If you’ve been a reader of mine in any capacity over the last 3 years or so, you’ll know I’m not just someone who likes playing on gymnastics rings, doing muscle ups and standing upside down.
I also like walking up really big hills – as in the biggest our country has to offer. From 2019 to late 2020 I ticked off all three of the UK’s highest peaks individually, and then went on to do them all in the space of 29 hours last year to commemorate both my 30th birthday, and the passing of my dear old nanna.
And that’s not it though, there was also a climb of Helvellyn – one of The Lake District’s most iconic and well known mountains!
6/7 months later it’s time for the 2022 season to begin and we’re picking up where we left off with an attempt to tackle the legendary CRIB GOCH aka Snowdon’s hardest ascent.
Yeah, the one where people have died.
The one where you have to use your hands and feet across a 200 metre long knife edge ridge…
Yep, that one.
As soon as I started announcing my next venture, I was met with the typical replies you’d expect prior to doing the infamous Crib Goch…
‘Don’t you need a mountain guide for that one?!’
‘What if you die?’
‘Aren’t you scared’?
‘F*ck that, I wouldn’t do it. No way!’
‘You be careful, it’s no joke’
And my favourite one: ‘why don’t you just enjoy normal things?’
Because normal is boring and most normal people are normal because they’re scared to do the things they really want to, deep down.
My simple one line answer was the same every time someone said any of the above to me…‘If I die, I die. I’m going to try my ass off not to, but if I do, at least I died doing something I wanted’.
Sounds extreme but the older I get the more I refuse to be kept in a protective bubble where I watch the years roll by, without the experiences rolling up. I wasted the first 25 years of my life wimping out and not doing what I wanted, so I’m damn well determined to live the next 25 as if they’re my last.
As Thursday the 14th of April rolled around it was time to set off on the road for North Wales. Like you probably do before going away, I spent most of that week already mentally in holiday mode. Although these days the waiting time for the holidays to come around doesn’t seem anywhere near as painstaking as they did 10-15 years ago.
We had our own cottage waiting for us in the North Welsh Parish known as Abergeirw (try pronouncing that!) – one with only 9 houses in the entire parish. And we were staying in one of those 9. That should give you an idea of how remote it was. If it doesn’t, then maybe if I told you it was set in 700 acres of sheep farm land, then you might get a better idea?
If you still can’t fathom it I’ll let these pics do the talking…
The cottage, backdrop and grounds were just stunning. There were waterways, rivers and streams all around. The garden grounds of our cottage backed on to a running stream you could hear running night & day. And If you ventured down the track to the house, you’d go over bridge with a river running under it.
The perfect place for a cold dip!
We even had trees in the grounds that I could throw rings in which just meant plenty of freedom to play about whenever I wanted. Normally people find rest periods boring but here I would just fanboy hard over the beautifully rugged North Welsh Countryside.
We were a good half hour drive (or more) from the main roads – namely the A487 that runs up to Porthmadog and beyond. As the crow flies it was probably less but the roads we had to use to get to any form of civilisation were nothing short of what you would see in a castaway film.
Single tracks, 16-24% hill gradients, farm animals laying on the road and constantly having to stop the car, jump out and open/close farm gates that were there to stop sheep escaping.
Just. A. Completely. Different. World.
We’ve stayed in multiple Lake District locations, rural Scotland and North Wales before but never in a place quite as remote as this. But it just heightened the experience so much more.
You hear of these millennials whinging about no phone signal and crappy WiFi and we had no phone signal and crappy WiFi, but this just was a blessing. It was nice being virtually off grid, not being distracted by Instagram notifications and annoying WhatsApp group chats. As a result, you’re more present and when you finally have access to the internet it’s been long enough that you might actually see something interesting for once.
Where we had 4 nights ahead of us there was room to play with in terms of when to attack the legendary Crib Goch. The main concern was the weather. Having not done Crib Goch before but trying my best to do my ‘homework’ prior to the trip, all I kept seeing & hearing was how much the weather impacted the difficulty of the climb.
Rain and wind were major obstacles and where the exposure on Crib Goch is pretty high, it makes it a sitting duck for the elements. Even if we forget safety for a moment, from a vanity standpoint there are precious little views if it’s rainy or cloudy.
A simple Google search will show you just how stunning the views from the iconic 200 metre long knife edge ridge are in clear conditions. It’s also famous for the volatility of the weather; conditions can change drastically in as little as 10 minutes.
And unless you’ve been living in a cave recently, you’ll know the entire Snowdon mountain range has soared in popularity thanks to lockdowns, travel restrictions and even just people sharing their climbs on social media. This has meant more and more people wanting to climb Snowdon as a mini getaway, which then means queues for the summit, car park overflow and even more recently, human faeces, litter and accelerated wear and tear of the mountain in general.
So we needed to figure out the busy periods, the ideal time to climb in terms of weather and not get caught up waiting for perfect circumstances that rarely, if ever, exist.
Good Friday was breezy with a fair amount of cloud cover but we figured we’d head towards Snowdon almost as a trial run, to see if we could figure out the parking & rough route etc.
It was busy and parking was more luck than judgement. The whole Pen-y-Pass car park region was pretty heaving. Our plan was to ascend the Pyg Track right up until the classic Crib Goch split point, then make the call as to whether we’d just carry on and climb it, or abort mission and return tomorrow/on the Sunday.
As the Crib Goch split point came into view I was greeted by a strong wind I was completely oblivious to before, courtesy of the mountains blocking it. It brought with it a wet rainy spray and as I gazed up to the Crib Goch ridge I saw the grey clouds swallowing it up, hiding the uppermost parts of the ridge.
