The view of a snow-covered Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) on our Beddgelert walk (see post #213) was very tempting, but November snow in England and Wales doesn’t usually hang around for very long, so I needed to get a move on if I wanted to have a day out on the ‘white stuff’. Settled weather and a couple of cold nights were encouragement enough, so two days later I was back in Snowdonia for a bit more mountain fun.
I’ve done the PYG Track/Llanberis Path version of Yr Wyddfa more times than I care to remember, so why repeat it? Simply because it’s a classic day out through incredible scenery to one of the finest peaks in the UK. So it gets very busy – so what? Others are entitled to their share of heaven! I left the car in Llanberis and used my ‘old git’s’ bus pass to get to the start point at Pen y Pass. From there I would take the PYG Track to the summit, followed by a long downhill stroll back to the car on the Llanberis Path.
In summer the mountain railway hauls passengers from Llanberis to the summit of Yr Wyddfa, but in winter the track is usually blocked by snow towards the top of the mountain. This puts the summit café out of action, which means that the facilities summer tourists would expect are not available, and warning signs at the start of all the paths up the mountain make this clear. In fact, as the winter develops, mountaineering skills are often required to make the trip safely, but many still get caught out.
Setting out on the PYG Track from Pen y Pass, the eye is drawn to an obvious peak – many mistakenly assume that this is Yr Wyddfa, the summit of Snowdon, but it is in fact Crib Goch. Yr Wyddfa doesn’t come into view on this path until the start point of Crib Goch is reached, and making the wrong route finding decision here can literally prove fatal, making the Crib Goch Ridge one of the main accident blackspots in winter.
Crib Goch wasn’t on my itinerary today though. It was almost certain that any snow on the ridge would have been stripped off by the wind, and I was after a snow day, so I carried on towards the junction of the PYG Track and the Miners Track. Quite often this is where the snowline starts, as was the case today – small groups dithered around, deciding whether to carry on or turn back, but I was ready with ice axe and crampons and after a quick brew of coffee it was time to crack on.
Just beyond my brew stop I met the first of several walkers who were not having a good day – a woman with a bag slung across a shoulder and wearing inadequate bendy boots, was slithering uncertainly down the path. I asked her if she was OK, and she hissed through clenched teeth that she was, so we went our separate ways – I kept a watchful eye on her until she reached easier ground.
Further up, the path has a set of prominent zig-zags and the trickiest part of the route under snow for those without winter gear is potentially from here to the bwlch (pass) at the top of the PYG Track. What snow there is collects naturally on the path and gets compacted by the passage of many pairs of boots. The result is a ribbon of icy snow where boots can scarcely get a grip without the use of crampons.
I met two big groups on their way down, with none of them wearing crampons. I decided that it would be a good deed to use my ice axe to cut some steps for them, but there was also a bit of self-interest involved – had anyone slipped, I would have felt obliged to help, so it was better all round to prevent an accident. I was somewhat bemused with the second group though, as a couple of them stood next to me leaning on their ice axes as I cut steps for their mates – they seem to have got the message that they should “carry an ice axe in winter” but hadn’t got round to actually using them!
Arriving at the bwlch brings a dramatic change of scenery, with the narrow confines of the upper path replaced by long-distance views in all directions. This is a major junction of paths to and from the summit, and is busy on most days of the year. I followed the upper section of the railway line to the summit, watching a paraglider pilot having fun – after a quick ‘selfie’ and another wet of coffee it was time to start heading down.
Beyond the top of the PYG Track I set off down the Llanberis Path. In summer this is a tedious slog up and an easy yomp down, but in winter it carries a particular hazard – the railway line makes much easier walking than the path, but one section between the top of the PYG Track and Clogwyn Station is another accident blackspot. The railway gets banked up with snow, which then freezes to the hardness of concrete – a slip here can lead to a slide down a convex slope to the cliffs of Clogwyn Coch, and there have been several fatal accidents here over the years.
There’s something very satisfying about finishing a mountain day as the light starts to fade. Chris (me missus) doesn’t really go for walking in the dark, so two days earlier I had timed the end of our Beddgelert walk to coincide with dusk – today there was just myself to please, and leaving Pen y Pass after midday had guaranteed a finish in the dark, and the changing colours of the sky made a spectacle that was almost impossible to capture in a photo.
If the photos didn’t do justice I could still enjoy the show. Eventually it was time to break out the headlight, and I noticed several pin-pricks of light on the surrounding hills as others had the same idea. I wasn’t in any great rush to finish, and even Border Collie ‘Mist’ seemed to have forgotten it was well past her dinner time. We finished in the dark as planned, with the lights of Llanberis below – the perfect end to a perfect day!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock