#196 – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) by the PYG Track

Yr Wyddfa – Snowdon

Yr Wyddfa – Snowdon

The problem with weather in the UK is not that we get the extremes that occur in some parts of the world, it’s more of a case that we get such a lot of it!   I generally avoid the hills when it’s ‘blowing a hoolie’ as there isn’t much fun in being buffeted around a mountain top, but eventually things calm down a bit and it’s time to get out.   A fair day in February gave the opportunity, so the question was where to go – it didn’t take long to decide on Snowdon, or to use the correct Welsh name Yr Wyddfa (The Tomb)

Starting out on the PYG Track, with Crib Goch rearing above

Starting out on the PYG Track, with Crib Goch rearing above

I know mountaineers and walkers who avoid Yr Wyddfa because of the crowds, caused in part by the rack and pinion railway to the summit.    In winter, however, the railway line is blocked by snow, and the only way to the top is by one of the paths. My favourite way up changes every time I go there, but today it was the ‘PYG Track’ on the menu.

Y Lliwedd on the skyline with the lake of Llyn Llydaw below

Y Lliwedd on the skyline with the lake of Llyn Llydaw below

Just got to do it! Still working on using the ‘selfie stick’!

Just got to do it! Still working on using the ‘selfie stick’!

The path is a great warm up, with a steady height gain to Bwlch y Moch (Pass of the Pigs) where the track runs underneath the East face of Crib Goch (Red Ridge).   Things level out for a bit, with great views across to Y Lliwedd (The Colourless Peak).   A bit further on I decided that the view would be much improved by the inclusion of my ugly mug, and Border Collie ‘Mist’ had to wait patiently while I had got to grips with the ‘selfie stick’ that was one of my Christmas presents.

The approach to Bwlch Glas ….

The approach to Bwlch Glas ….

 …. and looking back from the same point

…. and looking back from the same point

The final section of the PYG Track runs up to a junction of paths at Bwlch Glas (Blue Pass) – this section holds snow when the rest of the mountain is bare, and is a notorious accident black spot.  There wasn’t much snow on this trip, but it was worth using crampons on this section if only to speed up progress – I actually caught up with a military party whose members had blasted past, being younger and fitter than me, but who were now scrabbling about on the icy path.   At least they had ice axes, unlike several other walkers who were slithering their way down.

Above Bwlch Glas, heading for the summit of Yr Wyddfa

Above Bwlch Glas, heading for the summit of Yr Wyddfa

Looking back to Garnedd Ugain (centre) and the PYG Track exit at Bwlch Glas

Looking back to Garnedd Ugain (centre) and the PYG Track exit at Bwlch Glas

The summit of Yr Wyddfa ….

The summit of Yr Wyddfa ….

…. and the author with one happy Border Collie!

…. and the author with one happy Border Collie!

The final slope up to the summit has also seen a fair number of accidents over the years, but the snow was pretty sparse – I kept the crampons on as the conditions were variable, but ‘microspikes’ would have done the job just as well.   Summit views were superb, and there must have been less than twenty people at the top, unusual conditions for the most popular (and populated!) mountain summit in the UK.

Heading down by the railway line

Heading down by the railway line

Looking down the Llanberis Path ….

Looking down the Llanberis Path ….

…. and looking back towards Bwlch Glas with Yr Wyddfa beyond

…. and looking back towards Bwlch Glas with Yr Wyddfa beyond

Having grabbed a couple of summit photos, it was time to head down.   I had decided to take the Llanberis Path back down, as it gives a completely different aspect of the mountain – in descent it’s fine but it must be one of the most tedious ways to go up a mountain in Wales or anywhere else for that matter.   It’s also probably the most popular ascent in summer as it is a non-technical, stony kind of path which is comparatively safe – in winter it can be the most dangerous part of the mountain.

Warning signs by the railway

Warning signs by the railway

‘DANGER’

‘DANGER’

The snow was sparse as I descended, but with a heavy accumulation the broad ridge heading roughly north can be a death trap for the ill-equipped – under these conditions the snow thaws by day and freezes by night, leaving icy convex slopes that become steeper as you descend them.  The most hazardous section is by the railway line, which paradoxically is the easiest to follow for those who don’t know the mountain.    Nowadays warning signs are placed to point people away from the danger.

The railway line (centre right) above Clogwyn Coch, with the Llanberis Path above and left

The railway line (centre right) above Clogwyn Coch, with the Llanberis Path above and left

The slope crossed by the railway line drops down towards the cliffs of Clogwyn Coch – after days of freeze-thaw conditions, the snow here becomes as hard as ice, and the only way to cross it safely is by using crampons.   There have been several serious accidents here over the years, many of them fatal – the low snowfall this season has kept the accident count down, but as I write Easter is three weeks away, and more snow is forecast.

One last view back with the cliffs of Clogwyn Coch below the snow field in the centre

One last view back with the cliffs of Clogwyn Coch below the snow field in the centre

In early March 2013, Chris and I looked across to Yr Wyddfa from Moel Eilio and had seen hardly any snow – three weeks later a massive snowfall brought disruption and chaos to North Wales, and turned the Welsh mountains into a winter wonderland for those who have the experience and the right gear.   Here’s hoping for a safe Easter for all this year.

Heading for home ….

Heading for home ….

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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10 Responses to #196 – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) by the PYG Track

  1. jimmykranke says:

    Excellent article Paul. Some great advice.

  2. My favourite mountain in the world there 🙂 Not my favourite routes though as I prefer the western ones over Bwlch Main. I’d only ever descend the Llanberis track too – don’t think I’ve ever gone up it.

    There were 10 young lads roped together once – a school party I think – descending that way and the first of those slipped down the convex slope. One by one they all got dragged to their deaths – must’ve been awful for the last lad on the rope knowing what was coming but unable to stop it. No wonder the mountain rescue call it ‘the killer convex’.

    I was going up that top section of zig-zags from the PYG track once and there were some unspiked people up front. One of them suddenly went whistling past me and I had to step out of the way or I’d have gone with him. His mate managed to grab him on the way past.

    • I’m with you Carol, the Llanberis Path is far too tedious to use as an ascent route.
      It must have been quite alarming to have someone shoot past you on the PYG Track – it’s a miracle that there aren’t more accidents when the path is snowed in.

  3. Wish I’d had conditions like that! Did it via the Pyg track one April.. Nice lower down but saw sweet FA from the top and there were queues to the summit! 😦

    • Haha – there are queues all year round Tessa – imagine what it is like on a warm summers day, with the train bringing even more visitors to the summit.

  4. That Llanberis side has such a bad reputation in snow – and justifiably so. I went up that path once one summery day a few years back. No snow then, but I couldn’t believe the numbers of people on it. Must have been thousands 😦

    • It’s not a place for solitude Chrissie, but in a way I quite like to see people who would never dream of going near a mountain getting a buzz out of the experience – I wish more of them would heed safety advice though.

  5. LensScaper says:

    Looks like you had a beautiful day. I recall going round the horseshoe under light snow on the early May bank holiday about 25 years ago. This area is still my favourite area of the UK and always will be. Great Pics, Paul.

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