Crib Goch was where it all started for me. I was 13 or 14 years old and staying in North Wales on a summer camp with the Scouts when one day we were bundled into vans and whisked off to climb Snowdon. I hadn’t been up a mountain before and it had never occurred to me that climbing mountains is something I could do; you could not see any hills where I lived and no one I knew climbed mountains. Fortunately, the Scouts and the tremendous people running my local group would change all that.
So off we set on a sunny August day, slightly underprepared by my own modern standards; I had basketball boots on instead of walking boots, a pocket full of sweets, and not so much as an inch of Gore-Tex clothing. Early into the walk we were given a choice; do you want to go with the plodders group on the Pyg track or up to Crib Goch? When I was told that Crib Goch was both dangerous and exciting my choice was made and ever since then I’ve been opting for interesting and exciting routes on my trips to the mountains. Who wants to be a plodder after all?
At the last count I think I’ve done Crib Goch seven times. I’ve been fortunate enough to do it on sunny days when crystal clear skies have given me views for miles, in fog as thick as pea soup, on a freezing Boxing Day when my face was so cold that I could not speak, and on one day that it rained so much that my Gore-Tex pockets became small swimming pools and their contents, including my phone, were able to do the backstroke.
Crib Goch is THE classic knife edge ridge walk. Sharp edge in the Lake District is similar but nowhere near as long or airy. It’s a pure ridge. There are no obstacles or boulders to overcome on the main ridge section, just a tremendously exposed arête, especially on its north side. There are great views all around, assuming you’re not enshrouded by cloud which is more often than not the case, but if it is clear then you should have the magnificent peak of Snowdon constantly on your horizon. To the left is the ridge of Y Lliwedd, and below the mountain lake of Glaslyn, Llyn Llydaw reservoir, and the Pyg and Miners paths which will look like ant trails on busy weekends as hikers make their way up to Snowdon and back.
The walk starts from the small and busy car park at Pen-y-pass. There are regular bus services that run between Llanberis and Pen-y-pass if the car park is busy or if you intend to return on the path from Snowdon back into Llanberis. The route heads out on the Pyg track path before a clear sign points you in the direction of the steeper ground which leads up to the start of the main ridge. I always think that the section below the ridge is more difficult than the ridge itself. There are several lines up this section but whichever you choose will almost always involve some moderate scrambling.
For the uninitiated ‘scrambling’ can be described as walking up steep terrain with the use of your hands. The sceptical amongst you will question how you can walk with your hands and rightly so. It seems like an ambiguous term designed to lure walkers into dangerous climbing territory and there is some truth to this. Scrambling is basically a halfway house between walking and rock climbing with a 1-3 grading system determining difficulty and exposure, with many grade 3 scrambles often requiring the security of a rope.
In summer conditions Crib Goch is classified as a grade 1 scramble and the Snowdonia National Park Authority warns that the route is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted by novice walkers. In winter conditions the ridge is a full-on winter expedition. If you’ve not dealt with the exposure of steep drops before then it may be wise to test whether this will turn your legs to jelly somewhere else first.
So, what is the ridge walk like? Popping up onto the main ridge after the scramble up gives you your first glimpse of Crib Goch and its precipitous drops. For newcomers it is at this point that you quickly determine whether the ridge is for you. A gulp, a cold sweat, the shakes, and feelings of unadulterated terror will be strong indicators. It’s better to make this decision early and carefully make your way back down to the Pyg track if it’s not for you as there are no safe escape routes on the ridge itself. There are videos of people close to tears clinging to the middle of the ridge with a vice-like grip and this is not how you would want find your You-Tube fame.
This first view always makes me smile. Maybe it’s triggered by a little bit of nervous excitement for what’s to come but from here the ridge looks fabulous as it stretches out in front of you. Within the first few metres the drop to the right-hand side of the ridge becomes more obvious as the grey rock face plunges downwards. To the left the slope is gentler but still steep enough to warrant your full attention. A useful tip, especially for those less experienced is to stay slightly to the left of the ridge. If you stumble or trip on this side then you’ll hurt yourself, but you can fix a grazed knee. If you stumble on the right hand side, then the consequences could be much more serious.
The best advice is to take your time and keep as many points of contact with the ridge as possible. The ridge is often busy but don’t be rushed and only let someone pass you if you feel you are in a comfortable and safe position. Take a break and enjoy the amazing views around you. The classic Crib Goch traversing pose is very chimpanzee-like; back-hunched, hands moving from rock to rock as the feet tread slowly and carefully, while the eyes dart about searching for the next safe hand or foot hold. With this level of concentration, it may be difficult to enjoy the walk but find some time to do so.
Despite the exposure, the main ridge is without any technical difficulties and will probably take 10-15 minutes to cross. As you edge towards the western end the Crib Goch pinnacles will come into view. The first two pinnacles can be circumnavigated to the left but the third needs to be scrambled up on the righthand side where there are some slightly trickier hands on rock moves, but it’s easily negotiated. Carefully descend from here and you’ve completed the ridge!
The obvious thing to do from here is to follow the significantly easier ridge over Crib y Ddysgl and up to the top of Snowdon. In the recent review of Britain’s 100 favourite walks Snowdon came second only to Helvellyn but this was the wrong result in my humble opinion. Snowdon has always been my number one. Snowdon is usually very busy, especially on summer weekends when charity walkers increase the numbers, but so many visitors can’t be wrong. Descent from Snowdon is usually via the Pyg or Miners path back to Pen-y-pass or maybe the longer but more gentle descent back towards Llanberis. There is a more interesting descent via the excellent ridge of Y Lliwedd which makes up the classic Snowdon Horseshoe and completes a fabulous outing.
Crib Goch is an epic ridge walk with sensational exposure. If you are thinking about doing this walk, then as always do your research and be prepared for the mountains. The British Mountaineering Council website is a good place to start to ensure that you enjoy a safe day on one of Britain’s very best ridges.