What to wear when climbing Snowdon – you’ll need more than just your underpants!16th Jul 2018
Snowdon is a liberally accessible mountain nestled in the spectacular Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. It’s so accessible that it is threatened to be overrun by enthusiastic hikers, walkers and day-trippers with over 600,000 people estimated to visit its peak in 2017. At 1,085m high, its mountain environment needs to be respected, and the appropriate clothing worn – certainly you’ll need more than just your underpants!
Tunnocks Table of Contents
Please use the below links to jump to important sections of this post:
- What to wear – Climbing Snowdon Kit List
- Snowdon Weather
- Snowdon Climbing Routes
- Top Tips for Climbing Snowdon
- Where to stay when climbing Snowdon
Snowdon – what to wear?
For details of everything I wore and used during my climb of Snowdon, see my full Climbing Snowdon Kit List.
As I opened my car door at the Pen-y-Pass Car Park I was hit by an icy wind that came very close to freezing my core. I slammed the door shut as quickly as I’d opened it and was immediately warmed by a sense of smugness that I had indeed stopped off on the journey to buy myself a thick pair of gloves.
It was November and I’d left the relative comfort and warmth of the homely Totters Hostel in Caernarfon to drive the 30 miles up through the endlessly scenic Nant Peris valley to my start point at the foot of the Miner’s Track. I had packed good boots, walking trousers, several layers, a light waterproof and a hat but, having a modicum of mountain experience, I knew that protecting my extremities would be key, hence why I had stopped at a local store to purchase some gloves.
As with all mountains, the weather on Snowdon can be deceptive. A sunny day at the base of the mountain can quickly turn into a freezing storm at the summit. Please check the weather regularly in the build up to climbing Snowdon and especially on the evening before and the morning of your climb. Be prepared to turn back if the weather turns.
Use a reliable source such as the MET Office or Snowdon Live to get your Snowdon weather updates.
Choosing my route up Snowdon
The number of people that climb Snowdon is becoming a bit of a problem. The Llanberis Path is a gently sloping 9 miles of consistent climbing. The relative simplicity of this endeavour encourages plenty of people to attempt it, sometimes oblivious to how quickly conditions can change at the summit. Having to wait to pass at the narrowest points during the summer months is not uncommon and a virtual conveyor belt of punters queue to touch the brass plaque at the peak.
It was for these reasons, along with my desire to choose a route full of challenge and interest, that I decided to climb the Miner’s Track. Also, it was this path that I ascended as part of the Three Peaks Challenge – a race to climb the UK’s three highest peaks in 24hrs – back in 1999. Setting off before sunrise, we somehow managed to miss a turning and were forced to crawl up several hundred metres of loose scree before re-finding the path. I was keen to see if I could work out where we went wrong.
For more information and to help you choose your climbing route up Snowdon, please see my guide of Snowdon Climbing Routes
My car was toasty warm inside but I knew I had to brave the biting wind again if I was to get up the mountain. Trouble was, I hadn’t put all my layers on before leaving Caernarfon. They were in the boot of the car along with my hiking boots. It would be a race to get dressed before frostbite set in!
Getting dressed for Snowdon
I took a deep breath, braced myself and with all the bravery of a timid mouse opened the car door to the wintery wind. Oh, my giddy Aunt! Right, keep going, like a cold shower, it becomes bearable once you’ve acclimatised. I zipped round to the back of the car and with the speed and dexterity of a Firefighter getting ready to go on a shout was dressed, booted and back in the front seat of my car in no time.
My strategy for climbing mountains is set in stone. I like to get up there as quick as I can, stopping only briefly for the odd photo, enjoy the spectacle from the summit and then run back down. These weather conditions were great for my mountain tactics. I think if I were to go any slower there would be a serious risk of being frozen to the path.
Snowdon – The Ascent
And so it was that I hiked spiritedly along the initial incline of the Miner’s Track. I was generating plenty of body heat from my exertions as the icy car park was left behind. It was a typical winters day, clouds covered the peaks like ill-fitting toupés and it felt like rain was always on the cards. I didn’t have too much hope for good views at the summit.
