How Hard is the Welsh 3000s Challenge?
Follow along as eight lads attempt the Welsh 3000s (Otherwise know as the 15 Peaks Challenge) and quickly find out how challenging it really is…
Earlier in the year I was contacted by Greg from KnoWho (a Manchester based recruitment agency). He and seven friends wanted to take on the Welsh-3000s to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. The Welsh-3000s is a brutal challenge which tackles the 15 highest mountains in North Wales in under 24 hours.
Three weeks before the event I was invited into the group’s WhatsApp chat. "How’s the training going lads"?
- "I went up Scaffel Pike last week, first time I’ve ever been up a mountain".
- "Greg’s twisted his ankle".
- A photograph of some poles laid out on the grass – "is anything missing from my tent Glyn"? To my dismay, it was not a joke.
Discussions of Crib Goch, videos of Crib Goch, pinnacles of Crib Goch, ropes for Crib Goch, nightmares of Crib Goch... more nightmares of Crib Goch. All thoughts overshadowed by Crib Goch.
The no-holds-barred sympathy in the group was thoroughly entertaining, and I felt thoroughly compelled to join in.
. . . . .
The deadline arrives and eight young men in their early thirties arrive in Conwy. Prime specimens all (well, maybe not Alex), I hope I’ll be able to keep up.
Having left two vehicles at the end of the walk, we drive through the mountains of Snowdonia whilst contemplating the challenge. A full hour later, we arrive at the start. An hour late.
There are many paths which lead to the summit of Snowdon, but knowing how much the lads are looking forward to the dangers and risks ahead, I opt to take them up the Cwm Glas Mawr Ridge. As we ascend the ridge, I hear a mantra whispered repeatedly behind me:
"don’t look down, don’t look down".
Cwm Glas Mawr Ridge
We reach Snowdon's summit (The first of the 15 peaks in the Welsh 3000 challenge) for 9:00pm, a full hour ahead of schedule. We had made up two whole hours during the ascent! These guys are Beasts! I hope I can keep up!
The summit is shrouded in thick fog as we find a suitable spot to make camp. I blink, and Jordan’s already retreated into the depths of his bivvy bag. Whilst Greg on the other hand is retreating from the idea of a bivvy bag all together. My tent up, I look around – a field of tent pegs growing tall and crooked! These guys are... complete amateurs!
Oh well, at least the wind has picked up.
Just before the sun goes down the clouds part and we get a glimpse of the surrounding peaks. The wind picks up some more.
Snowdon Summit Train Station Shrouded in Thick Fog
A Bivvy Bag is lightweight option, similar to a waterproof sleeping bag, and saves carrying a tent. Useful when completing long challenges like the Welsh 3000
Camping on Snowdon Summit - A group of tents and an emergency shelter
To discuss the morning plan, we crouch together in the 10-man Emergency Shelter, all of Ben’s 6 feet 4 doubled over and looking rather uncomfortable.
Alarms set for 4:00am, we retreat to our tents to get what sleep we can.
1:00am, 1:30am, 2:00am. Snoring in the night. A tent unzips. Is James going to the loo again?!?!
3:00am, I give up and start packing away.
The valve on my water bladder left open, I have a 2-litre-pool at the foot of my tent. No water for the journey down then. I slurp from the pool. Nickwax Tech-Wash? Mmmm yummy.
WhatsApp tells me that Gareth, another mountain leader who is coming to provide some additional support over Crib Goch, is not far away.
4:00am comes and the alarms sing. Tents glow from within.
We break camp. No trace. Well done boys.
Tents packed away on Snowdon Summit - Ready to start the Welsh 3000s
The sun rises and will do again before the walk is finished, not that we knew it at the time.
Once again the clouds part at the top of Snowdon. It’s the first time Gareth’s had a view from the summit all year.
Touch the trig-point.
Start the stopwatch.
The challenge begins
1 down, 14 to go. 23 hours and 58 minutes remaining.
