Snowdonia Hard Route – pdf
Height Gain: 1,077m
Highest Point: 982m
Duration: 3- 5 hours
Things were not looking good as we headed along the A55 into deepest darkest North Wales. The rain was absolutely pummelling down. The sound it made as it bounced off the windscreen and car roof combined with the sudden and
severe crosswinds almost drowned out the sound coming from the stereo – which was playing a none-more-inappropriate mix tape of dustbowl country blues songs.
Although it looked to be fairly bright in our immediate surroundings, the sort of weather where you can con yourself into believing the rain will soon pass, there was a heavy dark grey curtain of weather directly ahead of us that was
obviously just waiting there ready and willing to ruin our weekend. I was in the passenger seat of a car that was leading a speeding miniconvoy from north west England heading for the biggest lump in north Wales. Snowdon. It had been planned for quite some time and most people in the convoy were (un)fortunate enough to be in long-term relationships
where biking time away from home has to be earned beforehand. Most of the convoy had been spending the previous weekends trudging around Ikea and wallpapering. All that homework was performed with this weekend in mind: a spring visit to the best natural riding that Snowdonia has to offer. It was going to take a hell of a lot of convincing people to change plans at this late stage. But that didn’t stop me having a go.
A series of calculated and wily texts were sent desperately trying to get the convoy to forget doing Snowdon this time (“It’s absolutely pissing down! Let’s go to ByC instead for God’s sake!”). Just as it was looking like I may get enough of a splinter group going – disaster struck. Twice. First of all I lost mobile phone signal and then Craig (driving) said he was
definitely doing Snowdon and I could wait in the car if I was going to wimp out. Oh well, looks like I will be going up Snowdon after all then.
As we pulled into Llanberis things were no better. Even the most Labrador-keen among the group agreed that we should probably go and have a late breakfast while we assessed just how settled in the awful weather was. So
off we went – dashing from shop awning to shop awning – to the World-renowned Pete’s Eats café. Even if your scheduled Snowdon assault is called off it’s probably still worth the trip to Llanberis just to eat at this ace climber
and biker-friendly establishment – you probably make up for the fuel costs with the insanely huge portions they deal out!
After gallons of tea and several pig’s worth of bacon was consumed something rather unexpected happened. The sun came out in north Wales. Before this I think even the most foolhardy among us had become resigned to the fact that Snowdon wasn’t going to happen today. But with this splash of sunshine everyone (yes, even myself) was suddenly well
up for it. We dashed back to the car park (no awning cover required this time) and hurriedly assembled bikes, threw on cycling shoes, rucksacks, helmets and gloves and headed for the hills. Well, one hill really. But what a hill it is.
Just the one hill…
We begin the ride at around 100m above sea level. The top of the first (and technically last) climb is 982m. I had ridden up Snowdon before a couple of times but this time was going to be different as the route we were doing doesn’t come down the same way you climb up. I actually find climbing up the main Snowdon bridleway much more interesting and
rewarding than riding down it anyway. To be brutally frank, descending the main bridleway doesn’t last long enough and offers not much more than a potentially rambler-skittling speed thrill. I can well understand why there’s a
voluntary bike ban on Snowdon throughout the summer months – I can imagine it being a horrid clash of easily spooked inexperienced walkers and out of control inexperienced mountain bikers otherwise (see side panel for
more details on the voluntary agreement). Anyway, to cut a long climb-flavoured story short eventually we came across the trail ‘crossroads’ that lies just over half a kilometre from the proper summit point. It’s here where
the left hand trail headed off over the knife-edge madness that is Crib Goch (no bikes allowed – not that you’d want one on there!) and the path that we were interested in (the Ranger Path) headed off right in the opposite direction.
The trail was pretty vague at first but we checked the map and crossed over the railway track (remember to look out for trains if they’re still operating) and followed the tracks downhill for 250m until we saw a wide but not-toodistinct
track heading off down the rocky slope. Once we were actually on the track it was perfectly obvious where we were going. I think we were helped enormously by the clear skies, if the clouds were down or it was dusted with snow it would have been pretty much guesswork – not so good.
