Climbing & Scrambling Areas in North Wales
North Wales's mountains, crags and sea cliffs offer some world class venues for rock climbing, scrambling and mountaineering.
It is a bonus that within this relatively small geographical area lie many climbing areas with very different characteristics; single pitch or multi pitch, steep or slabby, bold or well protected. We are also lucky that many areas have their own micro climates - so often, when the mountain crags are under rain, the weather on the coast or in the Moelwyns can be surprisingly dry and warm.
The main climbing areas are detailed below and needless to say the best selective guidebook is North Wales Rock by GroundUp...
Ogwen Valley: The Glyderau Mountains are linked to the history of British rock climbing from the very beginning of the sport and the vast majority of climbers have served their apprenticeship on the Idwal slabs or at Milestone Buttress.
The talented and bold coming back for the harder, evocatively named Suicide Wall, Capital Punishment and Mur Y Meirwon (Wall of the Dead).
There is a tremendous variety in the nature of the rock and the character of the climbing: from easy angled slabs, boulder choked gullies to towering buttresses, but overall this valley offers some of the best mountaineering routes in Britain with long days an alpine environment.
The sheer expanse of this area allows you to enjoy the social camaraderie of the busy Idwal Slabs or escape to remote crags where you will almost be guaranteed solitude. The escape does not even mean moving far - you can start the day with a few sociable pitches on Idwal before heading upwards onto the quieter Continuation Wall before heading across to the magnificent rough rhyolitic tuff of Glyder Fawr, where you will most probably climb the amazing Grey Wall or Grey Slab in splendid isolation
The terrain is perfectly suited to scrambling and the Glyders contains some of the best scrambles in the UK - the many routes on Tryfan and Glyder Fach, Bristly Ridge and Cneifion Arete provide a multitude of potential link ups that give exhilarating days out.
The Cwm Bochlwyd horseshoe rivals the Snowdon horseshoe in quality as the best scramble in mainland UK - climb the Milestone Buttress Approach start to Tryfan North ridge, descend the South Ridge of Tryfan and the scramble up Bristly Ridge before descending the Gribin Ridge past the high Cwm of Llyn Bochlwyd. Awesome.
Llanberis Pass: The sides of the Llanberis Pass are covered in crags, many of which have been central to the development of climbing in the UK. The 'Pass' has long been the centre point of Welsh climbing with an incredibly high concentration of classic rock routes that define climbing at it's very best.
The many crags that line the valley sides offer a variety of rock types and climbing styles with mainly multi-pitch trad climbing, although some crags have a lot of single pitch routes. The valley sits at the base of the Snowdon massif and is orientated so that you can choose sun or shade depending on the conditions.
The mains crags here include:
Dinas Cromlech whose steep walls, high above the Llanberis Pass, have always been a forcing ground for climbers and the resulting routes are a litany to all that is good in British climbing - Cemetary Gates, Cenotaph Corner, Left Wall. Resurrection, Right Wall and Lord of the Flies are on every climbers wish list, whilst most climbers have done the classics of Spiral Stairs, Flying Buttress and Sabre Cut.
Dinas Mot lies opposite the Dinas Cromlech and is one of the most important cliffs in Snowdonia with a wealth of multi-pitch routes weaving their way up intricate natural lines of weakness. The routes on the central shield are justifiably famous, but don't forget to investigate the Plexus buttress for some amazing, hidden gems.
Cyrn Las is a intimidating crag that hosts some intimidating routes that should be on every tick list - Main Wall is one of the best Hard Severe's in the country, whilst Lubyanka and the Skull offer outrageous exposure for the extreme leader.
Closer to the road the Grochan and Wastad offer great cragging on rock that dries quickly and has both single and multi-pitch routes.
Slate Quarries .These lie above Llanberis and provide a unique climbing environment. Since quarrying ended in the 1960s climbers have converted the old mine workings into a fantastic area with sport and traditional climbing at all levels. This area is very quick drying and has an unique atmosphere. The popularity of the Slate Quarries has surged recently with many new routes being bolted; the easier new routes in Dali's Hole, The Sidings in Australia Quarry and Never, Neverland proving very popular.
Gogarth. This beautiful and dramatic venue lies on the Anglesey coast near Holyhead. It is an intoxicating series of sea cliffs and many climbers consider Gogarth to be the best cliff in Britain with a unique atmosphere that drags you back time and again for more adventures.
