By Dan Stinton
“Do you want to do the Welsh 3000s?” said Imogen (Immy). “Yes, why not!” I replied. I soon start to wonder if I actually know what I’m signing myself up for. It’s a run isn’t it? In Wales with some mountains.
A quick internet search reveals that “some” mountains actually means all of them above 3000ft. There seems a couple of discrepancies about how many there are, but we decided to stick with the 15 on the Welsh 3000s website.
There are some different route options to complete the challenge but we decided to take on the “traditional” route that Colin Donnelly completed in 1988 in an astonishing 4 hrs 19 mins.
The “traditional” route means you have to start at the summit of Snowdon (1,085m) with many people choosing to camp overnight to get an early start. We decided that this would just add some extra faffing by having to carry more equipment in the morning and probably lead to a poor night’s sleep so we decided to set-up camp in Nant Peris and walk up Snowdon in the morning.
We’d been checking the weather forecast all week and it was due to be sunny all day, although the forecast for the top of Snowdon was showing a little snow. However, at 5:30am as we headed up the Pyg track, we were somewhat surprised to be caught in a flurry of snow.
Around halfway up it was a huge relief to see the clouds breaking and clear skies emerge which made the surrounding snow-covered mountains look so much more beastly. Given the whole challenge is about getting up and over 3000ft numerous times we knew we were in for a cold day.
Snowdon was already getting a little busy before 7am so we touched the summit, started our watches and began running to the second summit, Garnedd Ugain (1,065m). A nice easy one to tick off, but afterwards it soon became a snowy scramble as we headed towards the notorious Crib Gogh (923m).
Considering the weather, we had a few concerns about tackling Crib Goch. However, it was already lurking in the back of our minds that if we didn’t, we’d have put an enormous amount of effort into “nearly completing the Welsh 3000s”. Clearly not worth dying for, but we made an assessment: the wind was low and we weren’t trying to break any speed records, so decided to take it slowly and carefully and not continue along the ridge past the summit but back-track and descend via Llyn Glas.
We’ve now learnt it’s all about knowing the best line to take to the summit (which we didn’t) but we made it anyway with one slightly difficult moment where I needed to have a quick climbing lesson from Immy to stop myself plunging to certain death. We made it back to safe ground and back down to our campsite in Nant Peris to pick up some supplies.
Next up is the Glyder section, involving some quad-quivering climbs and numerous slices of pizza and cake. I was beginning to feel a little tired here and as we started to descend from Glyder Fach (994m) my eyes kept flicking up the rather monstrous Tryfan (918m) looming ahead. It wasn’t the sheer scale of it but also the obvious amount of descent that we’d have to do before we would even start climbing it.
Suddenly, I spotted a strong, muscular dog bounding towards us. It was a surprise visit from Twiglet, shortly followed by her owner, friend and clubmate Kasia! Doing the challenge as a duo was fantastic but it was great to see another friendly face and get some big hugs before we set off on our way.
We did have a small support crew consisting of Immy’s dad and grandad who met us at Ogwen before starting the final Carnedd section. As a plate of spaghetti bolognese was passed into our eager hands, it suddenly felt like an eating competition with our spoons a blur as we ravenously wolfed it all down (I think I won but there was probably only one spoonful in it).
Photo credit: Jon Trinder
Just seven summits left in the final section, which could be described as the easiest underfoot, tiredness was setting in and the initial push up Pen yr Ole Wen (978m) was a long slog. It wasn’t long after that we saw a couple climbing up alongside us. They looked clean and fresh but after chatting to them, I was almost horrified to find out they were also doing the Welsh 3000s route that day.
As we looked down at our dirty, bedraggled and slightly bolognese-covered-selves it felt slightly embarrassing that some 10+ hours into the route they still looked like they’d been on a joyous afternoon hike! We pushed hard during the final section as it had got to the point where the entire focus was just on finishing. We finally arrived at the final summit (Foel Fras 942m) some 11 hrs 08 mins since setting off from Snowdon.
After 13-14 hours on our feet we soon realised it was far too late and cold to consider the optimistic beer and BBQ plans so pretty much passed out as soon as we’d cleaned up at the campsite.
Whilst races are brilliant, undertaking a challenge like this outside of a race environment really takes things back to basics. On recent ultras I’ve found some of the mentally-cleansing beauty of trail running can be marred by a conveyor belt of ultra runners plodding along.
I’m not criticising of course, as I’m part of that conveyor belt, but I definitely prefer the later stages of a race where everyone has spread out and you can be out there on your own facing the challenge in your own way. Taking on a known route as a duo meant we were largely alone on the giant Snowdonian playground.
We, of course, saw loads of people as we passed through the more touristy areas, but everyone is out on their own journey whether it be a single trek up to one or more of the peaks, a walk around the lower levels or a Welsh 3000 route. This was one of the most difficult challenges I’ve ever done, not least because of the weather, the terrain and sheer amount of steep climbing.
Thanks so much to Immy for being brilliant company on the whole route, keeping the cool on Crib Goch and just showing me the magnificent delights of Snowdonia, a lot of which I hadn’t seen before we started planning this. I loved it all!
All photos courtesy of the author except where stated.