Mt. Snowdon

Slate from Snowdon summit

At 1085 metres above sea level Snowdon is the 3rd highest mountain in Great Britain, behind Ben Nevis (1344m) and Càrn Eige (1183m). It is situated in the Snowdonia National Park nature reserve in north west Wales. The Snowdonia region has been formed over hundreds of millions of years of geological activity, the region actually started life under-water being formed by significant volcanic activity during the Ordovician period (between 485.4 and 443.8 million years ago). Snowdon actually sits on the northwest edge of a large extinct volcanic caldera. In more geologically recent times the area has been sculpted by glaciers which, through erosion, have helped to shape Snowdon’s pyramidal peak.

Snowdon from Llyn Llydaw

Thanks to it’s imposing figure on the landscape, Snowdon has a long history filled with myths and legends. One of the most famous is the slaying of the giant King Rhitta of Wales by King Arthur. After a war had broken out between two British kings; Nynniaw and Peibiaw, Rhitta stepped in, opposed them both and killed them. The other British kings wanted to seek their revenge by slaying Rhitta, but none were successful and Rhitta fashioned a cape from their beards. The last king in Britain, King Arthur, battled and managed to slay Rhitta and it is said he buried him under a cairne of stones on the summit of Snowdon.

The first documented attempt to climb snowdon was in 1798 by Peter Bailey Williams and William Bingley. They started from Clogwyn Du’r Arddu and were on an expedition to look for rare plant species. One particularly famous climber was Edmund Hillary whos team would use Snowdon as a training mountain before their famous Everest expedition in 1953. Since then the mountain has been climbed by millions of people (around 700,000 a year) and is a fantastic day out to experience some breathtaking views of the British Isles.

Climbing Snowdon for the average group of people should take about 6 hours to ascend and descend, but it also depends on which route you decide to take. Snowdon has six main routes all with varying difficulties tailored for both novice and more experienced climbers. These routes are named: Llanberis Path, Miners Track, Pig Track, Rhyd Ddu Path, Snowdon Ranger Path and the Watkin Path. For more information on these routes see the Visit Snowdonia website.

When climbing snowdon you don’t have to restrict yourself to just one path. You can choose to climb the easier Llanberis path on the way up and then take in some new scenary on your way down a slightly more difficult route. If however you don’t fancy walking up or down the mountain but still want to enjoy the views available the historic Snowdon Mountain Railway is available with half-hourly trains.

Pinion wheel (centre), running wheels (outside), automatic brake gear (right), rack and gripper rail (centre bottom)

The Snowdon Mountain Railway, a rack and pinion railway, was first opened in 1896 after less than one and a half years of construction. On the first day of operation the No.1 locomotive which was carrying two carriages ran out of control and ended up derailing and falling down the mountain. Tragically one passenger died from loss of blood after jumping from the carriage. After an inquiry it was decided that the ground beneath the tracks was re-settling and that the carriage weight was too great, this led to the purchase of lighter carriages and an Abt gripper system being installed.



The current Snowdon coaches (introduced in 2013) can carry up to 74 passengers, but there is also an option to go on the Heritage Steam Experience which replicates the original 1895 coaches and is pushed by one of the original steam locomotives. This carriage, named the Snowdon Lily, is able to carry 34 people and is only used three times a day. According to the Snowdon Railway website:
“It has been calculated that No. 2 locomotive, ENID, has covered a distance equal to four journeys to the moon and back since entering service in 1896 – that’s 3,075,200 kilometres”

Snowdon and the surrounding region has a dedicated volunteer mountain rescue service called the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team, it is made up of 40-50 volunteer members and they deal with 150-200 incidents per year. Before the formation of the official rescue team there were a few ad hoc volunteers with Chris Briggs handling many of the call outs between 1947 and the late 1960’s. However as more and more people were climbing up Snowdon the frequency of incidents increased putting a strain on the few volunteers. In 1968 after a meeting of outdoor activity centres in the area an initial organisation was started, this was made official in 1973 when the team was recognised by the Mountain Rescue Council.

Today the team is on-call 24 hours a day all year round and relies purely on public donations to carry out their duties and maintain equipment. If you would like to support Llanberis Mountain Rescue please visit their website.

Further Reading:
– Visit Snowdonia – Six Official Climbing Routes
– Myths & Legends of Snowdonia
– Snowdon Railway – Abt Rack Railway Technical Information

– Stratigraphy – Ordovician Period
– Eyri NPA – Rhitta Myth
– Snowdon Cafe – First Documented Climb
– Mountain Walk – Climbing Snowdon Length
– Snowdon Railway – Railway Information
– Snowdon Railway – Snowdon Lily Information

Image Sources:
– Cover Image – Snowdon Mountain Railway approaching summit
– Slate from Snowdon Summit – Tom Barden, Great British Zine (Available for re-use so long as linked back to this source)
– Snowdon Mountain Peak
– Axle Image – 24th July 2005 by A.M.Hurrell