This thrilling Grade 1 scramble in Snowdonia is one of the country’s most popular ridges - so what does it take to tackle Crib Goch?
Ask any hill walker to name you a few classic scrambles, and Crib Goch will almost certainly get a high-priority mention. Not only does this cracking stickleback ridge offer the wildest and most exciting way up Wales’ highest peak, it also scores ten out of ten on views, exposure and general scrambly fabulousness. Add to that the low technical difficulty (it’s a Grade 1, the lowest rating on the scrambling scale) and you’ve got a recipe for one of the best hands-on-rock days out in the country. Here’s our guide to bagging Snowdonia’s ultimate bucket list tick.
First things first
Crib Goch’s high profile means that many people pick it as their first serious scramble - but Carlo Forte, Plas y Brenin’s chief instructor, recommends cutting your teeth on a few less challenging routes first.
“Crib Goch is often underestimated,” he says. “Route finding isn’t straightforward and the exposure is serious. I’d suggest getting some experience on easier days out such as Striding Edge or the Gribin Ridge before attempting it. Even Sharp Edge on Blencathra could be a better first option - it’s the same grade as Crib Goch, but it’s shorter and navigationally more straightforward.”
If you’re new to scrambling then it’s important to remember that not all similarly graded scrambles are equal. Crib Goch might be a technical cinch in the right conditions, but the knee-wobbling exposure and the risk of veering off-path make it both more thrilling and more hazardous than other routes in the same grade. Because of this, it’s vital to make your first attempt in decent conditions. High winds and slippery conditions underfoot can easily add a grade to this sneaky beast of a ridge.
Where did the path go?
Crib Goch has tripped up plenty of hill walkers in the past by luring them into a false sense of a security.
“Once you strike off from the Pyg Track there’s a good, well-travelled path that takes you right up to the base of the scramble,” explains Carlo. “It’s easy to wander along thinking ‘this is all very nice’ and not realise how serious the route is until you’re on it.”
The scramble begins with an exhilarating clamber up blocky slabs that bottleneck up to the crest of the ridge. Holds are numerous and the exposure is only middling - the real difficulty at this point is route finding. A guidebook will help you identify the main features, but you’ll still need to pay close attention to the line.
“One of the skills that isn’t emphasised enough in scrambling is looking ahead,” says Carlo. “As you approach the scramble from a distance, start looking for your route and make a mental note of key features to aim at such as big boulders, flat terraced areas and unusual rock features. Sometimes these can only be identified from a long way back - once you’re close up, the view to the top will be obstructed.
"Many people use a guidebook to help them, which is a good idea, but I’d also recommend taking a large-scale map. A map will show plenty of detail, particularly if you look beneath the rock and crag markings at the contour lines. These will give an indication of steepness and changes in angles of slopes which can all be used as tick-off features when navigating such a route.”
The navigational difficulties diminish substantially once you reach the crest of the ridge itself, but at this point the exposure really begins to kick in. Those incredible sweeping descents on either side might lend themselves to some of the best views in the mountain range - but they’re anathema for vertigo sufferers. At points the ridge is narrow enough to easily straddle and in these areas it tends to be safest to stick to the top or to drop slightly down to the left hand side as you continue towards Snowdon. Scramblers have been known to freeze on Crib Goch, particularly in inclement conditions.
“The weather really can play a very important part,” Carlo points out. “This is a well-travelled route and the rock in places is polished, so in wet or even damp conditions it can get slippery. If it’s windy then the ridge will feel even more exposed. And remember that there’s no escape route until you reach Bwlch Coch.”
In snowy conditions Crib Goch is a Grade 1 winter climb that requires crampon and ice axe skills, so in winter it's best left to those with bags of experience.
If the traverse of Crib Goch has left you jelly-legged and keen to recuperate with a slap-up breakfast at Pete’s Eats, then there is a steep, grassy descent from Bwlch Coch that eventually joins back up with the Pyg Track. The much longer and more exciting alternative is to continue along the second section of the ridge - Crib y Ddysgl - and bag the summit of Snowdon before descending via Y Lliwedd to complete the full Snowdon Horseshoe. Leave between 6 and 10 hours for the route, depending on your scrambling speed and fitness levels, and be aware that Crib Goch isn’t the only challenge that this glorious mountain day will present to you.
“Crib Goch is often described as the crux of the Horseshoe, but the whole route is packed with excitement,” says Carlo. “Crib y Ddysgl has an easier route that bypasses the crest, but if you choose to stick to the ridge then it’s just as challenging as Crib Goch. It’s also worth point out that following the easier route would still require good route finding skills and navigation to avoid getting into trouble as this route crosses through some steep terrain There’s more exposed scrambling on the other side of the Horseshoe, and you should be aware that route finding can be tricky coming off the mountain as well.”
Be wary when descending from the summit of Snowdon to Bwlch Ciliau. It is easy to take a direct line from the summit over the top of Clogwyn y Garnedd, but this lures you on to a treacherous scree sclope which has caught people out in the past, to sometimes tragic results. Instead, head down to the south-west for a short distance and pick up the top section of the Watkin Path to head down to Bwlch Ciliau, and then carry straight on to Y Lliwedd.
With its epic feel and ramped-up exposure factor, the Snowdon Horseshoe is the perfect springboard for trickier and more sustained ridge scrambles such as Aonach Eagach. We’ll be looking at the know-how you’ll need to tackle this Scottish classic in part three of our scrambling series.
WATCH Britain's Mountain Challenges: Crib Goch, on BMC TV
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