It all began so innocently.
My brother Paul, keen to reunite the Sharpe brothers with our cousin Peter, decided we should go camping. Never one to do anything by halves, Paul suggested we combine our visit with a hike up Snowdon – the highest mountain in Wales – via the 500-metre knife-edge ridge Crib Goch.
Seven hours of M25 traffic, torrential rain and bad driving later, and I’d driven my brother Alan and I all the way to the pleasant Gwern Gof Isaf campsite, at the foothills of Tryfan in Snowdonia National Park. No sooner had we setup the tents (mine needed a quick fix with masking tape) and slipped into our sleeping bags than the wild Welsh weather hit us in full force with a gale that lasted all night.
The next morning, we departed feeling hopeful due to the lack of rain and generally good conditions. However after a gut-busting cooked breakfast we’d discovered that despite losing a lot of sleep due to the howling wind the night before (so bad that I felt someone was literally punching my tent and tossing it around all night), we had arrived to the mountain late, with the expensive Pen y Pass Car Park at the base of Snowdon completely full.
Driving to an illegal bay on the side of the road like dozens of others (side note: we paid dearly for this later), we were soon on our way, approaching via the sheep sprinkled Pen y Pass footpath.
After a serious climb we found ourselves at the car park, half exhausted already. Our treacherous assent of the sharp mountain ridge saw us first follow the Pyg Track before breaking off the path to instead scramble up a never ending rockface.
Initially, you can tackle this standing upright with ease, but soon the pathway gets steeper and leaves you clambering up on your hands and your knees. I have zero knowledge of mountaineering or even navigation, so I was quite thankful my cousin Peter had climbed this route a few times, coming equipped with a route map just in case. We weren’t alone in our ascent however, with a party of teens tackling the climb in party hats carrying bottles of champagne.
After a while of clambering, you’ll come to a few tricky points before reaching the top. I’ll admit I have a terrible fear of heights, and at one point I froze when I couldn’t work out the best way to safely climb part of the exposed rockface. Many parts of this route actually feel like rock climbing, but without the comfort of a safety rope.
At the top, you’ll be smacked by the sheer magnificence of the area. Shimmering blue lakes, jagged peaks and endless green surrounds you. Take your time to drink it all in, but remember you haven’t finished your climb, not even close.
Once you are at the start of Crib Goch, you’ll realise, like I did, exactly what ‘exposed’ really means. Hikers traverse a knife edge ridge over the top of the mountain, with sheer drops of more than 923 metres from its highest point. This Grade-1 scramble literally (ok, ok figuratively) scared the shit out of me. There is no escape here, and the pictures really don’t do any justice in expressing just how seriously challenging this route is. My heart pounded, my knees trembled and I clung low to the rocks around me, hoping to not lose my centre of gravity and tumble into the abyss.
What made it worse for me was seeing children, who couldn’t be older than 10, also climbing this route. It put me to shame. While this embarrassing fact made me also question the responsibility of their parents to allow them to do this route, I felt a bit better when the family and kids ran into trouble before a pro climber offered to help guide them. One of the scariest things about this route is that you have to scramble along the mountain top in single file, meaning bottlenecks happen often if someone gets stuck, leaving you clinging to your rock and praying the weather doesn’t turn.
Despite a number of hair raising exposed parts, where you had to tip-toe along a cliff edge, we made it to the end of the pathway, with Snowdon winking to us in the near distance. Sweaty, tired and emotionally drained, the four of us trundled up to Snowdon pathway. Many people have actually died attempting to cross Crib Goch, something I thankfully didn’t find out until much later.
As we summited Snowdon, we passed walkers who hadn’t chosen to do such a life endangering route, merrily striding past us with cheery faces while we we looked on like weary soldiers returning home from battle. As we summited, the sun had already begun its decent. Taking a beer each, we sat outside reflecting on our adventure.
With the light fading and my knee injury preventing us taking from completing the famous Snowdon Horseshoe, we decided to descend via the famous Miner’s Track, a scenic pathway down the mountains. After reaching an elevation of 1085 metres – Jelly legs aside – the stunning pathway down was a real treat; the perfect reward after a hike up the tallest mountain in Wales.
What You’ll Need to Climb Crib Goch:
Study hiking boots (check your old ones, Peter’s broke en-route making for a painful ascent…and decent)
Hiking walking poles, helpful for those with injuries
Money (for a beer or celebratory meal at the top)
Large Scale Map
Shorts or flexible trousers
Please note: The route up Crib Goch and along the ridge is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted by novice walkers, for more info check out the official guide.