Tick tock, tick tock.
Starting the Welsh 3000s at Snowdon Summit
Carnedd Ugain summit. 13 to go. Tick tock.
Crib Goch is next, but first we must descend the rocky cliffs of Crib y Ddysgl. Ben takes it in his stride. James too. With a twisted ankle, there’s no striding for Greg. He scooches down the rocks on his backside.
The lads look back at the ridge in awe – "We just came down that"?!
Towering ahead; the infamous and dreaded knife-edge ridge - Crib Goch.
We’re on Crib Goch. Legs shaking. Gripping for dear life. Panic rising. Panic reaching a crescendo. PANIC REACHING A CRESENDO!
"Just breath Alex".
Anthony enjoys the view.
The last of the three pinnacles. The valley hundreds of meters below. Jordan steps across the chasm. The mountain fights back.
Tick tock, tick tock.
Other 3000ers pass in the opposite direction. We wonder how they’ll fare.
We reach the scree-slope on Crib Goch’s northern ridge. The scary bit finally over (for now), but Greg’s ankle is in bits.
We’ve lost a lot of time.
Scrambling down Crib Y Ddysgl
How scary is Crib Goch? Alex takes a deep breath to calmhis nerves
Crib Goch Ridge
On the way down, my bottle empty, I drink straight from the streams and savour what little fluid I can extract from the wild bilberries.
By my estimates the challenge should take us about 21 hours from start to finish. We reach the first valley 2 hours behind schedule. 23 hours start to finish? A lot of time lost, and we’ve barely started.
The lads inhale their bacon butties. Jonny inhales fresh air. A missing bacon butty.
Bottles refilled, tents left behind, press on, tick tock, tick tock.
The walk up peak 4 (Elidir Fawr) is a tough one. It occurs to me that I have never ever walked up this path unless I’m either doing the Welsh 3000s or training for the Welsh 3000s - it’s a killer of a hill - the biggest climb of the entire challenge. Despite this, the lads are sprinting up, Jordan setting the pace, trying to make up for lost time. Power-walk, breath, power-walk, breath. I’m sweating buckets. We reach the top of Peak 4 and we’re back on schedule. Absolute Beasts! I’ve lost a lot of body water.
Pausing at the summit we hide behind a wall to take some respite from the wind. All of the midges in Snowdonia seem to have had the same thought. The last bit of shelter for a long time, we choose to stay and eat. The midges share our thoughts once more.
Once again, the fog sets in. As does the drizzle, and then the rain.
The lads are running, screaming! What on earth?
A pony emerges from the mist.
We reach Peak 5 (Y Garn) with thoughts turning to the motorhome which we’ve left in the Ogwen Valley. Dry clothes, water, more bacon butties... a long way to go yet.
Arriving at Llyn y Cwn, my 2ltr water bottle empty again, I fill up from the lake. 2 litres of swamp water? Mmmm yummy.
Next stop, Peak 6 (Glyder Fawr). Several times previously I have "hit a wall" on Glyder Fawr so it’s always a psychological obstacle for me. My own personal nemesis, the "Glynesis".
For the front-runners, a memory game - "I was doing the Welsh 3000s, and I took with me:"
- A walking Pole
- Kendle mint cake
- A Sonos speaker
- A beanie hat
- A winner
- A welcome distraction
We’re halfway up the "Glynesis". Those not distracted by the game don’t fare so well. Edd in particular looks like he’s on his last legs and we’re not even halfway. The "Glynesis" strikes again.
We reach the summit. Nothing to see but fog, we waste no time and press on. Tick tock.
Welsh 3000 Summit 6 - Glyder Fawr - In Thick Fog
"How long until the motorhome"? Oh no! A switch between 12-hour and 24-hour timings has caused a mistake in the itinerary. The motorhome now 2 hours further away than anticipated. Another 2 hours lost. Oh well Greg, at least your ankle is in bits and the ground between here and Peak 7 is completely rocky and uneven.
