back to archiveThe same 14 peaks in a different order

The same 14 peaks in a different order

In autumn 2012 I re-read ‘I bought a mountain’ and around the same time discovered the Snowdonia Society Website and the 3000’s database and to complete the trilogy, I was offered use of a small cottage in Fach wen on the slopes of Elider Fawr.

Having done the traverse nearly thirty years ago, I thought that I ought to be on the database but, of course, couldn’t remember the journey in much detail so decided to do it again.

Looking at the map something that struck me was the geographical distance between the start and finish, which seemed to demand a pre-parked car.

So I fixed a map of snowdonia under a sheet of Perspex and started marking the peaks and paths, drawing lines and measuring distances, and so was born the idea of starting on Elider Fawr and finishing on Snowdon thereby starting and finishing in the same valley making a solo traverse more convenient..

Once the route was devised, satellite images studied, maps poured over, and a couple of ground visits organised I only had to attend to my fitness and so at the end of February began training, I bought a pair of Walsh PB’s and devised some local hilly training routes – I live in Gloucestershire so we have some hills but nothing very big, however I reasoned that as long as I could run the flatter and downhill bits of the 3000’s I could manage a reasonable time.

At 3.30 am on 1st June 2013 I set off from a rented cottage in Fach wen and ascended Elider Fawr. At 5.30 I left the summit of EF and 12 hours later arrived at pen y pass exhausted and sore, Crib Goch etc still remained to be done but not by me at that time; I was finished and it took me a week for my legs to recover. But I learnt a few things and booked a return attempt.

I continued training and reviewed my failed attempt, I saw that I had stopped for a rest too often and worse, stopped for an hour at the foot of Tryfan, also I had wasted far too much energy on some fast descending from Y Garn to Ogwen cottage and Carnedd Llewelyn to the A5 and I had wasted 15 minutes walking in a circle in the clouds on Carnedd Llewelyn. I also needed to carry more food and water.

At 4am on 28th July 2013 I set off from the same rented cottage and ascended the same Elider Fawr (5.30am) but this time without wasting time having a rest I continued straight to Y Garn (6.21am) with the drizzle fading away and the dawn breaking.

The descent to Ogwen cottage is steep but easy enough with steps much of the way, the real difficulty lies directly across the road – Pen Yr Ole Wen. Straight up from the A5 - 108 minutes after leaving Y Garn I reached the top – I had said to myself “just go steady and dont stop” but I have to report that I did stop – just below the final difficulties; the relentless incline just becomes overwhelming.

The Carnedds stretched out in sunshine with a few clouds floating by, last time I was here it was in fast moving sea mist with navigation by compass and map essential, this time it was all clearly visible – perfectly laid out before me.

Dafydd was reached in 18 minutes (2h 53m). The traverse below Llewelyn on to Yr Elen (3h 43m) was accompanied by a bit of cramp just above both knees, but by a bit of massaging and taking it gentle for a few minutes saw it off never to return. Still avoiding the summit of Llewellyn I jogged on towards Foel Grach (4h 18m) turning right a bit at Carnedd Uchaf and in another 30 minutes crossing Foel Fras (4h 48m). The route now turns right round and heads back south to finally ascend the delayed Llewelyn, 11.09am (5h 36m).

The weather was still perfect, but strangely, there were no people at all – I had the whole of the Carneddua to myself apart from sheep and ponies. From the summit of Llewelyn I could see Tryfan, the next peak. But before that there was the height to loose, the height gained so strenuously on Pen yr ole wen.

On my first attempt I descended from Cefn Ysgolion Duon to the A5 in 34 minutes but this time I took it easy, more conscious of the ascending still to come. I come off the ridge a bit before my previous attempt and descend slightly less rocky ground following Afon Bodesi, but the stream twists and turns inthe long grass and its slow going picking a way through the treacherous ground, the soles of my feet, which started hurting at Ogwen cottage, feel like the skin has split, it hasn't but that's how it feels, which is what matters because I keep putting my feet down slightly sideways and so more than once I turn my ankle; there's no damage done but the risk is there so I tighten my shoes and grit my teeth.

At the start of heather terrace I have a friend waiting with food and water, he was expecting me at 12 but I made reasonably good progress from Foel Fras so the rendezvous is made early, we sit and watch the climbers on Little Tryfan for ten minutes until we part company, me up and he down to drive round to Pen y Pass for our second rendezvous.

Tryfan via Heather Terrace (8h 20m), it seems a good while since I stood on Llewelyn. No time or inclination to jump Adam and Eve but just to descend to Bwlch Tryfan and begin the ascent of the screes (the more energetic could ascend Glyder Fach up Bristly Ridge but not me). I check the time its 2.22pm as I start up hill. I recheck the time at the top wondering if it might be 2.44pm and it is - magic is in the air!

Glyder Fach is reached at 14. 52pm (9h 19m) – Glyder Fawr (9h.55m).

The descent to pen y pass from GF might actually be pretty easy going but after 10 hours its tiresome, the soles of my feet still hurt and that been augmented by more pains elsewhere.

The point of failure last time is steadily approaching but this time I am determined to push on, I know that I won’t let this project rest until its done and if I fail a second time then I have to do all the route I have just done again, and that doesn't present an attractive proposition.

Pen y pass is reached at about 4pm, only 3 now remain to be done but the bulk of Crib Goch looms ahead with Snowdon in dark cloud. People get on the sherpa bus or into their cars as I pass through the car park and on the PYG track I pass more people coming down.

Now begins the final steep climb up the end of Crib Goch, half way up I have the distinct impression that both Bwlch moch and the summit are getting further away and that the bit I am is a kind of

Pergatory never to end. Ledges and holds come and ledges and holds go by and others come to replace them.

At 17.52pm (12h 19m) I look along the gloomy ridge of Crib Goch.

Its narrow, its gloomy, the wind blows hard and the drop on the right looks long, I’ve been up on Crib Goch quite a few times so it holds no fears but even so when I find myself on a 12 inch wide ledge going nowhere I am aware of some undesirable possibilities; the hand holds are jugs but some are loose, each step and move has to be deliberate as I transfer myself onto the east side of the ridge, I have the whole place to myself and time is getting on, no one will see me fall.

The ridge starts to change its character as I begin the descent to Bwlch coch, now its up again, more up climbing – will it ever end? - but there ahead is a trig pillar, Garnedd Ugain (12h 57m) and then, at 18.45pm, 13hours and 12 minutes after leaving Elider Fawr I sit on Yr Wyddfa in the mist only to be contemplating the descent. I pass people gingerly descending the stone stair case, knowing I'll be in the car before they are, feeling a bit smug at my sure footed progress, half way along the PYG Track the rain starts and intensifies, I can’t be bothered with a waterproof now, I meet a group going up, its about half seven, its bucketing down and some are in shorts, why would they be going up Snowdon at this time? I ponder this for much of the rest of the way back to pen y pass which I achieve 16 hours and about 30 miles after leaving the cottage.

I call it the Byrne Route. But the official start and finish ought to be in Nant Peris and really it should incorporate the north ridge of Tryfan as well as Bristly ridge. I might try it next year.

As a postscript I see that to start and finish in the same place is called doing it by Moulam’s rules so may I suggest this route as a good way to do that – the walk along the road as described by Dr Milledge sounds less than appealing!

John Byrne