My Welsh 3000s challenge: an epic adventure

The bottom line is I failed to complete the challenge. I didn’t climb all of the 15 peaks in Snowdonia that are over 3000 feet (about 1000 metres), and make up the Welsh 3000s, I only climbed 10. An impulse decision meant I missed a whole section, covering 5 peaks, including my favourite, Tryfan. However, overall the challenge was enjoyable, I’m very pleased with what I did, and I’m very proud of John and the others, who completed the whole lot… it was very tough.

The day started well. We slept in the campervan at Nant Peris, and the alarm woke us at 3.00, after about 4 and a half hour’s sleep. We washed, dressed, had breakfast and checked our kit. We would carry what we needed for the first section of the challenge in our rucksacks, and put spare food and kit in the support van. When John went to pay for the parking, he left the van door open and it filled with midges, so we were happy to leave at 3.40 and wait for Joe (who organised the challenge) to pick us up and take us to Pen y Pass.

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Waiting in the dark with our kit boxes

The first section of the Welsh 3000s is from Pen y Pass to Nant Peris, over Crib Goch, Garnedd Ugain and Snowdon. At 10.5 kilometres, this is the shortest section but still has over 1000 metres of ascent. Dave and Gaz, experienced mountains leaders, were guiding us on this section. Although we all had head torches, it was getting light when we left, just before 4.15, and we didn’t need them. The cloud was low and it was cool and damp though, so we all had long sleeves or waterproofs on.

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On the way up the Pyg track

We set off up the Pyg track at a steady pace and I had no problems keeping up. I enjoyed listening to everyone chatting, and watching the sun come up and the views come and go as the thick cloud swirled around. We soon reached the stile to Crib Goch and the route became trickier and more exposed. I didn’t enjoy this section but at least I didn’t cry, like I did last time we did the Welsh 3000s! It’s not so much the exposure, which would be fine if I was standing still, it’s that I don’t trust small footholds and think I’m going to slip off them and fall. John was fine though, despite hating exposure!

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Starting Crib Goch

I was slower than most of the others but managed ok, with a little help in places, and a bit of bickering with John… as usual! The group stopped regularly to let the slower people (me!) catch up, and Dave reminded everyone to keep eating… something I don’t need telling twice!

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A great view of the ridge, showing Crib Goch, Garnedd Ugain and Snowdon… scary!

The second peak of the challenge is Garnedd Ugain, which is also a scramble, with lots of rocky pinnacles and steep drops. For some reason, I found this ok, while John got nervous and had ‘jelly legs’!

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Scrambling on the way up Garnedd Ugain

We then had a relatively easy climb to reach the top of Snowdon. Three peaks done already, while most people are still in bed! Unfortunately, the cloud was down so we couldn’t see the view, and we were soon soaked in the mist!

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The top of Snowdon

The way down was a trudge along the railway line to start with before we followed a fence to a stile. After this, the hillside dropped very steeply to the road, far in the valley below. We could see our campervan in the car park, which was where we’d meet Joe with his van.

At first this section was fun, with a few people slipping over on the wet grass and a lot of teasing going on. John and I found our poles very helpful and we made good progress. After a while the descent got tedious though… my knees were aching and the ground was muddy and boggy so my feet were wet. I got slower and ended up at the back again. Gaz stayed with me and helped point out the best route. He also picked some wood sorrel for me to try… it tasted like apple!

Finally, exactly 4 hours from the start at about 8.15, we reached the road, from where it was a short distance to the van in the car park. There, I went to the loo, changed my socks and top, topped up the water and snacks in my rucksack and grabbed some food. All too quickly we were off again… I was still eating my sandwiches!

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The profile for section 1 over the first 3 peaks, including Snowden

Section 2 is from Nant Peris to Ogwen over Elidir Fawr, Y Garn, Glyder Fawr, Glyder Fach and Tryfan (13.5 kilometres and over 1500 metres of ascent). George was leading this section with help from Dan, and I was still eating my sandwiches when everyone started jogging. The pace wasn’t fast but I ended up at the back again and started to panic. This happens sometimes… I don’t know why… my heart races and I get very anxious about being left behind, even though I know everyone will wait at a suitable point. I don’t feel as though I trained enough for the challenge so I’ve been worried about holding everyone up and, on the spur of the moment, I decided to drop out. I told John I was heading back to the car park and told him to continue. ‘Are you sure?’ he said. ‘Yes… go!’ I couldn’t spoil his challenge too.