The cliffs have an intimidating aura, but offer a the intrepid climber a variety of adventurous routes of the highest quality. The most frequent introduction to the area is via the routes at Holyhead Mountain, Upper Tier and Castell Helen - these less serious crags give you the opportunity to get used to the rock before moving onto the bigger crags at Main Cliff, Yellow Wall and Wen Zawn.
The Main Cliff is a complex place and there are some topos below that may help one clarify where the routes go - they are the original files that the latest Gogarth guide by GroundUp Climbing used for the Main Cliff section. The files are locked and copyrighted, but can be viewed freely.
Gogarth is an excellent Winter and bad weather alternative as most crags are West or South facing suntraps. It is a traditional, single and multi-pitch climbing venue with quartzite rock.
Tremadog. A series of cliffs near Porthmadog in southern Snowdonia with easy access plus rock that has both excellent friction and is quick drying; this is another excellent option when it is raining in the mountains. Its coastal location makes this area a particularly fine winter and wet weather alternative to the main Snowdonia area. The rock is dolerite and the style is traditional and typically, multi-pitch.
Llandudno and coastal limestone venues. The popular area of Pen Trwyn offers a wide selection of limestone crags with sport, traditional and mixed rock climbing areas. It is a very good alternative when it is wet in the mountains or too hot to climb in the sun.
The recent opening of the great Craig Y Forwen after 20 years of access problems has given climbers a new playground that is blessed with good weather and excellent trad routes.
The Clwyd Mountaineering Club have recently opened up a new area at Penmaen that seems blessed with good weather.
The Main Cliff is a complex place and the topos below may help to clarify where the routes go - they are the original files that the latest Gogarth guide by GroundUp Climbing used for the Main Cliff section. The files are locked and copyrighted, but can be viewed freely.
Weather in North Wales.
The weather and weather forecasts are an integral part of climbers lives; it is one of the most important factors in deciding where we go and what we do. The ability to access good forecasts is key to getting the most out of our climbing time.
The following sites offer good forecasts:
The Mountain Weather Information Service also offers a good service, but it only runs daily reports on the weekend.
Climate in North Wales.
Wales is a mainly mountainous country with much of the land being over 150 metres. It has an essentially maritime climate, characterised by weather that is often cloudy, wet and windy but mild. However, the shape of the coastline and the central spine of high ground from Snowdonia southwards to the Brecon Beacons introduce a lot of localised differences. Whilst some upland areas can experience harsh weather, the coasts enjoy more favourable conditions and areas in east Wales are more sheltered and hence similar to neighbouring English counties.
The mean annual temperature decreases by approximately 0.5 °C for each 100 metres increase in height so that, for example, a location at 400 metres would have a mean annual temperature of about 7.5 °C. On this basis, Snowdon (at 1085 metres) would have an annual mean of about 5 °C.
Temperature shows both a seasonal and a diurnal variation. In winter, temperatures are influenced to a very large extent by those of the surface of the surrounding sea, which reach their lowest values in late February or early March. Around the coasts February is therefore normally the coldest month, but inland there is little to choose between January and February. The January mean daily minimum temperatures vary from just below 0 °C in the higher parts of north and mid-Wales to about 3 °C around the coast. The highest values occur in Pembrokeshire, due to the proximity of air from the relatively warm Atlantic.
Minimum temperatures usually occur around sunrise with the coldest nights being those when there is little wind, skies are clear, and there is a covering of snow; the lowest temperatures occur away from the moderating influence of the sea, on the floors of inland valleys into which cold air can drain.
In contrast, some of the highest winter temperatures in the UK have been recorded on the North Wales coast. These high winter temperatures (up to 18 °C on occasion) occur when a moist south to south-westerly airflow warms up downwind of Snowdonia after crossing the high ground, an effect known as a Föhn after its more dramatic manifestations in the Alps.
July is normally the warmest month, with mean daily maximum temperatures varying from about 17 °C in the higher inland locations, to 18 °C along the west coast. Daily maximum temperatures usually occur 2 or 3 hours after midday, and extreme maximum temperatures are usually in July or August. The highest temperatures usually occur furthest away from the cooling influence of the Atlantic, the record in Wales being 35.2 °C at Hawarden Bridge (Flintshire) on 2 August 1990.
However, when a hot airstream arrives from the east, maxima along the coasts can equal those inland, an example being the 31.8 °C achieved at Aberporth (Ceredigion) on 2 August 1995.
The variation of mean daily maximum and minimum temperatures month by month, together with the highest and lowest temperatures recorded, is shown for Valley. Coastal locations such as Valley have the smallest range of mean temperature over the year, being relatively warm in winter but relatively cool in summer owing to the moderating influence of the sea. Places close to the English border have colder winters and warmer summers.
