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Climbing Snowdon in Winter

Posted 2nd February 2022

You’ve scaled the summit beneath the summer sun and now want to experience the majesty of Yr Wyddfa in the depths of winter. Is it possible? How difficult are the various routes? What equipment will you need? In this guide to climbing Yr Wyddfa in winter, we’ll provide you with all the information you need to enjoy a safe, snowy adventure in Eryri.

The mountain in winter

Climb Snowdon - Climbing Snowdon in Winter

Winter is nothing short of spectacular in Eryri. With the landscape wrapped in its snowy, cold-weather coat and the beautiful Yr Wyddfa towering over the region, it’s a fantastic time of year to be out exploring the Welsh countryside. That being said, the conditions pose their own challenges and attempts to summit the mountain should be approached with caution.

Winter hiking is an entirely different proposition to summer excursions. Snow, ice and bitter temperatures make it absolutely imperative that you’re well prepared and understand what you’re undertaking. If you’re unsure as to whether you’re ready to climb Yr Wyddfa in winter, we would recommend playing it safe and going with a trained and experienced guide.

These colder months are not the time to take risks or try something new – the consequences could be life-threatening.

With that caveat in mind, let’s take a look at what you can expect on a winter climb, what equipment you’ll need to reach the summit and what routes you can take.

Typical winter conditions on Yr Wyddfa

Eryri benefits from a relatively mild climate thanks to its position close to the Atlantic Ocean. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get cold. After all, this is mountainous terrain and both the exposure and altitude have a significant impact on the temperatures you can expect to encounter.

Snowfall is common between October and April, though it’s generally fairly light until December. Between December and February, you can expect significant snowfall and a dramatic change in the conditions underfoot. During this period, average daily highs on the mountain sit at somewhere around 2-3°C and often dip below freezing at the summit.

Just like other times of the year, the Eryri weather changes rapidly in the winter and a bright and beautiful morning can quickly turn into a cloud-covered, misty and treacherous afternoon. This means checking the weather forecast before your climb is essential. In fact, it may be the single most important thing you do before attempting to reach the summit.

What’s different in winter?

In short, most things. Climbing Yr Wyddfa in the winter requires a completely different skill set and some experience of winter mountaineering, particularly when conditions are icy, there’s been considerable snowfall or visibility is reduced. When the snow comes, Yr Wyddfa’s well-marked paths are easily lost, the danger of slipping increases and the freezing temperatures ensure there’s little room for error.

That being said, the rewards are more than worth the extra care, attention and caution required to climb the mountain. On clear days, the view from the summit is nothing short of breathtaking and the experience of scaling the snow-covered slopes is exhilarating.

Climb Snowdon - Climbing Snowdon in Winter

While we’ll mention the dangers inherent in winter walking several times throughout this guide, we also want to make it clear that you can safely reach the peak if you have the right guidance, experience and equipment. And if you do, it might just be one of the greatest days you ever have in the mountains.

What do I wear and bring?

Sudden changes in weather are something you have to watch out for throughout the year in Eryri. Whether it’s summer or winter, you don’t want to put yourself at risk because you didn’t properly check the weather report. However, winter conditions mean you’re working with much finer margins and smaller climatic changes have more pronounced effects. This makes packing the right equipment even more essential.

Just as important, is knowing how to use your equipment. Crampons are no good if you’ve never walked with them in the snow and an ice axe can be more of a hindrance than a help if it is your first time holding one. If you doubt your ability to correctly use any of the equipment listed below, we would recommend brushing up on your skills by taking a winter walking mountaineering course before attempting to tackle Yr Wyddfa.

Waterproof and insulated clothing – In winter, you need to keep out the cold and wet. This means layering up and wearing suitable waterproof and insulated clothing. No jeans! We think it’s a good idea to test out your clothing before attempting the climb, just so you know that you’ll be comfortable on the mountain. Our local partner Joe Brown Academy has tonnes of in-depth information about kit and what to do with it – his Buyers Guide to Layering is especially useful.

