Here we are in Snowdonia National Park, ready to tackle the highest peak in England and Wales. The formidable, indomitable Mount Snowdon. So good they named the chuffing National Park after her.
Join us as we tackle the Pyg Track, one of the most popular ways to climb the 1,085 metres of mighty Welsh rock you need to scale to get up to the Roof of Wales. Unless you’re cheating and catching the train that is!
This is my first time climbing Snowdon and I am more than a little excited about it all, let’s see if I can contain myself. Probably not!
Today we’re taking on the Pyg Track, one of the shortest but also most rugged routes up to the Roof of Wales. Not nearly as busy as the Llanberis Path, Pyg is still one of the so-called “highways” up the hill. So don’t expect empty trails.
The trail starts at Pen-y-Pass. It’s a very well-marked route and the chances of getting lost in good weather are minimal. Just look for the blue sign marked “Pyg Track” and away you go. In bad weather, well, I’d go back to bed.
If you have regular speed legs the hike up and down Pyg Track will take around 6 hours.
They’re super strict on car parking here. So you must book a place at least 1hr in advance of arrival and it’s (get ready for this) it’s £20 a go to park here for the day.
We did our hike on a Monday morning and booked on a Sunday night and there were still plenty of spaces then but I doubt you could say the same if you plan to hike on the weekend.
You can book here through the Just Park app and it’s all pretty straightforward but do remember to book.
If you don’t and it’s full. Or the thought of paying £20 to park anywhere goes against every fibre in your body then it’s not the end of the world. I also read that about 15/20 mins walk down the road is which will only charge you £4 for the day.
I didn’t see this with my own eyes so don’t quote me on that, please do your own research.
Finally, just in case you think you can sneak in early or late. I asked and apparently, the car park is manned 24/7. That means some poor soul is sitting in a hut all night checking cars coming and going.
This is a mountain in the UK so the standard mountain in the UK advice applies. Prepare for all the weathers, all of them. It might be nice and sunny at the start but manky at the top. Or vice versa.
So pack a warm top and waterproof layer. But also bring sunscreen. There is a cafe at the start at Pen Y Pass and another at the peak (in season) but don’t rely on these. Bring enough snacks and water to keep yourself fueled for five to six hours.
Oh, and no flip-flops. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be Barry Flip Flop who turns an ankle and needs to be stretchered off the hill by mountain rescue. Right, let’s hike!
I’m here. I’m finally here. I’m a little embarrassed. I’m a grown-ass man and I’ve never climbed the highest mountain in England and Wales before. Shame on me! And Shame on you too if you have yet to climb this glorious piece of hill.
Well, I’m determined to make up for lost time. I’m here for two weeks and by the end of this fortnight I’ll know these hills better than the wisest Welsh mountain goat.
Full disclosure. In three weeks Sara and I will be having a crack at the Three Peaks, climbing all three of the UK’s highest hills in under 24 hours. If we survived you will find a link to the adventure here.
So these two weeks in Snowdonia are our boot camp. Just like Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay did before Everest, we’re using the rugged slopes of Yr Wyddfa to toughen up for the big day.
For our first climb (of many) up Snowdon, we opted for the Pyg Track. Which is the shortest of the six main routes to the top.
Over the next week or so we will be heading up the Miners Track, the Snowdon Ranger’s Path, the Llanberis Path, the Watkins Path and the Rhyd Ddu Path (check all Snowdon routes write-ups) and we might even catch the train up, for lols. So do check them out for the sake of comparison.
This way be pigs.
There seem to be several origin stories. Some (probably the owners) think it is derived from the initials of the Pen y Gwryd Hotel which has stood at the southern foot of the mountain since the early 19th century. The spot where Hillary and Tenzing rested their weary legs and fuelled up on cheese on toast while in training.
Others think it’s due to the pyg (black tar) that miners used to carry from the Britannia Copper Works near Cwm Glaslyn.
While a third school of thought claims the name is derived from the Bwlch y Moch (Pass of the Pigs) which the trail crosses.
Well, let’s get a huffing and a puffing and blow this Pyg trail down.
Look how happy we are, let’s see if we still have those smiles at the top.
Let’s start at the beginning. The Pen Y Pass Car Park. At 20 squids you want a well-maintained car park. And to be fair the lads do a good job.
With our map downloaded, bladders emptied and an obligatory pre-hike selfie snapped we headed east from the car park to begin our hike.
Nice little info board for you there. Always read the plaque folks you never know what you will learn!
Old school info board.
As the trail gets going there’s a friendly note from the warden on an info board stating that there was a 10℃ temperature difference between here and the summit. Good to know.
Now, this was a very analogue information board, which for you Generation Zers is like a phone screen that you have to use a cloth and a pen to edit and update. I know what is this right? Freaking Caveman times!
So it was difficult to know if this was up-to-date info or not. But the message was clear. Be prepared for a different climate at the top.
Time to get your daily steps in.
