nomadic life guide

Climbing Mt Snowdon: ‘The Great Tomb’

Known by many names including ‘Yr Wyddfa Fawr’ – the great tomb, and standing proud as the highest peak in Wales and England at 1085 metres (3560 feet), this is a sacred place steeped in myth, legend and washed with the blood of a terrible giant.

Snowdon guide - nomadic life guide

View from the summit

Mount Snowdon is Britain’s most climbed ‘real’ mountain with 350,000 people making the journey to the top every year. Some dig deep and explore the limits of their stamina – they deserve their summit. Others dig deep into their wallets and ride the train, they do not have the satisfaction of earning theirs.

There can not be many real mountaineers that do not have a love/hate relationship with this mountain. Go in the summer months and after you have shed your sweat and tears, the summit will greet you with throngs of people. There can be thousands on the summit, you may even have to stand in line to get to it. Screaming children and folk in flip-flops crowd around taking selfies and buying postcards – there is no tranquillity on this mountain.

The winter brings peace to the summit, the throngs of the undeserving are gone. Replaced with snow, ice and a sense of peace that only the dedicated know. This is a mountaineers mountain now.

Immediately you can see the beauty of this place, the majesty. You witness the drama played out by the elements. The way the snow drifts, the great swathes of cloud billowing over the southern ridge, these are sights that no camera can do justice to. A sacred place.

Snowdon guide - nomadic life guide

Reaching a winter summit

If you are reading this, you must have an interest in seeing this place for yourself and in doing it properly. Even if you choose the warmer months, there is much satisfaction in succeeding. This is our guide to the mountain, and with over 70 ascents (not one of them on the train), we feel fairly qualified to write it. We are going to lay out the basic kit for you, guide you up the different paths and improve your chances of having a great day.

Basic kit.

Firstly. You need to dress correctly. Wear comfortable boots, thick socks, light trousers (not jeans), base layer or t-shirt and a light fleece. After this it depends on the weather. In the summer, this may be enough but remember it can be much colder on the top. In the winter, a down jacket and a waterproof fleece. Replace light trousers with insulated trousers and wear a merino wool base layer, woollen hat and gloves.

In your rucksack, essential gear includes a map, compass and the ability to use them correctly. A whistle, a torch, spare laces, a basic first aid kit and a camera to capture the views. Three litres of water per person, a tasty picnic. Packed on the top of all this is a good set of waterproofs as occasionally it rains in Wales. We recommend Gor-tex, its the only thing that really keeps you dry.

Although the weather changes all the time, sometimes minute to minute, the summit conditions can be checked at Weather forecasts are not to be relied upon as they are often inaccurate in the mountains.

Which path?

There are six main routes to the summit, and a variety of variants on these including the infamous Crib Goch ridge. The main six are summed up below.

The Llanberis path

Starting in the village of Llanberis and following the same basic route as the train, this path is the most commonly climbed. Ample parking is available in the village. In summer time this route even has a half-way cafe, as if the one on the summit was not enough. This path makes a very good winter route as there are no very steep climbs and navigation is extremely easy, even in white out conditions. In our opinion, this is the least pretty of the six main paths.

Snowdon guide - nomadic life guide

Snowy Llanberis path

The Pyg track

The Pyg track starts in Pen-Y-Pas. Parking here is VERY limited, so either you arrive early or park further down the valley in Nant Peris and get the Sherpa bus up to Pen-Y-Pas. This distance is also walkable if you are feeling fit. The Pyg is both the shortest route up Snowdon, and the path with the least vertical ascent. However, this is not the easiest route to the summit as the terrain is rocky and rugged, and if any of your party are uncomfortable with heights, this may not be the path for you. This path contains many big, rugged steps both at the start and near the end, the middle section is characterised by a long flattish stretch half way up a valley side. A very commonly climbed route, but also a very beautiful one. Totally unsuitable as a winter route unless you are very experienced and well equipped.

