Rock Climbing in Snowdonia
Tucked away in the top left hand corner of North Wales, Snowdonia is a very special place to hang out. Especially if like Snowdonia Mountain Guides owner you are an avid rock climber. As it is climbing that Snowdonia is most renown, a veritable hub of British traditional climbing it has something for everyone and much more inbetween.
Despite only covering an area that is probably 40 miles by 40 miles, Snowdonia has more styles climbing and types of rock than any other rock climbing are. This is due to the interesting geology that means that even in a single valley like the Llanberis Pass there is different types of volcanic rock on virtually every crag. There is so much variation that at times you can move through a geologic epoch in a single move.
It is for this reason alone that Snowdonia Mountain Guides chooses this area as a base for the majority of there rock climbing courses. Whilst many may think Wales and Snowdonia has more than its fair share of bad weather, what the locals won't tell you is that those mountains that whilst they may suck in bad weather they also produce a rain shadow effect where by the coastal areas are often much sunnier, drier and warmer than the mountains.
As such North Wales is one of the best places in the UK to come rock climbing. Whilst I am going to give you an overview of this amazing place by highlighting the best areas to visit. I intend to follow this up with a more in depth look at each at each climbing area by sharing with you some of the best images of the best routes I have in my collection.
Those areas will include:
A Rock Climber in action on Resucreection (E4 6a) on Dinas Cromlech, Llanberis Pass.
This is perhaps the most iconic valley in North Wales for climbers. It features a myriad of cliffs with routes from VDiff all the way through to high level extreme grade rock climbs. It walls hold strong historical ascents that are still modern day classics and testpieces. Almost every generation of climbers have paint the canvas with their own unique styles.
The valley runs north/south meaning that there is one side that gets the sun most of teh day and is perfect if the weather isn't too hot. Crags like the famous Dinas Cromlech, Clogwyn Y Crouchan, Craig Ddu and Carreg Y Wastad are the most popular crags on this side and all have amazing routes. There are only a couple of 'easy' routes at the VDiff range and in the main the routes are a VS+ climbers paradise. Possibly the most iconic line in Cenotaph Corner area of the Cromlech.
Whilst the North side is often shaded from any sun, it too has its moments when the sun beats down and makes climbing in the sun uncomfortably hot. It is on these days people flock to Dinas Mot, Cryn Las and Cwm Glas.
A Rock Climber tackles the ultra classic line of Comes the Dervish (E3 5c) in the Dinorwic Slate Quarries above Llanberis
The slate quarries loom over Llanberis like a gigantic scar on the hillside of Elidir Fawr. On closer acquaintance you'll realise that despite outward appearance the quarries are in fact a beautiful hidden gem, an industrial graveyard from a begone time. Where the quarry workers have been replaced by climbers.
The number of climbing areas are too numerous to name here, but even on this simple one rock medium ever area has a different feel. Whilst made famous for long run-out slabs bolted in the recession in the 1980s, today it has developed more sporting climbing areas within this designer danger.
Perhaps the quarries most famous route is Comes the Dervish, first climbed by Stevie Haston in 1981 when he cleaned the route with a knife stolen from the famous climbing cafe of Pete's Eats which is but a stones throw away. If you find yourself on this route remember that the whole of Llanberis is watching you!
A perfect summers day, ideal for enjoying the classic climb Rowan Tree Route on Milestone Buttress in the Ogwen Valley.
The Ogwen Valley is a tamer valley than Llanberis Pass and has many routes from Diff to VS. It is almost a perfect beginners venue as the routes are clean and well protected. The routes are often longer than elsewhere and inparticular the East Face of Tryfan ahs many routes that are nearly 1000ft long, It is also possible to enchain routes on the famous Idwal Slabs (one of the most popular beginners venues in the UK) to the continuation walls giving 8/9 pitch routes.
Whilst easier in terms of climbing scenery is spectacular, as the climbing is on the more northerly aspect of the mountains. Which have been shaped by glaciers giving a truly alpine mountain feel.
A climber finishes up the classic Micach FInish on Christmas Curry, as spectacualr as it is good
Situated virtually at sea level and south facing Tremadog is an amazing escarpment that runs for 4 miles above the village of Tremadog just outside Porthmadog. It sits in what might be described as the armpit of Wales, but it certainly doesn't stink.
A veritable sun trap it is possible to climb on these cliff's year round, although in the middle of the summer you'll probably need to drop by the famous Eric Jones Cafe for an Ice Cream whilst at others times you could be warming up or refuelling between routes on a frothy coffee and cake.
