy as the school holidays were still on, but I managed a good spot next to the PYG track - it was £4 for a days parking. I didn’t start until 10:30 today which was late for me, next time I’ll be down here at sunrise. It was reassuring to see that all the hikers today were well clothed and prepared for the worst of the weather. 

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The start of the PYG track

The "PYG track", one of the routes leading to the summit of Snowdon, and its name is believed by many to be derived from the initials of the hotel. Older maps, however, label the path as the "Pig track" and the name derives from Bwlch y Moch (the Pigs' Gap), where the path passes through a spur. The path is long established and well maintained by the present owners. The hotel's most notable mountaineering connections are largely due the first successful Everest expedition in 1953 and the Kangchengjunga expedition in 1955, where training and testing of oxygen equipment for those expeditions took place, at Helyg near Capel Curig. It is believed that Sir Edmund Hillary left the bar one snowy night saying “ I may be some time….”, and Sherpa Tenzing replied… “ Come back you tight wad, it’s your round…” 

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The path passes over these boulders…still misty ahead

The initial path is clearly marked, and the gentle ascent across the large boulder steps gently warmed my leg muscles for the day ahead. Thoughts of what was to come were bouncing around my head, but I told myself to be positive and concentrate on what I was doing. Good advice to myself and I was glad to act on it later in the day. There were plenty of people around and I passed by several families heading towards the summit along the PYG track. 

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Crib Goch peeking through the mist

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The PYG track winding around

As I gradually gained height the sunshine came through and Crib Goch my brain tease came into full view. I started to anticipate the climb up the stony flank to the ridge. There were some minor patches of snow on the north facing slopes, but none on the sunny side. As I made higher ground the lake of Llyn Llydaw came into view sitting beneath the twin peaks of Y Lliwedd, where I expected to walk over later in the day. There was a good view of the miners track winding around the lake below. The clouds were swirling over the crest next to Y Lliwedd, but Crib Goch was staying clear with low mist further up the Crib-y-Ddysgl ridge. 

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Move along …coming through…

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Y Lliwedd

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The path diverges up towards Crib Goch.

The path up to Crib Goch has a marker post and immediately you walk up to higher ground on a well marked path. I could see some people ahead of me climbing up the butt end of the ridge. Higher up on the ridge there is very little vegetation on it apart from the odd patch of grass. The path towards the ridge becomes progressively steeper, and as you leave the grassy parts behind the scramble begins. Looking back occasionally I was rewarded with some great views of the steep slopes below me, with the Llanberis Pass a long way down. The cloud was now below me in the valley, and the slopes ahead were getting ever steeper. Looking above me it was sometimes difficult to pick out the way up, and it was inevitable that I had to do a little bit of rock scrambling. The toughest pitches were sometimes 15 to 20ft high, but all had good accessible handholds and footholds. I did have to stretch a little from time to time, so if you decide to climb up here you need a little strength to pull up your body weight. I’m sure there is an easier route up but I enjoyed the challenge. I found this part the most difficult of the day and was aware of the big drop behind me, although I didn’t look back until I was securely seated. I zig zagged up the slope as the bedding planes of the rocks varied, sometimes near vertical, and other times dipping towards me. The scree slopes of Crib Goch look red from a distance and this is due to the oxidisation of the rock surface – basically its rust! If you break a piece open you will see the usual Blue\Green Grey colour of the slates. But most of Crib Goch is made up of volcanic rocks. On the way up I noticed some interesting columnar jointing, part of an intrusive igneous rock called Rhyolite (think of the columns of Giants Causeway and you will get the idea). All of this distracted me for a while, but this is a walk not a geology lesson.  

