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The Welsh Three Thousanders to Moulam’s rules
A personal account of my walk, September 20th 1953
In 1953 I was in my fifth year as a medical student at Birmingham University and had been well and truly bitten with the climbing bug. I got up to Snowdonia as often as I could to walk and climb. I had attempted the Three Thousander 14 peaks on a couple of occasions and been defeated.
At the end of the summer vacation I spent three weeks acting as handy-man at Pen-y-Gwryd. My hours were 9-6 each day with Saturday and Sunday off and my pay 50 shillings plus “all found”. The food was wonderful hotel fare prepared by Jo Briggs and two very attractive hotel trainees. On one week-end, the Saturday was wet and I went for a hill walk with John Neil, a Climbers Club member. We had a good day out and got soaked. In the evening we got to discussing our next day’s walk. I had long wanted to do the well known “Three-thousanders” walk; the 14 peaks of Wales over 3,000 ft but to Moulam’s rules (Tony Moulam was a well-know climber of that era). These stated that you did the walk by including all the peaks and that you started and finished at the same place. The usual way to do this famous walk was to have someone take you to the start and pick you up at the other end. Often people would have friends to bring them food and drink at the points where the route crossed roads in the valleys. I suggested that we have a go at this walk the next day. Chris Briggs and everyone in the pub derided our presumption; it was still pouring with rain outside, but that, and the Worthington E, only made us more determined. Jo said there was no question of any support for our crackpot idea; they were fed up with helping various walkers who had then given up. Indeed Chris was prepared to wager the pub against our doing it! I took him on and put up Ynys Ettws as my wager.
John and I retired to the bunk house behind the Hotel and set our alarm clock. At three am it went off. I woke up, stopped it and listened. The rain was pattering on the roof of the bunk house. John seemed to be still asleep. It looked hopeless and I thought if I just went to sleep again we could say we had overslept our alarm and not lose face. But then I thought I had better give John a chance to agree, so woke him up. “O right”, he said, “Lets go”. Our first problem was that we found we had left our walking clothes and boots in the Hotel drying room so had to burgle our way in to retrieve them. At least they were dry but before we had reached Pen y Pass, short of a mile up the road, we were wet through.
I was grateful to have John lead up the pig track from there to the col, Bwlch y Moch where we left the pig track for the broad ridge up to Crib Goch and it began to get a little less dark. By the time we reached our first of fourteen summits, the rain had stopped but we were only just below the heavy mist. Along the knife sharp ridge we went carefully on the wet rocks to Crib y Ddysgl and on quickly to Snowdon summit. There we encountered a huddle of miserable walkers who had come up to see the sunrise! The only view was the inside of a wet cloud. As we strode down the broad path towards Llanberis we came below the cloud. At Cloggy station we dived over the edge to the right, steeply down with no path into Cwm Glas Bach and made our own route down to the road in the Llanberis Valley. Now, it was down the road, past Beudy-Mawr, a climbing hut belonging to the Wayfarers Club. We were quite short of food and hoped we might beg a cup of tea and perhaps a snack but no one was in residence. So we ate our only sandwiches there on the door step in our wet clothes. As we went up the long pull up to Elidir Fawr, the first of the next range of peaks, the weather improved and beyond its long summit ridge, the sun came out. Our sprits rose as we hurried along over Foel-Goch and Y Garn to the Glyders, Fawr and Bach. Down beside the Bristly Ridge we went to Bwlch Tryfan and up the rocky ridge to Tryfan summit. It was now one o’clock, the sun was out and I felt great. John had been very good to come with me because he knew he could not complete the walk as he had to be back at the Gwryd to get his lift back to London at five o’clock. So we said goodbye, he went south whilst I ran down north towards Lake Ogwen which I reached in about 15 minutes.
Then my path went past Glan Dena. This is a very nice hut belonging to the Midland Association of Mountaineers and I really hoped I might beg some food here as I was getting very hungry and still had the six summits of the Carneddau to climb and return to the Gwryd. The door was open so I haled the occupants, a cheerful couple. Remember, in those days there were far fewer hill walkers and climbers and therefore much greater camaraderie amongst climbers. I said I was attempting the 3 thousands walk and had Snowdon and the Glyders under my belt; pause, just the Carneddau to go; pause, “then I plan to walk back to Pen y Gwryd” I said. “O yes” they said. “Well” I said, “Hm, well, I suppose I had better be on my way – I guess” pause. “Yes” they said, “You better had”. So I left.
Half way up the long pull up to Pen-yr Ole Wen I assessed my provisions. I had part of a Cadbury’s milk chocolate bar with centimetre blocks. I calculated that I could have one small block on alternate summits! I was very hungry. But the sun was out and I felt strong, so on over Pen-yr Ole Wen to Carnedd Dafydd, a detour to take in Yr Elen, back up to Carnedd Llewellyn. There my luck changed and I met a couple of Liverpool men out for the day. Each of their wives had given them food for both and they generously shared it with me. I remember a Penguin bar and it never tasted so good. I completed the last two summits, Foel Grach and Foel Fras by about five o’clock. Then back past Llewellyn and Craig yr Ysfa to the A5 road as it was getting dark. The final seven miles along the road to Capel Curig and up to Pen y Gwryd were a slog but knowing I had done it against the odds and that I had won the Hotel, kept my spirits up. I arrived to a hero’s welcome and a fry up supper at about ten pm.
25 September 2009