Words and photos: Andy Lloyd
Despite living in Wales for over ten years up until recently, I have never had the chance to climb Snowdon on my bike. All that changed a couple of weekends ago when I was invited by Hit the Hills to do just that.
I called up old mate Rhys Holtham to see if he was keen on this mini-adventure, who responded with his now age old retort of ‘I’ve got stuff to sort on the house.’ Luckily for him he followed it up by calling back and saying the house could wait, as it was an experience he didn’t want to miss.
Setting off from Bristol at 7am on a Saturday morning to pick Rhys up in South Wales en-route I’d forgotten that despite already being in Wales it was a four-hour drive to the northwest of Wales and the peaks of Snowdonia.
Arrival and the epic climb
On arriving at our destination of Ben’s Bunkhouse, just south of Llanberis, we were greeted by Hit The Hills boss Christian (read his interview here), who told us our three course dinner would be ready at around 8pm so if we liked we would have time to go up and come back down Snowdon.
Given that the weather was meant to be frankly sh*t on the Sunday, we jumped at this and, accompanied by Christian, we set off from the bunkhouse in a rare moment of glorious spring sunshine. A quick 1km warm up on the road to the foot of the mountain and we were straight into the climb, which starts off with a very steep energy sapping tarmac climb. Enough to just about finish me off before we had even started.
We were riding up the Llanberis path, which is used by most of the punters walking to and from the summit. Setting off late in the afternoon was a good call for the descent from the top but for getting up there it was a bit of a pain as with that many walkers you have to do a fair bit of politely waiting for large groups of people to wander slowly by before you attempt the many technical sections. About 75% of the climb is ride-able and pretty challenging in places, with the rest being a push or hike-a-biking.
Shorts and t-shirt? Whatever next?
Once up into the snow line the temperature dropped significantly and many of the walkers looked pretty bemused at our shorts and t-shirt get-up. On reaching the summit we were greeted with stunning views as far as the eye could see, but accompanied with a bitingly cold wind. We hung about at the top for a while then set about getting off the mountain using the Ranger’s path, which it turns out is a pretty technical descent in places. Our host Christian lasted about three turns from the summit before his chain ripped through a few spokes and potato-chipped his rear wheel, so he unfortunately had to pootle back down the main path as it was pretty far from fixable.
All that climbing/pushing/hike-a-biking was well worth the effort as the Ranger’s path down is sublime – a mixture of the best the Alps and Scotland have to offer in terms of technical rocky riding; if you can get down the entire descent without dabbing a foot then you’re a pretty gifted individual. We stopped en-route to capture some pretty pictures of Rhys sessioning certain sections, so I’m not entirely sure how long a non-stop run would take. As we started off late we had the trail to ourselves until we came across another group of riders who were dealing with their second or third puncture each – take note, run your pressures high and use some heavier duty rubber for this trail!
We rolled into Llanberis at about 7pm and trundled the short ride back to the bunkhouse ready for the cake (many slices of) followed by the grub Christian had prepared us. He runs Hit the Hills on a kind of ski chalet system – afternoon tea and cake, then a three-course dinner. The food was fantastic, and there was no need for all the Spar snack grot we had brought with us as there was a serious amount of food on offer and at a very high standard.
The next day we were greeted (after a very large fried breakfast) with dark skies and rain so we decided to wuss out of clambering up any more mountains and headed to Machynlleth on the way back south for a spin around the Cli-Machx trail.
The beauty of staying with Christian is that for not much cash you can base yourselves with him, and not have to worry about food and all the boring bits in-between riding and just get out there and ride. His base near Snowdon is ideally placed for Snowdon (obviously, duh), but there is also a massive amount of other natural riding as well as the numerous North Wales trail centres, which are in close proximity.
Please be aware that there is an mutual agreement between mountain bikers and other mountain users not to ride Snowdon between certain dates and times, so check that out online before planning this one. Having said that you can always ride it early in the morning (and I mean early) or in the evening.
Hit The Hills offers this trip and many similar options in various UK locations, with natural and trail centre riding on tap and a wild abundance of cake and coffee thanks to the quality catering service laid on by Christian.
A big thanks to Christian for the support, food and for pointing us in the direction of one of Britain’s ‘must do’ rides.