Discipline: Hiking / Fell running
Area: British Adventure in Snowdonia, North Wales
Type: One day epic
Distance: 48 km & ca. 3700m ascent
Duration: 9-24 hours (I managed 13 hours at fast hike/slow running speed)
Time of year: Snowdon and Tryfan will be busy in summer months, and water availability can be an issue on hot days but any time between May-September should be fine.
Guidebook/external recommendations: UK Hill Walking does a great route card from Snowdon Summit to the car park after. OS Explorer Map OL17 covers the entire route.
Logistical recommendations: Start at Pen-y-Pass and ideally arrange pick-up or a vehicle to be at the small car park near Abergwyngregyn
The challenge is to summit all fifteen 3000 ft peaks in Wales in under 24 hours without the use of any transport. The route is an absolute classic taking in some of the best Snowdonia has to offer. It can be completed by both fell run runners and very fit hill walkers. Comprised of three ranges; Snowdon, Glyderau and Carneddau - there are three “full size” ascents and then more moderate ups and down along the way. Be warned however, though the distance and ascent doesn’t seem too intimidating to some, the terrain is extremely challenging and includes ridges, scrambles, and relentless boulderfields.
I found a certain allure to the simplicity and comprehensive approach to this challenge. 3000 feet has long since been a key height of a mountain in the UK, probably since Sir Munro published his big old list in 1891. Although Munros are typically considered a Scottish phenomenon, the height remains significant to any hill walker in all parts of the Britain. To hear that it’s possible to climb every single peak in Wales in just one day was exciting, and even better, you don’t have to be a wiry featherweight ultra runner (which I definitely am not).
The walk-in to Snowdon just before midnight on Friday night
How hard? How long does it take?
The Welsh 3000ers is sometimes seen as a the next logical step up from the National three peaks challenge. Although a comparable time frame, and ascent not too dissimilar (probably ca. 1000m more), the distance and terrain covered is a serious level above. For anyone looking to further challenge themselves, I’d recommend the Yorkshire Three peaks as an interim day out before the 3000ers.
Although I had climbed a few of the notable peaks in the route, I underestimated the arduous and at times, very serious terrain along the way. It is this that makes the Welsh 3000ers so physically and mentally taxing. Despite this, it’s an incredibly rewarding day - 12 hours is a good target for exceptionally fit hill walkers, perhaps with a little running here and there and less than 16-20 hours should be achievable for most who finish.
The challenge is usually defined as peak to peak, meaning you start your clock on the top of Snowdon and stop it on the summit of the final peak; Foel Fras. Looking to break up the ascent on the big day, we decided to get up Snowdon (1085m) in the evening and camp up high. Unfortunately, Friday night traffic meant for a delayed walk in than originally planned, though bivvying out on the summit, we still managed to grab a few hours before the 4am wake up.
Bivying for a few hours on Snowdon Summit before starting
Despite the lack of sleep, the ease of bagging my first summit was much appreciated. We rolled out of bed, hopped up the steps to the top and summitted our first (and highest) of our fifteen peaks. With the stop watch now ticking and the sun rising, I was keen to get going - making quick work to to Garnedd Ugain (1065m) to begin Crib Goch. Crib Goch (923m) is renowned for being an exposed and relatively technical (Grade 1) scramble, though with the focus of the larger task at hand, I felt suitably confident to smoothly tip toe over the top of the ridge trouble free. Though, this could be slow moving for those who don’t have a good head for heights, or feel comfortable negotiating the sharp rocks. Once running the gauntlet, you’ve fairly easily bagged three peaks and can begin the steep off piste descent toward Nant Peris, which I did waving off comrad Paul to limp his permanently broken knee off to his gig he had that night.
Descending off the North side of Crib Goch
Once reaching the A4086 main road, you’ll need to put in a few kilometers of tarmac losing the majority of that height you had on Snowdon. Before getting too far up the long slog up to your fourth peak, it’s extremely important you have sufficient water for the following five 3000ers. Usually confident in finding water en route, I paid the price for this mistake in 25 degree summer heat, leaving me severely dehydrated on the dry and arid plateau. The featureless and grassy ascent up to Elidar Fawr (923m) definitely dragged on but once you pop over the top, you get a feat view out to Sea but more importantly, realise you’ve done the lion’s share for the Glyderau range.
Snowdon and Crib Goch ridge from Y Garn
Tryfan (right, lake Llyn Ogwen & lower slopes of Pen yr Ole Wen (left)
The following four come without dropping below around 700m, and to start off with are pleasant and easy going, soon finding yourself on Y Garn (947m) . The steep and loose scree up to Glyder Fawr (999m) and Fach (994m) is hard going with fatigue beginning to set in. From there, there is a steep scree descent down and back up rock to Tryfan (915m), but for those who enjoy are still fresh enough at this point, I thoroughly recommend descending over Bristly ridge for the confident and experienced scrambler. As the name suggests, it’s pretty exposed and involves some light rock climbing, but it provides a welcome distraction from thinking about your weary legs. With another couple of hundred metres of uphill rock hopping, I was up on the popular (and crowded) Tryfan for some lunch. After leaping between the two pillar rocks on the Summit, affectionately nicknamed “Adam and Eve”, I was keen to get down to quench my unbating thirst.
