Cycling the Stwlan Dam Climb

Stwlan Dam

I’ve wanted to ride up to Stwlan Dam ever since seeing it in Cyclist magazine a few years ago. But always seemed to stay too far away from it to ride up. Staying further south in Porthmadog for a change, I had to make the most of the chance to finally tick this climb off the list.

I’ve written about riding in North Wales before here, but the weather this weekend reduced us to just short blasts around points of interest such as Stwlan Dam.

Stwlan Dam

The Stwlan Dam climb is on a road closed to cars. We lifted our bikes over the gate and then went through the kissing gate. The road is used by the odd car from the electricity company but that is the only traffic you will meet. This road leads up to the dam way up in the hills above the village of Tanygrisiau. The dam feeds water from the lake at the top down to the lake by the village which runs a power station. You can just about see the foreboding dam arches from the main road if you’re at the right angle but can be surprisingly well hidden.

Stwlan Dam Hairpins
Some of the many hairpins

We started the Stwlan Dam climb on a rise which ended up lasting half a mile and averaging 9%. I set off quickly but ended up settling into a rhythm. It’s a touch longer than you first think! At the first little zig-zag, I looked back and my ride partner was still in sight below. As I rounded the next corner, I wouldn’t see her again for a while. This corner gave me the first proper sight of the dam itself. The tall dark arches gave it an imposing feel, almost like something Lord of the Rings-esque.

The next section was the reason that it had caught my attention in the first place. A very old copy of Cyclist magazine contained the climb and made it look beautiful. 8 hairpin bends are at the top of the climb leading to the dam. It’s rare to come across so many hairpins on a climb in this country and it gives the climb its distinctive look.

The first hairpin up to Stwlan Dam was steep but the middle ones eased off to a now much more manageable 7-8%. The final stretch, including the last hairpin, shot up to 14% just to make things difficult. The view of the lake at the top made the effort worth it. There’s a topograph up a short set of stairs to point out local landmarks. It’s handy to point out the local landmarks and hills in the area. Obviously, you might miss out on a cloudy day!

You’ll also see the lake that the dam has created – Llyn Stwlan. It’s quite well hidden as you can’t see it from the main road below and you’d have to be walking up the nearby overlooking hills to see it from another angle. You can’t get particularly close to Llyn Stwlan though as the main road across the top is often blocked by a gate.

There are a couple of other climbs up to dams in Wales – Marchlyn Mawr is the most obvious one. Ffynnon Llugwy is another and an absolute brute! And if you fancy climbing some of the other top Welsh climbs, I’ve prepared a list of 7 of the best. Stwlan Dam is definitely a climb to have a go at and tick off your cycling bucket list.

Can you drive to Stwlan Dam?

Pretty much! There is some Stwlan Dam parking right at the base of the climb in the village of Tanygrisiau. It’s a nice spot with the Ffestiniog railway trains pootling past and the shores of the Tanygrisiau reservoir almost up to the car park itself. The car park is maybe just 400 metres from the bottom of the climb and there’s a small amount of ascent to get you started too. The Lakeside Cafe provides some sensibly priced food and coffee, probably best to save a visit until after you’ve done the Stwlan Dam climb though!

What is the Stwlan Dam Climb?

The Stwlan Dam Climb is a renowned cycling route in Wales, UK. It’s known for its challenging gradient and breathtaking views. The climb starts from the village of Tanygrisiau and ends at the Stwlan Dam, located at the top of Moelwyn Mawr Mountain. The entire climb spans approximately 2 miles, with an average gradient of 20%.

The Stwlan Dam Climb is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a steep, relentless climb that requires a good level of fitness and determination. However, the reward at the top is worth the effort. From the dam, cyclists can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding Snowdonia National Park.

The climb is also a popular segment in various cycling events and races. It’s a test of endurance and a badge of honour among the cycling community. Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a determined beginner, conquering the Stwlan Dam Climb is a memorable achievement.

The route is open to the public throughout the year. However, it’s advisable to check the weather conditions before setting off, as the climb can be treacherous in bad weather. Also, remember to carry sufficient water and snacks, as there are no facilities along the route.

Stwlan Dam Lake
The only way to see the lake is to climb up here

How do I prepare for the Stwlan Dam Climb?

Preparing for the Stwlan Dam Climb involves both physical and mental preparation. Physically, you need to ensure that you’re in good shape and have the stamina to tackle the steep gradient. This means regular cycling and endurance training. Incorporating hill climbs into your training routine can be particularly beneficial.

