Having grown up in Cape Town, I started hiking regularly when I was a teenager. My dad was my main companion for these excursions, and my love for the activity has only grown over the years.
Since emigrating to London two years ago, I have nurtured this crazy urge to climb all of the UK’s most famous peaks, and Snowdon was one of the top summits on that list.
Standing at 1,085 metres, Mount Snowdon is the highest peak in the British Isles outside of Scotland, and there are a number of ways to get to the top. Each of these routes vary in length and difficulty.
After some deliberation, I decided to pursue the Pyg Track on the way up and, for a variation of scenery, the Miners’ Path on the return trip.
When that weekend finally rolled around, my Snowdon hike officially unfolded once I caught the Sherpa bus service from Llanberis. The bus service is regular during the summer months, and there is also a rail service (via steam train, nonetheless) from Caernarfon to Rhydd Ddu.
The start of the Pyg Track is the Pen y Pass car park. I was lucky, because I met a group of experienced climbers from Manchester as soon as I arrived in the car park. They invited me to join them for the first part of the climb.
I know it may be predictable to state this, but the scenery was breathtaking from the very beginning of the trail. And this only increased as I proceeded further along the path.
Each trail leading to the summit of Snowdon has some sort of history attached to it, yet the Pyg Track’s story is the haziest. No one is entirely sure where the name came from. Some say that it was named after the Pen y Gwryd (PYG) hostel that climbers used, while others hold that the path was named after the black tar (pyg) that used to be carried from nearby copper works.
I didn’t spend too much time pondering on this, as I was kept busy negotiating stone steps while trying to take in the amazing landscape around me.
I chose the Pyg Track because I wanted a challenging hike, and I definitely got what I was looking for. Most of the route has good paths, although I occasionally found my way intersected by a pile of rocks. When I came across this for the first time, it took me two seconds before I realised that I had to somehow scramble over them. And scramble I did, and I know for a fact that I certainly didn’t look very graceful in doing so.
It was all worth it, though. I said goodbye to my new friends, who were off on different adventures that day, and finished the first stage of my climb alone. As I scrambled over another pile of rocks (even less gracefully than before), I followed a bend and saw enormous dark blue lakes far below me.
Surrounded by mountains and clouds, the scene looked like something out of JRR Tolkien’s imagination.
Apart from the views, the best thing about climbing Mount Snowdon is that I never really felt completely alone. There were plenty of other climbers around, of varying abilities, as well as some hardcore (read: probably insane) runners. I knew that if I really felt confused about the path, I wouldn’t have to wait very long to ask for advice.
The Pyg Track continues high above the lakes, allowing hikers to see the water from all perspectives. Below, a road lined part of the lakes’ perimeter; this would be my route back on the Miners’ Path.
I find hiking so enjoyable because of the sheer self-indulgence of the activity. It’s just you, the path, the surrounding landscape and the end goal of that particular hike (a summit, a bridge, a well-earned hot chocolate at a cafe) – what you think about in between is up to you.
The last bit of the Pyg Track – the ascent of the summit – is the most difficult. The final couple of hundred metres follow the railway track. After some focused climbing despite increasingly weary calf muscles, I managed to get there.
There was a queue to stand on the summit’s highest point and, after a few minutes, I got to do so too. My hike wasn’t blessed with the best weather (I was practically standing in a cloud), but that didn’t stop me from having the goofiest grin on my face.
The past few years have seen me doing many things on my own, and successfully climbing Snowdon has not only joined that list, but jumped right to the top of it.
Snowdon’s summit was particularly chilly at the time of my visit, and I went to thaw out at the cafe. I was surrounded by fellow climbers, as well as day trippers who made their way to the summit via the train. All around I could hear happy chattering, as well as various groups of hikers comparing their experiences of the climb up.
Having finished my tea and coaxing myself back out into the cold, it was time to turn back.
I followed part of the Pyg Track until I reached the turn off for the Miners’ Path. The first part of the descent is the trickiest, as it’s a steep path down towards the lakes.
Having run down way too quickly and dealing with a case of what can only described as ‘jelly legs’, I surveyed my surroundings.
I had seen the lakes from high up above, and they were far more massive up close, with the wind creating ripples all over the surface.
Having recovered sufficiently, I walked along the water’s edge, past the lakes, the towering cliffs above and, a little further away, the crumbling ruins of buildings. I wanted to know more about these structures, but took heed of the exclamation marks on the ‘danger!’ signs plastered nearby.
The Miners’ Path was created for the transportation of copper from the Britannia Copper Works near Llyn Glaslyn to Pen y Pass, so I assume the ruins carry a connection to that time. Mining came to an end here in 1916, yet this mostly flat path remains one of Snowdon’s most popular routes.
After a good while of steady walking, I reached Pen y Pass once more, closing the wooden gate behind me as I left the Miners’ Path and officially ended my Snowdon hike.
If the photos haven’t already convinced you, I will conclude by saying that I couldn’t recommend this hike enough. Snowdon and the national park are blessed with some of the most picturesque scenery in the UK – which is the perfect distraction when you’re climbing numerous steps!
As for me, I unashamedly relaxed for the rest of that day at Seiont Manor Hotel, where I probably set a new world record for the longest hot bath ever.
1. Do your research. Look at the different routes and decide which one best suits your fitness level and skill. And, once you’ve picked that route, make sure that you’re familiar with it.
Although the start of all routes are well signposted, this is not always the case further along the path. I got confused a few times when the path split, but I had read up on the trail before I got there and managed to navigate those moments successfully.
2. Water is your friend. If this tip is always listed when it comes to hiking, that’s because it’s always applicable.
3. Pack clothing for all types of weather. I climbed up Snowdon in the beginning of summer and experienced sun, wind, rain and really, really cold (the gloves and scarf came out) conditions – all in the space of a few hours.
4. Climbing Snowdon is not outrageously dangerous, but accidents can happen. Save the emergency number, 999, on your phone just in case.
5. Bring your camera. You’ll be kicking yourself if you decide to leave it at home!
Have you climbed Snowdon before? I’d love to hear about your hiking experiences in the comments below!