The path flattens out around the three lakes of Llyn Teryn, Llyn Llydaw (which the path crosses via a man-made viaduct) and Glaslyn. This area was sheltered from the elements and as the sun shone through some broken clouds it almost felt summery. I peeled back the layers and took some snaps of the lakes and derelict mining buildings before heading on.
Snowdon – The Miner’s Track
The far side of Glaslyn is where the route turns from a leisurely stroll into a concerted climb. Marked by a huge rock, the path turns right – and viewed from the bottom – appears to go vertically uphill. I have no idea whether this huge rock was in place back in 1999, but if it was, we somehow managed to miss it in the pre-dawn light. I could also clearly see, some 50m further on where it became impossible to continue around Glaslyn forcing us to start our scramble up the scree slope.
It was treacherous climbing. We’d clamber a couple of feet up, then often slide back down further then we had moved upwards. It was equally tough and dispiriting, however, in our highly fatigued, sleep-deprived state in the years prior to GPS we could see no other way. Our desire to reach the summit overcame our slow progress and with burning thighs and raw hands we somehow made it back onto the Miner’s Track directly above. I drew huge inspiration from my climbing partner that day who led the way even though he was well into his 50’s.
As I steadily made progress up the steep path, I thought back to that morning in 1999 and took comfort that in comparison, this was very easy. I turned left to join the Pyg Track and continued my ascent.
One of the many reasons that I like climbing mountains is the friendliness and helpful nature of fellow climbers. Admittedly the conversations are all very similar but it’s good to get an idea of ‘How much further?’ and ‘What are the conditions like at the top?’. Of course, these are just the best guesses of the individuals you ask, so at one point I was somewhere between 30 and 90 minutes from the top and it was either ‘baltic, mate’ or ‘not too bad’. Perspective and expectation are personal things.
Still sheltered from the wind, it was now almost balmy as I made my way up towards the cloud layer. Despite my desire to get to the top as quickly as possible, I’m always careful to turn around and make sure I take in everything around me. The vistas are constantly changing and sometimes, especially on days like these, the light can be quite spectacular.
Climbing Snowdon – Into the cloud layer
I was well up into the cloud layer now, the altitude, lack of sun and the wind which was whistling down the valley meant that I needed to deploy all my layers. The word from people coming down was that I had about 30 minutes of climbing before reaching the ridge, where I would join up with the Llanberis Path, and that the gusts there were ferocious.
Even though I had prior warning, the force of the wind as I made my way over the ridge was a bit of a shock. I turned sideways on to the gale so as to reduce my sail like qualities which were threatening to launch me back down the Pyg Track to Glaslyn. I decided immediately that the less time I spent up here the better and turned left to follow the Llanberis Path which runs parallel to the Snowdon Mountain Railway.
Snowdon – Clothing advice
It was here that I bumped into three young lads from Liverpool.
“Alright, our kid. How long do you reckon it’ll take us to get back down? We want to get back in time to watch the footie.” The first one asked me.
They seemed like active chaps, but all were wearing classic reeboks and trackie bottoms tucked in socks. Not ideal gear to be monkeying around at the top of Snowdon in the arctic conditions. The first two were waiting for my reply whilst the third was standing back trying to roll a cigarette. He wasn’t successful.
My advice was to make it down safely, especially as they’d have to traverse a part of the Llanberis Path known as the Killer Convex. Sadly, this innocuous section has claimed many lives over the years during the winter months as walkers slip and – unable to halt their momentum – plummet over the Clogwyn Coch cliffs.
These chaps from Liverpool may have been underprepared, but they had nothing on another Merseysider who decided to tackle Snowdon in just his Superman underpants. In September. He was quoted as saying he was “surprised how cold he got”, whilst taking the Snowdon Mountain Railway back down to the bottom. A trip to the hospital to treat his hypothermia was probably a little too high a cost for the £1,000 he raised for charity.
Snowdon is the highest mountain in England and Wales. It appears highly accessible due the Snowdon Mountain Railway and the Summit Visitor Centre which was designed by Clough Williams-Ellis (most famous for designing Portmeirion) but it is a mountain. Snowdon weather can change rapidly and it’s highly advisable to be prepared for all eventualities.
