Easily defined and without the need for either technical climbing skills or specialist equipment, the Welsh 3000s done in a day present the budding hill walker-cum-mountaineer with the perfect challenge. Requiring fitness, stamina, a head for heights and a knack with a map and compass, ascending the fourteen mountains of Wales inside a day is neither a mean feat nor a foregone conclusion for the hapless walker who sets off in their pursuit.
Even if it weren’t dark we still wouldn’t be able to see a thing – the wind is lashing the rain sideways across our faces. My three clients must be praying that one of the others will buckle first while I feel as if I’m doing a PhD in navigation across the Glyderau of Snowdonia, map and compass firmly in hand heading for Glyder Fawr. We’re doing the “Welsh 3000s” – what people do on a weekend when other normal, sane, people go shopping, clean the house and go out for a beer…
First given public recognition in 1919, a party from the Rucksack Club led by Eustace Thomas, completed the traverse of Wales’ highest mountains within 24 hours. Over the course of the 1960s and 70s records for the traverse began to fall steadily, with some of the best fell runners taking on Welsh challenge with famous names like Chris Brasher and Joss Naylor helping to bring the record ever southwards. The current record of 4 hours 19 minutes set Colin Donnelly has stood since 1989. Over twenty years without any broken record maybe shows just what a push this one is.
Nowadays, it is not long for anyone who enjoys the hills to hear about the legendary challenge that is the “Welsh 3000s.” It’s usually in the warmth of a pub when the beer starts and someone utters those words
“… how hard can it be? Let’s do it!”
Such challenges give us something to aim for and help us define who we are. In the true spirit of adventure, stepping beyond one’s comfort zone puts credit back into our long overdrawn bank of courage, to draw upon for future challenges.
Part of the joy of undertaking this challenge is in the planning and preparation. Planning requires knowledge of the area, detailed study of local maps and referring to a few choice websites. Preparation requires lots of cardio-vascular fitness (normally best achieved by running up and down hills), a layer of zinc tape applied to your feet the night before as well as the ritual consumption of brown pasta.
Although for any hope of getting near to the record, you will need to be an experienced mountain runner, walking the route in a day is feasible for those with good levels of fitness, some mountain walking experience and a bit of luck (weather and blisterwise).
Choosing the style in which the challenge is to be completed is also a consideration. Traditionally the challenge begins at the summit of Snowdon and ends at the summit of Foel Fras. Getting to and from these summits normally adds another 8 miles to the day – and that’s 8 miles which are not counted as a part of the challenge! It’s like doing the London marathon – but walking for two hours first.
With this in mind there are all sorts of permutations: to bivvy on Snowdon and start ‘fresh’ the next day or to start at Pen y Pass car park and add the ascent of Snowdon to your day. Personally my days of sleeping at or near the summit of Snowdon are over: it’s unbelievably busy up there with the world and his wife attempting one challenge or another keeping you far from sleep. Of course – if you’re not going to be dogged by tradition you may also decide to begin with Crib Goch or go South to North and start at Foel Fras.
The whole challenge incorporates the ascent of fourteen mountains – but this is a little misleading as these are conveniently situated in three adjacent groups:
- the Snowdon group (3 peaks)
- the Glyderau (5 peaks)
- the Carneddau (6 peaks)
With the Snowdon group done, you’ll need a calorie-packed breakfast before pushing up the biggest and baddest of the lot – Elidir Fawr (Big Elidir). This is only the fourth peak but for many it can be make or break. Going straight from near sea level to an altitude of 923m gives you plenty of time to ponder your fitness and the merits of undertaking this arduous event versus a plate of egg and chips served with a pint of tea at Pete’s Eats in nearby Llanberis. The Glyderau culminate with Tryfan and then a hasty retreat to the A5 in the Ogwen Valley where hopefully a support team will be waiting for you with some hot food and dry socks.
If you make it out from the A5 – the chances are you’ll complete the task. In a parallel universe of dreamland you may finish in time for last orders at the Vaynol Arms. Back in real life you won’t. The race is on now to get Yr Elen (the third in the final group) bagged before it gets dark – a sneaky traverse around and below Carnedd Llewelyn helps with this. And if you get Llewelyn ticked off before dark you’ll be romping home to the finish line two peaks later at Foel Fras with a skip in your stride. But don’t be too quick with those high fives – it’s still a good two hours to get down to a waiting car a further four miles north from this end point.