Snowdon guide - nomadic life guide

Very wet pyg track

The Miners path

The Miners track is rather unsurprisingly named after the mining that occurred here, and the route passes the remains of buildings that were abandoned when works ceased in 1917. This path shares its start point with the Pyg path and so again parking is limited. At first the trail is very easy, little more than a stroll, but near the end turns considerably steeper and quickly turns into one of the hardest physical challenges on the mountain. The Miners track then meets up with the Pyg path for the final slog to the summit. Unsuitable as a winter route unless equipped and experienced.

Snowdon guide - nomadic life guide

Top of the pig and miners trails

The Watkin path

The Watkin is considered to be one of the most difficult ways to the summit as the start point is the nearest to sea-level of any of the routes up. This route is also one of the quietest. Opened in 1892 by William Gladstone, and funded into being by Sir Edward Watkin who had a summer house near here. Anyone attempting this route will have to contend with loose scree and some quite sheer drops, you should not choose this path if you are unaccustomed to mountaineering. The path begins through some captivating woodland. Massive boulders covered in rare mosses and lichens sit amongst the trees, the path then gradually ascends up the mountain. Near the top, the path becomes indistinct as it crosses a loose scree slope, skill and experience are needed in finding a safe route. A small detour on the way down will take you to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Wales, a deviation well worth taking. A poor choice of route in winter unless equipped with crampons, ice axes and experience.

Snowdon guide - nomadic life guide

Waterfall Watkin path

The Rhyd ddu path

Ample parking is available here, just outside the village of Rhyd Ddu. The path starts off easy enough and remains that way until you hit the scree covered zig-zags up to the Bwlch Main ridge. This ridge is reminiscent of Crib Goch, but rather less intimidating. That said, it will still be a challenge for those afraid of heights. The path itself is plenty wide enough but does have drops on either side guaranteed to be fatal if you fall. Because of this high level of exposure, this path has some of the best views in Snowdonia and is one of our favourites. Not to be attempted in poor conditions or high winds.

Snowdon guide - nomadic life guide

Rhyd Ddu path

The Ranger path

Our other favourite path. Starting at the Snowdon ranger youth hostel on the banks of Llyn Cwellyn, this is probably the least well known path and subsequently the quietest. Parking is usually not a problem. Crossing the railway, the route starts off very steep as you hike up a tarmac road to the old water mill, and from here the seemingly never ending zig-zags start. The middle section is mainly flat, but its not long before you reach more zig-zags and you gain altitude rapidly. The hard graft relents somewhat as you cross the train track that leads to the summit. A suitable path for a winter ascent, however navigation can be difficult as the path is not as well defined as others.

We were caught out here a couple of years ago, the weather came in to the point where you would swear to god the world was about to end. I have never seen anything like it. Take care.

Snowdon guide - nomadic life guide

View from part way up the Ranger path

Up one, down another

Its quite possible to see more than one path in a single day, up one and down another. The obvious pairing being the Pyg and Miner as they share a start point but there are other options. It is possible to do the same with the Ranger and the Rhyd Ddu as long as you don’t mind the 2 mile walk along the lane between the two. Another option is to use the Snowdon Sherpa, this is a bus that links all the paths giving access to all sides of the mountain.

Lets summit up

Route Name

Starting Point



Llanberis Path
Snowdon Ranger
Snowdon Ranger hostel
Miners’ Track
Pen y Pass
Rhyd Ddu Path
Rhyd Ddu
Watkin Path
Nant Gwynant
PYG Track
Pen y Pass

A note on Crib Goch

The Crib Goch ridge is accessed from the Pyg track. This extremely dangerous ridge should not be attempted if you are not a highly accomplished mountaineer. Indeed many fatalities have occurred on this infamous ridge, it is not a walk but a scramble. The ridge itself is a knife edge, most of it is crossed on all fours like Gollum. Even experienced mountaineers will not attempt this if the weather is not perfect.

Snowdon guide - nomadic life guideSnowdon guide - nomadic life guide