The Ranger Path
The Ranger Path started with a fast and furious blast over baby-head rocks, nothing overly technical but the sort of thing that was all too easy to pinch flat on (ahem). Once we were warmed up a bit the real fun started. Quite quickly the rocks grew in stature, the trail steepened a degree or two and things in general just got a whole lot twistier. It was hard
to keep off the brakes and stay loose, grabbing a bit of traction and steering whenever possible, but we were all loving the challenge and getting away with some seriously sketchy moves. Every now and then I let out a yelp of fear/fun as I hit a rock that looked grounded but actually moved as I rolled over it.
We finally hit the ‘plimsoll line’ of grass and the trail became narrower and slightly sunken. I remember there being a great view in front of us but there was no respite to stop and take it all in. No one wanted to stop and lose their flow so we just kept on riding. If we’d known what was coming next we might well have paused for a while – to call our loved ones! The final steep section off Clogwyn Du Arddu is hard. It’s basically a narrow rocky gully full of narrow gaps, chokey drops and misleading lines. And rocks. I don’t think any one person in our group rode it all that day but if we collated our scores I reckon we did about 99% of it (there’s one killer combo of chainring-smashing step, mech-eating rock, endo-inducing upward landing and shoulder-knocking rock overhang – nice!)
As we finally reached the bottom everyone was buzzing, whether they were pleased with their performance or just glad to be in one piece it was hard to tell. Personally I think it’s the best bridleway descent in the UK. After a few km of wheelying and hopping about along swoopy and fast open tracks we were still fizzing with glee. It was only as we hit the road at the bottom of the valley and realised we had missed our turning that our grins reduced. Oops.
We pushed back up the hill; “It was never this long or steep on the way down”, until we reached a small 3ft bridleway marker post. It pointed up a steep tufty grass bank. We double-checked the map to see if it was right and weighed up the other options (er… none) before shouldering our bikes and began to slog our way up.
After several arduous calf-searing minutes we reached a wall at the top and a real trail appeared again. The subsequent wide, waterbar infested track back down the valley to Llanberis was brilliant fun. We could spot any jump opportunities early enough to make the most of them but there was enough vagueness in the now darkening light that there was still an edge of thrill to it as well.
What a fantastic ride. Thank God I lost my phone signal when I did.
The best place to base a weekend around these routes is Llanberis. From the North leave the M6 and get on the M56, leave the M56 following signs for North Wales and Queensferry. Once near Queensferry pick up the A55 until the A5 turn off (singposted for Betws-Y-Coed). Pretty quick you’ll see signs for Llanberis. Er… follow them. From the South get on to the A5 near Shrewsbury and follow it all the way to Betws-Y-Coed. Then turn on to the A4086 (signposted for Caernarfon). Keep on this eventually picking up signs directing you to Llanberis. It’s nigh on impossible to find free parking but there is a homely £2-per-day on the main road out of town towards Snowdon that seems fair enough.
For hardy campers there’s Nant Gwynant (www.gwynant.com) and Nant Peris has a popular site opposite the Vaynol Arms. Hotels and B&B’s: the Vaynol Arms hotel offers B&B and a bunkhouse too, the Dol Peris (www.dolperis.com) does B&B as well. The Gallt y Glyn is also bike friendly (www.gallt-y-glyn.co.uk) and does a great ‘pizza and a pint’ during the week. There are also several YHA’s in the area (www.yha.org.uk).
Pete’s Eats (obviously). The Electric Mountain Café does a good line in cakes and sandwiches. There are numerous pubs and hotels who do food in the evening too.
There aren’t any bike shops in Llanberis itself so your best bet is either Beics Beddgelert in the heart of the Beddgelert Forest (01766 890434) or Beics Betws in Betws-Y-Coed (01690 710766).