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...
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.