Snowdon Horseshoe - Best Scramble?

Words and pics from the classic scramble recently voted Britain's best hill day by the readers of a well-known magazine. Mind me pancreas...

Posted: 17 April 2002
by Jon

Frankly I thought the stuff about the pancreas leaking blood into the abdominal cavity while you lay there in terrible pain was a bit much. I generally scramble or climb with a strong awareness that falling off is a bad thing, but no more.

That pointy thing is the start of Crib Goch viewed from the Pyg Track
above Pen y Pas. All very nice and obvious
Bigger and Different Picture

Alex, on the other hand, had drawn a finely detailed map in his head that showed every clinical detail of what would happen should he plummet from the very narrow, very exposed exposed natural masonry ahead of us. First the friction and pain, then the scraping and breaking, the abrasion and the gouging and finally, after the brief relief of stopping amid a welter of compound fractures, a long, slow, agonising death from internal injuries. And those are just the parts he chose to share with me.

Fantastic views across Llyn Lliddaw to Lliwedd, the other, easier side of the
Horseshoe, you can just make out the descent path on the left
Bigger Picture

Got that? Kindly warning to wandering
day trippers, though if you don't know
what CG is in the first place....

But I digress. Not a good thing thing when you're scrambling on one of Britain's most famously exposed ridges. 'Exposed' by the way, is tight-arse, guidebook speak for 'mega-plummet potential'. Crib Goch is very exposed. You have a choice, fall right and fly, fall left and slide, fast.

And it all sort of creeps up on you. The start of the Horseshoe from Pen y Pas shares the Pyg Track trade route then where the Pyg bolts over the ridge towards Llyn Llydaw, the Horseshoe sneers smugly and begins a gentle meander up an easy-angled, blocky buttress towards the start of Crib Goch.

Easty scramblin on the blocky approach to the ridge
proper. Good grippy rock with loads of holds.

The sunshine and blue sky came from another, more gentle hill day - maybe one in the Cotswolds - making the sudden appearance of Crib Goch's crocodile teeth even more disconcerting. For some reason, photos never seem to do it justice, so let's try words.

As the buttress narrows gradually you pop over a final minor turret and the start of Crib Goch proper. The ridge has actually been quite badly designed at this point. On the right towards Cwm Glas, the drop is near as dammit sheer from the top, but that's the side where the best footholds are. On the other side, it's less steep, but the holds are rubbish. Someone ought to change them round. And ahead of you is around 100 metres or so of narrow, twisting ridge complete with what, from the start, look like desperately steep and narrow pinnacles.

Ooh, er... Suddenly everything goes all crocodile's tail as the ridge twists off towards the famous pinnacles
Bigger Picture

I think this was where Alex started wondering about how his pancreas was going to cope with a 1000-foot fall and I mused on how the thing had got so much sharper since the last time I was there, which I do every time. Joking aside, Crib Goch may only be graded a grade 1 scramble (I/II as a winter climb) but it's far more exposed than stuff like Tryfan's North Ridge or Striding Edge on Helvellyn. If you don't want a gibber fest, make sure you're happy with big drops on either side.

The great thing is that the actual scrambling isn't remotely difficult. If it was two foot off the ground you'd romp along the top, as it is, most people will want to keep their hands on something solid for at least some of the time.

Alex contemplates the fate of his pancreas

Every so often there's a flat pavement of a viewing platform to match up to the lush views, over to bleak Lliwedd on the other side of the Horseshoe, down to Llyn Llydaw where Alex said diamonds were dancing in the surface of the water and ahead to Snowdon summit, 'Yr Wyddfa' with its distinctive but thankfully so far invisible eye-sore of a caff. But until you reach them, the pinnacles tug at your mind and the exposure at your pancreas. Or at least I think that's what he said.

Holds are generally sound and large, but be careful of the odd loose spike
Bigger Picture

The first pinnacle looks distinctly necky, but it's the one you can safely sneak around on the left, though taking it direct is more exposed than hard. The second one - I think - looked less avoidable, so I valiantly sent Alex up for a quick recce. Result: 'No, no, no, no, nooo...' A quick detour round the corner to the left, a short, slightly exposed traverse - death factor 1.5 - and then up back to the crest.

Looking ahead towards the pinnacles
generally it's best to stay on the crest
and take them direct

Generally it's better to stay on the crest and take the pinnacles direct, the nasty, loose paths off to the side are actually more dangerous than the proper and obvious route, so don't get seduced onto the loose rubble.

The final pinnacle looks horrendous from a distance and even below, a stepped climb up above a dizzying drop. The good news though, is that once you're on it, the holds feel big and secure and the pull onto the top takes you back onto the crest of the ridge and an easy scramble down the ridge onto a wide, grassy saddle.

And more pinnacles - the pointy thing is Snowdon's main summit
Bigger Picture

It's all got real wow factor, especially when you're sitting safely looking back with your internal organs all securely in place - Bwlch Coch (2816) I think the place is called on the map - and we were congratulating each other on being so brave and going lightheaded with the views and the sunshine. And somehow we forgot that the crocodile's tail has a final swish to it. You still have to get up onto Crib y Ddysgl and there's another steep, rocky buttress in the way.

