The Snowdon Hike Plan
The Snowdon Hike quest was inspired by the purchase of a t-shirt showing the profiles of the UK’s 4 tallest mountains. It might be taken to imply that the wearer had actually climbed them. Why not take up the top’s suggestion? Snowdon was, at 4 and a bit hours’ away from Bristol, driveable (just). I’d climbed it as a teenager, so knew children could do this kind of thing and live to tell the tale. Chatting it over, with an albeit very fit family, we persuaded ourselves that a Snowdon hike would be a fun joint family adventure. In our minds, our children would be distracted by the presence of other kids and would barely even notice the walking. The idea became a plan.
Where to stay in Snowdonia?
Camping at Easter in North Wales was never going to to be on my list of acceptable accommodation solutions. Browsing the YHA website, we found there were several youth hostels in Snowdonia. I wanted one as near to the foot of the mountain as possible. I vaguely remembered having to hitch hike as a family back to the car at the end of the childhood Snowdon hike adventure, which didn’t really appeal post-1980’s and definitely not in a nippy Easter wind with 4 tired children. Looking at the map, Snowdon’s base covers a fairly wide area, and where you stay kind of depends on which route you intend to take up it…
Which Snowdon hike path? And how long does it take to walk up Snowdon?
So which path to take on a Snowdon hike with children? Googling revealed there were 6 paths – all taking between 6 to 8 hours for a round trip. A plethora of web sites provide different opinions as to the degree of comparative difficulty of each Snowdon hike route.
We wanted the quickest and easiest, but these 2 factors bore some kind of inverse relationship. The quicker, the steeper, the harder kind of thing. The gentlest one, The Llanberis Path was the longest at 9 miles. I was all for it – but was overruled and, to be fair, all the guide books scoffed at its dullness. (But conflictingly they also said no path up Snowdon was easy – and to beware of death at any point. Or words to that effect.)
Snowdon Hike Accommodation - Pen Y Pass YHA
Snowdon hike tip 1 – Stay in the Youth Hostel at the foot of the path to avoid commuting and parking issues.
The Pen y Pass YHA gave direct access on to one of the middling Snowdon Hike routes, the Miners track, but was also within a few miles of the starting point for the slow road – so we could make a final decision when we arrived – long and slow or perilous and steep (but quick if you made it alive). We would get some expert advice from the hostel on the day.
It was also good to know that there is actually a train, the Snowdon mountain railway which goes all the way to the top. We could always train it down if weary legged (or up, if totally wimping out). And a café – with a loo.
Snowdon hike tip 2 – Check the mountain railway and café are open for a get out of jail free card at the top if your legs have stopped working or you need an indoor loo
Snowdon Hike Weather
The weather being notoriously bad in Wales, particularly up mountains, we decided to stay for 3 days, crossing our fingers that it would be climbing weather on one of them. We were prepared to bin the whole thing and drink hot chocolate in the hostel café if the rain was relentless or the wind was scheduled to blow small children off mountain paths.
Waited for a YHA online sale, bought discounted annual membership and got 25% off an en suite family room. The Snowdon Hike plan was good to go.
Snowdon hike tip 3 – Look out for YHA sales and grab a family room bargain
Snowdon Hike Kit List
Packing is always tricky when you are not in the relevant climate. Leading up to Easter, it had been an unseasonably hot and sunny 19 degrees in Bristol – (mountain) t-shirt weather, even.
But I knew deep down that the Snowdon hike would be cold. And wet. Clue’s in the name. I packed layers, waterproof trousers and decent coats. We all bought proper hiking boots and tried to wear them in a bit. You can’t buy kids shoes too far in advance as they do tend to grow. Sibling ready-broken-in hiking boot hand-me-downs are a winner. Husband had even invested in waterproof socks, although at £19 a pair we had not splashed out for the whole family.
Packed a map – and a waterproof packet.
Snowdon hike tip 4 – The chances of it being cold at the top are very high, but climbing is hot work. Packing layers is crucial.
Heading to Wales
The journey was long. We stopped off half way for snacks and YHA self-catering provisions and, exiting the car in the Aldi car park, were given a mini weather preview. Freezing.
We had totally under packed for the Welsh mountain tops and scoured the Aldi for additional fleeces and trouser layers all round.
Our driving route took us near the only part of Snowdonia excluded from the National Park, and site of husband’s every childhood holiday, Blaenau Ffestiniog. He had always cited the grey sky/slag heap/slate combo – as a reason to resist Wales as main summer holiday destination. Did a quick detour drive by. As it turned out, his memory was pretty accurate. Although, the drizzle did make the slate shiny.
