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Top 10 facts about Yr Wyddfa/ Snowdon

Snowdon is located in North Wales. The Snowdonia National Park is named after it's highest and most iconic peak.

Snowdon is the most popular mountain in the UK and is climbed by around half a million people every year. The most notable facts about Snowdon are:

  1. Highest mountain in Wales (1085m)

  2. Has two names

  3. First climbed in 1639

  4. Millions of years old

  5. Helped with the conquest of Everest

  6. Six main footpaths

mountains and lake
Snowdon & Glaslyn

Carry on reading to learn more about Yr Wyddfa...

1. How high is Snowdon?

At 1085m/ 3,560ft Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales.

It is taller than all of the mountains in the Lake District and England making it the tallest mountain in Great Britain (and UK) outside of Scotland.

Snowdon is the 57th highest mountain in the UK as there are 56 Munro's in Scotland which are higher.

The 3 Peaks Challenge doesn't tackle the 3 highest mountains in Great Britain, it is actually the highest mountain in each of the 3 countries which make up Great Britain: England; Scotland and Wales.

Snowdon's height makes it usually around 10°C colder at the summit than sea level.

On a clear day from Snowdon's summit you can see England, Ireland, Isle of Man and of course Wales.

10 Snowdon Facts Infographic

2. Why does Snowdon have two names?

Snowdon, like Everest has two names. In Welsh it is referred to as 'Yr Wyddfa' and in English 'Snowdon'.

How do you pronounce Yr Wyddfa?

Snowdon's Welsh name 'Yr Wyddfa' (pronounced "uhr-with-va") means 'the tumulus' i.e. burial mound.

The original full name was 'Gwyddfa Rhudda'. According to legend the giant Rhudda Gawr was was slain by Arthur and is buried under a cairn on the summit of the mountain hence the name 'Gwyddfa Rhudda'.

Over the intervening centuries the name 'Rhudda' was forgotten and simplified to 'Yr Wyddfa'.

What does Snowdon mean?

The first written evidence of the English word 'Snowdon' comes from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle which makes reference to the Old English/Saxon words 'Snow Dun' meaning 'Snow Hill'.

Due to it's height Snowdon is usually the first, last, and sometimes only mountain with a dusting of snow.

What is the Welsh name for Snowdonia?

'Eryri' is the Welsh name for Snowdonia.

The meaning of this name has been lost to time but theories are; 'eagle (eryr)', 'snow (eira)' or more probably 'ridge, rise or highland' from the Latin word 'oriri' meaning 'to rise' and the plural 'eryri'

Evidence of this ancient word probably dates back to the 5th century where Gwrtheyrn (Vortigern) was advised to build a stronghold on 'Hereri'.

What does Snowdonia mean?

The English name 'Snowdonia' refers to the National Park which was established in 1951 and is named after Snowdon the mountain. The name 'Snowdonia' is much older than that with the first reference of the word coming from the Welsh king Llywelyn the Great in 1230.

To promote the cultural heritage of the area The Snowdonia National Park Authority opted to just use the Welsh name 'YrWyddfa' for the mountain and 'Eryri' for the National Park.

Is there another name for Snowdon?

Snowdon is also colloquially referred to as 'Mount Snowdon'.

'Mount' denotes a distinct or isolated massif (compact group of mountains) with large elevations or prominences.

3. When was the first ascent of Snowdon?

The first recorded ascent of Snowdon was in 1639 by botanist Thomas Johnson who discovered many new plants whilst researching his book Mercurii Bot. pars altera.

This is also the first recorded use of mountain guides who, back then, were folk who had a working knowledge of the mountain such as farmers and shepherds.

Since then millions of people have climbed Wales' highest mountain. Around half a million people now make the pilgrimage to the summit every year.

The fastest ascent (and descent) of Snowdon stands at 1:02:29 and was set by elite fell runner Kenny Stuart in 1985 on the Llanberis Path. Unlike most records, this is unlikely to be beaten in the foreseeable future as the footpath is suffering from erosion.

Hiker ascending the Llanberis Path

4. How old is Snowdon?

The Snowdon we see today was produced by a series of mountain building phases which laid down the rock from which Snowdon is built during the Ordovician Period between 485 - 443 million years ago.

Wind the clock back a little further to 495 million years ago and the earth looked very different. Snowdon and all of Wales was submerged under a shallow sea called the Welsh Basin which was part of the larger Iapetus Ocean.