The hilly nature of the terrain in Wales and its proximity to the Atlantic tends to encourage cloud cover. The dullest parts of Wales are the mountainous areas, with average annual totals of less than 1200 hours. These figures compare with values of less than 1100 hours a year in the Shetland Islands to over 1900 hours in the Channel Islands.
Mean monthly sunshine totals reach a maximum in May or June, and are at their lowest in December. The key factor is, of course, the variation in the length of the day through the year, but cloud cover plays a part too.
The graphs show the average monthly sunshine totals for Valley together with the highest and lowest totals recorded in the stated periods.
Rainfall is caused by the condensation of the water in air that is being lifted and cooled to its dew point. Rainfall tends to be associated with Atlantic depressions or with convection. The Atlantic Lows are more vigorous in autumn and winter and bring most of the rain that falls in these seasons. In summer, convection caused by solar surface heating sometimes forms shower clouds and a large proportion of rainfall is from showers and thunderstorms then. A further factor that greatly affects the rainfall distribution is altitude. Moist air that is forced to ascend hills may be cooled to the dew point, to produce cloud and rain. A map of average annual rainfall therefore looks similar to a topographic map.
Rainfall in Wales varies widely, with the highest average annual totals being recorded in the central upland spine from Snowdonia to the Brecon Beacons. Snowdonia is the wettest area with average annual totals exceeding 3000 mm, comparable to those in the English Lake District or the western Highlands of Scotland. In contrast, places along the coast and, particularly, close to the border with England, are drier, receiving less than 1000 mm a year.
Throughout Wales, the months from October to January are significantly wetter than those between February and September, unlike places in eastern England where July and August are often the wettest months of the year. This seasonal pattern is a reflection of the high frequency of winter Atlantic depressions and the relatively low frequency of summer thunderstorms.
Over much of Wales, the number of days with a rainfall total of 1 mm or more ('wet days') tends to follow a pattern similar to the monthly rainfall totals. In the higher parts, over 50 days is the norm in winter (December-February) and over 35 days in summer (June-August). In the driest areas of the east and south, about 40 days in winter and about 25 days in summer are typical.
The combination of close proximity to active weather systems arriving from the Atlantic and the extensive areas of upland can lead to notable daily and monthly falls. Daily totals exceeding 50 mm occur every other year, on average, in most parts of Wales.
Wales is one of the windier parts of the UK, with the windiest areas being over the highest ground and along the coasts, particularly those facing directions between north-west and south.
The strongest winds are associated with the passage of deep areas of low pressure close to or across the UK. The frequency and strength of these depressions is greatest in the winter half of the year, especially from November to February, and this is when mean speeds and gusts (short duration peak values) are strongest.
The variation in monthly mean speeds (average of a continuous record) and highest gusts ('instantaneous' speed averaged over about 3 seconds) at Valley is shown below.
Another measure of wind exposure is the number of days when gale force is reached. If the wind reaches a mean speed of 34 knots or more over any 10 consecutive minutes, then that day is classed as having a gale. Coastal areas average 15 days or more of gale each year with the number of days decreasing inland to 5 days or fewer. Wind speed is sensitive to local topographic effects and land use - places sheltered by hills or in urban areas will have lower wind speeds and fewer days of gale.
Wind direction is defined as the direction from which the wind is blowing. As Atlantic depressions pass the UK the wind typically starts to blow from the south or south west, but later comes from the west or north-west as the depression moves away. The range of directions between south and north-west accounts for the majority of occasions and the strongest winds nearly always blow from these directions.
The annual wind rose for Valley on Anglesey is typical of coastal locations in Wales, with a prevailing south-westerly wind direction through the year. However, there is a high frequency of north to north-east winds in spring.
The occurrence of snow is linked closely with temperature, with falls rarely occurring if the temperature is higher than 4 °C. The numbers of days with snow falling and snow lying increase with latitude and altitude, so values reflect topography. Snow is comparatively rare near sea level in Wales, but much more frequent over the hills. The average number of days each year when sleet or snow falls varies from 10 or less in south-western coastal areas to over 40 in Snowdonia.
The average number of days with snow lying in Wales varies from 5 or less around the coasts to over 30 in Snowdonia. These averages can be compared with parts of the Scottish Highlands, which have about 60 days with snow lying on average and with the coasts of SW England, with less than 3 days per year.