Snowdonia, Wales

Snowdonia, UK

I’ve called this page Snowdonia but in truth, it also covers a few areas that aren’t technically in the National park, and is mainly focused around the North and two valleys in particular: the Llanberis pass and the Ogwen Valley. This is my home, and has been since the start of 2009, and as such, I know it pretty well. If anything seems a bit unclear, or if there are any details I have glazed over, it’s probably because I just take it for granted so feel free to comment and I’ll rectify it as soon as I can.

So, Snowdonia: Britain’s second National Park in the early 1960s, with strange gaps around Llanberis, Bethesda and Blaneau Ffestiniog in order to exclude the then-active slate quarries, it has been a hub for climbers for the entirety of the 20th Century and beyond. George Mallory trained here for his 1924 Everest expedition and if I’m honest, the local bouldering can even trace its roots back to that time too.

While more famous for its traditional climbing, both on the mountainous crags and in the slate quarries, Wales has branched out slightly (as has a lot of British climbing) since the mid-90s to accommodate sport climbing and bouldering into it’s repertoire, and bouldering has undergone a bit more of a resurgence recently too. The guidebook received it’s long anticipated reprint in 2017 and is comprehensive – if anything a little too much! Printed by Ground Up, it will show you almost anything you’ve heard of. While it was out of print, the only options were Boulder Britain or the Climbers Club guides but now, nothing compares to the comprehensive North Wales Bouldering.

The valleys were carved out millennia ago by large glaciers that forced their way along, creating magnificent valleys through the spectacular mountains. The sea isn’t far away either, if you’re after a rest day on a nice summers day and fancy getting away from the rivers and lakes in the valley. The only problem with that is the weather: clouds roll in off the Irish Sea and the Atlantic, hit the mountains and rain. A lot. 2013 was a truly remarkable year for weather, and was incredibly dry but 2012 was a total washout! So take it as it comes I guess.

People often ask me when the best time to visit is and I normally say September but even then could be horrid; it’s normally a case of luck. The only bright side to this is that there is usually enough to keep you occupied in the most horrendous of weeks and the locals have managed to figure out the best spots for climbing in the rain. Anyway, here’s the info:

The Areas

I had to almost completely rewrite this part of the page after the updated guidebook was released, such was the development of recent years. I’ve broken down the sections loosely into the same as the guide for ease, focusing to begin with on the two main draws: the Pass and the Ogwen. Of course now, there is SO much more, stretching from the bottom of the Llyn Peninsula right the way across the North coast. The bright side is you’ll normally find somewhere dry, no matter the conditions. For more info, ask in V12 in Llanberis, Joe Brown’s in either Llanberis or Capel Curig or in Stores as Plas y Brenin in Capel.

  • Llanberis Pass. This is your first and foremost climbing area for your debut North Wales visit, for bouldering or trad. There are classics of all grades, routes of all sizes, and history in abundance. The first piece of rock that the vast majority of most of these people will touch will be the Cromlech boulders, right next to the road, with The Ramp V1, Pocket Wall V4, The Edge Problem V6, The Cromlech Roof Crack V6 all classics, to name just four! The grades carry on too, with Diesel Power V11 also worth the money. Then you’ve got Jerry’s Roof with home to two of the best V9s around in Bus Stop and, well, Jerry’s Roof. The Barrel is worth a look under Dinas Mot but my personal recommendation is to check out the circuit above Ynys Etws: UtopiaWavelength and Pieshop give some of the best bouldering North Wales has to offer. Check out King of Drunks V6 especially. That doesn’t even mention the remaining areas, from Craig y Llwyfan to Cwm Glas Bach, all of which worth exploring.
  • Ogwen Valley. This isn’t really an area, but it is normally lumped it in together. Your main crags are Caseg FraithMilestone Buttress and the jewel in the crown: Sheep Pen but that doesn’t even scratch the surface. Nearby, you’ve also got the Caseg Boulders by the riverside above Bethesda, and the Braichmelyn. Remember, these are some of my favourite spots to hit but just because i’ve not mentioned it, doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit.
  • Outlying Areas – Central. To put Outlying Crags as a collection of crags together is simply insane, given the shear quantity but it does make sense in the guidebook. Here i’ve broken it into three and by Central, i’m looking at the neighbouring valleys to the big two. At the end of the Ogwen, you’ve got the RAC boulders, which are stacked with easy problems, and Bryn Engan – home to the Plas y Brenin boulder and my own Prowess 7b. Further east you’ll find the fabulous Roof of a Baby Buddha 7c+ and more hard testpieces at Rhiw Goch with Moria 7b being a gem. Meanwhile, down in the Gwynant valley you’ll find Elephantitus Cave and Clogwyn y Bustach – the latter having a wider range but both with stars in abundance.
  • Outlying Areas – West. To be honest, this is the weakest area of North Wales but there are still some gems, such as the bouldering in Beddgelert Forest. The Shocker Area remains a personal favourite with the namesake problem, Shocker 7b+ being excellent on it’s own.
  • Outlying Areas – South. Even this is a bit big, covering everything from Pant Ifan at Tremadog, the climbing in the Aberglaslyn such as Supercrack 7a, past Carreg Hylldrem where it is always dry to the bouldering around Blanaeu Ffestiniog. Most of this is relatively new and thus, has an exploratory feel to it but given new places are fairly rare these days, that’s no bad thing. Just go exploring.
  • Rhiw Area. Porth Ysgo, if it was a little easier to get to, would rank as one of the best venues in the UK. It is a touch tidal, will rip the skin from your hands and needs plenty of pads and spotters but is almost always sunny and for quality and density of climbing, it is hard to beat. Remember to try Popcorn Party V6 before you haven’t got anything left for it! Around the time of the guide’s release in 2017, a series of neighbouring crags opened up too, with Porth Nefoedd and Talfarach gaining a lot of interest.
  • Llandudno Area. The main focus of this little patch of North Wales is undoubtedly Parisella’s Cave. Steep, man-made, dusty and so polished you can see your reflection when you drive past, the cave divides opinion like no crag i know. Setting aside the history and density of hard problems, it stays almost permanently dry (except for seepage after a period of wet weather). That said, to focus entirely on the Cave of Justice would be to neglect the excellent Angel Bay, the growing reputation of Pigeon Cave, or a host of other crags dotted around the Great Orme. Don’t get sucked into the cave too much or you’ll miss so much that is just around the corner.