To the north of the Welsh Basin was a landmass known as Laurentia which included Scotland.

To the south was another landmass called Avalonia which included southern England.

As Laurentia advanced the Iapetus Ocean closed as the plate it was on subducted down below the earth's crust. As the plate was forced down it melted due to heat and pressure producing molten rock.

This molten rock is the volcanic material which was erupted in significant amounts from the Welsh Basin producing much of the volcanic rocks from which Snowdon is formed.

Interestingly, as younger rock is deposited on top of older rock in layers you are crossing from older to younger rocks as you climb Snowdon.

Below these visible rocks lay older Cambrian sandstones, shales and slates and further below these are Precambrian rocks dating back to the formation of the Earth.

As the Iapetus Ocean closed, the two landmasses of Avalonia and Laurentia collided, thrusting the land, and Welsh Basin, up into a huge chain of mountains known as the Caledonian Mountains. These mountains are believed to have reached around 7000m tall.

Since their peak they have slowly been eroding over the last 400+ million years.

Incredibly, water is responsible for wearing down 6000m of rock resulting in the ruins of the once mighty mountains we are left with today.

This process of erosion will continue to devour the rocks that make up Snowdon until it will disappear completely, swallowed up by the relentless passage of time. It is a sobering thought that nothing lasts forever, not even mountains.

The landscape we are left with today has changed very little since the last ice age which ended around 12,000 years ago including Snowdon's pyramidal peak. This angular, sharply pointed peak is the result of erosion from multiple glaciers diverging from the central point of the modern day summit.

The Pyramid Peak of Snowdon and one of it's glacial valleys

5. How Snowdon helped with the conquest of Everest

Everest was first climbed on 29 May 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.

The winter before this momentous ascent Hillary, Tenzing and the British Everest Expedition team trained on the slopes of Snowdon.

The team used Snowdon's Pen-y-Gwryd hotel as their base camp from which they honed their mountaineering skills to the level required to conquer the highest of all peaks.

Memorabilia from this historic ascent still adorns the walls of the Pen-y-Gwryd hotel, which has become an important part of mountaineering history.

Mt. Everest, Nepal

6. How many routes to the top?

There are 6 main footpaths to the summit of Snowdon and additional scrambles such as Crib Goch (one of the finest ridge walks in the UK) and the Snowdon Horseshoe Walk.

The main footpaths up Snowdon listed from easiest to hardest are...

  • Llanberis Path

  • Snowdon Ranger Path

  • PYG/ Miners Track

  • Rhyd-Ddu path

  • Watkin Path

  • South Ridge

There is also the option of the Snowdon Mountain Railway to the top.

Rock Climbs on Snowdon

The hardest routes up Snowdon are it's rock climbs. The cliffs of the Llanberis Pass are a popular destination for climbers to hang out.

It is on the East Buttress of Clogwyn Du'r Arddu where you will find the most challenging route up Snowdon... 'The Indian Face'.

"It has been said that [a route] of such appalling difficulty has to be almost beyond the realms of human comprehension." (Extract from the 1989 Cloggy Guide by Paul Williams)

Since it was first climbed in 1986 by Jonny Dawes the route has only been repeated seven times due to it's danger and the level of commitment required.

small lake, cliffs in cloud
The cliffs of Clogwyn Du'r Arddu

7. Humans on Snowdon

The human impact on Snowdon is clear to see. Evidence of sheep farming and mining are visible even to the untrained eye and evidence of these industries date back to the Iron Age.

When was the first human impact?

After the last ice age the glaciers retreated and for 4000 years much of Snowdon, like the rest of Britain, would have been covered in mixed oak forest.

Vast swathes of this ancient forest were felled by ancient Neolithic Farmers who used the trees for building materials, firewood and to clear land for their farms with their livestock eating the regrowth.

By 500BC, half of Britain ceased to be wildwood but the remote and wild nature of the area meant that most of Snowdon would have been covered in trees to about 700m. Fast forward to the present day and only patches of this ancient forest remain in nearby valleys, including extremely rare temperate rainforest.

Mining on Snowdon

Copper was the most important and most exploited mineral on the Snowdon massif. The Miners Track was created to access the Britannia Copper Mine at Glaslyn lake. Evidence of the mine workings and crushing plant are evident even today.

