Sore feet and calloused hands - and an ascent to set your heart racing

Adam Keelan walks the Snowdon Horseshoe

If you are planning on going up Snowdon this summer, my advice is to take a pair of ear muffs. They are not to keep the cold out when you are on the summit, but to help mute the cacophony of mobile phones, mechanised transport and masses of people. It sounds like tourist hell here. Yet once you reach the highest peak in England and Wales, if you are lucky you are amply compensated with some of the most stunning scenery Britain has to offer. Beyond Snowdonia itself, on a perfect day you will be able to see the Wicklow mountains in Ireland to the west, and the Isle of Man and the Lake District to the north. If you are less fortunate, rain or mist will stop you seeing much beyond the dismal "hotel" just below the summit, which boasts neither accommodation nor charm.

The routes to the Snowdon summit range from the sedentary to the potentially suicidal. The mountain railway, reviled or loved in possibly equal measure, runs during the summer and will deliver you painlessly 3000ft above its lowest starting point at Llanberis. Needless to say, the tiny steam trains are a bit puffed out by their own efforts clambering up a precarious rack and pinion system, so before returning they pause for breath at the summit station, wheezing along with their human counterparts who make the ascent on foot.

Walking up Snowdon is far more satisfying than taking the train, and provides you with a degree of sanctimony that fully justifies a prolific amount of food and beer in the evening. There are plenty of routes to choose from. The least imaginative path runs in parallel with the railway track from Llanberis, and although it is the safest, the one danger during the summer is terminal boredom if you decide to trudge up it. The reward, exercise apart, comes in the views when you approach the summit - in getting there, though, you won't have much of a feeling of being on some of the best mountain ridges in Britain.

A far more thrilling walk is the Snowdon Horseshoe, which takes in seven summits of Snowdonia and gives you a constantly changing perspective of its classic, glaciated landscape. If you are squeamish or a complete novice this route is not to be taken on lightly - with eight hours' solid walking ahead of you, be prepared for sore feet and calloused hands. See it as a challenge, but a perfectly manageable one for anyone who is reasonably fit and doesn't suffer from vertigo.

The horseshoe takes you on an airy, anti-clockwise circuit high above the two dominant lakes, or tarns, of Glaslyn and Llydaw, and it starts officially at the Pen Y Pass car park at the south-east end of Llanberis Pass.

An early gentle ascent up the quaintly named Pig Track and then a rapid gain in height, is followed by a pitch to the right. This soon needs the first bit of scrambling with your hands to get you to the most challenging section of the walk lying above - Crib Goch. (It is at this stage you should jettison anyone who finds the going a bit tougher than they bargained for. They can still reach the Snowdon summit, without losing face, by carrying on along the main path.)

Crib Goch sets your heart racing, with a sheer drop to Cwm Uchaf on your right, and a precipitous scarp to Cwm Llydaw on your left. Not surprisingly, this part of the horseshoe is a significant bottleneck as walkers gingerly queue up to get across. There are a wide variety of techniques available for the traverse itself, varying from the confident look-at-me stride balanced on the knife edge rock, to the frozen-with-fear all-fours approach, clinging to the shallower gradient.

Distracting, nonchalant conversation, and the fact that thousands have crossed Crib Goch before, may help you overcome any mid-traverse crises. One way or another, you cannot fail to be exhilarated. On the day I was there, a bright-yellow RAF rescue helicopter flying below the distant summit of Snowdon acted as a reminder that it is still possible to get into difficulties on a mountain tamed by such large numbers of people. I hoped the circling seagulls were looking for discarded sandwiches rather than human carrion.

Once Crib Goch has been conquered, you are left with simple task of completing the horseshoe and taking in the other six summits, a breeze by comparison. If you find yourself flagging, you can opt out of the route early by descending from the Snowdon summit via the Pig Track. Or you could catch the train down. But, please, don't use a mobile phone to call for a taxi.

How to be prepared

Despite the crowds, if you're a novice, go walking with someone else. Sensible dress is essential for hill walking: a decent pair of boots (not wellingtons), clothing you can take off and put on in layers, and a rainproof kagoul are vital - the weather can change quickly and you can cool rapidly if you stop walking. Take plenty of water and a decent packed lunch - chocolate is good for a quick burst of energy at any stage. There is a cafe open during the summer on Snowdon if you're desperate.

How to find your way

Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Map 17 covers the entire Snowdon Horseshoe, which takes in the peaks of Crib Goch, Crib y Ddysgl, Snowdon, Y Lliwedd (including its east peak), Lliwedd Bach, and Gallt y Wenallt. The full route is described in the excellent Cicerone Press Guide to the Mountains of Wales (Cicerone Press, 2 Police Square, Milnthorpe, Cumbria LA7 7PY).

How to cheat

Snowdon Mountain Railway operates from 15 March to 1 November, although it runs only halfway up Snowdon after September. A summit return is pounds 13.50 for adults, pounds 9.80 for children. A standby ticket from the summit to Llanberis (they can't guarantee you a seat) is pounds 9.80.

Where to stay

The Bryn Tyrch Hotel (01690 720223), just west of Capel Curig on the A5, is a haven for walkers and climbers and does hearty evening meals, including a decent choice for vegetarians. Rooms start at pounds 21.50 single, pounds 16.50 for a double. Other hotels of a similar standard are the Cobdens Hotel 01690 720243 and the Tyn Y Coed 01690 720331.

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