Mentally, it’s important to be prepared for the challenge ahead. The Stwlan Dam Climb is tough and requires determination and grit. Visualising the climb, setting realistic goals, and maintaining a positive mindset can all help.

In terms of equipment, a good quality road bike is essential. Make sure your bike is in good working order, with well-maintained brakes and gears. A helmet is also a must for safety reasons.

Nutrition and hydration are key factors in your preparation. Ensure you’re well-fuelled before the climb and carry enough food and water for the duration of the ride. Energy bars, bananas, and isotonic drinks are all good options.

Lastly, check the weather forecast before you set off. The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable, and it’s important to be prepared for all conditions. Dress appropriately and consider carrying a lightweight waterproof jacket in case of rain.

What is the best time of year to do the Stwlan Dam Climb?

The best time of year to tackle the Stwlan Dam Climb largely depends on your personal preference and experience level. The climb is open all year round, but the conditions can vary greatly between seasons.

Spring and autumn are generally considered the best times to do the climb. The weather is usually mild and the scenery is particularly beautiful. The roads are also less busy than in the summer, making for a more enjoyable ride.

Summer can be a good time to do the climb if you’re well-prepared for the heat. The long daylight hours allow for more flexibility in planning your ride. However, the roads can be busier with tourists and other cyclists.

Winter is the most challenging time to do the climb. The weather can be unpredictable, with the possibility of snow and ice. The days are also shorter, which can limit your riding time. However, for experienced cyclists looking for a challenge, a winter climb can be a thrilling experience.

Regardless of the time of year, it’s always important to check the weather forecast before setting off. The weather in the mountains can change quickly, and it’s essential to be prepared for all conditions.

318-12 The Stwlan Dam bus route!

What gear do I need for the Stwlan Dam Climb?

The right gear can make a significant difference to your experience of the Stwlan Dam Climb. First and foremost, you’ll need a good quality road bike. The steep gradient of the climb requires a bike with reliable gears and brakes.

A helmet is also essential for safety reasons. Other recommended safety gear includes gloves, padded cycling shorts, and a high-visibility jacket or vest.

In terms of clothing, it’s advisable to dress in layers. The weather can change quickly in the mountains, and it’s important to be prepared for all conditions. A lightweight, waterproof jacket is a good item to have in case of rain.

Nutrition and hydration are also crucial. Make sure to carry enough food and water for the duration of the ride. Energy bars, bananas, and isotonic drinks are all good options.

Lastly, don’t forget to bring a basic repair kit. This should include a spare inner tube, tyre levers, a pump, and a multi-tool. It’s also a good idea to carry a mobile phone for emergencies.

How do I pace myself on the Stwlan Dam Climb?

Pacing is key to successfully completing the Stwlan Dam Climb. The climb is steep and challenging, and it’s important to conserve your energy for the entire duration of the ride.

Start off at a comfortable pace and try to maintain a steady rhythm. Resist the temptation to go too fast at the beginning. The climb gets steeper as you progress, and you’ll need to save your energy for the final push.

Listen to your body and adjust your pace accordingly. If you’re feeling good, you can increase your pace slightly. However, if you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to slow down or even take a short break.

Remember, the Stwlan Dam Climb is not a race. It’s a personal challenge, and the most important thing is to reach the top, regardless of how long it takes. Enjoy the ride, take in the scenery, and celebrate your achievement when you reach the dam.

Llyn Stwlan Dam in the distances

What are some tips for tackling the steepest parts of the Stwlan Dam Climb?

The steepest parts of the Stwlan Dam Climb can be particularly challenging. Here are some tips to help you tackle these sections:

  • Maintain a steady rhythm: Try to keep your pedalling consistent, even if this means slowing down. A steady rhythm will help you conserve energy and maintain momentum.
  • Use your gears: Make sure to use your gears effectively. Shift down to a lower gear as the gradient increases to make pedalling easier.
  • Stand up on the pedals: Standing up can help you generate more power and tackle steeper sections. However, be aware that this uses more energy and should be used sparingly.
  • Take short breaks: If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to take a short break. Stop, catch your breath, and then continue when you’re ready.
  • Stay positive: The steepest parts of the climb are also the most mentally challenging. Stay positive, focus on your goal, and remember that every pedal stroke is bringing you closer to the top.

For more tips and advice on tackling challenging climbs, check out our cycling tips and reviews.

Stwlan Dam Strava details

The Official Wales Climbs version of the Stwlan Dam Strava segment can be found here.

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