‘Mountain view’ seemed a pretty optimistic name for the sitting room of our rental cottage. We’d arrived in the gloom of an autumn afternoon and everything above the 300m contour line was swathed in a thick, slow moving bank of cloud. Firing up the wood-burning stove, we spread the OS map in front of us and traced the route that would be taking us to the summit of Snowdon the following day. If the cloud was down when set off we were going to need our navigational wits about us. The view out of the window did not look promising and with four children all under 12 in tow (plus two sets of parents) I was already starting to consider a less ambitious undertaking.
So when we woke the next morning and peered out of the window we were delighted to see blue skies and the distinctively pyramidal peak of Snowdon from out of the window.
“It’s looking good… does everyone feel up to a walk to the top?”
“Yeeesssss!” Came the pantomine chant from the breakfast table.
So we loaded up rucksacks and laced our boots before picking up the path that leads from Rhyd-Ddu to the summit.
I’ve climbed Snowdon plenty of time but strangely never managed the walk from this side of the mountain. Our route up, the Rhydd-Ddu Path, was described as ‘intermediate’ while our route down again, The Snowdon Ranger Path, was a much easier undertaking, according to the notes in our guest house. The upper section of the Rhyd-Ddu path was clearly quite exposed, but with good weather and a one-adult-per-child ratio, I reckoned we’d be OK.
We wound our way past farms and quarries and quickly found ourselves navigating boulders on a more exposed section of wilder hillside. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the kids, but they seemed to relish the steep slopes and set off at an impressive – if slightly competitive – pace. It wasn’t long before we were starting to trace the scythe-like curve of the Llechog Ridge, with its beautiful view into the Cwm Clogwyn.
Snowdon is known for its busy summit and popular routes during the summer can see long queues strung out along certain sections. Standing here, however, in the late autumn, we had the entire hillside to ourselves. So we stopped at the top of the Llechog Ridge and pulled out sandwiches and flasks before making the final bid for the summit.
A gate and a set of zig-zags deliver you to the most exciting part of the route: an exposed section of path with a steep drop down towards Cwm Tregalan. One of our party needed a firm hand to assist them along this section, and on a windy day I’d certainly avoid bringing anyone of a nervous disposition along this route. But today it added a certain spice and was the bit that everyone was talking about as we settled down on the summit to enjoy the views. And on this crystal clear day they stretched for miles…
Compared to our route up, the summit had all the peace and solitude of a busy high street, so after a quick photo to record the momentous occasion we decided to head down along the The Snowdon Ranger route, first following path that runs next to the train tracks for the mountain railway.
An early start and swift ascent meant it was still surprisingly early so we stopped to bathe in the sunshine above the steep cliffs of Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, the site of some excellent climbing routes. From here the route offers a section of zig zags and then a relatively gentle path that takes you past the Llyn Ffynnon-y-gwas (“Oh look some skinny dippers!”) and then the option to cut across country back to Rhyd-Ddu over some navigationally tricky terrain..
Or at least it would have, if someone (namely me) hadn’t lost the route and then ended up getting us all stranded on the roadside next to the Welsh Highland Railway. You can catch a train from The Snowdon Ranger station that will take you back to Rhyd-Ddu, but we just missed that option and instead tramped back a couple of miles along the tarmac. I was not entirely popular but made up for it by taking my junior expedition team to the Cwellyn Arms. Here we tucked into lemonades, real ale and excellent food while warming our bruised feet next to the fire. Perfect.
Matt Swaine is the editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine.