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Most people who attempt the Snowdonia 15 Peaks do so in a northerly direction, starting off from Wyddfa/Snowdon and arriving at Foel Fras (hopefully) sometime later during the day. No one can deny that it is a challenging outing, with the ascents to Elidir Fawr and Pen yr Ole Wen being particularly demanding, and the climbs up Y Garn, Glyder Fawr and even Carnedd Llewelyn, coming so late in the day, testing both resolve and resilience.
If you’re ever contemplating the traverse, I would suggest that you familiarise yourself with the various sections of the route, and in particular perhaps, your chosen descents to Nant Peris and to Ogwen from Tryfan. The last thing you want to be doing on the day itself is retracing your steps if the weather closes in – the walk will be challenging enough as it is, without any ‘self-imposed’ mishaps. Have a few dry-runs beforehand, getting two of the ‘big’ ascents under your belt. They’ll stand you in good stead. Also ‘google’ the Welsh 3000’s, 15 Peaks, 14 Peaks –you’ll find a host of useful websites, none more so than this site, and Matt Elliot’s excellent www.welsh3000’s.co.uk . There are numerous publications available, with Clayton and Turnbull’s The Welsh Three Thousand Foot Challenges making for and interesting and informative read.
I’ve completed the South to North route on numerous occasions, with my best time, first peak to last, being 9 hours 15 minutes in May 2009. As I was walking down from Foel Fras towards Llyn Anafon and Aber, I vowed that I’d never to do it again. Why?? Because I felt no over-riding elation or joy having completed it, and without being blasé, I’d done it again , - so what?
A few days later, having mulled over the day’s events, I decided that I would give it another go, but in the opposite direction. I’d start on Foel Fras, and complete the traverse on Wyddfa/Snowdon.
And so, on Saturday 13 June 2009, with the weather forecast in my favour, I left Gerlan, Bethesda at 5.05am. My preferred route up to Foel Fras is over Gyrn Wigiau, up to Bera Bach and Yr Aryg, before cutting across towards Foel Fras.(Others may prefer the ascent from Aber, along the North Wales Path, and up towards Drum.) I touched the trig point at 6.30, and the challenge commenced.
In all honesty, walking across the Carneddau was comparatively trouble free. I reached Garnedd Uchaf (recently rebaptised Carnedd Gwenllian) at 6.45, Foel Grach at 6.57 and the high point of the range, Carnedd Llewelyn at 7.16. Over to Yr Elen, my favourite of all the Snowdonia peaks, by 7.33, before traversing over the western slopes of Carnedd Llewelyn (water source) to Bwlch Cyfrwy Drum and Carnedd Dafydd by 8.21. Pen yr Ole Wen followed at 8.39, and I descended the knee-jerking south face (my first time in descent!!) down to Ogwen Cottage by 9.19. I passed a few bemused walkers toiling up the path to Pen yr Ole Wen – I could sympathise with their pain, but I also realised what the rest of the day had in store for me. I kept all my sympathy for myself!
By now the sun had come through quite strongly, and I decided that I should buy some protection at the coffee bar. So much for travelling ‘light’. Having quickly doused myself in cream, it was up the enchanting Bochlwyd path to the lake (water source). There are a number of possibilities to get up Tryfan from here, but the easiest route in my opinion, is along the steadily-ascending path towards Bwlch Tryfan, following the well trodden trail around the South Peak and up to the summit. Yes, there is an element of doubling back, but I’ve found this route easier and less taxing that the direct and almost ‘path-less’ routes up the West face from Llyn Bochlwyd.
On Tryfan (10.20), I came across a number of early-bird North Ridgers basking in the sunshine and their accomplishment. There were a few bemused looks (again!) at the guy who quickly appeared from amongst the rocks, clocked his time, and turned immediately on his heels back in the direction from whence he came. No time to explain!
