Britain’s greatest winter ridges: The Llech Ddu Spur, Snowdonia

Tucked away around the side of the Carneddau, the Llech Ddu Spur is a classic and spectacularly situated summer scramble. And in winter, it’s even better...

Approaching the Christmas Tree slab. It looks particularly festive under a dusting of snow!

by Ben Weeks |

Distance 11km | Ascent 900m | Winter rating Grade 1 | Go there when the wind and avalanche risk are low

See our Winter Survival Guide and Useful Winter Resources lists after the route description.

North Wales is not an area that’s short on ridges or scrambles; there must be hundreds. But it tends to be the same few that get the most focus, with the Snowdon Massif and the Glyderau attracting most of the attention. With its rounded backs and sprawling form, the Carneddau isn’t an obvious candidate for a quality ridge, but as anyone who’s climbed it will tell you, the Llech Ddu Spur on the back of Carnedd Dafydd is just that. It’s too well known and admired to regard it as much of a secret these days, but it still sees only a fraction of the boots of other more conveniently sited scrambles. You see, the remoteness of the Llech Ddu Spur requires something of a walk in, but it’s this remoteness that also gives it what is arguably amongst the most wild and scenic backdrops of any Snowdonian scramble.

When winter arrives and makes even our relatively modest mountains look like contenders for the Himalaya, the Llech Ddu Spur is one of those routes that gets elevated to the status of ‘epic’. It’s a Grade 1 winter climb, making it suitable for those just finding their winter mountaineering feet, but it’s not without difficulties so, like all winter routes, shouldn’t be taken lightly. Naturally – and it should go without saying – if you don’t have an ice axe, crampons, and the skills to use them well, this isn’t for you. But if you have the gear and a good idea of what to do with it, here’s the lowdown on one of Snowdonia’s most rewarding winter routes…

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Midway up the Spur heading towards Carnedd Dafydd.
Midway up the Spur heading towards Carnedd Dafydd.
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1.

From the east of Bethesda, head past Gerlan and Gwernydd, over two bridges, and strike south on a path past the waterworks, veering south east as the path passes ruins and follows the Afon Llafar into Cwm Pen-Llafar. As the head of the valley swings into sight, the Llech Ddu ridge can be spotted sloping up to the right.

WINTER ADVICE: If the snow is down to valley level and deep, it can make the walk in slower than usual. Be sure to allow plenty of time.

2.

Looking into Cwmglas Bach the spur is up to the left above the steep crags. Head into the cwm, keeping to the left as the ground rises. This is usually an awkward zig-zagging scree ascent, but under a solid snow covering the going may be easier!

WINTER ADVICE: The slopes of Cwmglas Bach are near perfect avalanche angle, so pay attention to what the snowpack is doing and back off if unsure.

3.

At around the 700m contour a wide ramp cuts back to the left above the crags and below the ridge. Follow this to the nose of the spur. A large quartz block marks the start of the ridge, but this may be hidden under snow.

WINTER ADVICE: The traverse out along the ramp can be tricky in snow and is above a big drop. Be sure to have your axe in hand – good crampon skills are also essential on this part.

4.

After a gentle warm-up on a relatively gentle gradient and some broken scrambly blocks (take this opportunity to admire the magnificence of the Ysgolion Duon cliff face above Cwmglas Mawr to your left), the ridge narrows and the route climbs through broken rock – some of the larger blocks wobble. Climbing over the fingers of rock and sticking to the ridge crest is the most fun – if conditions allow.

**WINTER ADVICE:**Look for crampon scratches on the exposed rocks – this is a sign that you’re going the right way.

5.

A downward slanting slab – Christmas tree shaped when seen from further ahead – is just steep enough to be troublesome. It can be bypassed to the left. Beyond some angular blocks, a steep step is climbed up tumbled blocks to easier ground. A subsequent step can be bypassed or climbed via a straightforward groove.

WINTER ADVICE: The route is a rocky scramble that doesn’t rely on ice or frozen turf. Any amount of snow will transform it to a winter mountaineering adventure.

6.

The larger rocks disappear and give way to a small boulder field as the ridge merges into the scree of Carnedd Dafydd’s upper slopes. The now broad flank continues to climb, the gradient easing as the summit is neared. The top is marked by a large cairn, but this could be buried under snow.

WINTER ADVICE: The summit of Carnedd Dafydd is broad and can be featureless in snow. Good navigation skills are essential in case of whiteout conditions.

7.

If you still have plenty of energy you can continue the day by horseshoeing Cwm Pen-Llafar via Carnedd Llwelyn and Yr Elen. If, however, you’re looking forward to hot chocolate and warm feet, follow Carnedd Dafydd’s north-west spur over Foel Merich and Mynydd Du to re-join the path back to the car.

WINTER ADVICE: The tops of the north and east facing crags are prime cornice territory. Whichever onward route you take, stay well back from the edges.

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Getting stuck in to the blocky ridge.
Getting stuck in to the blocky ridge.
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Winter ridge survival kit

Always check the weather and avalanche forecasts and amend your plans accordingly.

Be aware of the shorter daylight hours and carry at least one torch.

Ensure you let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll return.

Never be afraid to turn back if conditions aren’t right.

Only attempt a winter route if you have an ice axe, crampons, and the skills to use them.

Consider hiring a winter mountain leader if you’re unsure of your own capabilities.

Useful winter resources

The British Mountaineering Council: thebmc.co.uk/winter-climbing-and-walking-skills

Mountaineering Scotland: mountaineering.scot/safety-and-skills/thinkwinter

Mountain Weather Information Service: mwis.org.uk

Scottish Avalanche Information Service: sais.gov.uk

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