Snowdon, at 3,406 feet (1,085 meters) high, is the highest mountain in Wales. Snowdon is located in Snowdonia National Park in northern Wales. The park, designated in 1951, protects the mountain’s unique geology and natural history.
Snowdon is Britain’s most famous mountain and is both visited and climbed by more people than any other British mountain. Eight distinct routes ascend to the summit along with the Snowdon Mountain Railway, which carries passengers for 4.7 miles up the mountain. On the summit is Hafod Enyri, the mountain’s visitor center.
The name Snowdon comes from the Old English name for the mountain snaw dun, which means “snow hill.” The Welsh name for the mountain is Yr Wyddfa, which means “the tumulus,” which is a mound of stones over a grave. The name derives from an Arthurian legend, which says that Snowdon’s summit is the tomb of the giant Rhitta Gawr. King Arthur killed the giant after he claimed Arthur’s beard to add to his cloak made from men’s beards. Rhitta Gawr’s grave is beneath Snowdon’s summit stones. The mountain is also sometimes called Yr Wyddfa Fawr or The Stone Tomb.
Snowdon Geology and Natural History
Snowdon is formed of Ordovician-age limestone that was deposited on the bottom of the Iapetus Ocean. Later, some 450 million years ago, it was a volcano with a large caldera and thick ash flows. In more recent times the mountain was sculpted by great glaciers, which excavated large cirques or cwns in Welsh. The last glacier retreated between 15,000 and 18,000 years ago.
Snowdon, rising over 3,000 feet above the Irish Sea coast, has a unique tundra ecosystem on its upper elevations with many rare plants and flowers. The Snowdon lily (Lloydia serotina), a rare flower also found in the Alps and North America, grows on Snowdon’s rocky slopes.
The summit of Snowdon offers the widest views in Britain. On a clear day, much of the British Isles are visible, including Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, and the Isle of Man. The 144-mile-long (232 kilometers) view from Snowdon to Merrick in Scotland is the longest line-of-sight view in Britain.
Snowdon figures prominently in Welsh folklore and in the Arthurian legends. The sword Excalibur was thrown into the lake Glaslyn here by Bedivere after the death of King Arthur, who supposedly expired at Bwlch y Saethau on the ridge between Snowdon and Y Lliwedd. A cairn existed on the spot until the 1850s. In lore, after the king’s death, Arthur’s men retreated into a cave on Y Lliwedd where they sleep until needed. Glaslyn also is the resting place of a water monster called an afanc that terrorized nearby villagers. The afanc was secured with chains and drowned in the lake after it was lured out of the water by a maiden. Below the cliff Clogwyn du’r Arddu is a magical stone called Maen Du'r Arddu, perhaps its powers help you climb harder and higher.
Eight Routes up Snowdon
Snowdon, the most climbed mountain in Great Britain, has 8 established trails and routes to the summit—Llanberis Path, Snowdon Ranger Path, Rhyd Ddu Path, Watkin Path, Miner’s Track, Pyg Track, Crib Goch, and Snowdon Horseshoe route. These can be combined into various traverses and circular walks.
Snowdon Horseshoe Route
One of the best routes is the 7-mile Snowdon Horseshoe, a famous mountaineering route that involves both hiking and scrambling, which makes a circuit across the peaks above the glaciated cirque of Cwm Dyli on the southeast flank of Snowdon. The route begins at Pen-y-pass atop Llanberis Pass (get there early to park) and follows the Pyg Track to Bwlch y Moch (Pass of the Sheep). Here the route climbs onto the beautiful rocky ridge of Crib Goch and the climber scrambles across its narrow, exposed knife-edge to Bwlch Coch and then follows the scrambly east ridge of Garnedd Ugain and joins Llanberis Path and the railway track to Snowdon’s busy summit. From the top, the route descends Watkin Path down a scree field and joins another trail that climbs to the summit of Y Lliwedd, a rugged twin-summitted mountain. To finish the trek, descend down rocky slopes to the lake Llyn Llydaw in the bottom of the cwm and follow Miner’s Track back to the route’s start, having completed what is called “one of the finest ridge walks in Britain.” Afterward, have a drink at the famous pub at Pen-y-pass Hotel and see signatures of famous British climbers on the ceiling.
Three Peaks Challenges
Snowdon is often climbed as part of the National Three Peaks Challenge; the three peaks being Snowdon (highest mountain in Wales), Ben Nevis (the highest point in Scotland and the British Isles), and Scafell Pike (highest peak in England) in the Lake District. Climbers ascend the trio in all seasons and for all kinds of reasons, including fund-raising for charity. The three peaks, separated by about 500 miles, are sometimes climbed in a 24-hour period, which necessitates not only running up each peak but also having a fast driver, little traffic, and a good map.
Rock Climbing on Clogwyn Du’r Arddu
Besides hiking and scrambling, Snowdon is famed for its excellent rock climbing. Several wonderful cliffs are found on Snowdon, including Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, affectionately called Cloggy by climbers, one of Britain’s best cliffs. This remote, north-facing cliff has many routes which range in difficulty from 5.0 to 5.12 (YDS grades), including serious climbs like Master’s Wall. Routes were established on Cloggy from the 1930s until the present by a veritable Who’s Who of British climbing, including Colin Kirkus, Jack Longland, Joe Brown, Don Whillans, John Redhead, and Johnny Dawes.
First Ascent of Cloggy
The first recorded ascent of Clogwyn du’r Arddu was in 1798 by a couple botanists, Reverends Peter Williams and William Bingley, who were studying alpine plants. Bingley described their brave ascent: “I believe it was the prospect downwards that determined us to brave every difficulty. It happened fortunately that the steep section immediately above us was the only one that presented any material danger. Mr. Williams, having a pair of strong shoes with nails in them, which would hold their footing better than mine, requested to make the first attempt, and after some difficulty he succeeded.... When he had fixed himself securely to a part of the rock, he took off his belt, and holding it firmly by one end, gave the other to me: I laid hold, and, with a little aid from the stones, fairly pulled myself up by it. After this we got on pretty well, and in about an hour and a quarter from the commencement of our labour, we found ourselves upon the brow of this dreadful precipice, and in possession of all the plants we expected to find.”