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The drop down into Llanberis Pass

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Getting higher, with Crib Goch stretching away to the west

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Steeper and getting closer, the path goes around to the left

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Getting steeper, the scramble begins…

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Looking across the valley to Glyder Fawr

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Across to Y Lliwedd…a handy seat to admire the views

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…and down to Llyn Llydaw and the miners track

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Let the climbing begin….gulp

Lots more pictures to come. The geology continued with some Quartzite veins, which contain some Copper minerals such as Chalcopyrite, and down near Dolgellau…real Welsh Gold. I believe Princess Anne’s ring is made of Welsh Gold! Further up the slopes the bedding is sloping more gently towards you. The interbedded volcanic rocks are generally smooth below your feet and are covered in loose scree, although some of the rocks are easy to walk along. I felt very exposed here, but as you ascend you will find yourself leaning into the hill and steadying yourself with one hand on Mother Earth! I had a feeling of being on edge (or the edge) without too much to hold onto as the ground slopes up towards you. Because you’re going up a steep slope and concentrating I didn’t look back often enough and probably missed a few good pictures. But now and again I stopped for a breather and a look back to the height below…thinking cripes that’s blinking steep…. Or words to that effect. I was still feeling a little apprehensive about the ridge, but the ground becomes easier towards the crest. I knew that my moment was approaching but my heart rate was not too bad. Soon enough Llanberis and the lakes of Llyn Peris, Llyn Padarn came into view, with the Menai Strait and Anglesey further distant. The weather almost cleared to see higher up the ridge above Crib Goch, but the clouds continued to flow around and pour over Snowdon. I finally reached the east end of the Crib Goch ridge and WOW. I was speechless, a big smile on my face? No, just a big stupid grin because I knew I was going to walk across. What a fabulous feeling, very exposed but I’ve been on higher ridges with bigger drops down the side. I think that the drop on either side was a lot less than I anticipated (it’s still a long way down) so my confidence soared. Once I saw the lay of the land I knew I could just stride along in places. Even the Pinnacles looked less of a threat, so I pulled on my red underpants and flew across! 

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The road far below. Spot the two vehicles

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The volcanic sill in the middle, see the columns. Someone further up as well

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A close up …see the columns

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Far below the PYG track. It comes up the left side of the picture. Steep up here isn’t it?

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Nearly there, getting easier towards the top

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Crib Goch stretching away to the west..Blue sky and excitement ahead

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See the white Quartzite vein high up on the ridge

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One of several large slabs on the way up…look over the edge…I dare you

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What a dull day beneath this cloud at Pen-Y-Pass. I wonder how many sat in the car?  

PhotobucketThe Glyders across the valley…nearly at the top

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The miners track far far below. View from some convenient steps.

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The very last pull to the top, easy going now…

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All of a sudden I was up there….Llyn Glas tarn high above the valley floor

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Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

There was a nice flat spot just along the ridge where I had a nice break to absorb the unique atmosphere. I didn’t have views of Snowdon but it was 100% better than I imagined at the start of the day. The ridge was very steep in places, and before you rush out to do this walk, a basic requirement is a good head for heights, otherwise you will get stuck and won’t be able to go forward or backwards. The very nice men in the yellow helicopter will have to come and get you down. I walked along the crest in places but mainly stayed slightly to the south side (where the sun is) and used my right hand for support when required. There aren’t many places that require the use of both hands. You will notice that you are walking on 5 sided slabs, these are the tops of the volcanic rocks here. All of the handholds are solid and there isn’t much loose material around. I was wary of knocking off any rubble down the slopes towards the PYG track far below, but it would be unlikely that it would fall past the scree slopes. Taking the photographs was easy enough, I just sat down and got comfortable. The first landmark to make for is the Quartzite band. You can hear the Snowdon train puffing its way up the slopes but you cannot see it yet. All around you now are grand vistas, above, below and beyond. I had to tell myself to keep concentrating and remember where I was. Even where the pictures look impossibly steep you can still walk along. The wind was not so bad; not gusty so I never felt in danger of losing my balance. Further along the ridge you can start to appreciate how far you have come, as the ridge curves away behind you. Llyn Llydaw glints away far below and a column of ants’ moves slowly along the miners track in preparation for their ascent on Snowdon. Towards the Pinnacles the ridge widens out, and at the first Pinnacles you have the choice of going over the top or around to the left side. I’m not so foolhardy, so I took the easy option. Once you are past here the next stop is the big Pinnacle and the only way is up and over! But don’t worry there are a series of steps and good handholds which will take you up and over, and before you know it - that’s it, down to the col and start to laugh deliriously – don’t cry it wasn’t that bad!

