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Up at dawn - Crib Goch and Snowdon Horseshoe

PostPosted: Sat Sep 04, 2021 3:30 pm
by uk-scrambler
Crib Goch has been on the list for a long while. A week's holiday in Anglesey coincided with a heatwave across UK at the end of July and gave the ideal opportunity to take on the Snowdon Horseshoe in good weather. I knew Snowdon itself would be busy (but not quite as bad as some of the summit queues seen recently in August!). It's hard to be spontaneous with Snowdon and make a spur of the moment decision to take it on (because of parking arrangements - read on to learn from the error I made!!). But enjoying a BBQ the evening before with views across the water to Llandudno, Luca and I decided to get up in the early hours and head out for Pen-y-pass. Sarah and the others thought we were insane, and when we were crossing the Menaii Bridge in the mist shortly after 3am we were inclined to agree.

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The only traffic we came across was a flock of sheep who had decided to occupy the A4086 for the night. Eventually they decided we could pass and we were at Pen-y-pass in good time. Now for my error. We knew Snowdon would be busy, especially on what would become one of the hottest days of the year. We'd passed no other cars on the way so I figured we'd be able to get a parking spot. I was intrigued to see the lights of a car parking booth shining brightly, it is manned 24 h. The guy was very nice. Had we pre-booked? No. And it is not possible to 'pre-book' on the day. He was really helpful and directed us to a lay by down at Pen-y-Gwryd where we could park and walk back up. Lesson learned: I knew all about what to expect on Crib Goch and Y Lliwedd etc... but I'd just assumed parking would be ok if we turned up early enough. Doh! Not to worry, we parked down in the valley and walked back up. It added 4k onto the trip but, ho hum.

Luca was not impressed with my parking balls-up but we were soon back up at Pen-y-pass and waving to our parking attendant friend as we passed straight through onto the Pyg Track. 0500 at this time. A few cars in the car park but only one person did we pass between Pen-y-pass and Crib Goch. Wonderful to be out at this time with the sun about to rise and a rosy glow on the 'red ridge' ahead.

Pyg Track for about a mile before turning off for Crib Goch

Looking back towards Pen-y-pass.

The turning for Crib Goch is easily found and so begins a good few hours of excellent scrambling, punctuated only by a fairly boring section in the middle that includes Snowdon summit itself. We were surprised that the scrambling was more involved than we'd thought it would be even before you are up on Crib Goch itself. There is no real path for most of the way up . All very enjoyable with the sun coming up over Tryfan (in the distance). Getting up at 0300 definitely starts to make sense when you get to enjoy the mountains at dawn.

Part way up to Crib Goch.

The way ahead. The scrambling is easy enough - and there is a lot of it.

Still some way to go for the top of Crib Goch.

Worth getting up early to see the mountains in this light.

Quick break, with later targets in the background - east and west peaks of Y Lliwedd

Onwards. We targeted the start of Crib Goch as the point we would stop for breakfast. It's a long scramble to that point but great views of the whole horseshoe starting to emerge. The face of the Y Lliwedd peaks look very severe across from Llyn Llydaw.

Y Lliwedd. Both peaks taken on later in the circuit.

Not far to go now!

We reached Crib Goch at 0615 and were ready for breakfast (BBQ leftovers). The only person we passed was a young woman also doing Crib Goch for the first time. She agreed that the scrambling before reaching the ridge is pretty heavy going (more than we'd all thought). She passed us at the start of the ridge and shot straight across Crib Goch and the Pinnacles. We didn't see her again. We took our time with breakfast and it seemed we had Crib Goch all to ourselves.

Now the fun really starts.

The way ahead.

In good conditions the ridge scrambling is easy enough so long as you have a head for heights! The drops on each side are enormous. Once you start you have to keep going, there's no way off. I can imagine that in rain or cloud it could be quite scary.

We kept to the top of the ridge or just off the knife edge. At this point we were really glad we got up early. The feeling of being completely alone up on that famous ridge in the morning sun was something quite special. Later on in the day when we looked across at Crib Goch from Y Lliwedd we could see many people dotted along the crest. We've been on Striding Edge before when it was very busy - it's well worth making the effort to avoid the rush hour.




Luca negotiating with Crib Goch.

After Crib Goch comes the Pinnacles. What we liked best about the Snowdon Horseshoe was that the good quality scrambling keeps going on and on and on, one section after another. The Pinnacles was probably the most challenging section. There's options to avoid the most severe parts but conditions were good so we took them straight on.

Looking back on Crib Goch.

On the Pinnacles.

Up and over.