We skirt around the wet boulders of Castell y Gwynt. Some of the lads developing a hatred for sharp, wet boulders.
We reach Peak 7 (Glyder Fach). The summit a pile of even bigger, wetter, sharper boulders. Tick tock, tick tock.
The next part of the journey is a steep slope down into Bwlch Tryfan. The slope is full of scree and large rocks. A slip here could easily result in a serious injury. With the clock ticking, I put Alex on a confidence rope. Good piggy. Alex is the first to reach the bwlch... full of confidence. The others scrabble behind. Jonny’s knee wants to give up.
The final peak before the motorhome ("how long until the motorhome"?) is Tryfan. Somewhat like Crib Goch, Tryfan is a fin-like ridge with big drops on its Eastern and Western flanks. To get to the summit, and much to the group’s delight, we have to climb a field of big, wet, slippery boulders, with an (according to Jonny) "80000000ft" drop to either side. The fear is contagious.
One last steep section to reach the summit. I climb half-way up and ask Ben, who has actually looked confident moving over rock, to go last. He does a great job of protecting the group on the lower section. 6 foot 4 of pure "Nana".
The rocky summit of Castell y Gwynt
Peak 8 reached. Next stop the motorhome. But we’re not there yet.
As we descend Tryfan’s Western Gully, we drop below the clouds and for the first time since the Llanberis Pass we are blessed with a view. Behold - the Ogwen Valley.
"I can see the Motorhome"!!!
We’re not there yet.
The path down is steep and Jonny’s knee is in bits. He joins Greg in "Team Scooch".
The motorhome still "miles" away, Jordan, who until now had been setting the pace, finds his knee is in agony way too. The playing field levelled, the path not so much.
"How long to the motorhome"?
20 minutes pass.
"How long now"?
Eventually we’re down in the valley and we’re at the motorhome. The mountains are basking with a warm orange glow as the sun begins to set. One hour behind schedule, we’ve been going all day. I dare not tell them that we’re only halfway.
As the frying pan sizzles and what little is left of the swamp water is poured away, the lads chat to another group of 3000ers. Their team is doing the challenge in the opposite direction to us. Apparently, with the fog on the Carneddau, their guide got "a bit lost". They’re behind schedule too.
The path which leads down Tryfan's West Gully
Tryfan's North Ridge basking in the evening sun
Bacon butties a plenty, we walk towards the final big climb of the day.
"Are there any boulders here Glyn"?
"Do you promise"?
As we climb steeply out of the valley. Some of the group are struggling with Jordan’s pace.
Heavy breathing, bending double "We need a rest".
The clock ticks.
Eventually we reach the summit of Peak 9 (Pen yr Ole Wen) and the last of the daylight leaves us. We’ve been walking from sunrise to sunset.
Headtorches light up.
The temperature drops down.
Walking up the South side of Pen yr Ole Wen
Pen yr Ole Wen summit, the sun setting in the distance
Still behind schedule we reach Peak 10 (Carnedd Dafydd) in total darkness.
Against the night sky, the massive silhouette of peak 12 (Carnedd Llywelyn) dictates the group’s mood. "Greg, have you taken some pain killers? You’re going to need them for Peak 11".
To get to Peak 11 (Yr Elen) requires a bit of a detour which then sees you backtracking your steps towards peak 12 (Carnedd Llywelyn). The easiest way is to traverse across the side of Carnedd Llywelyn rather than climb up and over it. The downside to this is that you find yourself walking sideways along a steep, grassy slope. It’s very uncomfortable on the ankles. As we traverse the hillside, Greg is not the only one to see his morale take a tumble.
Another distraction needed – we turn off our torches and look up at the night’s sky. Familiar constellations and the faint arms of the Milky Way spiral off into the infinity. A bit like this walk.
The Milky Way over the Ogwen Valley
We reach Peak 11 (Yr Elen). Barely a pimple compared to Llywelyn. "We came all this way for this"?