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Down the sunny side

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From the flat picnic spot

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It was easier to walk along than it looks

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I did walk along here honestly. Note the column tops to walk on….easy does it

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Cripes it is steep…I may have used my right hand for balance once or twice..

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The second Pinnacles, then further up the ridge up to Garnedd Ugain

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Looking back..this is not the ridge I came up, the start is to the right

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Posing by the Quartzite slab…steam coming out of my ears..

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Looking back towards the flat picnic spot

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The bare rock on the way to the top can be seen bottom right

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A bit further along the ridge, still easy going, if you close your eyes and grip tight…

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Towards the first Pinnacles..stride along here at your pleasure

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The ridge comes with some convenient handholds

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The first Pinnacles. Left or up and over? Left I think..

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Looking back up the ridge from the 1st Pinnacles. Not so bad from here.

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Below the Pinnacles down to Llyn Llydaw

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The path around the first Pinnacles

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Looking north, not looking down

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The second Pinnacles..Steps from bottom left to the top middle..easy

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The Crib y Ddysgl ridge beckons  

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The other side of the Pinnacles

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The drop below the Pinnacles, but you don’t come close to this

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Past the worst bit now and down to the col at the end of Crib Goch

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The end, made it, cue wild celebrations… a drink and an apple actually.

When I came down from the ridge I knew that had made my day so I made a couple of calls to say I was very much alive. I looked back along the ridge to see a steady stream of groups, no doubt enjoying themselves as much as I did. I looked ahead to the ridge disappearing into the mist and could see the meeting point of the PYG track and the miners track below. Still a long way to go, with some more scrambling ahead. The ridge at Crib-y-Ddysgl is a lot wider than Crib Goch, but there were some hairy moments up here as well. I had to retrace my steps a couple of times when the way ahead turned into rock climbing instead of a scramble. I didn’t fancy falling off yet. The higher I climbed up the ridge the better were the views back to Crib Goch. That was my reward for taking the hard route.

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More scrambling ahead

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The view back to Crib Goch

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The PYG track far below. The start of the scramble up Crib-y-Ddysgl

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Just stretch up a little. Be careful up the steeper sections

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Further up the ridge the going is easier up these column steps. The mist still persisting

Once I was past the worst of the scramble the way ahead was clear and the path more defined. I took care of my footing and had glimpses of the valley far below. Occasionally the mist cleared and allowed a clearer view of the ridge and I was lucky enough to see the Snowdon train puffing up the hill away to my right. I was feeling the thigh muscles now as they had done most of the work today, a good work out.

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Elidir Fawr above the hanging valley of Afon Dudodyn

The ridge became broader as I approached Garnedd Ugain, the trig point cloaked in mist. The summit here is only 20m lower than Snowdon, and I had to descend again to meet up with the Llanberis path that follows the train track. It was cold up here but not perishing, with the wind chill above freezing. I continued up beside the rail track towards the summit, past the finger stone, now accompanied by the families that had come up the PYG track. It made for a crowded summit in the fog, and made me vow to return here in the summertime early in the day. Judging by the amount of information that is etched into the plate on the trig point the views should be vast. Today I could only just see the summit station buildings. They are renewing the station café and looking at the plans it will be a huge improvement on the previous structure. There were a couple of mini diggers at work, not my idea of fun, and a long walk down if you miss the last train. Pallets of dressed granite lined the track, so I suppose by the end of the year they should have finished all the renovations. Hopefully people will learn to use the refuse bins provided for them! There wasn’t too much snow around, but it formed a cornice against the top of the ridge. The mist was now so thick I couldn’t see down the slopes at all. The summit did clear briefly for a quick photo, but soon closed in again, so I found a nice spot and had some lunch. Only hot soup and a chicken roll was enough today. I eat quicker when there is nothing to look at.

