Welsh 3000 Challenge

By Kenny Stocker

I was taking a break from climbing, tennis elbow had been getting me down. With a couple of runs under my belt I was ready for a new challenge. The weekend weather forecast looked fab for Snowdonia so I decided that it would be a good idea to try the Welsh 3000ers in lightweight fastpacking style. I calculated a round trip of 60km with 3500m of ascent.

10 April

Snowdon horseshoe, first stop on the Welsh 3000

My first fail was to arrive in Llanrwst 1 minute after the chip shop closed. My second fail was to arrive in Betws-y-Coed 1 minute after the chip shop closed. My third fail was to sleep in the car. Outside temperatures were about 2 degrees but it felt much colder than that in my tin coffin.

Saturday 6 am, I was glad to be moving. My pack felt good, light on my back with just the basics for an overnight bivvy. I was assisted by CarbonLite poles which I hoped would save my knees on the steep decents. Reaching Pen-y-Pass at 6.30 I followed the Pyg Track to summit Snowdon at 8. I was pleasantly surprised and felt good despite some abrasion on my left heal. Heading down over Crib Goch I turned sharp left and jogged along in the direction of Nant Peris. So far so good.

The path from Nant Peris to the summit of Elidir Fawr was new to me and I discovered it to be a long, long sustained drag. I caught up with a couple of guys who were on a reconnaissance for an attempt on the 3000ers in June. We chatted for a bit before I started pulling away at a rate so imperceptibly slow I wasn’t sure if I should say goodbye or not! Actually it was a pretty good day for hill banter, no road rage here, there were positive vibes in the air, even from the guy who nearly had his thumb bitten off by his Jack Russell on the descent from Tryfan. Everyone was out to enjoy it.

So there I was on Elidir Fawr at 11.30. I was pretty exhausted, it was hot and I hadn’t drunk enough. I was conscious of time ticking away so I set off promptly around the long traverse towards Y Garn. This should have been a chance to recuperate but I felt fatigued and I was moving slower than I would have liked. The climb up to Glyder Fawr forced me to call upon my emergency Ginsters cheese and onion pasty earlier than expected.

The traverse across to Glyder Fach took an eternity and I renamed the path down the side of Bristly Ridge to Beastly Ridge. My knee which had been flaring up over the past few weeks, coincidently whilst jogging was now showing real signs of destructing. I didn’t have a watch and only knew the time when I took a summit photo on Tryfan. It was a surprise to see it had only just gone 3. If I could get down to Llyn Ogwen by 4 I would still have another 4 hours of daylight and it would still be a goer.

My knee was not in agreement. It had taken a pounding all day and was not going another step. Accepting failure I took a look at the rubbing on my left heal. A nasty bloody patch sealed my fate. It was a cup of tea at the Ogwen cafe and game over.

12 April

Bivvying in the Ogwen boulder field

So near but so far, but it wasn’t wasted. I enjoyed a peaceful bivvy in some boulders along Llyn Ogwen. It was a lovely starry night which passed comfortably on the full length Airo 180 mat. I had carried it all day so I was glad to use it.

I still harboured thoughts of finishing the remaining 3000ers, but another look at my heal remind me this was not a good idea. In the end I had a slow but enjoyable trek back over the Tryfan - Glyder pass trying not to weight either the blister on my left foot or my painful knee on my right leg. Fastpacking had turned into lightweight hobblebackpacking.

24 April

Patches of snow on Snowdon in April

The weather was continuing to hold. I had spent the previous weekend cycling between Snowdon and Cadair Idris. Now I was back for a second attempt fastpacking the 3000ers. Had I learned enough from the previous attempt, had I recovered enough, should I have just gone to the beach?

My equipment was the same - lightweight pack, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, bivvy bag and tarp. I knew this worked well, the PD250 was spot on for the season and the tarp/bivvy combination would provide flexible shelter allowing me to hunka down where ever I fell. I had enjoyed running with the CarbonLite trekking poles so they were also back.

This time I arrived in time to give myself a square meal. Setting off a little earlier at 5.30 I also tweaked my route to ascend via Crib Goch and decent along the ridge towards the Clogwyn Station. Much more sensible and also an enjoyable run.

The climb up Elidir Fawr was no less the slog than it had been the first time. It wasn’t my backpack that was stopping me running. Saying that I was feeling stronger than the last time and confidence was high. Again the decent from Tryfan took its toll on my knees. A sharp pain was slowing me down and knocking my confidence. Reaching the foot of Pen-Yr-Ole-Wen I felt energised but handicapped by my knees, was I to be thwarted once more?

In retrospect I should have stopped there and avoided any long term damage. But you know how it is. 

Appearing over the summit around 4pm I wished for a simple trot around the Carneddau and a speedy conclusion to this madness.

Alas it wasn’t happening, my run had turned to a crawl. At 8pm I reached the rounded finishing line of Foel-fras. All 13 peaks summited, but I had reached my limit and slumped behind the closest wall.

25 April

Final bivvy spot on the Welsh 3000

The following morning I lay awake waiting for my body to move. It refused. I didn’t have much to persuade it to get going. The 18km hike back to the car wasn’t swinging it. The wind was picking up and fearing my lightly tethered tarp would sail away spurred me into action. Standing was difficult, walking painful, running unthinkable. Each step was accompanied with a sharp pulse shooting up my knee. My poles were now indispensable just to get me off this mountain.

And so started the glacial progress back to the car via Carnedd Llewelyn, Ffynnon Llugwy, a much needed snack at the cafe in Capel Curig and finally the foot of Pen-y-Pass.

My challenge was complete on the second attempt but I wasn’t jumping up and down - at least not on the outside. At times I ran, but my body wasn’t durable enough to sustain this all day over this terrain. It took months for my knees to recover - if they ever have. I still love the idea of running a multi-day adventure but I think a less hilly route may suit me better, maybe the West Highland Way.

Recommended equipment:

Target pack weight 5kg

Clothing

Useful to have

  • Compeed blister pack
  • Stubbornness

Tired shoes

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