back to archiveColin's story
We’d fancied a go at this ever since we saw a description of it in Trail Walker magazine (which shows how long ago it was). Basically it entails starting on the summit of Snowdon at first light and crossing all 15 (or maybe 16) Welsh 3000 foot tops within 24 hours. This is reckoned to be a fairly manageable target for fit hill walkers so as we’re supposed to be hill runners we decided to set ourselves the objective of completing it in 12 hours.
The route breaks down into three fairly distinct sections, split by two valleys with a road passing through each. We’d done all the summits in separate walks years ago so had a fair idea of the route/terrain etc in each section but didn’t know how to join the bits together. We also didn’t know the way off Crib Goch as you descend the North Ridge heading towards the next section whereas normally after a circuit of the Snowdon Horseshoe you’re heading back to the car park via the Pyg Track.
All in all we thought that a recce was definitely in order before the main event & so in February we booked a few nights in the Idwal Cottage Youth Hostel with a night booked stopping in Keswick on the way down.
Heading down on Saturday evening about 30 miles from Penrith the electrical warning light came on. I ignored it & hoped for the best but noted with foreboding that daylight was already on the wane. 20 miles from Penrith it was pitch black & the headlights started to dim, then died altogether & the car also began to lose power. I tried to get in behind a lorry so I could see where I was going & more importantly so people could see we were there. I managed to pull off the main road just before the engine died altogether. An hour later we were on the back of a Green Flag recovery vehicle on our way back to Perth. We arrived back home about eleven pm –about seven hours after we’d left & immediately got drunk to drown our sorrows.
On Sunday morning a desperate call to our mechanic saw him manage to magic up a new alternator & fit it by lunch time (about the same time as we were sober enough to drive again!). So it was back on the road but this time all the way to Snowdonia as our booking started that night.
The hostel is perfectly situated between the 2nd & 3rd sections of the 3000ers so our first day was spent trotting round the 3rd section which includes 7 of the required peaks. The second day we decided to try to check out the route off Crib Goch but follow it in reverse from the road up. We had a great little book called Welsh 3000 ft Challenges which gives pretty detailed route info and soon after dodging a few large areas of water ice we’d worked our way right up onto the main ridge of Crib Goch. As we knew the next bit we turned back & got to do the North Ridge the way we’d be doing it for real which was great (trying to memorize a few landmarks as we went). Right after this we followed the route to see where the line onto section 2 went & got this sussed out as well, so all in all a very successful day. Day three saw us doing the Glyders paying close attention to getting the correct descent of Tryfan down to the road and back to the hostel.
We now felt we had enough knowledge of the route to come back in the summer & have a go at the full thing & seeing as we’d thoroughly enjoyed the individual bits we resolved to do just that.
During the intervening period a friend, Bruce, had offered to come down and give us some support at the road crossings and possibly join us to run a section. Another local Perth Road Runner, Dave, who was also a keen hill walker said he was up for a go at the challenge as well so our team was now four.
We headed for Wales once again at the beginning of the last week in June and setup camp in Nant Peris. The first day was spent driving round the road route to show Bruce where we would be appearing off the hills at each road crossing & leaving Dave’s car at the finish to be picked up (hopefully) after a successful completion.
After an evening meal in the pub to keep us going, all four of us headed up Snowdon by the Miners track, an enjoyable stroll taken at an easy pace with plenty of photo stops especially by Bruce who had never been to Snowdonia before and was well impressed by the scenery. Once on the summit area Bruce nipped up to bag Carnedd Ugain while the rest of us searched for a suitable bivvy site (pictured). Joan & I were using a small Coleman bivvy tent which we’d bought for the upcoming LAMM while Dave was about to have his first (and possibly last!) experience of spending a night in a bivvy bag. With camp established and darkness encroaching Bruce headed down taking some excess gear we’d decided was surplus to requirements. The next time we’d see him would be at Blant-y-Nant on the road below the North Ridge of Crib Goch , hopefully with tea & cake for breakfast.
Despite the cold we managed to get a few hours fitful sleep disturbed by the occasional group of Three Peak Challengers who seemed to be out in force due to the fact it was near the longest day of summer. About 5:30 am the first glimmer of light began to appear & we dragged ourselves out of sleeping bags to get organised for setting off. By 6am we were standing at the summit trig point on Snowdon wishing each other good luck before the stopwatch was started and we were on our way.
Carnedd Ugain came in 13 minutes (already 8 minutes behind Colin Donnelly’s record time of just under 4 hours 20 minutes for the round – still plenty time to make that up later!) and a few minutes were lost finding the best line from here down to the start of the Crib Goch ridge. It was this ridge which I was most worried about although I’d done it twice before (not counting the recce) in the opposite direction. On those occasions though I’d stuck to the crest for maximum enjoyment but this time we were only interested in getting the summit & took a lower line along most of the way which made it fairly easy going & we were soon at the start of the North Ridge heading towards the first road crossing. Our recce of the descent of this ridge stood us in good stead as a lot of time would be lost route finding here if you weren’t sure of the way off. We made it down to the road with the most technical section behind us & met Bruce in just under 2 hours – a bit slower than I’d hoped but still pretty much within our overall target.
