Welsh 3000s —15 mountains in under 24 hours
We awoke at 3:30 am, stomach twisting and turning between excitement and nerves. We popped downstairs in Llanberis YHA for a speedy bite of brekkie. A quick check of the weather told us that it would be drizzly to start, sunny in the middle and potentially torrential rain to end… ahh. At 4 am, we set off into the dark morning, head torches on and waterproofed up, to climb Mount Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa)— Wales’ highest peak and also the start of the Welsh 3000s challenge — before sunrise.
The Welsh What?
The Welsh 3000s is a UK-based hillwalking challenge in which you have 24 hours to climb all 15 of Wales’ over-3000ft mountains, by foot. Including the walk-in and walk-out, it totals around 30 miles and ~4,000m of ascent. Ross and I had tried it the previous year (2016) and failed due to bad weather and bad timing, leading to difficult night navigation, getting very lost and walking off the wrong side of a mountain down a dangerously steep gully.
At 6:17 am on Saturday morning, Nick, Ross and I began our attempt. Mountains one, two and three were wet, cold and almost entirely inside a cloud, included the knife-edge Crib Goch.
With the sun rising in the sky and the clouds eventually scudding off into the distance, we were left with the as-promised glorious sunny day. We dropped down into the first valley, found our stash of snacks and water, refuelled and rang-out our socks. The second section starts out with a gruelling climb back up the other side of the valley to the next undulating ridgeline of five mountains. Nick, very sadly, had to drop out mid-way through this section due to a dodgy knee. Ross and I continued, eventually passing the point where we’d dropped out a year previously and onwards and upwards to the summit of the spectacular shark-fin mountain, Tryfan. On the ascent we had a stark reminder of the risks of these mountains with the arrival of the Mountain Rescue helicopter evacuating one walker on a stretcher — one must never underestimate British mountains, they may be small, but they can still be very dangerous.
From Tryfan, we descended once more into the second valley, met up with Nick and our second stash for another rest and refuel (funnily enough, a mouse found our stash overnight and had eaten ~1/8th of our precious Golden Syrup Cake which we had to eat around). I was already pretty broken by this point — mentally tired, physically knackered. My feet had been bathing in the squelchy waters of my walking boots since we started more than 12 hours previously, they looked like I’d fallen asleep in a bath tub and felt like trench foot had already set in. My Achilles tendon was so swollen I could hear it creaking in its sheath through my body.
Anyhow, we’d got this far, and I wasn’t going to come back and do all this again, so back we hobbled into the fast-darkening dusk and up a steep incline to the next section of mountain summits starting at Pen yr Ole Wen. This section was about as extreme as my hillwalking has ever been. Just as we reached the top of the first mountain (still with 7 summits remaining) the weather turned, ropes of rain were being dumped in the valley behind us, and then directly on us. We trudged on, occasionally checking the GPS and map in the dark to ensure we hadn’t strayed from the route. It was near-impossible to make out anything that could be described as a path up there. Slowly but surely, another mountain top ticked off, and another one. I became slightly delirious and intimidated by the vast darkness and looming pitch-black mountains all around. I had a true realisation of how tiny, insignificant and vulnerable we were, with our little head torches on, scurrying around like teeny-tiny ants lost on a hilltop, so far from home.
We completed mountain number 12, Yr Elen, a difficult and long detour, steep drops on all sides. It was on our return to the ‘path’ that I started to see some worrying signs from Ross. In my peripheral vision I noticed him stumbling a little, when I stopped to ask if he was OK, he was almost falling asleep standing up and not making a whole lot of sense when speaking. When he said he felt drunk, I was very worried indeed. We were in the middle of nowhere, the rain and wind had been pounding us for hours, pretty much everything we had was saturated, I had no way of calling for help and I couldn’t have carried him down. We forced food into our bellies, jammed Jelly Babies in our gobs, put our down jackets on under our raincoats and tried to keep moving fast enough to keep warm, but not so fast that Ross would fall over. I kept asking him questions which kept his brain active, although did result in some slightly strange stories.
As the next hour passed, the path became more apparent, the undulation reduced and Ross’ condition improved. 3 mountains to go. 2 mountains to go, we might actually just make it. At 3:08 am, with huge relief and a sliver of orange dawn breaking, we touched the final trig point on the final mountain, Foel-fras. We’d managed to complete the challenge in 20 hours 51 minutes. Due to the 2-hour climb to the top of Snowdon that morning and the walk-out to the car in the nearest car park, we walked for 25 hours 30 minutes, almost non-stop from 4 am Saturday morning to 5:30 am Sunday morning.
It’s longest I’ve ever consecutively walked. We were so sleep deprived and exhausted that we both hallucinated non-existent humans on the walk-out. But I absolutely loved it. There’s something wonderful about mountains, good friends and an absurd challenge to push your body physically and mentally. Nothing puts a city-dweller in their place better than breaking yourself emotionally and physically in the wilderness. Reducing us back to our animal beings, feeling properly alive.
- Total walking time: 25hrs 30mins
- Welsh 3000s time: 20 hours 51 mins
- Distance: 64.6km (40.1 miles)
- Total ascent: 4,137m
- Calories burned: ~11,000
- Calories consumed: 4,900
- Steps walked: 94,835
Welsh 3000s Website: Fantastic route descriptions and annotated photos.
ViewRanger: My favourite GPS app for hillwalking.
MotionX-GPS: The GPS app I use for tracking walks, with spoken updates on your progress.
Llanberis YHA: A convenient Youth Hostel if you’re starting up the Llanberis path. Although I would perhaps suggest Pen-y-Pass YHA and taking the Pyg Track to the summit of Snowdon as it’s a smaller ascent.
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