Slate is the other major product which was extracted from Snowdon. It was an extremely lucrative product and on most days you can still see the huge workings of Dinorwic Quarry on the other side of the valley from the start of the Llanberis Path.

The Watkin Path also passes through the South Snowdon Slate Quarry.

Who owns Snowdon?

Snowdon is privately owned by the Baron Hill Estate, the Welsh Assembly Government, and the Hafod y Llan Estate (owned by the National Trust). As the mountain is within the National Park the public has access to the land.

slate quarry, valley, mountains, clouds
Dinorwic Quarry, Llanberis with Snowdon in the clouds

8. Snowdon Legends

Legend has it that King Arthur fought his last battle on the slopes of Snowdon.

Arthur and his loyal followers were defending their land from a band of invaders with bad intentions.

Arthur gathered his finest purveyors of violence, men skilled in the art of war and tracked the invaders down.

The two bands of warriors met on Snowdon. A fierce battle ensued to regain the ancient fort in Cwm Tregallen near the modern day Watkin Path.

Many died but Arthur emerged victorious. Beaten but not defeated, the enemy fled up towards the summit of Snowdon with Arthur in hot pursuit.

Arthur's men were faster and were catching up with the invaders who were firing arrows to harry their pursuers.

At the pass between Snowdon and Y Lliwedd one of the arrows tragically struck Arthur who was fatally wounded at Bwlch y Saethau (Pass of the Arrows) .

Some believe Arthurs knights laid him down behind a rock where he died after which they covered his body with a cairn of stones.

Others believe Arthur's men carried his body down to the Glaslyn lake.

Waiting for him was a boat and three beautiful maidens dressed in white. After casting Excalibur, Arthur's sword, into the silvery surface the maidens took Arthur's body and sailed off into the mist, on his final journey to Avalon.

Arthurs men climbed a ridge up Y Lliwedd to a cave where they sealed themselves in.

According to legend and prophecy they are lying there still waiting for the prophecy of Arthur to return when Wales is in danger.

Steep rocky mountains
Y Lliwedd, Pass of Arrows & Snowdon

9. Snowdon flora and fauna

Snowdon & Snowdonia is rich and unique in biodiversity.

Snowdon plants

Spring is the best time for wild arctic alpine flowers which are perfectly adapted to the extreme conditions.

The slopes are awash with the pastel pinks and purples of milkwort, dog violet, and bogbean as well as the whites and yellows of bedstraw, tormentil, and saxifrage to name but a few.

Perhaps the most famous and rarest of all alpine flowers in Snowdonia is the Snowdon Lily which is an icon of the National Park and flowers in inaccessible craggy locations in May or June.

There are many edible plants in the mountains but perhaps the most delicious and most prized by the adventurous forager is bilberry. This sweet little berry ripens towards the end of summer and tastes delicious on its own and is a great mountain snack or in bilberry pie.

Snowdon animals

Sheep are the most obvious animal dotted on Snowdon's slopes with lambs appearing in the spring. All of the sheep are owned by local farmers who return their ewes to the same patch of hillside year after year.

You may be lucky enough to spot a bird of prey, such a buzzard.

If you are in the right place at the right time you might even see a mountain goat. These goats are renowned for their climbing ability and are able to access the most precarious cliffs to gain the tastiest prizes. They were introduced to Snowdon by Cistercian monks during the mediaeval times.

If you would like to learn more about Snowdon's biodiversity then we would definitely recommend booking onto one of our Snowdon guided walks as we pride ourselves on delivering interesting and informative walks.

Don't take our word for it though, check out what our customers have to say in their reviews!

two mountain goats, rocks with Snowdon in background
Goats with Snowdon behind

10. Altitude sickness on Snowdon

Altitude sickness can develop above 2500m where there is about a quarter of the oxygen at sea level. At 1085m Snowdon is well below the height where altitude sickness symptoms can occur as there is more than enough oxygen for the body to function normally.

There are around 200 Mountain Rescue incidents and 4 deaths on Snowdon every year.

For information about the actual risks on Snowdon check out our blog about the dangers to consider when climbing Snowdon.


Snowdon is a fascinating mountain and we are only really scratching the surface here. To learn more consider booking on one of our Guided Walks as we would love to share our knowledge of Snowdon and the local area with you.

Other useful resources you might be interested in include...


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