A Hill Climber’s Guide to North Wales: Part II Snowdonia North Continued

Snowdonia North (continued) & Snowdonia central

Managed to give last week’s hills a crack? Well you’ll be glad to know there are eight more monsters to get your teeth (or wheels!) into. Here we travel from the epic valley climbs of Nant Gwynant and Ogwen down to the hidden, forested beasts of Penmachno and Prenteg, amongst others. These are climbs that will spark many a tale of tears, puking but most importantly of all enjoyment amongst the hardy, hill-loving riders out there!

Old Ogwen

Difficulty 6/10 Distance: 0.6 miles Average Gradient: 4% (Max. 14.6%)

The Ogwen main road climb’s ‘ugly sister’. Turn right off the A5 just past the Ogwen Bank holiday park onto a single track road which takes you along the other side of the valley. Follow the road past the final terrace of houses where the road suddenly kicks up onto a steep gradient. It’s a quick, out-of-the-saddle job before a slight drop, with one last small push over the cattle grid to Ogwen Cottage.

Nant Gwynant

Difficulty 6/10 Distance: 3.9 miles Average Gradient: 4%(Max. 15%)

Another long in-the-saddle climb, up to Pen-y-Pass from the opposite direction. From Beddgelert, head towards and through the small Nantgwynant hamlet. Pass Llyn Gwynant, and the climb begins at quite an obvious point where the road narrows. It is possible to complete the whole climb in the large ring of your crank, but if you don’t know the climb, I wouldn’t recommend it. Hitting a low gear early and relying on your lungs as opposed to strength in your legs will likely pull you through. In contrast to Pen-y-Pass, the first part of Nant Gwynant is the steepest. It is short enough to attack, and from about 800m into the climb you can relax back into your saddle and plug away and the long, long drag. As you leave the trees the gradient relents further, and due to the nature of the valley you are almost always sheltered from the wint, meaning you can gain some considerable speed. Pass a large viewing point on your left and you will soon catch sight of the Pen-Y-Gwryd hotel. Make your way up to the junction and take the left-hander up towards Pen-Y-Pass. Once again the climb gets steeper, but not until you pass a tight right-hand bend and the youth hostel is in sight do you need to consider leaving the comfort of your saddle. Hit the top and enjoy the views on the fast, winding descent.

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Drws y Coed

Difficulty 7/10 Distance: 0.9 miles Average Gradient: 7% (Max. 20.6%)

The short, sharp, shock at the head of the Nantlle Valley. From Penygroes head on the main road into the valley (signposted Talysarn, Nantlle, Rhyd Ddu). The climb starts just after a slight clip in the road heading out of Nantlle. Pass through the tiny hamlet of Drws-y-Coed and veer right, where about 90% of the climb is visible in front of you. If you’re going for a good time, there’s no two ways about it – go hard. Smash the first short ramp before the gradient lets up slightly, before you meet the second kick and from then on it only gets steeper. The climb remains fairly constant until you pass an old abandoned farm building on your right, and the following final 100 metres are a real test for the legs. Pass over the top and down towards Rhyd Ddu.

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Distance: 2.1 miles Average Gradient: 9% (Max. 19%) Difficulty 8/10

This is one of Snowdonia’s hidden beasts. It climbs up from Penmachno village onto one of the most bleak, remote pieces of moorland in the national park. From the A5, turn off at the Conwy Falls and head for Penmachno. Follow the main road through the middle of the village, heading for the remote valley. Drop down to a small group of houses, and follow the sign for Ffestiniog. Immediately after this you’re climbing, but it is in the group of trees in front of you that the pain really begins to set in. With no end in sight, it feels as though the ever-steepening gradient is going to last forever. As the forest clears there is a brief respite as you cross a cattle grid, but as you bear round to you right the enormity of what’s left is laid bare. This section, up to a house on your right, is probably the steepest of the whole climb, the only comforting thought being that the vegetation is getting less and less dense, meaning you must be nearing the top. Head past the house and the climb soon lets up, allowing you to gather a small amount of momentum for the final push to the T junction.