There are many three star classic routes here, although almost all the routes are good. For the VS leader there is One Step in the Clouds and for the Extreme climbers there is the very impressive Vector Butress that offers some of the steepest climbing hereabouts. If you want to escape the crowds then try visiting Pant Ifan which host several classics from Severe to E4 or the Gesial or Castell crags which see much fewer climbers than the Craig Bwlch Y Moch crag which is owned and managed by the British Mountaineering Council.
A climber enjoys the backdrop as they climb one of the many easy routes at Clogwyn Y Oen, Moelwyns
Very similar to Tremadog although slightly higher and more prone to bad weather. Although the rock has much less lichen and can dry quicker after rain. Again this is a veritable backwater save for the numerous rock climbing courses and instructor that frequent the area. The routes range from Vdiff to E5, although in the main the routes are below VS.
Whilst most of the climbing is found above Bleaneau Ffestinog, there are also a couple of crags off the road towards Betws Y Coed. These again are great places to escape the crowds.
A rock climber enjoying the early season sun at Castell Helen, here climbing the HVS classic Blanco, nest to Light House Arete
Gogarth is one of the best climbing venues in the UK, its steep and adventurous sea cliffs are the stuff of legends. It is the owner of Snowdonia Mountain Guides favour places and he regular tries and find a reason to take his clients there when it is appropriate. Whilst in the main the climbing is only suitable to VS+ leaders there are a few hidden gems that are much easier.
Symphony Crack is a VDiff that is one of the best routes of its grade anywhere, and a real treat for climbers on a learn to lead course. Who have made one of there early leads on a classic sea cliff route.
Above the main cliff of Gogarth is Holyhead Mountain, which has many easy to moderate rock climbs and attract people in their droves on a weekend when the mountains are washed out with rain. As more often than not making the drive out to Holyhead means that you leave the grey and damp behind and get to climb under blue skies.
We Like Gogarth so much we run specific Sea Cliff Climbing course to help climbers get to grips with a new set of skills needed to access and exit sea cliffs. We also offer private guiding on routes like Dream of White Horses, one of the most infamous Gogarth routes in the world.
Mark Reeves, Snowdonia Mountain Guides owner enjoying the winter sun at Porth Ysgo. Where climbing is not just possible but pleasant in January.
This area is not for the feint hearted or those who do not climb in the extreme grade to be honest. It generally makes Gogarth look safe and friendly as the rock is adventurous, loose and committing. However for those that go there it is adventure climbing mecca.
If you like to take your life in your hands and love adventurous climbing then Craig Dorys has a few routes worth doing and there are other classic lines on a great number of crags. However for the less adventurous among you the bouldering venue of Porth Ysgo is perhaps on of the best venues. Which can be tropical paradise in the middle of winter.
North Wales Limestone
A rock climber trying to see the way ahead on the steep and juggy Mumbo Jumbo, Marine Drive, Great Ormes
Llandudno is the central location for the North Wales Limestone and sits in the rain shadow of Snowdonia for the prevailing winds. It is no accident that the Victorians choose the area for a seaside resort.
The area has some great sports climbing although for the area around Great Orme it is mainly F6a and above. Although in recent years there has been some development of easier crags above Colwyn Bay that have routes from F4 upwards and is a great places to learn sports climbing and we use it on our sports climbing courses.
Where to Stay
There are many places to stay in North Wales and I recommend being based out of Llanberis, after all it is the hub from which north wales climbing turns. Nearly all of the areas are within a 45 minute drive from here and it also has a good pub the Heights in Llanberis if you are staying in the campsite above the village or one of the B&B/Bunkhouses in the village.
Where to Eat
There are several reasonable places to eat, although don't expect michelin star food in Llanberis. For most climbers a visit to Pete's Eats is almost essentail at some point. Similarly the Heights Hotel has some good and reasonably priced food. If you are here during the week then try visiting The Gallt Y Glyn for Pizza and Pint. There is also a chip shop, Indian restaurant, Chinese takeway and a Spar grocery store.
When to Come
Although it can be hit and miss with the weather, a quick weekend hit to North Wales is possible from virtually anywhere in the UK. The key often is to keep and eye on the weather and be prepared to make last minute plans as rock climbing is possible year round on the lower coastal crags and you can often find sunny shelter spots in the Llanberis Slate quarries.
Private Guiding and Instruction Courses
If you like to have some private guiding then you can see what we offer here, also remember that nearly all our rock climbing courses include climbing some of the classic rock climbing in Snowdonia and across north wales.