Welsh 3000s – The Snowdon Horseshoe
Day 3 of my Welsh 3000s adventure started early. Rain and low cloud were forecast from the west by mid-morning and I was determined to try to get as much walking done as possible during the best of the day. Not only did I plan to walk the Snowdon Horseshoe but I also had a six-hour drive back up to Scotland ahead of me: I didn’t hang about.
I set off from Pen-y-pass at 8am with clear weather. I soon peeled off from the main Pyg Track to climb up Crib Goch, seeing only three others ahead of me. I’d read the warnings that attempting Crib Goch in wet and windy weather was inadvisable and perhaps naively, I’d set off thinking that even if a shower came in I’d still be OK. I have to say that since Crib Goch is an unrelentingly steep climb on bare rock I really wouldn’t feel safe climbing it in anything less than dry conditions. I’d enjoyed the exposure on Tryfan the day before but Crib Goch is in a different league. Steep rock fell away hundreds of feet and great care was needed to keep at least three points in contact with the rock at all times.
After an exposed and exhilarating ascent I finally reached the start of the narrow ridge. And this was just the start !
While it was breezy rather than gusty I wasn’t taking any chances, so dropped down 3-4 feet below the serrated ridge line so that I had one hand to steady myself on the ridge. I nervously watched the chap in front of me who seemed to walk right along the ridge line. At one point I reached a flat stone about 4 feet long and a foot wide perched in a particularly exposed section. Walking along it might have been tempting had the consequences of a slip been fatal. No way !
Following the crampon marks on bare rock took me on a safe detour around a couple of particularly exposed pinnacles. After about 30 minutes, with adrenaline pumping, I finally reached the edge of the narrow ridge and the col that separates Crib Goch from Garnedd Ugain. The clouds continued to swirl around the corrie (sorry, cwm) with good views down the tarn below. Garnedd Ugain was also an exciting scramble but much more tame than Crib Goch.
At last, bare rock gave way to grass on the summit of Garnedd Ugain and a good panorama of the Snowdonia peaks opened up. Just a short climb around the col lead to Snowdon itself, parallel to the railway track.
It does seem bizarre that there’s a railway – celebrating its 120th anniversary no less ! – right to the top of the highest peak in England and Wales. I’d heard the noise of the train a couple of times the day before and it took me a while to figure out what it was. I know Cairngorm has its modern funicular and a café near the summit too but somehow this is different: modern and quiet, and not a noisy diesel-engine legacy of the 19th Century. The Snowdon summit café has recently been modernised however and I had an early lunch at 11am sitting alongside day-trippers in their jeans and anoraks. “So have you walked up?” said the lady beside me. “How long did that take you ?”. Funnily enough, it’d only taken me an hour longer than it had taken them.
As you can see from the photo above, the weather did indeed close in right on cue at 11am. The drizzle soon turned to light rain and I quickly put any thoughts of completing the classic Horseshoe, with a final narrow rocky ridge, out of my mind. Instead, I was happy to take the safe route back down the Pyg Track.
My waterproofs were soon drenched as I plodded down the track. There was a steady stream of walkers coming up this popular route, including a couple of Gold DofE groups coming down (well done to them !). Most people were well kitted out but there were quite a number who clearly didn’t give a second thought to setting out in jeans, trainers and thin jackets. I even met a party of girls who I think had two light jackets between them, with one wearing a fleece blanket over her head and shoulders to keep the rain off. Really ?! Hoping to put doubt in their minds I asked if they had jackets with them. Cheerfully, they confirmed they didn’t. Er …. were they even in the queue when common sense was being handed out ?
In spite of the stupidity of some members of the human race I’d really enjoyed my day. I’d been lucky, just managing to reach the summit of Snowdon before the rain came on and clouds descended. It’d been a great three days in Wales – new mountains and new (and unpronounceable) places.