Crib Goch: Step by step
Love it, fear it or loath it, we’ll have you prepared for it.
Ragged, razor-sharp and – if reputation is to be believed – risky, the ridge of Crib Goch is a polarising place. Long thought of as the starkest physical illustration of the point that walking becomes something else altogether, this is a rite of passage that combines a unique set of challenges as it slices towards the summit of Snowdon. Technical difficulty? Yep, enough to either excite or unsettle. Long drops? One on each side. Narrow? It’s at least wide enough for two human feet, but not a lot more. Sounds scary? That’s just in good weather.
There are fewer places you’re so obviously likely to love – or hate. But Crib Goch is nevertheless irresistible. Thousands do it every year – some of whom quite possibly shouldn’t – because it embodies so perfectly what mountain challenge is about. And the question on the lips of anyone who hasn’t is, just how hard is it exactly? Here, with the help of a few intrepid Trail readers, we attempt to answer that question so you know exactly what you’re in for...
As a mountain ridge, Crib Goch is about as good as it gets. Surrounded by Snowdon’s majestic summits and towering over ice-carved corries it has all the qualities you could want from an ascent. This, combined with its position as part of the classic Snowdon Horseshoe and a key stage on the Welsh 3000ers route, means it has gained an almost mythical must-do status.
Considering the crux of crossing Crib Goch is the exposure on the crest, the mental pressure from the desire to get it done can be considerable. To help overcome wobbles about the exposure on the crest and other worrisome sections it’s worth breaking the route down into its key sections. Knowing what you have in front of you will help you win the ‘head game’ that dealing with exposure largely is.
THE TECHNICAL STUFF
The classification system for grading scrambles (see page 56) ranges from Grade 1 through to Grade 4 (or 3S). Grade 1s are generally straightforward with no routefinding problems, some exposure and simple moves that experienced hillwalkers should have no problem dealing with.
There is a lot of leeway within the grading system and Crib Goch is one of those routes that pushes the upper end of its grade. Overall its Grade 1 status is bang on the money, as there are no route-finding problems and it has a plethora of hand and foot holds, making moves very simple. However where it does stretch the Grade 1 boundary to the limit is with exposure. This is particularly noticeable on the summit crest, with considerable drops on both sides. So much so that without the mitigation of easy route-finding and good holds it would normally warrant a Grade 2 status.
STEP BY STEP: STAGE 1
First off you have to actually get onto Crib Goch’s crest, and to do this from the Pen-y-Pass side means one of two choices, either the conventional approach up the East Ridge or via the less popular North Ridge. The East Ridge has become the default option for most because it’s quick to get to. More of a buttress, it only really becomes a ridge where it narrows down in its upper third. Due to its broad nature people climb it by varying lines, and as a consequence you are spoilt for choice. The soundest rock tends to be located towards the centre, and although it is reasonably steep it is well equipped with confidencebuilding holds.
The North Ridge sees far less traffic as it’s a bit more of a faff to reach – you either have a winding but tranquil hike up from Llanberis Pass via Cwm Glas Mawr, or a tenuous traverse in along The Fox’s Path. The ridge itself becomes narrow and airy as height is gained, but is progressive so you ease into the exposure steadily. Both routes bring you to Crib Goch’s East Summit.
STEP BY STEP: STAGE 2
From the East Summit, Crib Goch’s crest stretches out almost level in front of you and the exposure becomes very apparent. It is tempting at this point to be overcome by the drops on both sides and opt for the vague bypass paths on the left-hand (south) side of the crest. Avoid them, as they are insecure and loose, and the crest provides a much more reliable path with good solid rock to walk over. The crest remains level for about 250m and then slowly rises to its high point, marked by a small (and easily missable) cairn. From the cairn, descend to the upper side of three distinct pinnacles.
STEP BY STEP: STAGE 3
At The Pinnacles the exposure relents a little. The first two pinnacles are either bypassed on the left (Grade 1 normal route) or tackled directly at a harder grade. Whichever way you tackle them you will end up at a gap before the third pinnacle. This one is crossed over, first in ascent by a slanting weakness on its north (right-hand) side, then descended on its south (lefthand) side. A scree path leads west to Bwlch Goch.
Bwlch Coch marks the end of Crib Goch and provides a useful respite from the exposure, but it doesn’t mark the end of the scrambling. Ahead is the shapely crest of Crib y Ddysgl, and if you plan to summit on Snowdon then it’s the route you have to take. If you opt not to head to Snowdon, or you need an escape route, the descent from the bwlch down the southern slopes to gain the Pyg Track is one alternative. It’s steep at first but soon relents. The descent down the north side provides a longer alternative descent.
Crib-y-Ddysgl is a superb ridge, and although mostly airy walking with the odd section of hands-on scrambling it’s a well-trodden route and there are paths all over the place. Stick to the lines closest to the crest as ones on the left are scrappy and not particularly enjoyable. The initial steepening is tackled head-on, whilst barriers above it are negotiated by zigzag paths. As height is gained the crest eases back. There are still the odd steps to clamber over but all too soon the summit trig point comes into view and the scrambling ends. Snowdon’s summit is a pleasant walk away from here – so enjoy the solitude!
THE WEATHER FACTOR
Wind, rain and winter conditions can drastically increase Crib Goch’s difficulties. Under snow and ice it becomes a full-blown winter climb requiring climbing skills to safely negotiate. For your first attempt, pick dry, calm conditions. If you gain the Eastern Summit and the wind is stronger than you expected, consider descending back down your approach ridge and save the crossing for quieter conditions.
“IF YOU ARE THINKING OF TRAVERSING CRIB GOCH MY ADVICE IS TO PREPARE YOURSELF MENTALLY FOR THE CHALLENGE...”
Ia■ Corte■ “Went up there with a mate in terrible conditions and got to the café very pleased with ourselves, only to receive a polite bollocking from an older gentleman for doing it in such bad weather.”