Climbing Snowdon in Wales: a topping adventure

It's a mountain but with a café and a train station at the top? I can’t think of anything worse. Okay, Queenstown in Tasmania is probably worse. Ecuador’s Guayaquil is definitely worse. And lumpy milk is right up there. But, you know, not by much. Surely we climb mountains to get away from all that’s ‘civilised’ and commercialised, all that’s: “£2.99 and would you like anything else with that?”

Having a go
When I learn Mt Snowdon is the highest mountain (1085m; 3560ft) in Wales and England, I have to have a go at it. Wales’ former first minister Rhodri Morgan called it “one of the wonders of Wales”, plus one of my favourite bands, Doves, have a song named after it. Some even say the legendary King Arthur was killed on Snowdon.

Up hills and into valleys
The café doesn’t put me off completely, but the news makes my enthusiasm as damp as the increasingly dramatic hills and valleys I drive through on the way to Snowdonia National Park in Wales’s north-west. At its best, the landscape looks like it was made out of plasticine by a giant child; all extravagantly twisted and contorted – and very green.

Luckily, I have some local knowledge (and a co-climber) otherwise I probably wouldn’t rock up to the Pen-y-Pass car park until mid-morning, which I then would regret. During summer months and school holidays you need to get there before 9am, even on a weekday, to be certain of a spot (there’s a YHA hostel nearby).

Getting going
Snowdon is nicknamed “Britain’s busiest mountain”. There are, however, 11 established routes to the summit and, as most walkers were taking the Pyg Track (3.5 miles to summit), we take the Miners’ Track (four miles to summit).

It was gradual and smooth, even tarmaced in places, but it isn’t long before we see the scenery beginning to soar and the gothic Snowdon massif mirrored in mountain lakes.

Despite the car park crowds, we don’t see many hikers until our path joins the Pyg Track, after beginning to climb steeply.

Pausing for drink and breath breaks, glances back down the valley to deep lakes, twisted ridges and that post-apocalyptic grey Welsh rock were enough of a fillip.

Locals are climbing as well as tourists; you can pick them out because you can’t understand them. The wonderfully lyrical Welsh is still widely spoken in these parts.

Views from the top
After nearly two hours, we reach the summit ridge and it’s a surprise to see the other side of Snowdon below. The ‘daytripper side’, with its train track, is greener, but less rugged and, frankly, a little bit boring in comparison. The ‘hiker side’ is far superior scenically.

Unfortunately, we time our summit with a train arrival and have to queue to get photos at the top. But the views are still something special. It’s an undeniably atmospheric mountain.

Also, as I see children, the elderly and rotund clicking their cameras I can’t help but feel bad about my initial snobbery. The cog train looks fun (catch it from Llanberis) and the café is tastefully done – hardly an eyesore. I begrudgingly realise Snowdon is a mountain for everyone. And that’s a good thing really.


Highlights of North Wales
The large Snowdonia National Park is worth much more than a day, and both Tryfan and Glyderau are excellent, more challenging, alternatives to crowd-pulling Snowdon.

Small, friendly and quaint, Snowdon dominates the horizon of the stone village of Beddgelert, where wooded vales and rushing rivers are also nearby.

Owned by a trust and built in the style of an Italian village, picturesque Portmeirion has featured in numerous films and TV programmes.

Another cute coastal town, Beaumaris, was originally a Viking settlement. It has a medieval castle dating back to the reign of Edward I. Conwy is a walled market town, also on the north coast, but with an even better-looking castle.


Summer weekends and Easter bring big crowds. Early spring and autumn can be lovely (especially when the trees are leafless, allowing more views). Be prepared for rain.

Getting there: Catch a train to Bangor and the Snowdon Sherpa S4 bus to Snowdon; Caernarfon to Pen-y-Pass), but your own wheels are preferable.

Accommodation: There’s camping, plus Snowdon Ranger YHA ( is at the foot of the mountain.


Story: Damian Hall





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