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Llanberis Pass – A stunning road climb nestled in the shadow of Snowdon

According to Strava, the Llanberis Pass is a touch under 5km long with a 5% average gradient. Now that might be not much by European standards but compared to most climbing the UK it’s practically alpine. Anyway, the difficulty isn’t the main reason to take this one on, that honour goes to the scenery. Sitting in the heart of Snowdonia and very shadow of Snowdon itself, the countryside around Llanberis is absolutely beautiful; the sort of place that’s an absolute pleasure to ride your bike. In fact, if it’s your first time in the area, it’s totally worth it to resist the urge to gun it up the pass as hard as you can while staring at your stem, and sit up to admire the view across the valley. You can always freewheel back down to the bottom for another go, after all.

The day we ride Llanberis Pass was one of those typical British early Spring days; not quite warm enough to do away with the arm and knee warmers and with a healthy covering of light mist making everything look wonderfully atmospheric. Riding as part of a larger 70km loop, we’d stopped at for lunch in Llanberis itself to give us time for a chat and the chance to figure out exactly where we’d be heading when we reached the top (the last thing you want is half the group turning right and the other half left!). We’d also come out of some poor weather in the morning, so this was an opportunity to shed an extra layer or two for an afternoon that looked like it was threatening to brighten up a little. But with the descent into Nantgywnant coming after the climb, those layers were better stored in pockets as it’s a fast and flowing route down and we’d have to deal with the wind chill before warming up again at the bottom.

Rolling out of Llanberis and our group split pretty early, as the road down through Nant Peris (the A4086 for any map lovers) is flat and quick, and rolling along next to the Llyn Peris lake the view is really rather spectacular. The plan was for everyone to take it at their own pace from lunch all the way to the bottom of the descent which meant that a few of us were pushing on while the others (perhaps more sensibly) were letting lunch go down before they started any climbing. Our route had been drawn up by Phil Stasiw from MTB Wales. A guy with an unmatched knowledge of mid and north-Wales and a really keen sense of what makes a great ride. After a 5hr MTB epic the day before, he’d sensibly decided to keep the route relatively short and punchy with plenty of spectacular scenery and very little wasted effort so there was no danger of anyone getting irrecoverably dropped.

The climb itself actually starts a few kilometres down the road from Llanberis, just after the little village of Nant Peris, and snakes through the valley between Snowdon on your right and Glyder Fawr on your left - Wales’s highest and fifth highest peaks respectively. Look at it on a map and you can be forgiven for thinking it’s pretty straight, but all those subtle bends turn out to be noticeable corners when you’re actually down there riding. It’s nice because it keeps the road feeling fresh, and although you can see it ramping up as you ride, you’re never confronted with a straight, steep section - you know what we mean - the sort of road that really saps enthusiasm and makes climbing feel like a chore.

While the climb isn’t super challenging if you’re just looking to cruise up at a steady pace, there are a few things to be aware of before your start. For a start there’s a section of 10% for a couple of hundred metres just under halfway up which you need to keep in mind if you’re trying for a fast time (rather than a good time) and measure your effort accordingly. But the easiest place to get caught out is near the top, where the road steepens to between 8-9% for the final 800m. That’s where you can find yourself in a bit of bother if you’ve gone too hard lower down. But as we said at the beginning, don’t make this one all about the time. You’ll be missing out if you do.

When this lockdown ends and you’re allowed to travel again, if you want to ride the Llanberis Pass yourself just you follow the A4086 South East out of Llanberis you’ll come to Nant Peris. Carry straight on that road and you’ll find yourself on the Llanberis pass. If you’re not familiar with the area, the top of the climb is the starting point for many walkers trekking to the summit of Snowdon itself, so we definitely recommend returning without the bike on day too!