The Rhyd-Ddu path of Mount Snowdon is 3.75miles/6km with a total ascent of 910m. It has a difficulty rating of 5/10 with a fear factor of 6/10 and is isolated from other walkers as a 1/10 for crowds, which may be why it’s referred to as The Secret Path. There are eight routes to the summit of Mount Snowdon in Wales, all varying in difficulty, views and abilities, and Rhyd-Ddu is the rangers path on the more quieter west side of the mountain. With shapely ridgelines and sweeping contours it’s a truly peaceful and tranquil hike across stunning landscape.
Having never climbed a mountain before, let alone a big hill, you could say that I’m a total beginner at a push. I literally had no idea what to expect on my first ever hike and so I ordered some bits and pieces online beforehand in preparation for the big day. The first bit of kit that I purchased were my hiking boots to protect my feet, give me a good grip of the rocky terrain and support my ankles incase I twist or stumble. I then needed some hiking socks to keep my feet cool and dry and prevent rubbing and blisters, and they differ from ordinary socks or even sports socks in the fact that they’re thick and padded with tight elastic over the toes, heel and ankle. It’s essential to do your boots up as tight and firmly as possible to prevent them from rubbing, obviously without pinching. Thankfully my boots didn’t rub at all and I survived the entire day without blisters or injury.
Next I got a pair of waterproof trousers which slip over your clothes to keep you dry if it rains, and also deflect some of the windchill once you reach the summit because when you get sweaty and hit wind you can easily catch a chill. I wore four thin and breathable layers on my top half, these were a regular vest top, a tight sports top, a thin zip up hoodie and a waterproof jacket as when I got hot I took off a layer and folded it flat in my backpack, and if I got cold I could easily put it back on rather than struggling with puffy jackets and holding bulky wooly jumpers.
You’ll also need a backpack to carry snacks, drink and first aid such as plasters, deep heat and antibacterial gel. I took wetwipes to be able to clean my hands before eating and answer any calls of nature as not surprisingly there aren’t any toilets on the mountain. Fortunately I didn’t need the toilet at all, as I took small sips of water throughout and managed to pass the fluid as sweat rather than filling my bladder, as after having my two children I notoriously visit the toilet very often and was particularly concerned about needing to go in public. I took three disposable 350ml bottles of water with me and drank just one and a half, as it’s best to pace yourself and take small sips little and often so that your body can remain hydrated rather than glugging it back in one go and needing to release it. I also carried a bag of aniseed sweets to suck which kept my mouth constantly moist with saliva and lessened my need to guzzle water.
Being vegetarian crossing over to vegan I packed some protein friendly snacks that were easy to carry and would give me strength and energy. Apples always keep me alert so I munched my way through five of them as they’re easy to bite into as you walk. I also had a mixed seed and peanut oat bar, wholemeal pasta and chickpeas in a plastic tub, seeded quinoa crackers and a bag of mixed nuts. I did have a bunch of bananas too but somehow my mummy brain managed to leave them behind on the kitchen counter! The food I carried was more than enough for me, and again, rather than being a giant meal it’s constant snacking to release energy and protein to fuel the muscles as you go. Beef jerky and dark chocolate are also handy snacks that take up very little space and the wrappers can be easily scrunched up to be thrown away.
Starting out on the hike it was already raining when we arrived at the end of June on a bright and sunny day, so preferring not to be wet and damp on the way up I donned my waterproofs and set off on the track. I was part of a group of four as we headed up the Rhyd Ddu route we’d selected, and although I could literally get lost in my back garden for my severe lack of navigation, fortunately the others were able to read the map, as there’s no mobile signal or wifi to save you on the mountain.
Before reaching the mountain I was advised to prepare for all weather conditions, and warned that even if it was sunny it could soon thunder and snow within minutes which seemed a little far fetched, but as we climbed higher and higher to the top I began to understand the severity of nature. To start with we walked up the gradual grassy incline to the base of the mountain, much as you would through a park or hilly walk with the family. The further up we travelled the more rocky the ground became, switching the lush grassy fields for scattered and broken slate and stones. Some giant stones had been sunk into the ground to mark out the various routes, and others sat on top, loose underfoot and slippery when wet. Add to the mix open springs and running water and I really put my hiking boots to good use between the grass, thick mud, boggy ground, craggy rocks and sliding stones. You really do have to have your wits about you and between taking in the breathtaking scenery I had my eyes to the ground watching every step and consciously registering the next.