Safely back inside the Snowdonia national park, the scenery was increasingly spectacular. The roads became small and winding, with no barrier between road edge and sheep.
Eventually, we arrived at the old mountaineers’ inn that was to be our base camp, nestling at what felt like a cheater’s head-start position, half way up the mountain itself. The hostel, built in the 1870’s has been used by climbers since Victorian times, some in preparation for climbing Everest (which was a bit sobering). Lucky for us, it had undergone a recent million pound upgrade and its newly white washed walls contrasted sharply with the green grey cliff-face back drop.
Stepping out of the car literally took your breath away, and chilled it well down into single figures. Checking in to the toasty warm hostel, we noted the temperature chart next to the desk indicating that the Snowdon summit was a frosty -6.
Time for the expert advice: was this do-able with kids in these conditions? The man behind the desk was extremely helpful. When enquiring as to the best path, he told us that he and his 6 year old daughter would regularly scale Snowdon using the Pyg track, starting right outside the hostel, and be back in time for lunch. No need to worry.
We hadn’t really looked into the Pyg track for our Snowdon Hike, but not to be beaten by a 6 year old (our youngest was at least 7), the decision was made. Doorstep Pyg path won the vote.
Had an exploratory wander around the foggy foothills before settling in to the onsite Mallory café, with its impressive valley views, and managed a sensibly early night.
Getting Snowdon Hike ready
Next morning , kitting up, I did not want to get cold so opted for 3 layers on the legs and top. (Hadn’t really thought through the mountain toileting.)
Similarly instructed children to wear thick jumpers under big coats.
No one was interested in the hats or scarves. They refuse to wear them the rest of the year so I shouldn’t have been surprised at their disdain. But the guide books insisted they were essential items so they were stuffed into bags.
In order to give the children the best chance of actually making it to the top, we had kindly agreed to carry their kit in our bags for the hike.
Snowdon Hike Snacking
Again, the books are quite bossy about how much water you take – 2l each is recommended. With the carrying plan, this meant 4l in each grown up’s bag– which is surprisingly heavy. (Not being a hot day – they remained barely touched on our return). A few bread rolls had been thrown in but we knew from all previous excursions with children that the only food in demand would be chocolate. Decided against the sickly traditional Kendall mint cake which came with us on every walk in the 1970’s. If you don’t like sickly sugary mint on the ground – turns out you don’t suddenly like it a bit higher up either.
Snowdon hike tip 5 – Chocolate is an essential mountain health food. Yay.
Scaling Snowdon – Pyg (pig of a?) path
Snowdon Hike day had arrived. Setting off from the YHA, we were pleased to have stayed on site, as the carpark at the entrance to the trail was completely full. It would be busy on the path, but this was affirmation that we were not completely insane (or were not alone in our insanity).
Approaching the start of the trail we saw 2 notices – the first telling us that we had chosen the most arduous of the 6 routes for our Snowdon hike:
Took careful note of the bit about loss of life for novice walkers should you take the wrong fork and head out over the ridge of doom. Glad to have brought the map.
Winter walks lack facilities
The second sign informed us that the cafe and train were closed for winter. There would be no railway plan B.
A rocky start
The Snowdon Hike path started pretty steeply, with a rugged stony scrambling. It was like scaling a succession of dry-stone walls. This was going to be a long day. My half-hearted gym trips may not have equipped me fully for what lay ahead. Uphill chatting not as easy as in my initial vision.
Pausing for breath (quite regularly) under the guise of looking at the views, we spotted a gang of 6 gung ho younger folk wondering whether to take on death ridge in shorts and trainers. Off they went. Did not see them at the top, but they were not on The News that evening either, so happy ending assumed.
After a steep start, the path evened out and, heart sinkingly, even went down. Any down is a double-edged sword. It literally gives you a breath of fresh air, but it only cancels out some “up“ you have just tackled and means there is even more “up” on the way.
The team was split. Husband had taken a small child hostage in the front fast paced marching section. The youngest had dug in and needed a lot of persuasion to keep moving. As the walk progressed, jumpers and coats became heavier and unnecessary. Lesson learned – a thin fleece layer might not look it, but really is enough.
Snowdon hike tip 6 – Go for thin fleece over chunky woollen jumpers.
I formed a slow food and clothes horse / pack horse middle section. We concertinaed out over the trail but squeeze-boxed back together for snack breaks. As predicted, chocolate was king. It was Snickers all the way. People with hot flasks were the cleverest/most popular.
Walking/skating over sheets of sheer rock we skirted a steep sided tarn. We were about half way.
Snowdon hike tip 7 – The grippier and more waterproof the shoe, the better.
