The last peak conquered: Climbing Moel Eilio

A windy climb up Moel Eilio in Snowdonia ticks an outstanding North Wales box, as Fiona Reynolds shares.

Autumn has arrived in Snowdonia (now Eryri, of course) with a blast. Gales and torrential rain make the summer a distant memory, but the mountains stand proud and, when the sun shines, they are as enticing as ever.

I fancy that I know these peaks well; in my years of regular visiting I’ve climbed all the high ones, including all those over 3,000ft. However, I have missed one central peak, and on this visit I am determined to climb it.

Each morning when we’re there, my dawn habit is to walk around both lakes for which Llanberis is famous: the deep, chilly Llyn Padarn and the much-modified (because it’s part of the pump storage scheme at Dinorwig) Llyn Peris. It’s an eight-mile circuit and takes me on a high footpath through the old slate quarries.

As I walk towards the quarries, I look across Llyn Padarn to a beautiful whaleback ridge. It’s often shrouded in cloud, but if I’m lucky its east-facing summit catches the rose-pink dawn. It looks across to Elydir Fawr and flanks the great shoulder of Yr Wyddfa. This is Moel Eilio.

I’m waiting for a day when there will be views (surely of the point of this ridge), and today the rain clears and a gathering wind blows the clouds away. I grab the moment and begin, starting in the heart of Llanberis.

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Mount Moel Eilio, Snowdonia

Waiting for the last clouds to clear at Moel Eilio, Snowdonia.

I take the road up to the Youth Hostel and turn off it to the right, climbing through the top of the town to reach the lower slopes of Moel Eilio quite quickly. The views are already stupendous. A long track takes me gently to the shoulder which looks down onto Waunfawr and Bontnewydd. My route, though, is straight up the long ridge of Moel Eilio, steepening as it goes, until I’m rewarded by a welcome, high-sided stone shelter right on the top where I can rest a minute. Welcome indeed, as the wind has gathered pace, and I struggle to stay upright as I breach the hill.

I’m not alone on this lonely mountain. Although it’s no longer holiday time, I count three (yes, three) people doing the same as me. However, five minutes on the windblown summit are enough to make me realise that I’ll be doing the descent, along the long ridge I’ve watched each morning, alone. As the others turn back I go on, heading down into the powerful, whipping wind.

The gentle appearance of the ridge from a distance belies the reality. First it descends, then rises, then descends again, before rising to the gentle summit of Foel Gron. Battered by the wind, I’m feeling tired, but there’s one more hill to climb. This is Foel Goch, and I reach it with relief, my third (mini) summit today.

Foel Goch as seen from Glyder Fach, Snowdonia National Park.

It’s a particular joy to be out of the wind as I pick my way carefully down the steep slope to the bwlch above the Snowdon Ranger path, which brings walkers up Yr Wyddfa from the other side of the hill. I’m a bit shocked to find that the track back to Llanberis is paved. It’s become a cycle route as well as a footpath and for the first time today I feel a bit managed, as I switch from wayfinding to track-following.

Fiona Reynolds is Chair of Governors at the Royal Agricultural University and the author of ‘The Fight for Beauty’