In some places the mountain drops away at a very steep ridge and it turned my knees to jelly just to look over the edge. There are no safety rails or nets to catch you if you slip or get too close to the edge, so always stand well back and let the camera do the zooming rather than your feet down a sheer drop. The closer you get to the summit the more extreme the weather and terrain become, and from merrily strolling along in a vest in bright sunshine, I found myself in four layers of clothing with the others wearing hats and gloves to shelter from the biting strong wind and damp and cloudy poor visibility. As soon as you reach cloud level it’s like stepping into a horror film, eerily grey and thunderous, blocking out the sun and swirls of what looks like rising steam billowing up from beneath you. Suddenly the boundaries of the mountain disappear, and those walking just a few meters behind disappear into the cloud. It’s fascinating to see, but clear that extreme caution must be taken so as not to deviate from the route or fall off any ridges.
As we zig-zagged ever closer to the mountains summit the weather changed so rapidly between engulfing us in thick cloud and hardly being able to see the path ahead, to blasting open a minute later to reveal bright blue skies and the most breath taking views for miles around. Although it didn’t rain after the short burst when we first arrived, it was very blustery and cold at the top, and as we made our final approach to the summit we started to see the hustle and bustle of the other walkers as our quiet route joined with the other seven paths. The summit is like an alien planet, grey, broken, jagged and without any plants or wildlife other than the odd bird swooping into the cloud and disappearing in seconds. It’s eerily grey and silent, aside from the voices of other climbs cheering and clambering for the finish point which you can only see once you’re right on top of it because of the poor visibility and high winds.
At the summit of the mountain is a cafe built into the rock, a rather small modern shelter with toilets, serving hot snacks and unbelievably ice cream. There’s also a mountain train much to our amusement, which we didn’t take as we wanted the true experience of both the ascent and descent. A member of our group pointed out that half of the tourists at the summit hadn’t climbed the mountain, and baffled by his comment I asked him what would make him say that, and he told me to look at their feet. The hikers all wore boots, backpacks and waterproof clothing that were muddied and worn, and the tourists stood proudly in sports trainers, hoodies and scarves which would explain the pushchairs, elderly and dogs that merrily gathered in the cafe. A few more steps on from the cafe was the summit marker, a gold plinth that people queued to touch and take photos with to mark the highest point of the mountain, and people swarmed to get to it like bees to a hive, their bright clothing and rucksacks adding a burst of rainbow colours to the grey-washed sky and jagged rocks all around.
In total it took us 3hrs 20mins to reach the summit and 1hr 45mins to get back down to the carpark, where a day ticket costs around £5.00 for a car and the mountain is free for all to climb. There are also toilets within the carpark which I was amazed that I held out for and didn’t need to stop outdoors in between climbing. Not only did climbing Mount Snowdon teach me some valuable lessons about nature and safety, but it also showed me just what I’m capable of as a person. I’ve never so much as camped in the garden before, and so I had no idea how I’d get up and down the second biggest mountain in the British Isles within an afternoon, but I did and it was the most amazing buzz. The views were spectacular, I worked every muscle in my body and feel tight and toned because of it, and I literally slept like a baby when I got home. My legs and muscles felt fine throughout as I kept a steady pace, and walking with a pole certainly helped me to keep momentum. At the very beginning my lungs started to burn with the pace of walking but I soon adjusted and it was such a peaceful and tranquil experience to enjoy with friends that has really connected me to nature. We made such incredible memories that I will never forget.
I really expected to be crippled the following day, but when I woke up I only had tender calves and so I rubbed the back of my legs for a few minutes and the ache went away. I had no blisters, no cuts or grazes, didn’t fall, get lost or need to use any emergency equipment, thank goodness! I guess you could compare it to a rather adventurously high altitude picnic on a beautiful day, and for men, women and children alike I couldn’t possibly praise and recommend it enough. That’s another big tick against my bucket list and some wonderful photos to add to the family album to show my great grandkids in years to come.
Rhyd Ddu Path Info:
Distance: 7.5 miles (there and back)
Total Climb: 895m (2,936 ft)
Time: Approx 6 hours (there and back)
Start and Finish: Rhyd Ddu Car Park (SH 571526 / LL54 6TN)
Map: Explorer OL17 Ordnance Survey
Parking: Rhyd Ddu Car Park (SH 571526 / LL54 6TN)
Sherpa Bus Stop: End of Rhyd Ddu Car Park