Difficulty 7/10 Distance: 6.7 miles Average Gradient: 2% (Max. 11%)

The Mignant is one of the longest constant gradients in Snowdonia, and with a headwind it is nothing short of hellish, not to mention the fact that the moors can appear barren and bleak. Turn off the A5 and head through the small village of Ysbyty Ifan, where the climb starts on relatively smooth tarmac. The road creeps relentlessly up the side of the valley parallel to the River Conwy. As the road bends gently round the the right you approach open moorland, where it is not so much the gradient but the wind that is likely to be the killer in this climb. Cross cattle grids and a small row of terraced houses, and a small right-hand turn (don’t take it) marks the approximate point where the road levels out.

Crimea Pass

Difficulty 7/10 Distance: 1.4 miles Average Gradient: 7% (Max. 22.9%)

The main road out of Blaenau Ffestiniog: the chances are if you’re heading to Northern Snowdonia you’ll be taking in this beast. At the roundabout on the outskirts of Blaenau (by the rugby pitch) take the exit signposted A470/Betws y Coed. From here the road drops down somewhat before a clip in the road takes you out of town, and out on to one of the most relentlessly steep pieces of tarmac on any main road in North Wales. Drag your bike past the mountain biking centre, just past which there is a welcomed drop in gradient to around 6% as you pass a reservoir, but it will feel no easier as the damage has already been done. Bend round to the right where the road kicks up once more, with great views of Snowdon to your left, and enjoy the adrenaline-pumping 7-mile descent down to Betws y Coed.

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Difficulty 8/10 Distance: 1.7 miles Average Gradient: 10% (Max. 16.5%)

This fantastic climb has the look of a mini Alpe d’Huez; 7 fantastic little switchbacks before the realization you’re not actually at the top, with Stwlan Dam towering above you; this is definitely one of the most rewarding climbs around. Climb up through Tanygrisiau (just off the main road heading towards Blaenau Ffestiniog) until you hit the gate of the access road. The climb begins with a long straight section with a constant gradient of about 10%. It can often be extremely exposed so if you happen to be riding into a headwind it’s bound to be extremely unpleasant, with the added drawback of being able to see everything in front of you. Following a noticeable kick in the climb you’ll meet the first hairpin bend. This is a just a taster of what’s to come. 100m up the road you’ll hit the hardest section of the climb, and one of the hardest sections of climbing in North Wales; 7 wicked switchbacks. If you don’t take the outside line on these you’re going to burn out pretty quick. Once you pass what appears to be the final hairpin bend Stwlan Dam will come into view, followed by a final, gruelling piece of tarmac; if your heart hasn’t already jumped out of your chest, attack this final stretch and head for a breather on the dam.

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‘The Wall’ to Rhyd

Difficulty 7/10 Distance: 1.2 miles Average Gradient: 7% (Max. 19.3%)

This climb is off the beaten track and so sees relatively little traffic, so it’s a great one for local club runs. From Beddgelert direction, turn left by the Carreg Llanfrothen ‘Siop y Pentre’. The road carries you out of the village on a fairly gentle gradient, winding through the forested hills of central Snowdonia, before a left-hand bend where the climb kicks up onto what appears to be an unrelenting ramp. Round a corner where the vegetation clears slightly where you’re given a temporary respite, before the road kicks up one final time. Round the bends, where you’re onto an exposed hillside with stunning views down to Porthmadog, and past the Rhyd village sign.


Difficulty 9/10 Distance: 1.1 miles Average Gradient: 10% (Max. 29.8%)

A real hidden lung-buster. You have to go slightly out of your way to find it, but it’s one of the toughest beasts around. On the main road between Tremadog and Beddgelert, turn off into the small village of Prenteg. Follow the narrow road through the village, where things immediately begin to get very steep. A left-hand and a right-hand bend shortly after will have you desperately trying to find the perfect line in the road, avoiding bumps, cracks and potholes. The road is relentlessly steep until you head out of the trees, but, hit another right-hand bend and the climb kicks up once more, with the bends evermore tight. Hit a slight downhill where the road becomes quite gravelly, before one last corner reveals a final sting in the tail, only 400m of climbing but given how your legs will be feeling it will seem like an eternity! The road drops down before hitting a cattle grid.

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