Off the final pinnacle and a grassy, flat thing beckons invitingly

The best scrambling on Y Lliwedd is close to the
edge with good views of the awesome face
Bigger Picture

It's best to start on the left then crack directly up onto the ridge, but in the spirit of dawdling cowardice - mine - we engineered a creative traverse further left before hitting the crest and slumping down to take in the great views back towards Crib Goch. It's around here that you suddenly see just how steep and long the drop off on the northern side really is, so it's an ideal place for more self congratulation and Jaffa Cakes. We also had beautiful views looking over towards Y Garn, the Glyderau and beyond to the Carneddau as well as up to the coast and beyond.

In scrambling terms, from here it's all over bar the shouting, but for a full day it seemed rude not to head on up, past the standing stone and a man feeding gulls, and along by the railway to the summit for a bite of lunch and a photographic record of the Ford altitude best before plummeting down the loose scree to the saddle between Yr Wyddfa and Y Lliwedd, a big, dark rotten tooth of a thing festooned with long, mountain rock routes.

The path down is loose and poorly defined, but there's enough easy scrambling if you keep to the ridge on the way up to make things bearably interesting and little danger unless you simply must walk off the edge of the cliff. We didn't. From the top of Lliwedd, chased by dark-looking clouds, we dropped down the ridge then headed down the steep, broken but easy path towards Llyn Llydaw.

The view down into the cwm from the top of the descent path below Lliwedd
all over bar the pulping of your internal organs...
It was here that Alex tripped over a rock while gawping at the view and ruptured his pancreas. Just joking, but the view is reinforced by a sort of clinical logic. It's great looking up at a skyline and knowing you're traversed the whole thing. Bloody fantastic. Not sure if it really is the 'best' UK mountain day, but a good one by any standards. Thanks for the company Alex, and for keeping your internal organs together when it really mattered.

Fact File

Distance: 8 miles approx.

Time: between six and eight hours depending on speed and conditions. Crib Goch can get very crowded at weekends, especially in the summer when it may be worth avoiding...

Escape None from Crib Goch proper. From the broad, grassy saddle at Bwlch Coch you can, drop down on either side, the north is safer, but only in an emergency. Beyond this you can tuirn left at the standing stone where the Pyg and Miner's tracks hit the summit ridge and follow either back to Pen y Pas, though at this point you're past the hard bit anyway.

Route See map. Start from Pen y Pas (ruinously expensive £4.00 per day car park) or bus from Llanberis. Alternatively you could go into Cwm Glas and start up the North Ridge of Crib Goch, a straightforward Grade 1 scramble. From here follow the Pyg Track (upper path) till the Crib Goch path branches right at Bwlch Moch then follow the crest of the rough buttress till you reach the ridge proper - obvious and sharp. Route finding here is easy - follow the ridge and carry on till you reach the summit of Snowdon...

From here, drop down to the saddle between Snowdon Summit and Lliwedd before going up Lliwedd then dropping down following the distinct path down to Llynn Llydaw and then back to Pen y Pas.

Difficultness (sic.) The Crib Goch section is only a grade one scramble, but there are big drops and falling off could give you a head ache of terminal proportions. Not a nice place to be in strong winds and in winter conditions, with snow and ice around, it's a serious graded winter route. Technically the scrambling's easy, so it's your head that's being tested... In calm conditions, confident scramblers can simply stroll along the crest, but to be safe, it's usually more secure to use foot holds on the lefthand side and use the crest of the ridge as a handrail. Don't be tempted to try and skirt the Pinnacles to the left, the ground there is loose and dangerous. Ditto on the final pull up the buttress before Crib y Ddysgl.

Heightness Snowdon summit is at 3560 feet and route is mainly above 3000 feet so it will be much cooler up top than in the car park.

Useful Vocabulary 'Bugger it's steep', 'Ouch, me pancreas....', 'Follow the crest, follow the crest...', 'Phew...'

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Discuss this story

Top article Jon.

I'd like to say that the Pancreas thing came out of a conversation about the difference between fear and anxiety.

I wasn't afraid as we went along the arete...more anxious, as we discussed that the difference between the the two goes something like this:

Fear=mind sharpening...fight or flight reflex. Fear produces a rush of adrenaline, which pushes you onwards to actually do something.

Anxiety=dibilitating...if you do "this" then "that" may happen. So it stops you from doing things.

When the fear kicks in, you think...I could fall of here. When you get anxious about the route, you think...I could fall off here and tumble down breaking bones painfully, and rupturing internal organs, etc, etc.

Anxiety comes from knowing that the wife and the kids are waiting at home and that in doing what you are doing you are being, in a slight way, irresponsible with your own safety.

Posted: 17/04/2002 at 13:29

but fear is good, it makes you think about the dangers and the risks, I tend to have a look round and think, "if I come off here, I'll probably go all the way down there", that tends to stop me doing really daft stuff (well most of the time!), having no fear is definately not good.

Posted: 17/04/2002 at 20:52

Ahem. I did my thesis on stress, fear and anxiety. Let me remember.....

What you are trying to describe are:-

1. *Eu-stress* - the 'good' one which heightens senses (even smell etc.!) and awareness and causes an upsurge in the emission of adrenaline which is then usefully channelled into the activity. It leads to better performance and can feel quite pleasureable - many people say they work better when they 'feel under pressure'.

2. The other sort is *Distress*, over-production of adrenaline that is unable to be used up by the body can result in a raised heart rate - useful for an increase in muscle motion as it can channel extra blood to say the legs; but too much and you get hyperventilation then lightheadedness know the rest. If it lasts for a too-long length of time it can weaken the immune system. NOT psychosomatic - it can lead to genuine illness that the sufferer cannot 'pull yourself out' of.

Posted: 17/04/2002 at 21:18

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