Snowdon – The Summit
I bid the lads good luck for a safe descent and then motored on to the summit. Conditions on the ridge got steadily worse, visibility was at about 10ft, so when I reached the top, I touched the brass plaque, got my photo and then started on my descent immediately. I took five minutes of shelter from the increasing squall at the rear wall of the visitor centre to have a quick snack and a drink before quickly making my way back down the Pyg Track and importantly, away from the gale force winds on the ridge.
Rather than turning right down the tricky Miners Track to Glaslyn, (the way I had climbed up) I continued along the Pyg Track which maintains a higher elevation and affords fabulous views of all three lakes. With the lakes down to the south, the foreboding Crib Goch, one of Britain’s most popular ridge walks overlooks you from the North like a scary school teacher with impossibly voluminous eyebrows. Crib Goch is a tough scramble and is not for the inexperienced – especially in winter conditions.
Tunnocks’ Top Tip
If you want to tackle Crib Goch, do it when the conditions are good and with an experienced mountaineer.
As I descended to the lower slopes, the vicious winds at the mountaintop slipped into distant memory. I got down promptly and even made it back to Caernarfon in time to watch the football, although I didn’t see my Liverpudlian friends in the pub. My choice of appropriate clothing ensured that I didn’t return in need of hospital treatment for hypothermia either. Be prepared – Snowdon is hazardous, especially in the winter – see below for my kit list.
Climbing Snowdon Kit List
These Merrell Boots are the most comfortable, supportive and weatherproof boots I’ve ever owned. They have a stiff sole and a tread that grips well on all surfaces including wet rocks. Highly recommended.
I don’t go anywhere without my Bear Grylls trousers. They are stretchy, water repellent and incredibly comfy. They breathe well and dry very quickly. Get some.
It’s important to have plenty of clothing layers available when conditions can change in an instant. I like having a base layer, then one or more intermediate layers. Maintaining your core body temperature is key to staying safe.
The waterproof I took on this trip wasn’t really up to the job. I wish I had my Helly Hansen with me which always keeps me bone dry, whilst remaining breathable.
I like to wear this reflective running hat when hiking. It is warm around my ears but allows moisture to evaporate through the top. Being reflective is helpful if things go wrong and people are searching for you at night.
Keeping the extremities warm is essential. I like these gloves from Berghaus.
Staying hydrated is paramount. I like taking collapsible water bottles with me, as they can fold flat to save space after you’ve drunk the contents.
Along with water I always carry high-quality fuel and I just love these Grenade Carb Killa high-protein, low carbphydrate bars.
As a safety precaution, I always carry a head torch with me. The Energizer Advanced Pro is small and lightweight and has a powerful beam that reaches up to 70 meters and puts out up to 250 lumens.
I use MAPS.ME on my phone, but if you are a traditionalist then you can’t go wrong with an OS map of Snowdonia.
Taking a backup power supply could be crucial. I always carry the Anker PowerCore when I go hiking to ensure I don’t run out of phone battery.
Snowdon climbing routes
There are 6 main paths up Snowdon – I’m not including Crib Goch in this list as it is only for highly expereinced climbers.
Distance: 9 miles (round trip)
Height gained: 945m
Time: 6 hours (round trip)
Trailhead: Victoria Terrace, Llanberis
Distance: 8 miles (round trip)
Height gained: 765m
Time: 5 hours (round trip)
Trailhead: Pen y Pass Car Park
Distance: 7 miles (round trip)
Height gained: 705m
Time: 5 hours (round trip)
Trailhead: Pen y Pass Car Park
Distance: 8 miles (round trip)
Height gained: 1000m
Time: 6 hours (round trip)
Trailhead: Pont Bethania Bridge Car Park
Rhyd Ddu Path
Distance: 8.5 miles (round trip)
Height gained: 860m
Time: 5 hours (round trip)
Trailhead: Rhyd Ddu Car Park
Distance: 8 miles (round trip)
Height gained: 850m
Time: 6 hours (round trip)
Trailhead: Llyn Cwellyn Car Park
Top Tips for climbing Snowdon
- Check the weather – seriously, check it. It’s number one on this list for a reason. Use the resources in the Snowdon weather section on the evening before, and the morning of your climb.