We’d just started to ascend some very nice steep stone steps when Sara let out a shriek “My sticks!”. Thinking for a moment her spindly legs were troubling her I was about to rush to her aid when I realised she meant her walking sticks.
Or to be factual her mum’s hiking sticks. She’d borrowed them to test them out for the Three Peaks and had promptly left them propped against the boot of the car. And these weren’t just any sticks, these were veterans of the Great Wall of China. These were Great Wall Sticks.
So we rushed back down to the car park to save them before carrying on our way up to the peak.
Actually, in full disclosure, I sat on a comfortable rock and made some notes about the hike for this here blog post, while Sara ran up and down the steps alone.
Once she returned she realised one of the sticks was broken. Doh! It seems it survived the Great Wall only to perish in the perilous environment of the boot of her Mini.
Still, one stick is better than none. I’ve never really used hiking poles before but it seems it can help with both ascending and descending. Especially if you’ve flimsy knees.
Plus it’s always nice to have a stick. I remember going for walks as a kid, you’d always pick up a stick. Usually to hit things with. Now, I’m older. I hit fewer things but I do often like to use a stick as a pointer when I Mikesplain things to Sara. (My name is Mike if you didn’t know)
Kinda like a mountain lecturer using a pointer. It’s the same reason I carry some glasses in my pocket. I pop them on whenever something quasi-intellectual comes to mind.
Mike: “Errr, Sara did you know…” puts on glasses for emphasis, “Eryri, is the Welsh name for the Snowdonia National Park”
Sara: “Shut up Mike!”
Here’s Sara now with her Mum’s remaining Great Wall stick.
After Stickgate, we got going properly. The first section of the Pyg Track is relatively calm and somewhat gentle even. The path is well marked out. The views are sublime. You could do this easily without the use of any online maps.
As you ascend higher the path becomes a little rockier and you’ll need to watch your foot placement a little. After some time of hiking, you’ll come to the saddle of Bwlch y Moch, the pass of the pigs. To your left is Craig Frach to your left and the impressive 923 metres of Crib Goch to your right.
Crib Goch is one of the most technical hikes on Snowdon. One I’ll definitely be back to do at some point! But not one to take on without serious preparation. So no matter how pretty it looks on the day, save it until you’ve done your homework.
At Bwlch Y Moch you’ve already reached 587 metres, so you’re technically over halfway to the peak, altitude-wise.
Sara styling it out on the stile after Bwlch Y Moch.
Coming around the corner after spying on Crib Coch you’ll navigate a low stile and get your first glimpses of Llyn Llydaw below. One of Snowdon’s two stunning natural lakes.
Llyn Llydaw translates as Lake of the Tail presumably due to its elongated shape but that’s not the most interesting thing about it. For in Welsh folklore the lake before you is none other than the home to the Lady in the Lake.
You know the watery chick who hooks King Arthur up with his famous sword, Excalibur.
You’ll also be able to see below you the Miners Track, the other trail that starts from Pen Y Pass Car Park. The Miners Track skirts the edge of the lake and looks like it would be a great place for a bit of wild swimming.
Maybe we will have a dip when we take on the Miners Track in a day or two and I can bag myself a free sword too!
The so-called “highway” to the peak.
After the low stile after Blch Y Moch, I’d say things start to get a little trickier in terms of the hike. The elevation levels out for a while but the terrain becomes more technical and it’s less of a stroll, and more of an “I’d better pay attention to where my feet are” kinda hike.
Again nothing to worry about at all. But if you’ve decided to hike in flip-flops you are probably going to start regretting it now.
It was on this stretch that things started to heat up. So much for the 10℃ temperature drop! Thanks, random lying info board. I stripped off my base layer and Sara stripped down to her shorts. It was proper hiking time now.
We also came across this cool little rock pile. And well, you know I care about these things so I added a micro rock at the top for luck.
Admittedly before this point Sara at I were both saying how the hike was pretty easy. As this was a training run for the three peaks challenge we were looking at the clock knowing we had ages if we wanted to be up and down in 4 hrs.
Take a few moments to enjoy the astonishing views back over Llyn LLydaw & Glaslyn below.
But this is where things got waaaaay more difficult. At the point where the Miners Track leaves the lake shore below and ascends to join the Pyg Track. Then you enter the Igam Ogam zone or for you English speakers, the dreaded zig zags.
If you’re going to do mischief to yourself on Snowdon, it’s likely going to be on this section.
There is a fair amount of scrambling involved. Everyone knows I love a good scramble and this stuff isn’t too extreme but you’ve still got to pay proper attention to your footing. The angle got more acute. As did my girlfriend.
Sara, the tripod, with her lucky stick was nimbler than I’d seen her in our previous hikes. Imagine for a second if she’d had two working sticks. She’d have been like Spiderman up there.
The trail got a little busier at this point. Firstly all the Miners and Pyggers have converged on one route for the final ascent to the summit. And secondly, because we were arriving around 1 pm when a lot of people who’d started earlier than us were on their way back down again.