Tryfan and the two Glyders (left to right)
I finally reached a stream with a plentiful supply of ice cold water, my mood improving at a similar rate as the flow of the water, returning back down the valley floor again. This is a great place for a decent stop, with Ogwen’s Snack bar offering a valuable top up of supplies including baked goods and ice creams! Get all the energy you can, because next comes the crux of the challenge… a very steep, rocky, loose and non step climb back up to 3000ft.
Although always confident I could keep going just fine, my pace and morale dropped off. Using surrounding peaks for comparison, it felt like I was getting nowhere, and an hour into the ascent, was disappointed my 12 hour target had slipped away. Despite drinking as much water as I could down in the valley, my thirst now seemed unquenchable and the effects of dehydration had definitely set in, not helped by the hot sun burning down my neck. After a long, slow struggle following sheep tracks in scree, Pen yr Ole Wen (978m) starting to level out offering a great deal of relief. It felt good to be up high again, and I could settle into the easier going Carneddau peaks that have an altogether more forgiving topography.
This home straight was a perfectly reasonable 10km long, but with my legs feeling each step, even the more mellow ups and downs wouldn’t go unnoticed. Carnedd Dafydd (1044m) was smooth going not losing much height before going back up, revealing the following two which in spite of the lower ascents, looked pretty sizable and terribly far away. Feeling grateful that I hadn’t been hiking for as long as a group I bumped into (26 hours), I sussed out out the grassy traverse across to Yr Elen (962m) to avoid unnecessary height gain, and came back over Carnedd Dafydd (1044m) to reach my last significant high point. The ground over the last two (or three depending on your classification) became softer and was a welcome break from endless fields of rock. At this point, I’d resigned myself to hitting around the 13 hour mark, so simply settled into a fast stroll on a perfect sunny Welsh evening, at times briefly forgetting the pains and aches.
Before too long, I was lent up against the Trig point of Foel Fras (942m) with a great sense of pride. Being able to take a moment to relax and enjoy the views was a huge relief. Finally, the pressure to keep on moving was lifted, and even the 8km descent to the car wasn’t daunting. Although I’d previously climbed a few of the peaks in the Welsh 3000ers, I was taken back by how thoroughly enjoyable the route was, and how well it connects. As well as knowing I have now climbed all fifteen of the highest peaks in Wales, I also feel I have gained a much better understanding of Snowdonia range as a whole. Though it won’t come without hard work for most, the Welsh 3000ers is a truly epic day of British adventure.
Biggest smile of the day on the fifteenth and final Summit, Foel Fras.
The 3000ers (in order):
Snowdon 1085m (3560ft)
Garnedd Ugain 1065m (3495ft)
Crib Goch 923m (3028ft)
Elidar Fawr 923m (3029ft)
Y Garn 947m (3107ft)
Glyder Fawr 999m (3279ft)
Glyder Fach 994m (3262ft)
Tryfan 915m (3002ft)
Pen yr Ole Wen 978m (3209ft)
Carnedd Dafydd 1044m (3424ft)
Yr Elen 962m (3156ft)
Carnedd Llewelyn 1064m (3491ft)
Foel Grach 976m (3202ft)
Garnedd Uchaf 926m (3038ft)
Foel Fras 942m (3091ft)
My Top 5 Recommendations:
There's plenty of information on the route on the web already, but a few bits of random advice from me....
1. Particularly if you've not done much in the way of long distance hiking or running before, take 2-3 spare pairs of clean socks. When your feet get wet, or sweaty, that's when blisters quickly form. Keeping your feet clean and dry all day will definitely help. If you still get blisters, then use compede (worth carrrying)!
2. Ensure you keep faffing to a minimum. On this ocassion, I largely completed the challenge solo meaning I only stopped or faffed when I needed to. If you're completing this as a group, ensure you channel all of your breaks to be productive, each getting a drink, snack or whatever you need at the same time. Avoiding 5 or 6 minutes of faffing per peak could make your day 1.5 hours shorter, it all adds up!
3. Practice technical scrambles before you attempts the 3000ers. If you're not proficient at moving over technical, awkward ground then you're in for a very long day. Of course never rush if it's exposed but being confident and smooth over rough ground will help you.
4.. Take *lots* of water. If it's anywhere near as warm as it was when I did the challenge, then you'll need up to 1 litre of water per hour of strenious exercise (or so they say). Make sure you have a decent volume of water bottles with you and fill them when you can. You are unlikely to find many water sources along the way so when you pass one, take full advantage.
5. Make logisitical arrangements to have a car or driver at the finish. Not essential, but you'll thank yourself - after such a long day, the last thing you'll want to do is work out how to get back to Pen y Pass..
And have fun! If anyone has any questions about the challenge feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org