Given that my last adventure with Tim (attempting to backpack the Bob Graham Round at Easter) ended up being abandoned with us lying down in gale force winds trying not to get blown off the mountain, you’d have thought I’d have learnt my lesson by now, but when he announced that he and Matt were plotting another ‘truly epic challenge’, I couldn’t resist. And so several weeks later I found myself stumbling out of a tent at 3.30am, wondering what on earth I’d let myself in for…
For those of you who are slightly less obsessed with mountain challenges than we are, the Welsh 3000s challenge is to summit all of the Welsh peaks above 3000ft in under 24 hours, encompassing three different mountain regions – the Snowdon Massif, the Glyderau and the Carneddau. There is a fairly standard route going south-to-north which starts on the summit of either Crib Goch or Snowdon (depending on whether you camp on Snowdon overnight) and finishes 15 peaks later on the summit of Foel Fras. The challenge itself is peak-to-peak but then of course you have to get to and from the start and finish peaks which adds in around another 8 miles, bringing the full route to a rough total of 30 miles with 4000m of ascent. Definitely an epic!
Tim heading into the gloom on Crib Goch
The day began with us parking about half a mile from Pen-y-Pass and heading up the Pyg Track to Crib Goch at a blisteringly fast pace. We were all vaguely aware we wouldn’t be able to keep this up for the entire day, but we were full of energy and keen to set a good time for the challenge! After pointing a lost Snowdon walker who’d nearly ended up on Crib Goch in the right direction, we polished off the ridge in 45 minutes. In the dim light and with the ridge completely enshrouded in cloud, there was a sense of foreboding in the air…
As we’d feared, all that cloud turned into rain as we headed towards Snowdon, making for an exceptional soggy trudge to the summit. But to our amazement the clouds started to clear and we were hardly troubled by rain at all for the rest of the day, despite the dismal forecast. After an entertaining descent to Nant Peris down an exceptionally steep and slippery grassy path (does it still count as glissading if you do it on grass by accident?!) we began the long, soul-crushing trudge up Elidir Fawr. All the blogs I’d read beforehand had warned that this ascent was awful, ‘possibly the worst in Snowdonia’, which I found hard to believe until we were actually doing it ourselves. Can now confirm – it’s every bit as bad as its reputation. It just never seems to end – you keep on going up and up and up and yet you feel like you’ve hardly moved!
Descending towards an intimidating Tryfan
I’m really doing a great job of selling this walk, aren’t I? Well I’m pleased to say things improved a lot after Elidir Fawr. The next few hours showed us the spectacular variety that the Glyderau has to offer – long sections of ridgeline with stunning views glimpsed through gaps in the cloud, the otherworldly boulder field landscapes of Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach, some unexpectedly challenging scrambling on Castell Y Gwynt (the optional ‘16th’ 3000er), acrobatics trying to do pull-ups on the Cantilever (!), the intimidating scree fields by Bristly Ridge, lots more scrambling heading up Tryfan, and then an…interesting descent…
Our plan was to scramble a short way down the North Ridge before heading down a gully to join up with the Heather Terrace path, so we could stop at the campsite to fill up on water and snacks before starting the Carneddau. Unfortunately we ended up turning off too soon and scrambling for a considerable distance before we managed to find the path. This cost us a lot of time and if you’re not familiar with the route already I’d strongly recommend taking a longer but easier route, such as backtracking to Bwlch Tryfan and then descending to Llyn Ogwen (plus then you can get snacks at Ogwen Cottage!).
Tantalisingly close to the end heading towards Carnedd Llewelyn
After collapsing at the campsite for a few minutes we headed up Pen yr Ole Wen – sadly having had to leaving one member of the group behind :’( The ascent was a bit of a slog but Tom and Emily jumped out at us from behind a rock to liven things up a bit (these fell runners, honestly, always getting up to mischief…) and it was a relief to know it was the final major ascent of the day. Despite how tired I was I really enjoyed the Carneddau section – in the fading light we had beautiful views out towards Conwy Bay and in contrast to all the scrambling earlier on in the day, the paths were so easy that we dubbed the route ‘the Carneddau motorway’! A last minute energy rush saw us running to the summit of Foel Fras, completing the challenge in exactly 17hrs peak-to-peak – meaning there are now 19 UBESters who have completed the challenge!
Challenge complete with a summit selfie on Foel Fras!
The Welsh 3000s challenge is definitely not to be underestimated – I don’t think I’d fully appreciated beforehand just how tiring a 21hr mountain day would be – but with enough determination it’s most definitely doable, and it really is a spectacular walk with some of the best scenery that Snowdonia has to offer!
Finally – I’d like to say a huge thank you to Tim and George, who not only drove us to and from Bristol but sacrificed even more of their sleep than the rest of us so they could shuttle the cars to the start and end points! Seeing as I fell asleep almost the second I sat down in the car at the finish, I’m very grateful I wasn’t driving :’)