The Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel sits at the foot of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. For more than a century it has been a base for climbers, and most famously served as the training headquarters for the first successful ascent of Mount Everest.
Built in 1810, the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel was originally a remote farmhouse near the foot of the mountain. It was then expanded and converted into a coaching inn, and by the 1860s was a popular hotel, a warm and comfortable place to stay for walkers and climbers exploring the mountain and its surrounds.
By the 1950s, Pen-y-Gwryd had firmly established itself as a favored haunt of the British climbing community. And it was here that Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, John Hunt and the rest of the British 1953 Everest expedition came to train before their historic ascent of the Himalayan peak.
Despite being dwarfed by the towering Everest, Snowdon was nonetheless a fine place for the team to train and test their oxygen equipment, and Pen-y-Gwryd provided some of the bare essentials: a cozy bed, a hearty fry-up in the morning, and a few well-earned pints at night.
On April 12, 1953, the expedition established its base camp at the foot of Everest, some 4,720 miles from the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel. Chris Briggs, the hotel’s owner at the time, had become very close to the brave mountaineers, and had more reason than most to eagerly await news of the expedition.
After Hillary and Tenzing became the first men to set foot on the summit of Everest on May 29, 1953, Briggs was among the first people to hear the news. He heard of the historic achievement at 1 a.m. on June 2, and promptly informed his guests that anyone not in the bar in 10 minutes with a glass of champagne in hand would be thrown out of the hotel the following morning.
Pen-y-Gwryd’s connection with the Everest expedition didn’t end there. The conquerors of Everest came back to Pen-y-Gwryd the following October, and continued to meet at the hotel every year for dinner, and later every five years, on May 29. The hotel had become the spiritual home of the expedition, and remains so today.
The hotel itself remains steadfastly old-fashioned, and the interior is full of memorabilia from the 1953 ascent, donated by the appreciative expedition members. Boots that climbed on Everest hang from the ceiling, a cabinet contains the rope that tethered Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary together, and over the fireplace is a pebble that Hillary took from the summit of Everest. There are goggles, crampons, mugs, maps and ice-axes, and many fading photographs signed by members of the expedition.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel, once a remote farmhouse in Snowdonia, is now a place of pilgrimage for mountaineers from across the world.
Know Before You Go
The Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel is located close to the foot of Snowdon in Gwynedd, Wales, about four miles west of Capel Curig. If you’re driving to the hotel, head for the junction of the A4086 and A498. The closest train stations are Bangor mainline station (18 miles) and Betws-y-Coed (9 miles) via Llandudno Junction. Rooms start at £47.50, breakfast included.