Local amenities

This is one of the UK’s most popular tourist areas, attracting millions a year, so you should be able to find anything you need. Be warned, it’s often not that close to where you are, and the nearby towns of Caernarfon and Bangor offer quite a lot. Whatever you find, these are some of my preferred options, both as a local and regular visitor before i moved there.

  • Food. Most of my day-to-day shopping is done in Spar in Llanberis, and there are similar shops in Capel Curig, Betws y Coed and Blaneau Ffestiniog too. Major supermarkets exist further afield in Bangor, Caernarfon and Porthmadog for those wanting to be more frugal but more organised. There are plenty of good small places too if you want to explore, but they’re far too multiple to mention so go for broke and have a blast.
  • Guidebook. As of August 2017, there is only one option that you could want: North Wales Bouldering published by Ground Up. It is, i must say, one of the most comprehensive guides for anywhere i have ever seen and has around 4000 problems, most of which with photo topos. Otherwise, Boulder Britain does well to give a brief insight into the area and the Climbers Club guides have bouldering sections in there too.
  • Climbing Shops. Joe Brown’s has two shops, one in Llanberis  and one in Capel Curig. V12 is also on the High Street in Llanberis and all are very good. You’ve also got a couple in Betws y Coed, like Cotswold Rock Bottom, but don’t let it’s reputation get the better of you: it’s not as good as it used to be.
  • Accomodation – Campites. i could write a website on this alone so i’m just gonna highlight three: there is one in Llanberis, up the road from the Outdoor Shop by the Youth Hostel. There is one in Capel Curig proper called Dolgam, on the A5 towards Betws y Coed, walking distance to the Tyn y Coed pub. The last is in the Ogwen valley, called Gwern Gof Isaf or Willy’s Barn. All are simple but good and cheap.
  • Accomodation – Bunkhouses. Again, here’s three: Pete’s Eats in Llanberis has a bunkhouse above which is reasonably priced. Willy’s Barn has one too, which is good and handy for the Ogwen valley and again, very reasonably priced. There is also a place called Jesse James bunkhouse near Penisarwaun but i’ve never stayed there. There are also countless B&Bs, hotels and others around.
  • Cafes and Bars. And again, here’s three of each: the Heights in Llanberis serves most of your local climbers, the Gallt y Glyn does a free pint with every pizza ordered, and as mentioned, the Tyn y Coed is a fantastic pub in Capel Curig. Cafes would be Pete’s Eats, (i hear a lot of people moaning but that might be it’s impossibly good reputation), the Siabod Cafe in Capel Curig and the Caban in Brynrefail. Lynne’s Cafe is also superb in Beddgelert, down by the river.
  • Climbing Gyms. There aren’t as many as you’d expect around the area, given the number of climbers and the amount of rainfall. First off is the Beacon, on the outskirts of Caernarfon and is great for lead climbing but average for bouldering. Personally, my pick is the Indy; actually on the island of Anglesey. Fantastic boulder problems, great atmosphere and often an in house DJ. Your other, much smaller, option is the (very) small resin wall at Plas y Brenin. The latter is a touch cheaper and fine for a passing session.
  • Other handy places. Ysbyty Gwynedd is your nearest hospital, in Bangor, which is where you’ll find all sorts of other useful things. Do not underestimate how useful the B&Q and Halfords there can be there, and for those of you travelling from abroad, the former has adaptors to change from UK to EU/US plug sockets.

Local blog posts here or maybe here

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