Snowdon via the Watkin Path – The last part of my Three Peaks challenge

Snowdon, Yr Wyddafa, is the highest mountain in Wales at 1085m. Snowdon was my first 3000 footer, which I went up while on Guide camp at Chester in 1966. This ascent was from Llanberis following the railway track, wearing plimsolls. Snowdon is also the busiest mountain in Great Britain largely because of the Snowdon Mountain Railway. This is a narrow gauge, rack and pinion mountain railway which carries people the 4.7 miles from Llanberis to the summit.

There are many routes up Snowdon, but my favourite walking route is the Watkin Path. Of all the official ascents, this path starts nearest sea level and so has more ascent than the other routes. However it is a very scenic route and is mostly on a well graded path.

The Watkin starts at Nantgwynant. To begin with it passes through some ancient woodland whilst gently ascending beside the Afon Cwn Llan passing some spectacular waterfalls with lovely pools.

The Watkin Path above Nantgwynant.

The Watkin Path above Nantgwynant.

The path remains steady as it ascends through old quarries. The path is easy to follow and we enjoyed the well graded walk upwards. The day was cool and we could see that we would soon be up in the clouds.

We arrived at Bwlch Cilau below Y Lliwedd quite quickly. Here there is a standing stone signing the Watkin path ever upwards.

At Bwlch Cillau the y Lliwedd (Snowdon Horseshoe) junction.

At Bwlch Cillau the y Lliwedd (Snowdon Horseshoe) junction.

At Bwlch Cillau – straight on up the loose steep scree.

At Bwlch Cillau – straight on up the loose steep scree.

I had mentioned when talking about the Watkin that it did get steep towards the end. In the last 300m of ascent the path becomes indistinct up a steep scree slope. It is quite loose and in the poor visibility we had to be careful to stay on the main path. The scree was wet and quite slippery.

Steep, loose and quite misty!

Steep, loose and quite misty!

The final scree path is very steep but we emerged through the mist at a large flat area marked by a large upright standing stone. From here it’s only 5 minutes up towards Hafod Eryri along the steps and to the summit.

Outside Hafod Eryri – the Snowdon summit building.

Outside Hafod Eryri – the Snowdon summit building.

There are steps either side of the actual summit cairn and Kathryn and I battled our way up there through the crowds and the howling gale to get right to the top of our third peak.

Kathryn and I on the summit in the mist and howling gale.

Kathryn and I on the summit in the mist and howling gale.

The new summit building, Hafod Eryri – or summer dwelling – is easier on the eye than the ‘highest slum in Wales’ which is how Prince Charles described its predecessor. The building is open for refreshments whilst the train is running. The weather on the summit wasn’t good. The wind was strong, visibility was poor, it was very cold for August and it was trying to rain. Dogs are not allowed in the summit building. The entrance was littered with steaming dogs and their owners getting some shelter from the fierce weather whilst the visitors to the summit who had arrived by train tiptoed over them in their sling backs.

Whilst huddling in the foyer of the cafe the announcement came over the loud speaker system that the summit building was being evacuated and the final train would leave in 15 minutes with all the staff and visitors to descend the mountain as conditions had become too dangerous for it to remain open. Apparently a gust of 50mph had been recorded and the forecast was for the wind to strengthen.

Quite windy. They closed the cafe as the staff went down on the last train to run in the high winds.

Quite windy. They closed the cafe as the staff went down on the last train to run in the high winds.

So we finished our coffee and set off back down the Watkin. If we had had less wind and more visibility we would have descended down the South Ridge but there seemed little point in the poor weather.

The steep scree didn’t seem too bad on the way down and as we lost height the clouds went up and we were treated to some wonderful views of Crib Goch and the Pyg Track.

view across to Crib Goch

View across to Crib Goch

By the time we got back down to Bwlch Cillau we could see Y Lliwedd quite clearly and had views right down to the valley below.

Lovely view at Bwlch Cillau of Y Lliwedd and down to Nantgwynant.

Lovely view at Bwlch Cillau of Y Lliwedd and down to Nantgwynant.

The Watkin is such a well graded path that the descent really is an effortless stroll full of interest. We were soon back at Nantgwynant with the mixed feeling I always have at the end of an adventure. Very pleased to have completed the challenge but tinged with sadness that it’s all over.

Three Peaks Challenge mission accomplished.

Three Peaks Challenge mission accomplished.

So what’s next?

Route des Grandes Alpes

On August 17th I will set off from Lake Geneva and hopefully, 754km and 16,212m of ascent later, arrive at the Mediterranean. (On my bicycle, of course!)

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