And then we were there. The peak.
You can just make out the Pyg Track in the background behind these two grinning dweebsters.
I have to admit, it was way more of a slog than we thought it was going to be. After grinding out the zigzags our accent took just under 3 hours.
Not bad at all. And we weren’t slouching but we’ll have to up our game if we hope to get up and down Snowdon in under 4 hours and complete the 3 peaks in under 24hrs.
But we made it. And look at the pic above, we’re still smiling.
There’s a great festival spirit and energy at the Snowdon Summit. With a lot of people feeling rightly proud of themselves for making it to the top.
It was busy up there but not chockablock. This was my first time up and we were easily able to take a quick snap at the toposcope. Sara who was making her second visit to the summit here said she’d had to queue up for about 20-30 people last time.
You can see everything from up here. I can probably see you. On a clear day of course.
There’s a visitors centre at the top as well, called Hafod Eryri, which is unsurprisingly the highest visitor centre in England and Wales.
I’m not sure how I feel about buildings on mountain tops, not good, but apparently, Snowdon has had some structure or other up here since 1820. So I can’t get too mad. Or if I can. there’s no one alive to blame.
However, at the time of writing on 11th June 2023 the visitor’s centre was still shut. But fear not if you’re reading this just 13 short days later it’ll be open so you can feast on ice creams and hot drinks.
I only just found this reopening time out myself and it’s good as it means it should be open again for when we do our 3 Peaks Challenge in three weeks. However, I’m sceptical we’ll be able to spend too much time here though!
If you find yourself at the peak feeling like you’ve just climbed a mountain but looking at groups of surprising fresh-looking people. Don’t worry it’s not you being unfit, it’s them being lazy. They’ve caught the bloody train up!
Sure some of them might have splashed their faces with a little water and are pretending to have climbed up for the photos but they’re just sat on the Snowdon Mountain Railway eating sandwiches and soaking in the views. My advice. Boo them. Boo them loudly!
No, no don’t, I joke, of course, everyone is welcome, and the train ride looks awesome. And I will 100% give it a ride one day soon. Although like the visitors centre it’s not running to the peak until late June.
I think at the time of writing it only runs to Clogwyn Station which is about ¾ distance up the mountain.
There being a train to the top is also great news for the success of our three peaks (wink, wink). I wouldn’t cheat of course. Would I?! No definitely not. Well, hmmm, maybe.
We chilled out at the top for some time eating our snacks and congratulating ourselves then I took what I think you will agree is a very good picture of a proud-looking seagull. He was probably a little disappointed that the cafe wasn’t open yet too.
On the lookout for his next victim.
Then I turned around and saw a cool rock someone had painted and placed it on the wall. These little acts of kindness always bring joy to my heart. Although, it also meant some nutter was carrying a rock up a mountain!
I of course celebrated these picture moments the best way I know how.
With one of my now universe-famous, classic mini-world pictures.
And with that, we were off heading back down the way we had come. Now if you want you can of course mix and match and take a different route back down the hill.
The Miners Track will take you back to the same starting point at Pen Y Pass if you have a car waiting for you. Or if you are public transporting it, you could take Llanberis Path which kinda follows the railway track down to Llanberis village.
As we were still in “training” mode we opted to go back the way we came. With Sara testing her lucky stick to its limit, skipping over the rocks like a beautiful three-legged gazelle.
The sun however by this point was very hot and we foolishly hadn’t listened to the advice given to the class of 99 and set off without any sunscreen. Doh!
Luckily we packed just about enough water at 2 litres each so we made it down safely but we were both burnt to a crisp upon our return. And not just a normal crisp but those little tiny super crispy crisps you used to find more often in the button of the bag before Walkers upped their quality control.
We were joking about our lack of sunscreen and water a little bit but as we arrived back at the Pen Y Pass cafe we saw a poor chap passed out on the floor with a bunch of people all around him helping him out. We figured due to a combo of sun and dehydration.
He seemed ok. But it was a very good reminder that even on beautiful days like today you gotta give a big girl like Snowdon the respect she deserves. Next time we climb these slopes I’ll be doubled up on water and dipping myself in a bathtub of sunscreen.
Now there’s a mental image to leave you with. Me dipped in sunscreen. You’re welcome.
Snowdon soaked in sun.
And there we have it my ffrindiau, (that’s Welsh for friend). My first Snowdonia hike is in the bag, so is Pen Y Fan, my second Welsh one.
Snowdon’s Pyg Track was a beauty. I have to admit it lulled us into a false sense of security with the relatively gentle first two-thirds, but the final ascent to the Snowdon summit was breathtaking, in both senses of the word.
My next hike will be Moel Siabod, another of Snowdonian’s mighty peaks, but then after that, we will be right back here to take on Snowdon again.
Until next time dear readers, remember to always close the farm gate and never stare a mountain goat in the eye!
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
This reflects the Hike Hero difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.