Snowden Horseshoe

22 Sep 2001 - by Andrea Eddy

One of our Elbrus teammates from an August 2001 climb was from the UK and kept telling us about the great hiking/climbing in his homeland that was the training ground for George Mallory. While not very high, the mountains are challenging class 3 (and some class 4) scrambles. I took his invitation and went to see first hand. We chose the Snowden Horseshoe in the Snowdonia Range of Wales which includes four summits, one of which is Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales at 3559 feet.

The route starts from the car park at Pen y Pass (GR:647 556) or if the parking lot is full from the Pen y Gwryd Hotel (where we parked). Usually by 10:00 a.m., the upper parking lot is full. Take the Pyg track from the top end of the car park (not the miners track nearer the entrance) up onto Crib Goch (means red comb) which is the first peak. About 50% of the trail to this first peak was your typical Colorado Class 2 walk-up, but the other 50% was class 3 scrambling similar to the Homestretch on Long's Peak.

From the top of the first peak, heading west, you must cross an exposed knife-edge ridge that is reminiscent of the knife-edge on Capitol Peak. Most climbers that day were straddling the ridge to get across it, although there were some footholds below the crest, which I chose to use holding onto the knife edge with one hand. Also, along the way to the second peak are pinnacles and towers which can either be climbed or circumvented. Climbing all of them can be tedious. After the knife-edge, you descend into a gap and then rise to Crib-y-ddysgl, which is the second peak.

Descending from the second peak brings you to the 3 m marker stone which is where the pyg track rejoins the trail, and the ridge widens. From here you follow the train track to the summit of Snowdon (the third peak). The actual summit is named Yr Wyddfa. Since there is a train to the top of this peak, the top is similar to Pikes Peak with plenty of tourists, souvenirs, and food.

From this tourist area, head down the southwest ridge to the 2 m marker stone. Turn east and descend on Watkin path to the col at Bwich y Saethau. Continue on the path until the steep face of LLiwedd, the fourth peak looms. Climb direct up the west summit and then down & up the east summit. Descend to lake Llyn Llydaw and join the Miners track back to Pen y Pass car park.

The entire route was 7.5 miles and took about 6 hours with a 45 minute stop in the tourist trap to get something warm to drink. I should have started my Avocet to keep track of the total feet gained and lost, but didn't realize how much we were going to be doing.

The weather was typical Wales, about 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit and misty. However there were several "moments" when the mist cleared and the view out to the Irish Sea was breathtaking. This was Wales at its finest. Overall, the entire route was about 60% trail, and 40% class 3 scrambling which could be made more difficult climbing all the pinnacles and towers. The rock was delightfully solid. The most treacherous part was the drive getting there and back from Worcester (where my friend lives) with all the narrow roads, round-abouts in the middle of the autobahn, and of course driving on the "wrong side" of the road. The drive from Worcester to Snowdonia was about 3 hours probably going 80 miles an hour. (Note: Worcester is outside of Birmingham, England, and American has a daily direct flight there from Chicago.)

I highly recommend this cirque for a taste of British climbing as well as the pub, Ty Gwyn, in Betws-y-Coed on the way out of Snowdonia.

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