Bruce had a brew ready & fed us energy filled fruit cake before we headed down the road towards Nant Peris where we’d planned to make use of the public toilets as we passed. Unfortunately the toilets hadn’t opened yet so we carried on unwashed and took the turn off towards Elidir Fawr, the first summit in the middle section known as The Glyders.
The climb up the slopes of Elidir Fawr was unrelenting & we were pushing on fairly hard. Dave fell slighty of the pace & decided to return to base and join us with Bruce on the 3rd section – he’d done all the summits before except one on section 3 so he definitely wanted to bag that one. We told him he was doing fine & just to keep going but I think he was worried about holding us back.
So the two of us pressed on to the top of Elidir Fawr from where the ground got pretty easy for running and we made good time over the next summit Y Garn and down to the small tarn of Llyn y Cwn. Now came the 1000ft ascent to Glyder Fawr & with it a change in terrain to much rougher rockier stuff than the first half of this section. Eventually we reached the top of the slippery, shaly path & headed to the largest of the group of jagged outcrops which marks the summit of Glyder Fawr. The route now follows a fairly level path marked by cairns with stunning views down to Lyn Idwal occasionally being glimpsed through the swirling mist. The next obstacle is an imposing 200ft pile of huge jagged rocks called Castell y Gwynt (Castle of the Winds). During our recce we had traversed round the base of this & thought this was probably the quickest (& easiest) option but during a last minute check up on the Welsh 3000 website I noticed an update that said this peak was now being considered by some to be the 16th 3000er so we thought we’d better include it (especially as we’d never done it before). Luckily it looked a lot harder to negotiate (particularly in the mist) than it actually was and a quick bit of scrambling saw us over the top and jogging the few yards between this and the summit of Glyder Fach. From here it’s a steep loose & rough descent down the right hand side of Bristly Ridge to a col (or Bwlch) Bwlch Tryfan. The climb up Tryfan seemed relentless & for the last bit I felt jelly legged for the first (but not last!) time of the day. At the top the clock said 6 hours 45 mins and with 8 summits done & 7 to go I started to feel less than certain that we’d still make the 12 hour target. After a quick bite to (hopefully) replace some energy we started down the steep rocky gully which made for frustratingly slow progress but eventually, once out of the gully the path made quick going down to the car park on the Ogwen road where Bruce was waiting with drinks & a 10 minute rest was in order. The clock now said 7 hours 15 minutes with the last section comprising the 7 tops of The Carneddau still to go.
Dave had headed off on this section a while ahead of us & Bruce was now joining us till the finish so he paced us up the 2300 ft climb from the road to Pen Yr Ole Wen. This was the ascent I’d been dreading even at the planning stage & although it was difficult to climb such a steep slope on tired legs it wasn’t as bad as I’d been expecting. I was certainly glad that we’d plumped for the steeper, quicker route from the west end of Ogwen rather than the easier but slower eastern end approach. Once the top of Pen Yr Ole Wen is gained most of the hard work is done and although it still took us over 2 ½ hours from here to the finish on Foel Fras it is really just a case of digging in & keeping going. That said , our previous recce was still a great advantage as knowing exactly where the most direct paths split off & which tops were actually the main summits meant precious minutes were not wasted on wrong routes or indecision.
A couple of more spells of extreme weariness struck but were overcome to keep the forward momentum (trot) going. We caught up with Dave at the summit of Yr Elen , which was the top he needed to bag , and the whole team continued the rest of the way over the remaining 3 tops until finally stopping the clock on Foel Fras at 11 hours 12 minutes & 48 seconds.
How Colin Donnelly did this route in under 4 hours 20 is amazing & shows his real class as a hill runner. I reckon we could have at best maybe got just inside 10 hours if we hadn’t bivvied overnight, starting off warm,well rested & carrying less gear, arriving off the first train in the morning (the train wasn’t running anyway) but this is pure speculation & it was a happy couple who swigged whisky generously provided by Bruce at the final cairn.
Although the route was complete it was still another hour and a half back to Dave’s car & now that the big push was over it was just a seemingly never ending slog even though it was all downhill. Just as we were a mile away from the car the rain came pouring down for the first time of the day and we counted our blessings that we’d had a great day for the challenge.
Many thanks to Bruce for the excellent support without which the run would have been a lot more difficult & to both Bruce & Dave for company & pacing provided on the route itself.
All in all it was a great few days holiday (not counting the weeks recce) which we all enjoyed and the route itself can be highly recommended as it really lends itself to this kind of challenge with road crossings for support, plenty of runnable sections & stunning scenery the whole way.
If you plan to have a go at the route or even a recce then get the book “The Welsh Three Thousand Foot Challenges – A Guide for Walkers & Hill Runners” by Roy Clayton & Ronald Turnbull ; it has extremely detailed route information which proved invaluable in making our trip a success.