This huge, brooding cliff is one of the most important Welsh winter venues, particularly for those operating at grade IV and above. The scale of it is hard to take in at first, but soon becomes apparent once engaged with one of its many routes, as pitches stretch onwards and upwards and the light begins to fade. There are ice pitches here, but much of the ‘Ladders’ reputation rests upon the turfy mixed climbing. Rock protection is usually good when you get it, but invariably it is quite spread out. Warthogs and bulldog ice hooks are essential, as are a good selection of pegs, particularly knifeblades. Sections of the cliff are home to rare plants – for full details check out the North Wales White Guide.
In a good season conditions are normally quite reliable, but in more fickle weather the relatively low altitude of the cliff base can cause problems. The upper sections of the routes might well be in perfect nick, but down below the turf can be mushy. Early dumps of snow can also cause problems by insulating the turf before it has had a chance to freeze up properly. Optimum conditions come after a hard freeze, followed by a prolonged freeze thaw cycle. This gives frozen turf, neve and abundant ice features – a winter climbing heaven!
The crag is normally approached from Gerlan. There is a serious lack of parking here so please park further down the hill in Bethesda and walk up.
Other key winter venues in the same area are Cwm Glas Bach and over on the Ogwen side of the Carneddau, Cwm Lloer.
Cwm Glas Bach
Craig Dafydd sits just below the summit of Carnedd Dafydd at the very top of Cwm Glas Bach. As one of the highest crags in Snowdonia it rivals Clogwyn Du and Clogwyn y Garnedd for reliable winter climbing conditions, although it is normally a good deal quieter than either of those. The crag offers a few traditional snow gully lines, some minor ice pitches, but arguably the main attraction is the mixed climbing. The crag has numerous turfy challenges in the grade IV to VII range – some of these, such as Samuel 17:36 VI 6, are amongst the best winter routes in North Wales.
Elsewhere in the Cwm there are a number of interesting winter crags. At a lower level, Craig y Cwmglas Bach has more mixed routes and a very fine grade II/III gully. Llech Ddu, which occasionally comes into condition, is home to some very challenging mixed routes up to grade VIII. And finally there is the mystical sounding, Lost Cwm where you will find some interesting ice features.
The high altitude and northerly aspect of Craig Dafydd ensures the regular occurrence of good winter climbing conditions. The other crags in Cwm Glas Bach are less reliable; Llech Ddu, in particular, is hard to catch in good nick.
As for the Black Ladders but head up right in front of Llech Ddu.
A neat little crag, tucked away in a secluded and picturesque cwm. There is something here to suit most tastes and abilities, but the classic snow stomp of Broad Gully draws the crowds. In recent years a series of excellent mixed routes have been established. Expect some bold turfy sections intermingled with more technical rocky ground well supplied with good runners. There are a few isolated ice pitches too, such as the excellent Moonlighting IV/V 5 and the beautiful but rarely formed Moonflower V 6. Descent from the crag top is fairly straightforward but it is also possible to head up the slope to the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen.
This is quite a reliable winter venue; the mountain topography sheltering the crag from south-westerlies and maintaining good, fridge-like temperatures when other areas at this altitude might be thawing. That said, the mixed routes rely heavily on turf so make sure it’s well frozen before starting out. There is some early morning sun otherwise the crag is in the shade.
From the eastern end of Llyn Ogwen walk past Glen Dena and follow the path right of the farm, over the A frame stile and up the hill side. The path follows the approximate line of Afon Lloer up into Cwm Lloer. Once in the cwm, keep left of the lake and stay quite high up.