0730 when we were descending the other side of the Pinnacles. Still a lot of scrambling to come on Crib-y-Ddysgl and Y Lliwedd. It was not until we reached the railway path up to Snowdon summit itself that we came across other walkers.

Descending from the Pinnacles.

Y Lliwedd waiting for us later on. Surprising how few people (zero) we met on those peaks.

Looking back on the route we'd come.


Now we were on to Crib-y-Ddysgl. We thought the best of the scrambling was behind us but the horseshoe keeps on delivering. Less auspicious than Crib Goch (for good reason) Crib-y-Ddysgl in any other location would get a lot more attention. We really enjoyed this ridge.

The tax collector.


More good scrambling even with Crib Goch and the Pinnacles left behind.


After Crib-y-Ddysgl we were on the railway path to Snowdon summit at 0900. Suddenly there's loads of people and a break in the scrambling. It's fairly dull up to the summit and we couldn't be bothered to wait a turn to stand at the cairn for photos. Apparently you can sometimes see Ben Nevis from the summit. I don't know whether to believe that.

Snowdon is a great mountain and loads of people take advantage of good weather to get up there. It's some achievement. We were keen to get back onto the quieter paths however. From the summit we took the Watkins Path down until branching off for the Y Lliwedd peaks.

The way ahead.

Up the railway path. Getting busy.

Y Lliwedd is another great scramble with a stomach churning shear drop down to the left. There's a few different options for routes to the peak. We really enjoyed this part and were amazed at how busy all the walking routes (including Watkins Path) to the Snowdon summit were. But heading off to Y Lliwedd it was back into the wilderness again. Absolutely no one on this path except us until we got round to Lliwedd Bach. The peaks are lovely. We would have lingered for longer but we got mobbed by midges on the West Peak, which was odd because we didn't encounter the blighters anywhere else on the route.

The last great scramble of the horseshoe.

Nice and quiet up here.


It's a nice walk around Lliwedd Bach and we enjoyed looking back on the ridges we'd come along. The best of the scrambling is over, but were were surprised to find there was still quite a bit of hands-on work needed on the descent to the Miner's Track. On Lliwedd Bach we passed a group of Brummie lads up for the day to do the horseshoe clockwise. One of the things we like about being on quieter routes is that its quite an event when you come across other people, and usually worth stopping for a chat. Incredibly these were the only other people we met on this side of the route despite Snowdon itself being chocka. Hopefully by the time they got round to Crib Goch the traffic had died down (in the distance we could see quite a few groups on the ridge by this point).

Down towards Llyn Llydaw we saw a helicopter training exercise in progress. It didn't look like a rescue operation anyway. However, we did hear that a group had to be rescued off Crib Goch the following day.


A bit of a thankless slog along the Miner's Track back to Pen-y-pass was next up. With all the excitement behind us we were ready to get back to the car by this point. But, of course, we still had Part II of my parking error to pay for. A further leg down to Pen-y-Gwryd was our reward, Luca thanking me all the way for the privilege. Best option is definitely to walk along the path below the road. The road is narrow and busy by this time with some people tearing along very quickly. It was getting hot by now, 31 C by the time we got to the car! The laybys and roadside absolutely clogged with parked cars by now. We were glad to finish up and get away at 1230.

A great scramble. If there's a better day out to be had anywhere in the UK (highlands exempted) I'd like to know about it.

Re: Up at dawn - Crib Goch and Snowdon Horseshoe

PostPosted: Sun Sep 05, 2021 9:12 am
by Mal Grey
That's the way to do it. If you take away the crowds, the Horseshoe is, as you say, up there with the very, very best that British hills can offer. My first experience of Crib Goch, as a teenager, was also at sunrise, though we came down it after summiting in moonlight at the start of the Welsh 3000s. I'll never forget that. Hopefully it'll be the same for Luca.

Nicely described and some great photos.

Re: Up at dawn - Crib Goch and Snowdon Horseshoe

PostPosted: Mon Sep 20, 2021 6:48 pm
by uk-scrambler
Mal Grey wrote:That's the way to do it. If you take away the crowds, the Horseshoe is, as you say, up there with the very, very best that British hills can offer. My first experience of Crib Goch, as a teenager, was also at sunrise, though we came down it after summiting in moonlight at the start of the Welsh 3000s. I'll never forget that. Hopefully it'll be the same for Luca.

I bet that was some experience - Crib Goch in the moonlight. There's something very special about being up on these famous peaks in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn. You see them at their most beautiful, and you often have them to yourself.

We've got a real craving for getting up in the mountains again at the earliest opportunity... which never comes around soon enough!

Thanks for the comments.