Suitable hiking boots – You may be walking on snow and ice, so ankle-high, four-season, waterproof boots are a must. If you’re going to be using crampons, you’ll also need to ensure that they’re compatible with your footwear – but that’s a whole other blog post!

Gloves – If you want the use of your hands while climbing, you’ll need gloves. Many experienced hikers pack a second (or even third) pair just in case the first ones get wet.

Crampons – Crampons give you the traction you need to climb steep, snowy slopes. Though they look relatively simple, they can be difficult to manage if you’re not used to walking in them. They’re tricky to get on with cold hands and require you to adapt your gait a little. If conditions dictate that you’ll need crampons and you’ve never used them, it’s definitely a good idea to get some practice on a winter skills course before you go.

Ice axe – Ice axes give you extra stability when climbing, allow you to cut steps in the snow and can be used as an emergency brake should you start to slip. They’re specialist bits of gear though and require expertise to use properly. Again, a winter walking skill course is the best way to get to grips with the axe if you have no previous experience.

Helmet – Though not required for many of the routes, a helmet is an essential piece of safety gear if you’re looking to tackle one of the harder routes.

Map and compass – As conditions do change rapidly and visibility can be an issue, you’ll need a map and compass to help you navigate. But they’re useless unless you know how to use them. So get in some practice before you climb!

Emergency insulation blanket – If things do take a turn for the worse and you need to shelter in place, the priority is staying warm. A lightweight emergency insulation blanket will help keep out the worst of the cold. We recommend the Blizzard Bag (made not far from Yr Wyddfa).

Hot drink – A thermos flask of tea, coffee or hot squash can have a revitalising effect in the cold and is a great reward once you’ve reached the top.

Food – In the winter, your body will burn up a lot of energy simply trying to stay warm. That means you need to feed it a little more than usual. Hot soup in an insulated flask is always a winner, while jelly babies are perfect for a sweet energy boost as you walk. You may want to unwrap snack bars beforehand – when it’s cold they don’t melt and you can eat them easily without having to remove your big, warm gloves!

Mobile phone and battery pack – A mobile phone may be the only way you can call for help should something go wrong on the mountain. It’s useless if it has run out of battery, so a spare battery pack is a good idea. Just remember – you won’t always have signal on the mountainside, so a mobile isn’t a guaranteed safe exit should you find yourself in trouble.

Head torch – Winter doesn’t just bring snow, ice and the cold, it also heralds the arrival of shorter days. Your Yr Wyddfa climbing plan should take potential delays into consideration and have you back down the mountain before the light disappears but you never know what could happen, so a head torch is necessary.

Which route is easiest in winter?

Climb Snowdon - Climbing Snowdon in Winter

First things first, there are no ‘easy’ routes up Yr Wyddfa in the winter. All of the paths are considerably more difficult in snowy conditions and you’re likely to encounter challenges that simply don’t exist during the summer months.

With that in mind, we would recommend the Snowdon Ranger Path, Miners Track or Pyg Track if you’re looking for a slightly simpler option.

Though it can be steep in places, the Snowdon Ranger Path is often considered the ‘easiest’ of Yr Wyddfa’s winter routes. However, it’s not all smooth sailing. In the upper sections, the path can be difficult to follow and is easily lost.

The Miners and Pyg tracks are usually considered the next easiest routes. However, the approach to the summit is slightly less troublesome on the Miners Track as it starts with a gentler path up to Glaslyn. Both include a challenging traverse as you reach Bwlch Glas, particularly in icy conditions. An ice axe and crampons are usually required to make it up the steep snowbank at the end of the route.

Which are the most challenging winter Snowdon routes?

If you’re looking for a wintery challenge, Yr Wyddfa is the place to go. While Eryri’s famous ice climbs may be the most difficult to conquer, there are a few classic Yr Wyddfa routes that require a great deal of experience, expertise and skill to tackle.

Crib Goch and Y Liwedd are the two non-technical routes that are regularly touted as the most difficult. Both are ridge walks and they’re considerably more dangerous than all of the other paths up the mountain, so you’ll need serious alpine know-how to attempt them.

