See the highlights of the Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon massif without having to queue for the top by taking the Snowdon Girdle, says Francesca Donovan.
Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is the UK’s most popular mountain, attracting hundreds of thousands of people a year – but even here, there is still ample solitude to be found if you know where to look. Go in search of the mountain’s quiet cwms and sleepy waterfalls by circling the entire massif – and not once touching the busy summit on the Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon Girdle, one of the most challenging long day routes in Eryri (Snowdonia).
The concept, a route devised by the late Showell Styles and first published in his book Mountains of North Wales in 1973, is simple: see the best of the massif without ever summiting the titular peak itself. This might sound counter-productive, especially to peak ‘baggers’, but anyone who has queued to tap Wales’ crowded top spot in recent years will understand the appeal instantly.
The 13-mile walk crosses the paths of the six popular routes up to the summit, but never lingers along them too long. Instead, it takes the scenic – read: technical – route around the mighty mother mountain by way of its crevices and cwms. Here, in these quiet corners, you can absorb the true atmosphere and character of this beautiful mountain without having to make the obligatory hikers’ greetings every few minutes, or shuffle past stag party groups. But beyond the aim of ‘seeking solitude’, you also get to see majestic parts of the massif which you would otherwise miss on the main trails.
The Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon Girdle: route description
Start/finish: Rhyd-ddu car park (GR: SH571526) | Distance: 21km/13 miles | Ascent: 1647m/5,404ft | Duration: 10 hours or two days | Maps: OS Explorer OL17 (1:25k) – Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa
1. SH571526: Take the Rhyd-ddu path to begin your journey. It is widely regarded as the quieter of the six major routes up to Yr Wyddfa’s summit – but these sleepy slopes are just a taste of what is to come. Ascend the path for 3.3km and enjoy the simple navigation and firm path underfoot while it lasts.
2. SH593536: Come off the Rhyd-ddu path and head in a NW direction to begin your first descent of the day and first of many. This route is akin to a rollercoaster with constant ascents and descents – it is not for those who enjoy ambling along high plateaus. The descent is short and you’ll soon need to skirt your way around Llechog until you reach the north shore of Llyn Nadroedd. Follow this bank E and wriggle your way between your first llyn of the day and Llyn Coch, passing Llyn Glas and following the water downhill until you reach Llyn Ffynnon-y-Gwas reservoir. Skirt its W bank until you reach the Rangers Path, the oldest of the six paths to the summit regarded as an easy but long ramble up the western flank. Turn R onto it and follow it for 80m.
3. SH591557: Here, end your short-lived affair with the Ranger’s Path. Bid it farewell and head steeply NNE down into Cwm Brwynog. The walking is rough here and the path skirting along the steep sheepfolds unclear. Pick your way over the sometime rocky, sometimes tussocky ground for about 600m, cross the stream and be rewarded with incredible views as Clogwyn Du’r Arddu and Coch loom large over the turquoise waters of Lyn Du’r Arddu. After a little break in almost-guaranteed solitude you’ll head NE to join the Llanberis, the easiest and most populated path up to Yr Wyddfa. So, savour the quiet while you have it before walking the 700m of Llanberis with other happy hikers.
4. SH609559: Say your goodbyes and leave the Llanberis path, heading up to the grassy ridge of Gyrn Las. Prepare your knees for what is to come next: a steep unpathed descent of Cwm Glas. Again, route finding is a challenge here so prior experience with navigation as well as sure-footedness is advised. Some light relief when you reach Llyn Bach, only to continue the descent over steep, tricky terrain down to Llyn Glas. Incidentally, this is one of the most underrated llyns of the Snowdon Massif; tiny, turqouise and perfectly formed with its own little island upon which a tree sits proud. Take another break here. You’ll be grateful for the energy reserves as you now make your way over boggy ground to climb Cwm Uchaf. Blessedly, the way is clear and a steep path presents itself. But at just over halfway, the steep ascent is gruelling.
5. SH622551: Emerge atop Bwlch Coch, admiring the line of people scrambling Crib Goch to the east and the sweeping southerly vista beyond Glaslyn and Llyn Lydaw to Y Lliwedd. To the west, you’re likely to see tiny people queuing to touch the summit stone on Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon. But onwards alone. 500m of ascent will now take you down the steep south scree slope of Bwlch Coch to the Pyg Track. Beloved by adventurous souls, Pyg is rocky, steep and short and provides the second most challenging main route to the summit, only after the Crib Goch scramble itself. Follow it for 300m or so.
6. SH614548: Take the hairpin turn in the path to come off the Pyg and onto the Miner’s Track heading SW on the continued descent. This track wends its way waterside before rising up to the summit from Pen-y-Pass and offers plentiful places for a swim and easy rambling. Descending past Glaslyn, it’s a genteel portion of the Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon Girdle route plan.
7. SH620546: Leave the Miner’s Track and cross Afon Glaslyn to beign your ascent of Cribau. Gear up for a scramble and enjoy the time with hands on rock. The route ascends Cribau in a relatively straightforward SW bearing and foot and hand holds are plentiful. Beware, however, wet weather in which the rock becomes very slick. In ice this scramble shouldn’t be attempted without prior experience and crampons. It is short but sweet and at times spicy and your only scramble on the Snowdon Girdle. With the scramble behind you adjust your bearing to SSW and continue to ascend for 200m.
8. SH616540: Here, you join the Watkin Path. This steep route to Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon from the south passes turquoise waterfalls tumbling into deep pools as well as Gladstone Rock and the remnants of the mountains mining history making it a popular way up. You’re on the Watkin Path for 1.5km but that’s not quite far enough to take you down to these points of interest. On the Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon Girdle, you leave Watkin’s delights for another day.
9. SH616530: Leave the Watkin Path heading W down into Cwm Tregelan. It’s simple enough walking across grassy tussocks but you’ll have to navigate around small streams and falls. Walk below and parallel to the ridge until you briefly reach the rocky steps of the Cambrian Way. Follow this up for 200m and come off the path in a NNW direction. Continue for 500m past a large body of water backdropped spectacularly by Yr Aran (that you’re unlikely to have to share this scenic spot is proof that there are quiet corners of beauty to be found here in Eryri) and cross to the north side of the drystone wall. Follow the wall boundary heading W and then, after 750m, NW until you reach the Ryhd-ddu path. Make sure to stop and admire the quiet falls that flow through this sometimes boggy and pathless land.
10. SH590530: Rejoin the Rhyd-ddu path turning L onto it in a SW direction and retrace your steps down it to the car park to complete the Snowdon Girdle.
Public transport: The Sherpa’r Wyddfa bus service takes you directly to the Rhyd Ddu car park bus stop where the Snowdon Girdle route begins and ends
Tourist information: Visit Eryri
Nearest YHA: Snowdon Ranger