Okay, so I was over half way in term of peaks. 7 to go. And around half way in terms of distance. Things were going well. But the grind from Bwlch Tryfan to Glyder Fach up the scree slope alongside Bristly Ridge was not a welcoming sight. The sun shone strong, and there was no option other than to set a steady and constant pace. Glyder Fach was reached at 10.59, and its higher sibling, Glyder Fawr at 11.22. Looking across from the plateau, I could see Crib Goch so tantalisingly near, its reddish hues resplendent in sunshine, but I knew I had miles ahead of me before I would reach its heady heights. It was onwards and downwards towards Llyn y Cwn (water source) , before striding out up towards Y Garn (12.03).
It was at this point that I first felt the pangs of muscle fatigue, but a Mars bar later, it was off towards Elidir Fawr. This is a 2.2 mile stretch, culminating in a sharpish rise with magnificent views over Llyn Marchlyn and down towards Anglesey and the Menai Straits. The summit (12.53) was fairly crowded, and the muscles of both thighs were now taught and uncomfortable. However, the path down towards Nant Peris was beckoning, and I think I felt slightly better than those struggling up what is probably the most tortuous ascent in Snowdonia. I topped my water bottle at the footbridge, and arrived at Nant Peris by 13.44.
There now followed a tarmac section up the Nant to Blaenynant (14.10). And this is where my resolve was severely tested. Had I seen a Sherpa bus, I would probably have flagged it down to take me up a few hundred feet higher to Penypass. Thankfully, I did not see one, so the only option was to follow the stream up towards the falls (water source), and to clamber ever so slowly towards the lower reaches of Crib Goch’s North Ridge. I was seriously tired by this point, stopping every 5 minutes or so, and finding difficulty manoeuvring along the ever-narrowing ridge. I touched Crib Goch’s ‘proper’ peak at 15.36, having taken probably 15 minutes longer than I’d anticipated on this 2500’ section.
It wasn’t all ‘downhill’ from now on, but it certainly felt that way. With increased gusto, I made it around the Pinnacles to Carnedd Ugain by 16.14, and it was at this point that I noticed the hordes of people flocking around Wyddfa/Snowdon and the surrounding area . The Pig Track was alive with ant-like beings slowly moving in both directions. Wyddfa/Snowdon’s summit was ‘standing room’ only – and then the penny dropped. June 13th 2009 – the opening day of the new cafe/visitor centre, and everyone (and his wife!) had decided to visit on this very day. How blessed was I to have enjoyed the undoubted solitude and magnificence of Snowdonia throughout the day without being subjected to such intrusion? I battled my way up the higher reaches of the Llanberis Path through the throngs to reach the summit of Wyddfa/Snowdon at 16.26 – in an overall time of 9 hours and 56 minutes, peak to peak. I was pretty chuffed to break the 10 hour mark!!!!
And believe it or not, the adrenaline kicked in, BIG TIME. I ran down the Pig Track all the way to Penypass - the tightness in the muscles a distant memory – to meet my lift back to Bethesda. (Total distance for the day would be 28.8 miles, with a total ascent of 12728’.)
The two routes are quite different in nature. The South to North traverse involves the strenuous ascents of Elidir Fawr and Pen yr Ole Wen, but once you’re up the latter, the relentless slogs up steep slopes are behind you. Even though there are a good few miles to go yet, the tussocky ridge of the Carneddau can feel like the home straight. Getting back to civilisation is not easy though.
However, the traverse from Foel Fras to Wyddfa/Snowdon starts relatively easy, and gets increasingly difficult as the route progresses, leaving the worst, - the very worst - until the later stages of the day. And it is at this stage that one has to take the most care – being on Crib Goch, with tired limbs and a tired mind, could be unpleasant. But once you’re on Snowdon, and if the light is fading, getting down is relatively easier than from Foel Fras. The route also takes longer, strange as that may seem . A to B is the same distance as B to A!
Would I do it again? Probably not. But then again, I know a man who changed his mind once before.....