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 not to include 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 went out of print around 2011 making life a little tricky, but a new one is on the way (whenever it arrives). In the meantime, there are three options: Boulder Britain by Niall Grimes, all three of the comprehensive Climbers Club guidebooks, or pop into a local shop like V12 and ask their advice; they know their stuff and are generally more than happy to help.
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:
As I said, there are two main valleys with plenty of other crags kicking around to keep even the most keen boulderer occupied. There has been a lot of development in recent times too, so it’s possible that this info is slightly out of date, but that doesn’t mean these areas won’t still be there! Again, for more info, head into Joe Brown’s, V12 or even Plas y Brenin, in either Llanberis or Capel Curig. The following is a mere selection of some of the best areas, there are plenty more around.
- 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, and rightly so, 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 V9 around in Bus Stop and, well, Jerry’s Roof and Mr Fantastic at V11. The Barrel is worth a look under Dinas Mot but my personal recommendation is to check out the circuit above Ynys Etws: Utopia, Wavelength and Pieshop give some of the best bouldering North Wales has to offer. Check out King of Drunks V6 especially.
- Ogwen Valley. This isn’t really an area, but for simplicity, i’ve lumped it in together. Your main crags are Caseg Fraith, Gallt yr Ogof, Milestone Buttress and the jewel in the crown: Sheep Pen. They all have some excellent problems, are all worth a look but the first two mentioned can remain a bit swampy underfoot. Nearby, you’ve also got the RAC boulders, which are stacked with easy problems, the Caseg Boulders by the riverside above Bethesda, and the Braichmelyn, with only a few lines to date that are as good as they are sharp. Other crags are in the valley, but as yet, i’ve not explored them that much.
- Porth Ysgo. This is one of those not in the park; in fact it’s not even close. The thing is, you can’t really miss it out and if it was a little easier to get to, would rank as one of the best venues in the country. 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 if you turn up in Pete’s Eats and ask if anyone wants to go with you to Porth Ysgo, you’ll doubtless find some budding volunteers; especially on a grey day. Remember to try Popcorn Party V6 before you haven’t got anything left for it! Nearby crags are opening up as we speak, such as Porth Nefoedd which are worthy of mention.
- Parisella’s Cave. Oh god, the Cave of Justice, what can i say. 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. Personally, i love it but can completely understand those that don’t, and even with the local guide to the cave itself, it can be tough to even find the lines, with so many link ups it’s untrue. That said, it’s rare to turn up there and not find at least one Cave aficionado, so you’ll probably be fine. Best to just go and see for yourself. Oh, and it stays dry longer and avoids the usual mountain rain…
- Bryn Engan. This is the forest nestling over the other side of Afon Llugwy to Plas y Brenin – the National Mountaineering Centre in Capel Curig. The 2004 guidebook lists a solitary boulder in these woods: the Brenin Boulder, with half a dozen lines ranging from V2 to V8. However, when i began working at Plas y Brenin, i began scouting the forest for others. At time of writing, i’ve cleaned six blocs, put up seventeen new lines and have more to go at. They are in two clusters: the Mymbyr Boulder and the Bull’s Eye Boulders. Both have a healthy range of problems, from easy to tough and both are worthwhile.
- Tanygrisiau. I mainly include this as i went with a page from the new guide and was quite impressed. I’ll be honest, there’s not that much there but if you fancy something a bit quieter, this may appeal. It’s just a bit of another option i guess.
- Beddgelert Forest. What potential! If only you could find it… Some local lads did, back in the day, finding Boss Cuvier, The Shocker Area and plenty more. More info is available on North Wales Bouldering and will appear on 27crags once i’ve visited more.
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.
- Climbing Shops. Joe Brown’s has three shops, two in Llanberis (only one is climbing) 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 Joe Brown’s Corner Shop by the Youth Hostel. There is one in Capel Curig proper called Dolgam, on the A5 towards Betws y Coed, walking distance to my preferred watering hole, the Tyn y Coed. 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), Pinnacle Cafe (recently renovated) 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.