View The Welsh 3000ers in a larger map. GPX data courtesy of haroldstreet.org.uk
The Welsh 3000ers
Distance: 24 miles between peaks, although total walking distance ends up nearer to 30 miles.
Ascent: 3000+ metres (around 10,000 feet)
Record Time: 4 hours 19 minutes. Anything under 12 hours is very good going.
Estimated Finish Time: Running, you should be
Difficulty: 8/10 if you’re thinking about running the route. 6/10 if you’re walking. Navigation and terrain issues remain the same for both.
A classic welsh mountain route, cherry-picking some of the natural highlights of North Wales. The sense of achievement is a good one. Despite the physical nature of the challenge, it is navigation and preparation that are key here. Many sections of the route can become obscured in foggy conditions and parts are likely to be walked in the dark.
What do I need?
You will need physical fitness and navigation skills to get by.
Kit requirements depend on whether you are running or walking the route. Running generally means that less time on the hills and therefore less kit however, you should still have warm layers and waterproofs to prepare for unforeseen weather/circumstances and injuries. Expect rain, expect it to be cold at night and steer clear of all things cotton (no jeans on the hill!) Whatever you use, make sure it’s comfortable. If you’re a fell runner with strong ankles and tough feet, and the weather is good you may wish to wear fell shoes for some/all of the route, the advantage being their lightness. But they are no good for keeping your feet dry and offer no ankle support. A mobile phone to call for help is a good idea, although reception may be a problem in places.
When to go:
Aim to do this challenge as close to mid-summer’s day and reap the rewards of as much daylight as you can. Best of all – go mid-week close to mid-summer’s day and get the hills to yourselves too!
What to Take:
Expect rain, expect it to be cold at night and steer clear of all things cotton (no jeans on the hill!) Whatever you use, make sure it’s comfortable. If you’re a fell runner with strong ankles and tough feet, and the weather is good you may wish to wear fell shoes for some/all of the route, the advantage being their lightness. But they are no good for keeping your feet dry and offer no ankle support.
The Yorkshire Three Peaks: marathon distance done in 12 hours incorporating Yorkshire’s three biggest hills.
The Derwent Watershed: 42 mile circumnavigation of the (Dark) Peak District – and if you do this in the form of the High Peak Marathon you do it in winter and overnight too!
The Bob Graham Round: More men have walked on the moon than completed this Lake District circuit … (well not really, but it’s truly hallowed ground for skinny runners who think a layer of Lycra is enough to equip them to the top of Everest and back).
Paddy Buckley Round: Similar to the Bob Graham, but in Wales. The 61 mile route takes in 47 peaks on the Carneddau, the Glyderau and the Moelwynion ranges and 28000 feet of ascent.
Charley Ramsey Round: The Scottish mountain run. This one should take less than 24 hours, top out on 24 peaks and 28000 feet of ascent.
www.will4adventure.com: Will Legon is a professional mountain leader and leads teams on 1,2 and 3 day versions of the Welsh 3000s every year. More information on the Welsh 3000s and training for the hills can be found on his site.
www.14peaks.com: Run by the Snowdonia Society, the official home of the challenge and record database. If you make a crossing, be sure to submit your details to them for approval.
www.welsh3000ers.co.uk: A more than thorough account of the traverse with all the practical information and tips that you are ever likely to need when attempting the crossing.
Read all about it – The Welsh Three Thousand Foot Challenges: A Guide for Walkers and Hill Runners by Roy Edward Clayton and Ronald Turnbull, Grey Stone Books, 2010
*The Fifteenth Peak
Some people refer to this as the Fifteen Peaks Challenge – or refer to the fifteen Welsh 3000s. It’s true – there are 15 peaks that are 3000 feet or higher and Garnedd Uchaf is the “fifteenth peak”. But for it to count as one of the three thousanders it needs to have a relative height gain of at least 150 feet and alas Garnedd Uchaf climbs around 100 feet from the surrounding plateau – hence in this article we maintain that there are only 14 Welsh three thousanders.