Snowdonia activity break: dream trips for daredevils

With inland surfing, ziplining and caving on tap, Snowdonia doesn’t lack thrills, but climbing Snowdon itself is still the pinnacle of excitement

I find him on the slopes of Crib Goch, an outlying shoulder of Snowdon that takes you to the summit via a hair-raising knife-edge ridge with spectacular views on both sides. He is on all fours, holding on to the mountain for dear life, unsure whether to go forward or back.

“It’s my first time on a mountain,” he says. “I saw it and thought I’d try.”

The spirit of enterprise lives in every human heart, you might say, kept in a box next to those marked “calculated risk” and “reckless stupidity”. A decent adventure probably requires of bit of all three: who would ever try anything new if they dwelt too long on the possibility of disaster?

snowdonia map

This explorer, however, is visibly shaking in his trainers. “The real climbing is still ahead,” I tell him, “Maybe you should go back.”

I could have added the words of Llanberis Mountain Rescue website: “The route up Crib Goch and along the ridge is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted by novice walkers.”

He nods. “Maybe. I’ll just sit here a bit longer.”

So I leave him, pondering his predicament. Everyone has their own limits – and this man seems to have found his. But each individual’s perfect adventure is different and finding it might take a bit of experimentation: you want to test the boundaries, get the buzz and sense of achievement, then get home safely, without the rescue helicoptor.

walkers tackling Snowdon’s Crib Goch ridge.
Knife-edge … walkers tackling Snowdon’s Crib Goch ridge. Photograph: Kevin Rushby/The Guardian

I am in Snowdonia, one of the best places in the UK to nail down exactly what it is that makes your toes tingle with a heady mixture of excitement and fear. With its mountains, rivers and coast, this region has been attracting adventurers ever since Victorian times when the first rock climbers came. A few years later, early Everest expeditions trained here, scaling Y Lliwedd, another outlying peak of Snowdon (and together with Crib Goch forming the famed Snowdon Horseshoe scramble). Pioneers in whitewater rafting and kayaking also came, and the raging torrents still provide many great adventures. More recently, however, the old industrial centres, mostly slate mines, have been rebooted as bases for real adrenaline thrills. I want to experience the whole range, to push my own limits and see what happens.

We’re staying in camping pods at Adventure Parc Snowdonia in the village of Dolgarrog, a former aluminium smelting works that is now a surfing lagoon plus various indoor facilities. I am with my daughter Maddy (16) who, I think it’s fair to say, has different boundaries in the risk business. She gets stuck into the new indoor facilities with abandon: leaping nine metres down on to an air bag; climbing inside a sack to tackle a near-vertical slide followed by a ski jump and crash pad, then wriggling through a long series of artificial caves. I skip the first two and don’t enjoy the last, preferring the parcour-style obstacle course and outdoor climbing wall.

Climbers scaling the outdoor climbing wall at Adventure Parc Snowdonia
The outdoor climbing wall at Adventure Parc Snowdonia. Photograph: Stewart MacKellar

This is a great spot for a wet day and a group with differing abilities. I am impressed by the blind woman who leaps off the ledge on to the air bag. That takes real courage. Her beaming smile afterwards tells how important the experience has been.

Next up is the surfing, Adventure Parcs’ raison d’etre. In a 300-metre long shallow lagoon an underwater snowplough forces up an impressive two-metre wave every 90 seconds. A careful arrangement of reefs means every surfing ability gets a chance. We start as beginners, then graduate to intermediate. It’s not a cheap experience, but the sheer predictability and regularity of the wave means surfing technique can be improved rapidly – not a bad idea for those of us whose surfing careers are starting late in life.

Surfers on the surf lagoon at Adventure Parc Snowdonia
New wave … the surf lagoon at Adventure Parc Snowdonia Photograph: PR

Snowdonia’s old slate quarries, once an eyesore, are being reinvented too. Next day we try Zipworld at Penrhyn quarry, home to Velocity 2 – the fastest zipline in the world – plus a new karting track. The former is certainly a thrill, but is it an adventure? With training videos, faultless safety equipment and even a small-scale training wire, Maddy and I both feel this adrenaline rush has a rather long-winded preamble, too much waiting time, and little sense of danger. Unlike the quarry karts. These German-built vehicles have brakes, but rely on the slope for speed. Down the track you go, whipping through hairpin bends, a tunnel and various chicanes and steep drops. It gets a massive thumbs up from both of us.

Zipworld has two other sites, both of which we sample. At Blaenau Ffestiniog there are more zipwires but we try the underground stuff: a vast cavern, artfully lit, home to various trampolines, slides and via ferrata experiences. This pleases us both and definitely wins the award for most dramatic location. Over in Betws-y-Coed we also try Zipworld Fforest, where there’s a tree-top assault course and Coaster, a rollercoaster in a forest. This is a lot of fun: the fact that you control the brake means everyone chooses their own level of speed, and fear.

There are many more adventures available here: packrafting down the River Conwy or a whitewater kayak lesson on the Lugwy. Mountain bikers can even climb Snowdon then freewheel down (except between 10am and 5pm, May-September).

For me, however, Crib Goch was always the Snowdonia ultimate. I’ve wanted to do it since I was 10, when my dad pointed it out as we hiked up the straightforward Pyg track. It’s a grade one scramble, ranked alongside the Lake District’s Striding Edge.

Walkers on the Pyg track up Snowdon, with the railway on the horizon.
Walkers on the Pyg track up Snowdon, with the railway on the horizon. Photograph: Kevin Rushby/The Guardian

The obvious starting point is at Pen-y-pass car park, a place that can be full by 6am on sunny summer days. Easier is to park in Lllanberis or Betws-y-Coed and take a bus. Our day proves cold and blustery. One look at the Crib Goch’s jagged skyline and we opt to stay on the Pyg trail. The summit is crowded with sponsored walk groups and people who have come up on the train. If you want a quiet mountain walk, Snowdon is not the right choice: Tryfan or Cnicht (aka the Welsh Matterhorn) might be a better bet.

While we are in the summit cafe, the sun comes out and spirits rise, so we tackle Crib Goch on the descent. Be warned, you need a good head for heights, a decent sense of balance and, at times, both hands. The reward is a real adventure.

The trip was provided by Visit Wales. Adventure Parcs Snowdonia offers 90-minute surf lessons from £50, one-hour sessions from £40, indoor activities from £12 per hour, camping pods £65 per night (sleep up to four, bring your own bedding). Zipworld: Velocity 2 from £65, Quarry Karts £39 (10% discount when Quarry Karts is booked with Velocity 2), Bounce Below from £20, Fforest Coaster from £30 for two sharing. Tirio operates packrafting adventures in Snowdonia from £70

Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips


Kevin Rushby

The GuardianTramp

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