Now to retrace our steps. Good bye Peak 11, good bye morale.
The next step the "Garesis" – Gareth’s Nemesis. It’s a very steep hill climb.
The climb devours the group’s remaining morale as fatigue sets in. Now the real challenge begins.
Tick tock. Tick tock.
We reach the summit of Peak 12 (Carnedd Llywelyn) and breath a sigh of relief. The climbs to get to peaks 13 and 14 are only small.
Carnedd Llywelyn Summit by torch light
Walking along the Carneddau, the night vista plays tricks with the mind. Huge, mountainous silhouettes appear out of the darkness.
"Is that Peak 13"?
"You said it was small"!
Peaks 13 and 14? Check!
Only one more peak to go.
At last, a dark and foreboding shadow appears in the distance - Foel Fras.
Absolutely shattered, the team stagger to the top of the Welsh 3000's final peak.
We regroup, then walk to the finish-line together.
Touch the trigpoint.
Look at the clock.
"Did we make it"?
Welsh 3000 Final Summit - the Finish Line!
"Don’t switch off lads, it’s still a two-hour walk down to the cars". The last of the morale ebbs away.
Adrenalin and excitement gone, the whole team are really struggling. Every one of them is in pain and wincing with every step. "Ouch, Oww" I hear Jonny saying. "I’m not enjoying this anymore".
"How long until the cars"?
"At this speed, still 2 hours away".
"How far is it now Glyn"?
"Just over 2km".
Lumps in the darkness gloom like gargantuan monoliths.
"How far is it now Glyn"?
"You said that 5 km ago"!
"I can’t do it, I can’t take another step, seriously". Edd looks ready to give up.
A pig runs past?!?! What is Alex doing?
As we make our way down the final hill the sun rises again. I think it’s the first time I have seen two sun rises on the same walk.
Completely and utterly beat up, the team stumble along the final stretch and back to the cars.
The Sun Rising over the Conwy Valley
. . . . .
So How Hard is the Welsh 3000?
Including the walk in and out, they had been walking for over 27 hours and recorded 96,000 steps. They had gone from Thursday to Saturday with only 3 hours’ sleep. They’ve overcome some significant personal challenges which took them way out of their comfort zones. By the end, they were beat-up, bruised, and in an incredible amount of pain.
"I’ve got some genuine concerns about how I’m going to live my life for the next week".
"Easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Hoping to be able to walk, sit down, stand up and be pain free again within the next 2-3 years".
"I’m completely broken".
"This was without a doubt the most difficult (and scary) thing I have done in my life".
"I’ll remember the feeling when we saw the cars at the end for the rest of my life".
But did they do it? What was the stopwatch reading at Peak 15? Did they complete the challenge within the 24 hours?
Welsh 3000 Challenge complete in...
22 hours and 17 minutes!
Happy to complete the Welsh 3000
They did it! What an absolutely incredible achievement for these guys.
This was easily the most inexperienced group that I have ever taken on the Welsh 3000s. Looking on social media at other attempts this weekend, every group had given up, but not these guys. They battled on despite the fatigue, despite the pain, despite the hardships. They did it. This inexperienced group of city-boys actually did it! Quite literally, a staggering achievement!
What kept you going?
"We did it to raise money for the amazing Ronald McDonald House Charities who provide free ‘home away from home’ accommodation to families with children having treatment in hospital. As difficult as it was, knowing that we were doing it for a great cause spurred us all on".
The lads achieved their fundraising target in support of Ronald McDonald House Charities and raised a considerable amount of money.
And I can honestly say, with a hand on my heart, these guys had earned every single penny.
If you’re reading this lads and you ever want to try the challenge again and improve your time then I would be absolutely honoured to join you. It’s been an incredible pleasure working with such a close group of friends. Just maybe next time, do some training beforehand! 😆
. . . . .
Holding up the 'Climb Wales' flag at the Motorhome Layby in Ogwen