How to scramble: Tryfan's North Ridge

Posted by Hanna Lindon on 29/05/2015
Fabulous views await Tryfan summiteers.

The most famous route up Tryfan is the North Ridge: a long and thrilling grade one scramble that makes a perfect introduction to the sport. We take a look at how to tackle it.

There aren’t many mountains south of Glen Coe that sing out to scramblers like Tryfan. This vast fin of rock rears out of the Ogwen Valley, its crenellated spine forming an unforgettable silhouette against the sky. The famous adage says that you can’t reach Tryfan’s summit without using your hands, and not many mountain folk will argue with that. There are countless routes to the top, ranging from simple low-level scrambles to full-on rock climbs, but the best known and most popular is the North Ridge.

“The North Ridge is a classic due to its closeness to the road as well as its impressive steep immediate rise towards the clouds,” says Andy Jones, a mountain instructor with Seren Ventures and a member of the Ogwen Valley mountain rescue team. “It just screams out ‘climb me’”. 

The ridge’s grade 1 rating and the relatively low exposure as compared to some other classic low-grade ridges make it a good choice for newbie scramblers looking for a gentle introduction to the sport. Don’t underestimate the challenges, though, particularly when it comes to navigation.   

Route finding fears

The choice of routes on offer as you approach the North Ridge can catch out even experienced scramblers.

“There are many little gullies to access the ridge, but if you pick the wrong one then this can lead you onto more difficult ground,” says Andy. “Navigating on Tryfan has its challenges - particularly in bad weather. The Ogwen mountain rescue team is often called out to people lost in the cloud or stuck in gullies due to confusion of position. It’s possible to end up in one of the gullies and then be unable to escape.”

Most scramblers start from the A5 layby directly below the North Ridge and follow the path to the left of Milestone Buttress.

“The path increases in gradient and rises towards a large boulder field,” says Andy. “As you turn right up the boulders you will find yourself scrambling up loose scree towards a steep step of rock, which you climb up before following some quartz slabs to continue up the broad ridge.”

Climbing the crux

The scrambling on Tryfan is rarely technically challenging, but bad weather can leave the rock treacherously slippery. In poor conditions, the North Tower in particular can feel at the top end of its grade. This scaly pinnacle marks the start of the final summit push, following some relatively easy although increasingly inclining scrambling. 

“Wet and windy weather can make this section of the ridge feel serious,” explains Andy. “Lots of people become unstuck when they reach the North Tower.”

He warns, however, that attempting to circumnavigate the Tower is a mistake. “Often people won’t like the look of the North Tower and will try to go around it. This may result in them either heading along the eastern traverse - also know as the ‘climbers’ traverse’ - and ending up in more serious ground like North Gully.

Instead, aim directly for the summit of the North Tower and top out to knockout views of the Ogwen Valley. The final leg is a mixed bag of scrambling that allows you to choose between several easier or harder options, all of which converge on the twin stones of Adam and Eve. 

The adventure continues….

The traditional way to celebrate summiting Tryfan is to jump between Adam and Eve. If you don’t fancy risking your neck on this airy leap, though, then there are plenty of less hair-raising ways to extend your day.

“Why not head down the South Ridge to join Bristly Ridge for more great scrambling?” says Andy. “Then continue to the Cantilever and over Glyder Fach. You could even link this up with the Gribin Ridge and descend to Llyn Bochlwyd. That way you would squeeze all the area’s classic grade 1 scrambles into a full day of exposure, excitement and beauty.”

For a shorter descent, head down the South Ridge to Bwlch yr Tryfan before following the rocky path down towards Llyn Bochlwyd, across to Bochlwyd Buttress and then back to the main road.

Beware the weather

Like all scrambles, Tryfan is best kept for a decent day. Rain can render the rock slippery and low cloud will add extra spice to the navigational problems, but Andy warns that wind can also be an issue.

“Wind can make a huge difference to the experience,” he says. “Strong gusts will mean walking and scrambling are tricky on occasions.

“In winter, snow, ice and verglas can again add to the difficulty. Ice axes and crampons are most definitely required in full winter conditions, as well as the knowledge of how to use them.”

If you have sufficient experience to tackle a grade 2 winter climb, though, then this is one of the best snowy ascents of its kind in Wales. 

WATCH Britain's Mountain Challenges: Tryfan and Bristly Ridge Scrambling, on BMC TV

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