Rocky road up the north face of Tryfan

December 2, 2019 0 By NatalieM
Rocky road up the north face of Tryfan

Viewed from the east, Tryfan looks like a silvery-grey porcupine. This very rocky mountain in north Wales is renowned for its scrambling opportunities.

It’s a mountain I’d wanted to climb for a couple of years. I did a course on the lower slopes of Tryfan on a lovely sunny day last February, and I was itching to climb it!

The opportunity came last June, when the scrambling Meetup group I’m a member of organised a weekend in Wales. On the first day we climbed Snowdon via Crib Goch, and the following day was our Tryfan adventure. We were a bit tired after our big Snowdon walk, but Tryfan didn’t seem too daunting.

Viewed from the west, Tryfan looks quite foreboding, but it’s not too difficult if you take the right route up.

Tryfan’s altitude is 917.5m (its name is Welsh for “very high peak”), but the start of the walk is at an altitude of just over 300m. And the weather was great – sunny and clear, but not too hot.

We set off on a steep path up the north side of the mountain. The most popular scramble up Tryfan is the north face route, rated grade 1, the easiest scrambling grade. Grade 3 is generally considered the most difficult scrambling grade – anything above that would be described as a roped rock climb.

The view down to Llyn Ogwen from the steep slopes of Tryfan. If you look closely, you can see one member of our group who had climbed Tryfan years before, taking a break. He just wanted to take his time and go at his own pace.

The start of the climb was steep but straightforward, with no scrambling. As the path climbed higher, we passed tempting-looking rocks. I started to get concerned that we might miss some great scrambling, and when I spotted a couple of guys heading up over some rocks to the right, I suggested that our group might also head up that way.

Only one group member, Alastair, agreed with me, so we left the others to walk up the path while we headed for the rocks!

Rock wall

After cheerily waving our friends goodbye and saying “See ya at the summit!” we were slightly daunted by the rock wall that now faced us. We tried several different approaches, none of which worked. There was no sign of the men we’d seen heading this way ahead of us.

We were starting to wonder whether to retreat and rejoin the main path, when Alastair managed to shimmy up an awkward corner edge. It looked steep and scary, but I gave it a go – and managed to clamber up the steep rock.

When you’re scrambling, it’s generally advisable to ensure that you can get down whatever you’ve climbed up, and we knew we wouldn’t be going back down that way! So we hoped that things would get a bit easier from that point on – and thankfully, they did. Not TOO easy though – it was still challenging enough to be fun and exilharating.

This was another scramble that we tried out and then decided to abandon in favour of a route round to the right.

Picking my own route.

Staying on track

Thousands of people climb Tryfan every year, and I’ve read that the accidents that have happened are often the result of people going the wrong way and getting onto exposed ground that is more difficult than they can cope with. We knew which direction we should be heading in, and we used our GPSs and compasses to stay on track.

We were certainly on Grade 2 terrain – maybe high Grade 2 – and we were loving it.

It was also quite tiring. Eventually the ground started to level off a little, and Alastair spotted a well-known feature: the Cannon Stone, a rock plinth that sticks out from the crag at an improbable angle. It’s a popular posing spot, and Alastair ran up for a photo.

Alastair on the Cannon Stone.

Then it was my turn. I eagerly headed for the plinth.

Clambering up onto the Cannon Stone.

It got a wee bit scary as I approached the far edge… it seemed slippier than I’d expected!

I decided to lay down flat… and then started to panic! 😳

“Help! I can’t get down!”

I actually froze! For a horrible moment I thought Alastair would have to call Mountain Rescue to get me down. A couple of passers-by offered to help. And then very gradually, I managed to slide down backwards.

I usually refuse to do “posing on the edge of a rock” type daftness – partly because I don’t like to encourage others to try and imitate my idiocy! The excitement of the day must have affected my brain.

The Tower

A slow-moving line heading up The Tower.

Having made it back down in one piece, we headed up towards the next part of our Tryfan adventure: The Tower. Our friends were all here, having arrived well ahead of us and having already posed for photos at various parts of the Cannon Stone. And then they’d got held up in a queue.

The Tower is a rocky spur on the northern shoulder of Tryfan, which is climbed via “corridors” that run between the rocks. It offers some fantastic scrambling, but it can be tricky for less experienced scramblers. A slow-moving queue had formed, with more experienced scramblers helping the more nervous over the rocks.

After waiting for a bit, I found an alternative route round, and helped a couple of people up that way. From there it was quite a short walk with occasional rocky scrambly bits to the summit.

Hungry gull at the summit of Tryfan. It did get a share of our lunch!

Adam and Eve

The summit of Tryfan is dominated by a couple of rock pillars of roughly equal height, known as Adam and Eve. Jumping from one to the other is said to earn you “the freedom of Tryfan” whatever that is! It could also earn you a few broken bones (or worse).

I didn’t even consider trying the jump, and sat down with most of my friends to enjoy lunch.

A couple of our group climbed up onto Adam and Eve, and two people did the jump. Alastair was one of them.

Alastair claiming the Freedom of Tryfan.


After lunch, we wearily made our way down the rocky south face of Tryfan. Our original intention was to scramble up “Bristly Ridge” on the neighbouring peak, Glyder Fach, but no one seemed to have any energy left after our Snowdon adventure the day before. So we made our way back down along the western foot of Tryfan to the car park.

I will definitely visit this beautiful area another time, to do more Tryfan scrambles and Bristly Ridge.