Walking up Snowdon in winter

Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) can be a challenging place at any time of year, but in winter it can at times be really inhospitable and a very dangerous place for the unprepared or inexperienced.

In full winter conditions, when there is snow and ice around, walking the paths is altogether more challenging than in summer, both physically and mentally.

That said, Snowdon in winter can be a glorious experience, and you’ll often have the paths and the summit pretty much to yourself. Long distance visibility too is often better in winter if the wind is from the north (Arctic air is clearer).

Safety

In winter your safety must be a prime concern (even more than it normally is).

Put simply, the stakes are much higher in winter conditions, accidents happen more easily, delays and incidents have greater consequences, and danger is altogether closer to hand. Consequently greater care and extra precautions need to be taken in every aspect of a winter walk up Snowdon.

At any time of year, slips are the greatest cause of accidents. In snowy or icy conditions this is multiplied, especially on any descent. If you’re on the mountain in snowy or icy conditions, you should constantly ask yourself this question: “If I were to slip or slide now, what would happen, and where would I stop or end up?”  If you don’t know, then you really shouldn’t be there. (Someone with the correct equipment − see below − will have a good answer.)

The weather

(See also the page about weather on Snowdon.)

Aside from autumn and winter storms, which can make for difficult and dangerous walking, the first sleet often falls at higher levels in late October, and hail is common too.

The first snows normally arrive on Snowdon in early November, and snow and ice can be present on the upper parts of the mountain from any time between then and mid-April.  Most winters have spells of snow/ice conditions, of varying length, though these are invariably interspersed with periods totally free from any snow or ice. Temperatures can vary considerably in winter, and this makes it impossible to predict what kind of conditions the winter will bring; for instance, February and March may bring appalling conditions where ice axe and crampons are essential, or they may equally bring days of warm, spring sunshine with no snow or ice present on the mountain at all.

Snowdon can change rapidly in winter. Because the mountain receives a lot of rain, if this falls as heavy snow it can transform the mountain in a matter of hours. Similarly, if it turns milder, a depth of snow can be washed quickly away by heavy rain, again transforming the mountain in just a matter of hours.

Look at the two summit photos below. They were both taken in December 2021, less than a week apart. In the first picture, it was freezing and not even possible to stand up without spikes/crampons. Six days later there was not a hint of snow or ice, and reasonably warm in the sunshine.

Checking the weather forecast is important at any time of year, but it is absolutely essential over the winter. As you will know, the summit is always many degrees colder than the base of the mountain, and this is more marked in the winter. Moreover, the wind chill will also be more pronounced. When looking at a forecast, look at the “feels-like” temperature which takes windchill into account. Some forecasts (e.g. MWIS) also indicate at what height the freezing level is.

You can find recommended weather forecasts on our general weather page.

Conditions underfoot

In the winter you must be prepared at any time to meet icy or snowy conditions on the upper part of the mountain (often from about 750m upwards, i.e. from the intersection on the Pyg/Miners’ Tracks, or Clogwyn Bridge on the Llanberis Path). Sometimes snow will reach right down to Pen y Pass car park.

Conditions can change considerably over a few days, even from day to day. Often social media (e.g. groups on Facebook) is the best way of tracking current conditions near the summit and on the mountain generally.

Be aware that when the temperature hovers either side of freezing, it is possible for the nature of any snow on the paths to change significantly, depending on when you are there. It’s possible that it could freeze hard again, turning slippery, or it’s possible that freezing and thawing could cause it to turn icy. You should therefore prepare for a variety of possible conditions.

Additionally, in winter the National Park publishes a twice-weekly report on ground conditions on the paths on Snowdon (usually the Pyg Track and the upper Llanberis Path) and at the summit, indicating whether snow and ice are present. The report can be found here on Twitter (we suggest you ‘follow’ them), with a fuller report on the National Park website here. However, as said above, conditions can change very quickly, so any report can only be a snapshot at that time.

The best policy is to anticipate winter conditions, then if you encounter them you will be prepared for them. Without the right equipment you may have no option but to turn back.

The National Park issues twice-weekly reports on Snowdon’s paths between November and April

Path finding

In the winter there are always far fewer people around, meaning that help and advice is less close, should you need it. We recommend that you do not walk up Snowdon alone in winter.

Furthermore, although the paths on Snowdon are well defined, when there is snow on the mountain the paths above the snowline can be completely hidden, and however well you think you know the route, the actual line of the path can in places not be discernible.

What to wear

(See also the page on what to wear and take.)

In addition to all the things you would normally wear, or carry with you, the taking of extra layers is paramount in colder conditions. Whilst you’re still likely to get hot walking up, when you stop you will quickly get cold. Any kind of accident or incident could see you having to hang around for some while, when extra layers will be vital. Needless to say, a hat and gloves (ideally waterproof) are essential, and spares of both are a good idea too in case they get wet. Basically you must avoid hypothermia setting in.

It’s also a good idea to take a spare base layer with you so that if it gets wet from sweat on the way up, you can replace it with a dry one.

It’s not good enough just to have a warm jacket/coat with you. If it’s not waterproof you’re likely heading for problems; make sure you’ve got a good waterproof outer layer, including leggings.

Good footwear is vital in winter, i.e. waterproof boots with a good tread, but on snow or ice this will count for little – see below for crampons, etc.

What to carry

You’ll invariably need a larger rucksack in the winter because of the extra things you’ll be carrying.

In addition to all the things you would normally take (such as a map, compass, whistle, phone, etc.) please note the following:

Food and drink is always important, but more so in winter. Carry hot drinks in a flask and take plenty of food to keep energy levels up.

You’ll need extra clothing for warmth (see above).

If there is ice and snow on the upper part of the mountain, then as a matter of course you should take crampons/spikes and carry an ice axe (and know how to use it in an emergency). You may not need to use them, but there are often occasions where progress is unsafe or simply impossible without them.

A group shelter is a useful addition should anything force you to spend some time out in the elements.

With much shorter hours of daylight – and notably an early dusk – a torch is essential (with spare batteries). You many well be planning on being down in daylight, but a slight incident can easily see you still out on the mountain after dark.

Batteries – whether for a torch or mobile phone – last less long in cold conditions. If you have a portable power bank for your mobile phone, charge it up and take it.

Bwlch Glas in winter conditions

Crampons vs spikes

If you’re planning on wearing walking crampons you’ll need firm-soled boots which are designed to take them. However, in many instances lightweight ‘spikes’ will suffice for short stretches of winter walking on snow or ice (though should not be used for winter mountaineering or ice climbing). Remember too that neither crampons nor spikes will make you infallible; you’ll still need to take care. Spikes are easy to purchase, but don’t be tempted by overly cheap prices. A cheap pair will simply not last; be prepared to pay at least £35.

Climbing Technology make an Ice Traction+ spike (below), and we can thoroughly recommend this product, which is available in 4 different boot sizes, can be fitted in less than a minute, and packs up very small.  You can read about the product here on their website. These spikes can be bought online, or locally at Stuart Cunningham’s outdoor shop in Betws y coed or at Crib Goch Outdoor in Llanberis.


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