I jogged back towards the car park, sandwich still in my hand, then saw Joe’s van pull out of the car park and head off in the opposite direction. I was already feeling cross with myself for giving up, wondering if I’d made the wrong decision, and I burst into tears. The campervan keys and my cash were in Joe’s van so I was stranded in Nant Peris! What had I done?!’

I tried to call Joe but it went straight to voicemail. The signal was really poor. I managed to get a text message to go, then tried to call John. That called failed too so I left more messages, then wandered around trying to get a better signal, tears streaming down my face. I don’t know what the young lad in high vis who was marshalling for a race thought of me!

Finally, I managed to speak to John, who’d found out that Joe had been up to Pen y Pass to drop Dave off and that he’d be heading back down the valley. I stood at the side of the road to flag him down and didn’t have to wait too long for him to appear. Dave also saw me when he passed and kindly stopped to check I was ok.

Joe was lovely with me and, when I told him I thought I’d made the wrong decision and should have carried on, he even offered to walk up to meet the others with me. We could see them on the hillside and they didn’t look far away but I felt it would take too long, and it wasn’t fair on Joe or the others. We talked about it and agreed that I’d spend a couple of hours in the van then he’d pick me up at 11.30 and take me to Ogwen to meet the others and walk the final section.

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On the Glyders, section 2, while I’m in the valley below

In the campervan, I put dry clothes on, made myself a cup of tea and some food, and started to write this blog. Then, when the time came, I picked up my kit, locked the van and went up to the road to meet Joe.

We drove to Ogwen and found a place to park, in a lay-by where we’d be able to see the group coming down the west gully on Tryfan. Looking at this, although I was sorry to be missing the middle section, and still wishing I had attempted it, I was glad I didn’t have to do that brutal descent.

The cloud started to lift and the sun started to poke through the clouds, getting quite hot at times. Joe pottered around preparing the supplies for the group, and getting ready to lead the final section of the challenge while I sat and enjoyed the scenery and the sunshine. It was lovely watching a mummy duck with her 9 little ducklings paddling up and down the edge of the lake while I took some paracetamol for my headache and made sure I was hydrated and properly fuelled for the next section of the challenge.

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Mummy duck and 8 of her 9 babies… the other must be hiding somewhere!

We kept getting updates from the others, telling us where they were as they knocked each peak off the list. Finally, after they announced they were on Tryfan, we started watching for them coming down the gully. Joe had binoculars and soon spotted them, but my eyesight must be rubbish because it was ages until I could see them!

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Joe waiting for the group to appear on the west gully of Tryfan

Finally, they came jogging along the road, looking much more tired than when we’d last seen them in Nant Peris, and desperate to drink some water because they’d all run out. Section 2 is very difficult with a few long slogs uphill, tough rocky terrain, and that awful knee breaking descent. I think it took them over 6 hours and, although they’d done much of it in low cloud, by now, it was rather hot and sticky. They were all still smiling though!

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John and some of the other 15 peakers jogging towards the support vehicle

When everyone had had time to change their socks, trainers and T shirts, attend to any blisters and top up with food and water, it was time to get going again. I’d decided against changing into shorts because the cloud was still low on the Carneddau, the next section, but just before we left the sun was blazing and I was regretting it. I stuffed my shorts in John’s rucksack as we left, jogging along the road. Thankfully, the jogging didn’t panic me this time!

The third and final section of the challenge is from Ogwen to Bwlch y Ddeufaen over Pen yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Dafydd, Yr Elen, Carnedd Llewelyn, Foel Grach, Garnedd Uchaf and Foel Gras. At over 20 kilometres (almost a half marathon!) it’s the longest section and has more than 1200 metres of ascent. It was now almost 3.30 and we’d been up for over 12 hours. John and the others had been walking for about 11 hours, and we didn’t expect to finish for another 6 hours.