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The Llanberis Pass road below Llyn Glas

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A last look back to Crib Goch before I disappeared into the mist

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The ridge up to Garnedd Ugain – the paths become easier

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Here comes Thomas, puffing his way uphill

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The summit trig point of Garnedd Ugain

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Up towards the summit alongside the rail track

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If only the gentleman or lady on top of the trig point had their arms outstretched

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The summit trig point was full of information and people..

There were plenty of people around on the summit, but most didn’t stay long. It was enough that they had met their challenge. After I had finished lunch I studied the map and I took a heading for what I thought would be the right path to continue the Snowdon Horseshoe and complete a memorable day. However I didn’t take the right path and although on the ground it looked like the correct route, in reality it wasn’t. As I sit here now and reflect on the day, I realise now that I misread the map and should have headed off the summit to the south-east, instead of the east heading I took. I descended down in the mist on a good path, but it soon became indistinct, and worse became much steeper. The mist was thick and visibility low. I was very mindful of where I was and the dangers lurking where I couldn’t see. I did not want to become another statistic, so made my way back up the slope to the summit and decided to descend by the PYG track. I probably wasn’t that far away from the right path, but the risk wasn’t worth it. I definitely have a reason to return when the weather improves. Once back at the summit I walked back down the track to the finger rock which marks the top of the PYG track.

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No way down here so back to the top

The top of the PYG track was snowed in and had become a little icy and slushy, and definitely quite slippery. The edge of the path was made up with large boulders and these were ok to walk down. I made my way down the track to another finger post that marked the junction with the miners track. It was adorned with an interesting T-shirt.

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The finger stone marking the PYG track

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Slide out of control here and you’re in trouble

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I didn’t meet the owner, and I’m sure I would have recognised them

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The miners track winds down to the shore of Glaslyn

Eventually I dropped down below the mist and the tarn below Snowdon came into view. The path was easy to follow and easy to walk down. I saw some interesting volcanic rocks on the way down – Pyroclastics – full of other bits of rock! Once I was back in the clear, I had great views of Crib Goch to my left and Y Lliwedd on my right. If I had carried on around the horseshoe I would have missed these views. It was good to see a different perspective of Crib Goch, and you can appreciate the steepness of the slopes.

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Crib Goch high above the miners track

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The outflow from Glaslyn, Snowdon shrouded in mist

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I should have been up there – Y Lliwedd above Llyn Llydaw

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No change in the cloud base – the outflow below Glaslyn pouring downhill

Further along the miners track you pass by the old mine buildings along an easy path back towards Llanberis. The clouds were still swirling down around Y Lliwedd and onwards to the Llanberis Pass and beyond. It must have been very gloomy down there today. A large pipeline extends downhill from Llyn Llidaw to some works in the Glaslyn valley. As you cross over the lake on the miners path there are some glacially smoothed rocks to your left. Now to end the walk it’s a gentle stroll back around to the car park at Pen-y-Pass. Crib Goch continued to dominate the skyline to my left and made me smile every time I looked up at it, and I’m still smiling a few days later.

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The old mine works

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Crib Goch, thanks for the fun. It doesn’t look so difficult from here

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A last look back to Y Lliwedd across Llyn Llydaw

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Back up the valley, Snowdon is still in cloud. The only frustration of the day. 

I arrived back at the car park about 6 hours after I had set out, a grand day out. On the drive down the pass there were some boulder climbers at the roadside, with a strategically placed mattress to fall off on. I passed by the Llanberis slate mines, a massive scar in the landscape. Finally I passed by some new born lambs gambolling in the fields, it shouldn’t be allowed by Ladbrookes at their age!

Walking, never dull, but sometimes it’s just plain scary! Brilliant really. 

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