- Be well rested and well hydrated – starting fresh is the key to an enjoyable climb. Start hydrating, little and often, 48hrs before and make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
- Prepare your map – whether it’s a digital version on your phone or a good old fashioned OS, make sure you’ve checked your route and you know what your plan is.
- Charge your phone – especially if you are planning on using it for navigation. Consider bringing a powerbank as well as cold temperatures can cause a battery to discharge faster.
- Choose the right route for you – make sure you select the correct route for your experience and fitness levels.
- Bring high-energy snacks – keeping yourself well fuelled will help you enjoy your climb and help to keep you safe.
- Have the correct clothing – mountain conditions can incredibly quickly. Make sure you have the clothing options to suit any eventuality and plan for the worst. See my kit list for ideas.
- Check out and check in – Let someone know your plans, including the time you expect to be back. Make sure to check in with them when you are back. This is especially crucial if you like to climb alone.
- Start early – and finish early. No-one wants to be stuck up a mountain when the light starts to fade, so start early and give yourself the best opportunity of getting down before the light goes. Also, you’ll stand a better chance of getting a space in the notoriously busy car parks.
- Check the weather – I mean it.
Where to stay when climbing Snowdon
Totters Hostel in Caernarfon was a very comfortable place to rest after a strenuous day on the mountain. The owners are very friendly and the place was kept spotless. If you’re after budget accommodation for Snowdonia, then you’ll struggle to do better.
If you fancy something a little fancier, then I understand the Anglesey Arms or even Plas Dinas Country House are excellent options.
What else is around?
For the adrenaline junkies amongst you, Zip World – which has the fastest zip line in the world, and the longest in Europe – is within Snowdonia National Park. The historic Caernarfon Castle and the wonderful oddity – Portmeirion – are also worth a visit.
Here’s what The Ultimate Travelist said:
“Snowdonia National Park is full of beauty and myth. Snowdon itself is a mountain for anyone – those who don’t want to walk can get a train up, while hikers can follow clearly marked tracks or scramble up one of the many harder options. But there are several other ranges in this North Wales park, with numerous highlights: craggy Tryfan has invigorating scrambling routes and is topped by rocks called Adam and Eve (jumping between them brings good luck), while Cadair Idris is home to legends of bottomless lakes and giant hounds. Those in search of activities have plenty to get their teeth into, including sandy beaches and an increasing range of adventure sports: Snowdonia is already home to the longest zip line in Europe and a cutting-edge inland surfing lagoon that opened in 2015.”
Get your copy of Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist here.
Ultimate Travelist Challenge Sum up
Snowdonia appears in the Ultimate Travelist Challenge at number 181. As impressive as Snowdon is, the area of Snowdonia has plenty more going for it. There are many lakes, peaks and stunning valleys to hike. It’s an adrenaline junkie’s dream with zip lines, white water rafting and an inland surfing lagoon amongst other attractions. The natural beauty of the landscape is hard to beat. Snowdonia is well worth a place in the Top 500 and I think its spot at 181 is well earned.
Have you been to Snowdonia? Did you tackle Crib Goch? Do your experiences match mine or do you think it should be higher or lower? Do you think it is rightly in the Ultimate Travelists Top 500? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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I’ve done it once, love to do it again, highly unlikely now. But your description brought back some great memories. Keep it up
You could always get the train up 😉
climbed the crib goch route a few weeks ago. not for the faint hearted, the route across the top is ok but climbing up to it was pretty hair raising! totally agree about mountain conversations, I was wearing a deliveroo top (they’re awesome for physical stuff) and got asked if I had their chips by a passing scrambler while holding on for dear life. awesome blog post!
If I climb Snowdon again in the future I’m going to have to try the Crib Goch route. I may also get someone to deliver me some chips at the summit! 😉
The conditions on the climb to Snowdon must be really cold and especially the gale winds across the ridge must be really severe. Such climbs need to be handled with lot prudence and respect for the conditions like how you did. There is no place for casualness of attitude here. Your recommendations on what to wear are spot on too.
I don’t think I’ll be climbing Snowdon anytime soon because of my bad knees. But thanks for the interesting post. Your photos are fantastic!