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The profile for section 3 over the Carneddau

We climbed alongside a pretty stream with several waterfalls and crossed boggy open land before starting the scramble up Pen yr ole Wen. Everyone else had slowed down so I was able to keep up ok but I was struggling in the heat. I ended up stripping my leggings off and changing into my shorts in the middle of open land because I was so desperate to cool down, giving everyone a flash of my thong knickers and bare bottom in the process! The walkers nearby were gentlemen and averted their eyes 🙂

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View back towards Tryfan and the Glyders on the way up Pen yr Ole Wen

The views were stunning as we climbed, and we looked back towards the Glyders and the steep gully on Tryfan which the group had come down. Everyone was much quieter now and some people were obviously struggling with aches and pains on the climb, while others, especially the younger ones, were still forging ahead. Having had a rest, I enjoyed the scramble to the top of Pen yr Ole Wen, taking my time, chatting with the others and hearing all about the trials and tribulations of section 2. The scramble wasn’t too difficult and we gained height quickly, soon reaching the last part of the ascent across rocky ground to the peak about an hour and a half after leaving the valley, far below.

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John on Pen yr Ole Wen

We reached the next peak, Carnedd Dafydd, quite quickly. There, we stopped for a short break and had some more food in the shelter on the top. John was doing amazingly well… sore feet and tired, but no substantial aches and pains. He kept up a good pace too.

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In the shelter on Carnedd Dafydd

After Carnedd Dafydd there was a long flattish section over rough ground. I decided to use my poles to help my balance, as we picked away through the rocks strewn all over the mountains.

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Most of the section 2 peaks in the distance

The views in all directions were beautiful but the clouds were rolling in again now and it was cooler. Overall, it was perfect weather for the challenge, with no rain and, most of the time, a gentle breeze.

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Coming down Carnedd Dafydd, towards spooky mist

The next mountain, Yr Elen, is off to the side and, when doing such a long challenge, it’s a nuisance to have to get to, particularly as there’s a steep and unwelcome descent before the climb to the peak. It is quite a pretty peak though and the ascent isn’t as bad as it first appears. We took a path that would avoid us having to climbing Carnedd Llewelyn twice, but was narrow, rough and rocky…. hard work on tired legs.

After Yr Elen, we turned back, climbing up the steep path that we’d just come down, then  more gradually across open rocky ground. About 3 hours 40 minutes after leaving the Ogwen valley, we reached Carnedd Llewelyn, the highest peak in this section and the third highest in the whole challenge, after Snowdon and Garnedd Ugain.

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Carnedd Llewelyn

From here, the walking is relatively easy, with little ascent, but we were only half way through this section by distance and still had 10k to go. First we had a fairly long descent followed by a short ascent to Foel Grach, with it’s shelter on top. After this, there were two gentle peaks, Garnedd Uchaf and Foel Fras. The group became quite spread out at times because some people were more tired than others, and we kept stopping to regroup. My headache had got worse and I felt quite sick. I don’t know why. Up to this point I’d kept well hydrated but I struggled to drink when I felt sick, which probably made my headache worse. At times I felt pretty miserable, although I wasn’t having any problems with the challenge and I was enjoying the company of everyone around me and the amazing views as the sun started to go down. Snowdonia is beautiful!

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Sunset over Anglesey, far away in the distance

About 16 hours after starting the challenge, we reached the top of Foel Fras, the final peak over 3000 feet. The time from the first to the last peak was about 14 and three quarter hours, which is great…. a huge achievement and everyone who did it should be very proud of themselves. We had a group photo on the top and set off on the long 5 kilometre descent to the finish in Bwlch y Ddeufaen, where Dan was waiting in Joe’s van.

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On the last of the Welsh 3000s, Foel Fras

It was at this point that we realised we had another peak to go over on our way down to the finish. Some people ran for a while, trying to get back sooner, but others were finding walking enough of an effort. I plodded along towards the back, feeling quite poorly but very pleased I done this section, and enjoying the sunset. I think we were all pleased we’d finish before it got dark and that we wouldn’t be needing our head torches.

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Carneddau ponies as the sun goes down

We passed over the final bonus peak, Drum, then followed a fence line and wall downhill and finally reached the track leading to where the van was parked. We were all very pleased to see it and Dan, who’d even supplied chips for everyone. They smelt delicious!

It’s odd finishing a challenge like this. As with previous similar events I’ve done, everyone was very pleased  to have completed the Welsh 3000s but too tired to celebrate properly. Although quite a few people had a beer, which Joe supplied, I think we all just wanted to get showered and go to bed! That’s understandable though as we’d been up since 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning… maybe even earlier for some. We reached the car park at the end at about 9.40, meaning those who completed all 15 peaks spent 17 and a half hours walking and running. It really is an epic challenge!

