Steep, gnarly mountains provide a genuine natural challenge to any outdoor activity in this rugged area of north Wales
The bald statistic is astounding – 350,000 people reach the top of Mount Snowdon every year, making the highest peak in England and Wales one of the nation’s favourite tourist attractions. True, some will make the journey skywards on the train from Llanberis, but many will tackle one of the paths to the summit in walking boots, running shoes or even on mountain bikes. And no wonder. For all its popularity, including a café at the top, Snowdon is a proper mountain with rocky terrain and the potential for spiteful weather. Snow and ice cover the summit from winter well into spring, and even when the sky looks benign from Snowdon’s foothills, the peak can be horribly exposed to high winds, a brutal chill factor, and vicious downpours. On a good day, however, the views are jaw-dropping across a national park that makes up for its lack of Alpine altitude with rugged features. Nearby Tryfan served as a technical training ground for the first successful ascent of Everest by Sir Edmund Hilary. Walkers, runners, cyclists, mountain bikers and even triathletes can all meet their match on the roof of Wales.
The easy route up Snowdon is the Llanberis Path, which tracks the course of the railway. The Pyg Track and Miners Track from the east head into a magnificent amphitheatre, with the summit ahead; while the Ranger and Rhyd-Ddu paths from the west are the trails less trodden and have spectacular views of their own. Daredevils will fancy the approach via Crib Goch, but it is genuinely exposed and dangerous in poor conditions, and even on calm, sunny days you may wish you had worn your brown trousers. But there’s more to the national park than Snowdon, and many walkers will favour the Carnedd range, the Glyders with Tryfan just to the north, or the Pony Path up Cadair Idris near Dolgellau, where the summit bothy makes an unbeatable spot to watch the sunset over neighbouring hills and the Irish Sea.
Mountain Bike here
Treat yourself to the sublime Marin Trail that offers a brilliant mix of technical (red route) riding, including downhill singletrack, and forest trail climbs. Allow about three hours to tackle its 15.5 miles in Gwydir Forest (forestry.gov.uk). Further to the south of the national park is Coed-y-Brenin, frequently voted the best trail centre in Britain for its exhilarating mix of singletrack trails (forestry.gov.uk). It is possible to ride some of the paths up and down Snowdon, although there’s a voluntary ban on biking between 10am and 5pm in the summer months to avoid conflict with walkers.
The tougher the course, it seems, the more people want to race it. The Snowdonia Marathon sold out its 2,700 places this year in just 12 hours (snowdoniamarathon.co.uk) despite the course having almost 3,000 feet of ascent. Off-road, the Snowdonia Trail Marathon packs in 1,685m of climbing in its 26.2 miles, and there’s a half-marathon if all that sounds a bit much (24th July, snowdoniatrailmarathon.com). For a real taste of adventure and challenge, Man vs Mountain mixes a punishing run from sea level at Caernarfon Castle on the coast, over Snowdon, and then into the former slate quarries near Llanberis for high octane thrills (ratrace.com).
You’ll need your climbing legs to pedal around the roads of Snowdonia, where gruelling ascents and thrilling descents are the order of the day. The Etape Eryri offers a choice of distances, from 47 to 76 to 103 miles, plus the Xtrem’s monstrous 226 miles that includes 4,000m of climbing. Its claim to be the “longest, toughest one-day cycle sportive in the UK,” seems well-founded ( etapeeryri.com). The Cambrian Coast Sportive arguably shows off more of the national park’s features, mixing coastline with mountain for a beautiful route ( welshcyclingevents.co.uk).
Don’t expect a personal best, but do look forward to the mighty Slateman Triathlon. It sells out, so book now for next year and start training for your swim amid the mountains, hilly bike course, and off-road run through a slate quarry (May, snowdoniaslateman.com). The Snowdonia Triathlon Festival offers similarly special scenery, but a slightly easier route (July, snowdoniatriathlonfestival.com).