Climbing higher, the valleys opened out below us for some incredible views when the clouds permitted.
Snowdon hike tip 8 – Don’t forget to look up from your feet and check out the view behind you too (also chance for sneaky breather).
O level geography skills were retrieved from long term hibernation and we were able to chose the correct forks when the crowds thinned and the “path” was no longer really evident. Other non–map buyers befriended us. We saw a few hikers turning back, defeated, but small children were coming down from the top – we could do this. Playing the “spot the smallest child game” we were pleased to see at least 2 younger than our own, absolving us from internal charges of parental neglect in pursuing the plan.
Snowdon hike tip 9 – You might not think you need a map but following the people in front is not always the right move, especially if they don’t have a map.
Towards the end of our Snowdon Hike, we pretty much walked vertically up the rocky bed of a waterfall/stream before disappearing entirely into the cloud layer. The summit seemed to be right in front of you, but repeatedly turned out to be just another large lump of rock to be scaled.
Scaling the summit
Like in some kind of film plot, the scariest bit was saved til last. We had to navigate a shingly ridge, which dropped sharply away into a cloudy abyss below. The level of fear is indicated by the lack of photos of this stretch of path, as both hands were needed for balance and potential child retrieval should they start to slide sideways down the cliff.
Keeping low to the ground, and 4 hours after setting off, we scrambled on to the very top. Cloud had stolen the view, but a foggy group photo of the Snowdon summit was taken. Minus 6 is actually very cold once you stop moving. All layers were quickly reapplied. Even a few gloves. And 5 minutes later, just as our hair started to freeze. it was time to get going again.
Snowdon Hike Descent - the Miners track
For the return journey, we could follow the Miner’s Path to make the Snowdon hike into a circular route. We started climbing back down the waterfall, but then wider, gentler paths appeared. The width of the path is just as important as gradient, when it comes to mountain chatting. Despite jelly legs, time passed much more quickly now. The cobbled path did bring its own hazards, being slippy as a fish when the angle of descent increased.
Snowdon hike tip 10 – Pick a different path down for a more interesting round trip
Travelling in time and space down memory lane
I was taken by surprise when recognising an old mining structure which had featured in a photo taken on my first foray, 30 years previously.
Either the decades and weather had not been kind to the stones, or it was a sign of more safety conscious times, but there was a notice prohibiting climbing this time, so I couldn’t repopulate my recreation of the past. (Although climbing up may have been literally a step too far at this point in any event.)
We stopped for a bit of stone skimming. Previously dry feet risked flooding, blisters; and cold toes becoming a last minute bonus feature. Some bravely mountain toileted – the 3 trouser-layer choice was instrumental in my decision to hang on for the full 7 and a half hours.
Snowdon hike tip 11 – Reserve layering for clothes you are actually willing to take off in public
Passing some wild campers in the grassy low lying fields by the hostel, I appreciated their romance, while at the same time being very pleased not to actually be them. Rounding the final corner, our white hostel home for the night came into sight like a little snowball from heaven.
We were not back in time for lunch, but definitely for tea. De-layered and, feeling pretty proud of ourselves for completing the Snowdon hike without loss of child, life or limb, we celebrated with a café-cooked tea and well deserved bottle of wine.
Hindsight kit list
- Lightweight layers (you will end up carrying your children’s). But not too many. Merino thermal layers are good.
- A map in a plastic wallet
- Snacks and chocolate – hot and cold
- Gortex walking boots for ankle support. The grippier the boot, the better. I bought new ones after this as my grips were not good enough.
- Hat and gloves
- Waterproof socks
- Waterproof jacket
- Waterproof trousers
- Plasters in case of blisters
- Mobile phone – for emergencies and photos
- Mini-suntan lotion, just in case
Day 2 - Caernarfon Castle
Still having a day to play with, we took a trip to Caernarfon Castle, site of Prince Charles’ investiture. This may explain the large ear statue. The children played with cross bows, re-enacted a battle, swung maces and hunted down golden Easter eggs hidden around the castle grounds.
In a pub by the quayside, there was a suggestion that we try another t- shirt mountain next time, and no one thought this was too bad an idea. Turns out, it was.
Snowdon Hike Lessons learned
Waterproof socks for all, not the few.
Maps are good. Thick layers are bad. 3 trouser layers is just silly.
The Pyg track is a very scenic route, but be ready to scramble.
Think like Willy Wonka:
- Hot chocolate not water.
- Chocolate is real food
Maybe wait a season for the train and café to open.
I’d love to hear about your own Snowdon adventures in the comments sections below.
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Anecdotal evidence. Adventures with my family – mishaps, surprises, stories and lessons learned. A travel/humour hybrid.