We still had a few hours before we’d get to bed. A minibus had been booked to take people who had parked at Pen Y Pass and Nant Peris back to the start, but it wouldn’t come up to the car park and was waiting in the nearby village of Rowen. Dan had to do 2 shuttles to the meet the minibus, through narrow walled lanes and 2 gates, which took quite a while.  Then the minibus driver’s sat nav took us a very strange way out of Rowen via lanes towards Conwy, before turning back to go via Betws y Coed, rather than the shorter way along the A55 then via Llanberis. We were all very grumpy as we drove up the Conwy valley and even grumpier when the driver turned the wrong way in Betws y Coed, to drop a mobile phone off for someone who’d previously left it in the minibus!

We finally got back to the campervan in Nant Peris well after 11.00, and we still had another hour to get back home. When we got in, at last, we left our stuff in the van, deciding we’d rather sort it all out the next day, and preferring to just get a cup of tea and a hot shower and go to bed. It was 1.00 by the time we switched the lights out. I think we both fell asleep immediately. It had been a long and difficult, but very rewarding and often enjoyable day!

Indulging myself in a bit of reflection… Do I regret pulling out of section 2? Yes and no. Part of me does wish I’d continued and given myself a chance to complete the whole challenge. However, I don’t do regrets. What’s the point of beating myself up about something I can’t change. A few thoughts and learning points though…

I need to avoid making impulsive decisions. When I do this, I often make poor choices, and wish I’d handled situations differently, but… hey ho… I’m only human!

I also need to manage my anxiety better. Although, I’d made a fast decision to try and catch Joe before he left, maybe I should have waited until we regrouped and raised my concerns about falling behind then. I probably should have asked whether anybody minded having to keep waiting for me to catch up.

I also should have put more training in to give myself more confidence in my own ability. John and I have done no mountain hiking recently and few long runs, even though this challenge was marketed as a ‘run challenge’. Such training would have given me more confidence I could complete the sections quickly enough, and that I wouldn’t drop too far behind the others, which could lead to them getting cold and fed up. I just thought they’d all be thinking ‘why is someone that struggles to run in the mountains doing a run challenge?!’

John later told me the others would have been happy to wait, and had even talked about coming back to get me. I was very touched by this… and Joe and Dave making sure I was ok and offering to help. I almost cried when I heard John tell Joe he was glad I was back with him on section 3, it was so lovely. I honestly thought he’d have enjoyed section 2 more without having to keep waiting for me and listen to me moaning… I’m very lucky to have him 🙂 All this makes me realise I shouldn’t be so down on myself, expecting other people to think I’m a nuisance.

Although I did regret pulling out at the time, my only regret now is that I put John, George and the others in the difficult position of having to decide whether they should come back for me, and I made them feel responsible for what happened. Nobody else was at fault and they definitely shouldn’t feel that way… I was supported by everyone whenever I gave people a chance to help me. Pulling out was a spur of the moment decision, and even John wasn’t given chance to change my mind because I turned and ran, shouting to him to keep going.

I think pulling out of section 2 ultimately turned out to be the right decision. Yes, it immediately meant I wouldn’t complete the challenge. However, if I had done section 2, I probably would have been too tired to do section 3. I certainly enjoyed section 3 much more than if I’d completed section 2 and been aching all over and struggling with every step. I’m aching enough today as it is!

I’m fit and healthy, and I have completed some great challenges (including the Welsh 3000s in 2009), many of which I wasn’t sure I could manage… I think I need to remember that. I started this blog by saying the bottom line is I failed to complete the challenge. However, the more important bottom line is that I climbed 10 peaks over 3000 feet high, with 3342 metres of ascent over 30.5 kilometres… plus a bonus smaller peak. Not a bad day’s work! I think everything turned out well and I’m very happy with what I achieved 🙂

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Map of section 1 over Snowdon
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Map of section 3 over the Carneddau

2 thoughts on “My Welsh 3000s challenge: an epic adventure

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  1. An incredible achievement! And good on you, going back to complete section 3, I probably would have been so bleak and grumpy I would have hidden away in the camper van!

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  2. Thank you 🙂 I may have done that too if it wasn’t for Joe encouraging me to do section 3, and telling me he’d pick me up at 11.30. He always gives me great confidence in my ability, when I’m feeling anxious and down about it.

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