Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa, 1085m) is higher than Scafell Pike (978m) making it the highest mountain in England and Wales.
There are inherent and variable dangers on Snowdon, which can result in various incidents, from minor injuries to fatalities. The main risks are associated with the weather, getting lost, ground conditions and falling. These risks significantly increase at a few accident blackspots.
Snowdon poses many dangers as it is the highest mountain outside of Scotland. It's a popular tourist destination but those choosing to climb it should always remember that it is a mountain and is therefore more dangerous than your average holiday hotspot.
The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) states that: "The BMC recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions."
How safe is climbing Snowdon?
Statistically, mountain walking in the UK is fairly safe. Over half a million people climb Snowdon every year and most of these do it without incident.
However, there are over 200 call outs for Mountain Rescue on Snowdon every year and this alarming statistic was surpassed before the end of August in 2023. The number of incidents is increasing every year.
If you make the right decisions and have the right skills, then it is reasonably safe to climb Snowdon.
Making the climb safer
The biggest single action you can take to manage all of these risks and to make your Snowdon adventure as safe, stress free and enjoyable as possible, is to book onto one of our Guided Walks.
What makes Snowdon dangerous?
The main dangers in the British mountains can be categorised into four hazards:
We will look at each of these dangers and offer advice about what can be done to manage them.
Dangerous Weather on Snowdon
With temperatures as low as -20°C and wind speeds of up to 150mph, the weather on Snowdon is often extreme. It doesn't have to be this cold to cause hypothermia though.
The weather with the most immediate threat to life is thunder and lightning. Two people ended up in intensive care in 2021 after being struck by forecasted lightening on Snowdon.
Hyperthermia (being too hot) is also a cause of many call outs for the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team - especially during the summer months.
What can I do to prepare for different weather conditions?
Most of these weather dangers can be mitigated if you check the weather forecast in advance, choose an appropriate route and take proper equipment.
This includes waterproofs to keep you dry, extra layers to keep you warm and enough food and drink to keep you energised and hydrated.
It is a good idea as a group to carry a first aid kit and a dry, fully charged emergency mobile phone, as well as a storm shelter.
It is best to be adventure smart and not always have the peak as your main goal.
For more information about the best time to walk up Snowdon take a look at our blog article When should you not climb Snowdon?
Getting lost on Snowdon
The most common cause of Mountain Rescue incidents on Snowdon is people getting lost.
It is common for Snowdon to be covered in cloud/hill fog, reducing visibility to 10-20m. This makes navigation very difficult especially on the less popular footpaths.
Whilst poor weather conditions such as hill fog make getting lost more common, especially for inexperienced walkers, this is still a danger on a clear sunny day.
To prevent this take a map and compass if you know how to use them. Alternatively, if you don't have good map skills, you should consider booking onto one of our inexpensive Group Walks or Map Reading Courses.
The East ridge of Snowdon, from the Bwlch y Saethau, is a serious ridge which is an accident blackspot.
Another accident blackspot is the Trinity Face, which is easy to end up on after following a misleading ridge.
There is a large area just below the summit where people all too often get into trouble. This is less of an accident blackspot and more of an accident black-zone.
For those trying to descend the Watkin Path, the obvious line off the summit - especially on a clear day, is to walk towards where you can see the footpath below and people heading towards you. The inviting looking slope soon steepens onto craggy buttresses, which the actual footpath avoids. From the summit you should counterintuitively head back past the summit café and down the Rhyd Ddu path for 150m.
What should I do if I get lost?
Always stop before you get too lost and retrace your steps. You might need to know how to do a back bearing to do this. This is something you will learn on one of our map reading courses.
Sticking to the more popular and safer footpaths, such as the Llanberis Path, will reduce the likelihood that you will get lost.
Snowdon ground conditions
Ground conditions are one of the main causes of injuries and fatalities on Snowdon. Wet rock and scree result in many accidents.
The National Park averages 8 deaths a year and most of these occur at a few accident black spots on Snowdon in winter.
Relatively safe footpaths in summer conditions transform into potential deathtraps for the unprepared and inexperienced walkers.
The Zigzags on the PYG & Miners Track become an icy 'terrain trap', ready to smash you like a pinball on the rocks as you bounce your way back down to Llyn Glas. Avalanches and cornices add to the danger.
The area above Clogwyn Coch on the railway has also been home to numerous fatalities over the years, including 4 people in just a few days in 2009 earning it the name 'The Killer Convex'.
The snow turns to névé (basically sheet ice) on a convex slope above vertical cliffs. Once you start slipping, only an ice axe arrest might save you from the icy slope of doom!
How can I prepare for Snowdon ground conditions?
Take ice axes and crampons and be avalanche aware for winter conditions. If these are something you don't possess then turning around could save your life.
Falling over on Snowdon
Wet rock becomes slippery and results in many lower leg injuries, which account for around 20% of incidents for Mountain Rescuers.
Falling off Snowdon
There doesn't have to be snow and ice present for it to be potentially deadly.
Crib Goch is an accident blackspot at the best of times. The risk of falling off is heightened when the knife-edge ridge becomes wet and slippery. Add a strong crosswind into this mixture and the danger level ramps up.
What can I do to prevent falls?
To manage the danger posed by the ground conditions and falling off, you should wear appropriate footwear such as grippy walking boots in the summer and crampons with an ice axe in winter conditions.
In addition, checking the weather conditions before your mountain walk and choosing an appropriate route based on the mountain conditions and weather, will keep you safer.
What rescue services are available at the National Park?
Traditional emergency services operate in the National Park but are unable to access the mountains such as Snowdon.
To get help on Snowdon, call 999 and ask for the Police followed by Llanberis Mountain Rescue team.
Snowdon is usually fairly safe, but can be dangerous in certain conditions especially at the accident blackspots. Don't get caught out - make sure you are fully prepared!
Check the weather forecast before you go, and remember to take the right equipment such as a map and compass in order to stay safe!