Total distance 4km | Total ascent 670m | Scramble rating Grade 1 | Go there In anything but the very worst weather (although it’s better with views)
It’s often said that the birthplace of rock climbing in the UK is Wasdale Head in the Lake District, and the early hobnail-booted and hemp-roped ascents of routes like Napes Needle. The origins of scrambling are far more vague, but if it has a spiritual home in the British Isles, then that must surely be North Wales. And while it’s not possible to pinpoint a specific moment when scrambling as a whole was born, when we consider where individuals might have first made their own transition from hillwalker to hand-on-rock scrambler, it’s fair to say that one particular place can probably claim more alumni than most: the north ridge of Tryfan.
The reasons are obvious. From the Ogwen valley the ridge rises from the edge of Llyn Ogwen to the three-peaked summit of Tryfan. It looks impressively narrow, but in fact is really quite a broad shoulder; it’s possible to climb the north ridge on multiple occasions and never take exactly the same route. From toe to head, this flank of the mountain provides near continuous scrambling on great rock with spectacular scenery, plus a few bonus features to collect on the way. There’s a reason even experienced scramblers with myriad routes and significantly more challenging climbs under their belt are more than happy to return to Tryfan time and time again. The north ridge route is the very definition of a classic, and this is how it goes…
From the lay-by on the A5 (SH663602) a path starts from a kissing gate, leads alongside a wall, then turns left and begins to climb below Milestone Buttress on Tryfan’s north-west corner and up onto the heathery lower shoulder of the ridge. The going is rocky and gives an opportunity to get those scrambling limbs warmed up.
This is where the ridge reveals itself to be far broader than it appeared on the drive in. Take a look at the ridge above you and pick a route through the first rocks – there is no one right way, but if in doubt look for signs of travel. The scrambling is easier on the left-hand side and gets more exciting in the centre and to the right.
After several rocky steps linked by obvious well-worn tracks, you’ll arrive on a flattish rocky platform topped with a carpet of quartz. Over to the right is Tryfan’s second most famous landmark: the Canon Stone. Climb onto its barrel and shuffle to the end for a great photo opportunity but beware of the drop!
Looking up the ridge, the scrambling continues over to the left of the Canon Stone. It’s not unusual to spot Tryfan’s wild goats around here – you may smell them before you see them. The scrambling leads up to another platform below a prominent nose of rock.
Take a moment to plot your route up the nose then climb it carefully – the scrambling is entertaining but exposed and the rock is polished. From the top of the nose carefully downclimb into a notch on the ridge (referred to in guidebooks as ‘The Notch’).
If you don’t like the look of the nose, it’s possible to bypass it on its left side by following the eastern traverse path and then scrambling back up a steep-sided gully to The Notch.
From The Notch continue scrambling upwards, trending over to the right to climb a block-choked gully to Tryfan’s North Summit. A boulder saddle and some easy clambering lead you to Tryfan’s summit and the famous Adam and Eve pillars – jump between them if you’re feeling brave!
Leave the summit and head towards Tryfan’s South Peak, taking care on the rocky ground above the steep eastern crags. Pass the Far South Peak and descend into Bwlch Tryfan. From here, head west to return back to the road via Cwm Bochlwyd and ‘Australia Lake’ (don’t let the locals hear you call it that), or head west to return via either the Heather Terrace or Cwm Tryfan. Of course, the best option is to continue the fun with a scramble up Bristly Ridge, but that’s a story for another time…