A Popular But Demanding Grade 1 Scramble
Tryfan is a 918m high mountain located beside Lake Ogwen and forms part of the Glyderau range in Snowdonia.
A recognisable peak with dozens of approaches, Tryfan is popular with hill walkers, scramblers and climbers of all abilities.
The North Ridge is one of the UK’s finest scrambling routes, where it offers hundreds of metres of grade 1 scrambling from the A5 road all the way to the summit. It isn’t a walking route and each year, dozens of people are rescued, mostly due to navigation issues and underestimating the grade.
The North Ridge is also somewhat unique in that there isn’t one path or route but dozens to choose from, all of which merge further up the mountain. This makes for exciting revisits as you’ll find new interesting routes each time.
This is a serious route so please read my disclaimer.
Unsure about your ability to complete this route? The South Ridge is similar but easier and only half the length.
Imagery © 2023 Google, Airbus, Bluesky, Infoterra, COWI, Cnes/Airbus, Getmapping PLC, Landset, Maxar Technologies
Two Videos Worth Watching:
I created this video so those attempting the North Ridge can see what the most challenging section (North Tower) looks like and the two most popular ways to get to the top:
Here is one of my first YouTube videos (not great!) where I provide an overview of Tryfan’s North Ridge:
Parking and Approach
Very few mountains are located this close to a major road, and the starting point for the North Ridge is a metal gate on the A5 footpath near the eastern end of Lake Ogwen.
There are several (currently free) car parks and long laybys along the A5 adjacent to and beyond the lake; these provide ample space except on the busiest of days when one should arrive early or start later when others are finishing their treks.
Parking enforcement is strict in this area, and during busy periods cars are often ticketed or towed for dangerous parking, so:
- Avoid block footpaths as you’ll force walkers into the busy A5 road.
- Don’t park on the road as it’s treated as a clearway.
- Don’t park opposite a solid white line if doing so forces overtaking cars into oncoming traffic.
Ascent to the Boulder Field and Scree
The ascent of Tryfan via this route can be broken down into three sections:
- The initial approach and rise to the boulder field and loose scree.
- The mid-section encompassing the wide shoulder and the many different paths.
- The top section with the narrower ridge, the North Tower, the notch and the summit.
Starting at the metal gate opposite the east end of Lake Ogwen, follow the path adjacent to the stone wall as it rises above and away from the A5 towards a buttress.
Don’t go over the wooden steps but follow the path to the left as it rises further; boulders can be found on your left and the steep rockface to your right.
Continue upwards until a large boulder field is visible and faint, upward paths to the right become visible.
Don’t cross the large boulder field, or you’ll end up on Heather Terrace.
The image below shows the route:
This image is taken from above, looking down to the boulder field:
Above the boulder field, there are dozens of routes, some easier than others and it’s not uncommon for scramblers to backtrack and hunt around for an appropriate path.
The North Ridge is a popular scramble and there are tell-tale signs of routes everywhere from faint paths to polished rocks. If you find yourself on any terrain that looks like it’s never been walked on before, you’ll need to retrace your steps.
With so many ways to traverse this mid-section, it’s impossible to provide a written or even verbal description. This part of the mountain is fairly wide with routes up the centre and some to the left and right, as shown in the video below:
The Top Section
The top section of the North Ridge is narrower, and the many paths merge into fewer routes.
There are several notable places of interest:
The North Tower – Often confused with the North Summit, this steeper section is best tackled directly and isn’t as steep as it first appears. An obvious path to the left side (East Traverse Path) and currently (2023) marked by a cairn, can be used to bypass it. Be warned, the ETP can lead to steep and dangerous terrain so exit the ETP after about 130 steps and ascend Nor’ Nor’ Gully to The Notch to regain the ridgeline.
If you haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend watching my YouTube video of the North Tower, this is where some people get lost or realise grade 1 scrambling is too difficult for them. A write up of the North Tower can be found here.
The Notch – This is the very top of Nor’ Nor’ Gully, and anyone scrambling up the North Ridge will need to cross over this obvious dip by descending into the gully near its uppermost point and then ascending the other side. Look for the wedged slab near the top of the gully, a well-known landmark.
The North Summit – A large tower that looks difficult to climb until you take a step back and look logically at the approaches, one is an easy grade 1 and the other a more challenging grade 2. Follow the worn rocks to the right to bypass it completely.
The Summit – A plateau featuring two large stones called Adam and Eve. The views from here down the Ogwen valley are incredible.
The Notorious North Tower
Stepping into the top of Nor’ Nor’ gully at The Notch at the top of the North Tower. Note the balanced slab at the bottom of the image.
Two clips from near the top of the North Ridge that show the terrain and narrowing ridgeline.
Descent and Continuation
There are several routes that descend from Tryfan back to the A5 or Ogwen Cottage at the western end of Lake Ogwen.
The North Ridge is one of the least popular options, it’s perfect for ascent but descent can be problematic, especially in poor weather. The North Ridge is comprised of dozens of routes that merge onto the ridgeline, it’s nearly impossible to retrace your steps back down the same route you came up unless you’re experienced. Also, some of the routes back lead to steep climbing terrain and there are dozens of calls to mountain rescue each year from folks who have tried to do the North Ridge in reverse and got into trouble.
The safest route is down the south ridge to a col where a path leads rightwards down to Llyn Bochlwyd and on to Ogwen Cottage:
About Daniel Woodley
This description of Tryfan’s North Ridge route was created by Daniel Woodley, aka The Bald Scrambler, and was added to the Glyderau Scrambles section.
From walking along beaches and kayaking down rivers to making his way up mountains and even jumping out of planes, Daniel has a love of the outdoors but scrambling is his real passion.
Daniel Woodley aka The Bald Scrambler
The North Ridge is widely recognised as a grade 1 scramble that catches people out in bad weather or due to navigation errors.
The sheer number of different paths make route selection all the more important with some far easier than others.
Approach time: The route starts close to the A5 and there’s no long walk to the starting point.
Ascent time: Around 3 hours but longer if you aren’t familiar with the routes.
Popularity: This is one of the most popular scrambling routes in Snowdonia and while nowhere near as busy as Snowdon, you’ll probably see dozens of scramblers on good weather days. The route is long with lots of variation on the mid-section.
Watch out for: General navigation due to no obvious paths on upper sections. The North Tower proves challenging for some. Descent down the North Ridge is possible but can easily lead you into difficulty and is best avoided, most scramblers ascend the North Ridge and descend from the south ridge.
Fun rating: 9/10.
My dislikes: None, this is one of the best grade 1 routes in the UK.
Equipment list: See my kit list here.
Similar routes in Snowdonia:
Tryfan’s South Ridge is shorter and slightly easier.
Bristly Ridge, the ascent to Crib Goch, the top section of the Watkins Path.
Y Gribin on the Snowdon Range.
Seniors Ridge is broader and shorter and there’s a nice gully to start the route.
Main and East Gully Ridges on Glyder Fach are far more challenging and a real step up in difficulty.
Recommended Guide Book:
Scrambles in Snowdonia by Steve Ashton (#ad)