We hadn’t packed our boots, didn’t have any hats, coats or anything protective, so it really was a ‘YOLO’ approach. If somehow the sun came out, the wind died down and it warmed up then I think it would have been doable to just forge on ahead. But in those conditions with the handicaps mentioned, it was very much a ‘safety first/live to fight another day’ scenario.
Although we knew what to expect now; we weren’t flying totally blind and the first part of the Pyg track wasn’t all that difficult or treacherous.
The next day we set out to tackle it in the afternoon after a leisurely morning and comfortable lie in. It was virtually 3pm by the time we took our first few steps on the Pyg track. Once again we were deceived by the wind as it hid behind the mountain, to then make itself really known as we started the Crib Goch route and were fully exposed.
What I think has to be one of the coolest things about the Crib Goch route is the scrambling near the start. And it’s made even cooler by the fact there’s no official path or route. Which means it’s open to interpretation. Basically you’ve got to navigate yourself to the top point – where the ridge begins. So there’s at least 6 different routes, maybe even a half dozen more.
The climbing itself isn’t hard as such, it’s more a coordinative challenge where you have to mix common sense, basic climbing fundamentals and respect the weather conditions you’re faced with, while forgetting all the horror stories you hear.
We kept right of the mountain side on the way up to stay out of the wind, that would blow up and then calm down. Maybe every 30 seconds or so there would be a strong gust and as you looked up, the clouds were rolling overhead pretty rapidly. The climbing was a lot of fun and there were many moments where you had to really check your hand and foot hold or you’d definitely fall.
I took on a leader role despite having not done the route before but this extra responsibility focused me harder and made me thrive more. It did mean I had to pace myself sensibly though. On all my other climbs I kept the pedal to the metal and chased the impressive times. This time it was all about just surviving without any real hair raising moments.
And as the cliche goes….this let me be in the moment more. It let me take more photos. It let me stop and pause; I could take in the views – I distinctly remember taking a moment or two and looking in every direction, admiring the scenery.
Before I knew it I was peering over the last ledge as the legendary ridge came fully into view. I cried out with excitement: ‘guys, get up here, it’s right there! I’m looking at the ridge. Check this out, it looks AWESOME’.
Finally, the moment we’d talked about, fantasised about and been building up to for months, was here: 200 metres of knife edge rock scaling up and down and waving slightly left and right.
We got stuck in!
The wind made it tricky and you found yourself crouching lower subconsciously in response to the wind. It just felt safer lower down.
I was constantly turning my head left and right, taking in the cliff edges and once I acclimatised I had to whip the phone out and record some ‘in-the-trenches’ footage. Of course this meant I could no longer maintain the recommended 3 points of contact at all times rule all the guides I’d read beforehand suggested.
I was almost one of them cool dudes who just run across the ridge, or stroll over it in trainers, some even camp on the ridge!
Funnily enough the idea of that crossed my mind as I was navigating this beautiful rocky ridge. You’re wondering how it’s even possible? But then you realise they’ve gone over Crib Goch dozens of times, if not hundreds in some cases.
Normally I wouldn’t be one for redoing the same route over and over but with Crib Goch you can see why people do. The first time you do it you’re so concerned with being careful & just surviving, it all goes by in a bit of a blur.
But a fun and exhilarating blur! Soon enough we arrived at the famous end point of Crib Goch, where the Snowdon summit dominates the skyline.
From here on my lack of planning really showed as I stupidly thought the Snowdon summit was easy to get to from the end of Crib Goch.
We soon learnt that was far from true. Instead of staying right and following the ridge over to the point where the Pyg track, Lanberis track & Ranger track all meet, I took a punt on heading left (trying to go as the crow flies almost) and this was a wrong turn as we’d eventually end up on the latter stages of the Pyg track, and then still have to climb further to Snowdon.
Nevertheless though, this meant an impromptu downward and upward scramble adventure as we tried to trace the side of the mountain, to that triangular meet point of the three famous tracks.
And it was here that another harsh truth of mountaineering really hit home: just because you can see something, doesn’t mean it’s close – or even remotely close in some cases. In other words: your eyes really do deceive you, or your brain does.
By the time we scrambled and slid down to the Pyg track it was around 6pm and Snowdon looked as busy as we’ve all been hearing it is. Where we’d all summited Snowdon at least once before, we decided against it and headed down the Pyg track, constantly eyeing up Crib Goch on our left, almost pinching ourselves in the disbelief that we were up there an hour or two ago.
A couple of hours after that we were back at the cottage sharing videos, pics and dissecting our adventure; the post-match analysis! We were also
binging refuelling with some lovely BBQ food.
Crib Goch – The Conclusion
To wrap this up, all in all, I think Crib Goch isn’t as dangerous as the tales and myths might have you believe. That said though, you have to have some mountain climbing experience. I’ve done the 3 main peaks of the UK twice, including all 3 in one go. And my 2 friends have all done the 3 peaks before separately.
Again, this is in reasonable weather conditions – in the spring/summer season, not in rain or excessive winds. Although from what I’ve seen and experienced, Crib Goch seems to almost never have no wind at all?
To do it in winter, the dark or in the wet, or all three would require solid knowledge and experience of the route for sure – and adequate preparation & equipment.
But if you do your homework and can tolerate heights while keeping a calm head, you’ll love Crib Goch if the weather is kind to you. I certainly did and would quite like to do it again and maybe be even more unconventional and go back over the ridge from the Snowdon side.
I’ve even since seen, courtesy of YouTube, how many other great gulleys and scrambles there are around the whole ‘Snowdon Horseshoe’ area. So who knows what the future brings?
But this isn’t the last time I do Crib Goch, that’s for sure.
Thanks for staying with me as I relived what was an immaculate weekend away & one where I can honestly say I don’t regret a minute of it; I’d do it all again exactly as we did.
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