The Mountain Passes of Snowdonia (Audax, DIY, 200km, 3.5AAA)

I had intended to do some stargazing at Llyn Stwlan (at the back of Ffestiniog) but when I arrived at the start (Bala) it was raining. I did consider having a couple of hours sleep before setting off, but I knew that I would sleep right through so I just headed off into the rain. This meant that my first food and water stop would be Penygroes (50miles) which was okay with me.

The initial climb out of Bala past Parc was long and steady although the rain and wind, which gradually grew stronger, made it feel much harder. The electrical noise from the overhead power cables was so loud that I could hear it over the wind which was now whistling in my ears. I have completed this section before on John Hamilton’s Snowden, Lleyn and Lakes permanent 200km, which is an excellent ride and takes you to Aberdaron at the end of the peninsula.

The descent to Ffestiniog was hard work as the wind was driving the rain into my face and the darkened sunglasses was like shutting my eyes, although the rain did not hurt my eyeballs on impact! Blaenau Ffestiniog was fairly flat and pleasant as there was no traffic on the road. I would imagine that during the day this road is busy. I did stop at a bus shelter for a bit of shelter from the wind and rain and to take on some food before the next big climb to Llyn Stwlan.

The start of the climb was easy to find as there is a small road from the cafe carpark which climbs up and over the level-crossing and to a kissing gate. Fighting with the wind to get my bike through the kissing gate would have made prime time TV or gone viral on youtube! I started to climb again, been battered by the wind and rain, and for a moment that little voice asked if this was a good idea considering the severity of the weather. I thought about it and compared it to previous mountain experience and decided to push on.

The climb (1.7miles, 10%) itself was much easier than I had anticipated if I factor out the wind and rain. The sheep were much more of an issue as they insisted in running from one side of the road to the other… some even turn around and ran back across the road. I don’t blame them if I saw an orange Marshmellowmen on a bike coming towards me in the dark I think I would be a little afraid! I did not release I had reached the top until I was a couple of meters from the dam as the visibility was that poor. The dam was closed to the public for repairs and I am just stupid enough to cycle across it in this server wind.

I took a few minutes at the dam as the raised embankments either side of the road were providing shelter from the wind. The descent down was more of a crawl as I found it hard to see the sides of the road as I had to turn the light down to 100 lumens as the light was being reflected at me by the fog\ cloud. The sheep’s eyes did help a little!

Llyn Stwlan Dam

The section from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog was more fighting with the wind and rain which made this descent feel hard and long. As I drew closer to the coast the wind and rain eased off and it was actually pleasant sitting on the Porthmadog high street benches having a little food and a rest even though I was wet to the bone but warm. As I anticipated the petrol station was closed (opens at 05:30am).

Porthmadog High Street

By the time I reached Penygroes, it had stopped raining and the clouds were slowly lifting, making it a little more pleasant. Just before you drop down towards Penygroes there is an excellent view of the mountains giving way to the sea. I was unable to take a photo as the weather was very poor. I stopped at the Co-op in Penygroes for a small bottle of blue milk and some water. The ladies were a little surprised as I suspect they were not used to tourist turning up as they open the doors. I did stand just inside the door using the heater to dry me out a little whilst I drank my milk.

The lead-in road to Nantle Pass is fairly flat and pleasant mainly due to the wonderful views. I briefly chatted to a couple of commuters who overtook me as I climbed Nantlle Pass, which was nice. I stopped for a photo just off the top of the pass, the weather was very different from when I last did this pass last summer!

Joining the A4052 road to Beddgelert I knew that it was a nice long roll into Beddgelert expect this time, I would have to fight the wind a little. Turning at Beddgelert to Llanberis the wind had all but gone as I was now sheltered by environmental features and landscapes. It is a long climb to the top of Pen-y-Pass from Beddgelert so I set a steady pace and enjoyed the climb. There was very little traffic on the road as I think most holidaymakers decided to have a late breakfast. In fact, there were four cars parked on the roadside parking area at the top of Llanberis Pass and the ticket man was reading his paper.

I stopped at Pete’s Eats in Llanberis for beans on toast and a cup of tea, the roadside carpark here were full but there were very few people about. The wooden floor in Pete’s Eats was very slippy, even with my cleat protectors on so every time I move it was like watching an elephant ice skating!

Pete’s Eats

The climb over to Bethesda was nice as the clouds had lifted and I could see most of the mountains reaching into the sea. There are some excellent photos to be had along this section so camera on standby. There is a short and sharp climb just before Deliniolin which takes you over the tops to Bethesda. I did note a tarmac road which climbs up into the mountain on the far side of the valley. I looked this up on the map, it would make a great little route to the lake and around to the surge pond on the face of Elidir Fach. From here you would have a commanding view of Llanberis Pass.

The traffic was still light so the climb up Ogwen Pass and over to Capel Curig was pleasant. The sun had come out now and I was feeling dry. I discovered where all the people were, Ogwen Cottage! People and cars everywhere, although the traffic on the road was light. The section from Ogwen Cottage to Capel Curig is fairly quick and I overtook three cyclists at different points along this section. I actually like the section from Capel Curig to Betws-y-Coed as it is mainly downhill and for the most part the road is wide and I managed to gain some Strava PR’s on these descents (even though I was three kilograms heavier this year).

I stopped at the petrol station on the way out of Betws-y-Coed as I discovered where the rest of the holidaymakers were! I encountered a group of about 20 bikers on their way to the Island of Man races who had started in Poland. Their partners were exploring different places along the way in the van whilst they were touring on their bikes.

The next 15miles is generally uphill (and very steep in places) and by the time I reach the Ffestiniog to Bala via the Tryweryn road I had started to wish for a flat route or a gun! This section was differently mentally challenging and there were times where I considered stopping but I knew that I needed to keep going if I was to back before the Audax cut off time. There are more excellent photos to be had along this section but the weather was not with me.

When I finally reached the Tryweryn road I was so happy, I actually felt the neurohormones in the brain kick in! Then I went around the corner and saw my next long and steep climb. Once over, this section to Tryweryn lake (Llyn Celyn) is very nice and I was able to roll at 18-20mph most of the way. When I hit the road which travels along the side of the lake I was able to average 18mph until I started to descend towards Bala. There were a few cars which were going a little slow for me and they were surprised to see me overtaking them.

This was a great ride and if I do it again I will take a quality camera as there are amazing photo opportunities all the way around. There are lots of places to stop for food and water and the roads are in good condition. Some cars did get a little close but for the most part, car drivers were excellent.