Many experienced winter hikers also agree that the Watkins and Rhyd Ddu Paths can be tricky in snowy conditions. Towards the top of bothe routes, it’s necessary to cross close to a sheer drop and the path is often lost beneath the snow. It’s not to be attempted by those with limited mountaineering experience nor those who haven’t climbed the path in better weather.

Finally, we have to mention the Llanberis Path. Though it’s said to be the easiest route in summer, there’s a particularly dangerous section in winter that has been dubbed the ‘Killer Convex.’ Unfortunately, this icy pass has earned its morbid name, as several walkers have died attempting to cross it.

What’s open during the winter?

In the towns and villages surrounding Yr Wyddfa, you’ll find it’s business as usual for most shops, restaurants, accommodation and facilities. There’s still a strong winter contingent visiting Eryri for the snowy conditions, though nowhere near the numbers you’ll see in the summer.

However, as you go up the mountain, things begin to change. The Snowdon Mountain Railway is closed until April, as is the current final stop, Clogwyn Station. The original stop at the summit, the Hafod Eryri Visitor Centre, will be closed for the entirety of 2022 due to maintenance works on the upper portion of the railway track.

Climb Snowdon - Climbing Snowdon in Winter

The Caffi Gwynant Cafe at the base of Watkin Path closes for a short period over the winter but is usually back open by January. Make sure you check its opening hours before you hike, especially if you’re banking on a hot cup of tea and a warming snack before or after your climb. The excellent Penceunant Isaf Cafe is open throughout the year but will close in poor weather conditions, while the Halfway House Cafe is closed during the colder months and any bad weather.

How to prepare – a quick checklist

Proper preparation gives you a good chance of reaching the summit, while a failure to adequately prepare could leave you in a difficult spot. With this in mind, we’ve produced a quick checklist for you to run through as you get ready in the weeks and days leading up to your visit.

  1. Plan your route – know which route you’re taking, identify any dangerous spots and put in place a backup plan/route should things not go as you had anticipated. Make sure you also tell someone where and when you are going, as well as when you’ll check in with them after the walk.
  2. Assess your expertise – do you know how to use all the equipment you’re going to need? Are your map reading skills up to scratch? Are you experienced enough for this climb? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no,’ you need to rethink your plans and get some guided training in before you depart.
  3. Check the weather – are weather conditions favourable for the climb? How changeable has the weather been? Do you feel comfortable in the anticipated conditions? Mountain specific forecasts such as the Mountain Weather Information Service are a great resource.
  4. Pack your equipment – A few weeks before you’re set to climb, you’ll need to make sure you have all the equipment you need. This gives you time to pick up any supplies or clothing that you’re missing or that you already own but aren’t up to the job. If you’re using new items, it’s always a good idea to test them out first. You don’t want to find out that your new insulated jacket really isn’t that warm halfway up the mountain.
  5. Last-minute checks – Before you climb, you’ll need to go through your equipment and check you have everything. You should also make sure you know what to do in an emergency and that all climbers understand your plan of action. A final weather check on the morning of the climb is good practice, too.

If you would like more information on how you can ensure you’re prepared for a safe outdoor adventure in Eryri, Adventure Smart is the best place to start your search.

What next?

There’s no doubt that Yr Wyddfa is a wonderful winter destination and boasts some of the best snow climbing in the country. If you’re an experienced winter hiker, we would recommend doing your research and watching the weather carefully – but you knew that already! If you’re less experienced or this is your first winter climb, we suggest employing a guide or nailing down your climbing skills on a winter mountain walking course.

While it certainly is possible to climb Yr Wyddfa in the winter without being a hardened alpine climber, the conditions can make it a dangerous proposition. For an enjoyable experience and your own safety, it’s best to look to those with the expertise required to guide you up. At the end of the day, it’s about knowing your abilities, respecting the mountain and the cold weather, and not putting yourself at unnecessary risk. Only you know whether you’re ready but we would always recommend a cautious approach over an optimistic foray into the Yr Wydffa’s snowy reaches.

To find out more, or book a winter climb with one of our expert guides, please get in touch.