The Welsh 3000s, take 2

Like a madman in an obsessive panic with the impending hills of Mont Blanc looming large in my mind’s eye, I had decided to attempt the Welsh 3000s again this weekend

I had been watching the weather all week and although the long range forecast had been promising, it steadily deteriorated to the point where it was marginal, but I decided to press on anyway.

So yet again, on Friday evening with a distinct sense of deja vu, I set off with my pack, thermos and 200 packs of chocolate coated coffee beans ready to attempt the 30 miles or so – but this time on my own. 

Crib Goch - 5am, 4th July 2009
Crib Goch - 5am, 4th July 2009

The adventure did not get off to a good start, courtesy of the M25.  I had left at 7pm, some 2 hours earlier than we had set out previously, in an attempt to get to the car park at Pen-y-Pass to snatch some sleep before my marathon, but hit some serious mid-summer Friday evening traffic and it consequently took me two hours to get to the M40, a distance we had ironically covered in about 20 minutes a couple of weekend’s previously.

My automotive tribulations were not over as I hit further traffic at the M42 south of Birmingham, which was ‘closed’ and although the diversion was well sign-posted, the funnelling of traffic, even at 11pm effectively wiped out any time I had in hand to sleep at my destination.  Was something trying to tell me this was not a good idea?  I thought this many times before the same time the next day.

As I drove through the night into the morning of American independence day I was pleasantly surprised at the clarity of the sky as evident from the moon and stars visible even from inside the car.  Perhaps this was to be a good weekend after all.

My hopes were still high as I arrived at the car park, no rain and some stars still visible.

Inevitably, for Wales, my hopes were short lived though, as I got my pack ready in the back of the car and checked my torches and food supplies for the next few hours, the cloud cover slowly blotted out the remnants of the bright firmament I had been hoping would accompany me on my journey.

At about 2:45am I started off up the pyg track to the top of Snowdon again and almost on cue, the rain started.

The top of the highest peak in England and Wales arrived without event as I followed the track which I largely remembered from the previous visit.  Yet again the sun (LOL!) was coming up as I left the peak and although the drizzle had not really subsided, I chose to give the infamous Crib Goch a go, with Garnedd Ugain in bewteen.

Crib Goch - the view ahead
Crib Goch - the view ahead

Relying heavily on my Garmin and the waypoint fixes I had prepared, the straight route off the path from the top of Snowdon was relatively easy to follow, although as the picture shows, there was little choice on the ‘trail’ to be followed through this section.  Stopping for a cup of tea at the top of Crib Goch, I yet again contemplated the sanity of my actions.

Getting down from the knife edged arête was not so easy in the mist, and it took me some time to traverse the steep and slippery shale on the north face of the descent, with frequent moments of panic as the dislodged stones plummeted down unseen into the endless mists below.

Finally I passed through the bottom of the cloud-base to the relative tranquility of the valley, where the only obstacles I had to contend with were the inevitable shoe eating bog and the occasional frightened sheep, before I eventually made it to the road and the delight of the flat sturdy tarmac (call me a city boy at heart!). 

Turning left towards Nant Peris before the long slog up the second section up to Eldir Fawr, to rejoin the path we had followed previously, I jogged along the road to regain as much time on the flat sections as I could.

The climb up to the 4th peak was as unpleasant as I remembered, the 600m climb in 2km putting my Guildford ‘Mount’ training to shame.  Eventually I made it to the top, thighs burning and calves stretched to oblivion, but was rewarded with an unexpected and fantastic view all the way to the north coast, so I stopped and had another cup of tea!

A panoramic view from Elidir Fawr
A panoramic view from Elidir Fawr

Had I known this was to be the last time I would have a clear unobstructed view for the next few hours, I might have stayed longer, nevertheless I was keen to get on as trail to the next hill was a gently undulating track for a few kilometers which I comfortably jogged along towards peak 5, Y Garn.

The rain which had been steadily falling all day, was now becoming harder, partly no doubt due to the passage of the expected weather front across the north Wales terrain but mostly due to my continued ascent back up into the 600m+ levels of the Welsh 3000s.  No matter as I had been drenched for the last 5 hours and had long since given up any hope of getting dry until I got back to the car later that day.  However, to add to my misery, it was about this time that both my watch and Garmin handheld ran out of batteries and having used my spares already (make a mental note to self to take MORE spares to Chamonix) I was now in the mist using a good old fashioned compass and (waterproof) map to navigate the featureless terrain.

Y Garn was the last peak we had completed previously prior to ‘abandoning’ due to the inclement weather.  So as I headed off towards Glyder Fawr, the 6th peak, I was at least comforted by the fact that I was again covering what was, for me at least, virgin territory.  

The rocky summit of Glyder Fawr
The rocky summit of Glyder Fawr

The ‘ Glyders’ are famous for the unusual rocky outcrops at the top of the peaks which are not only bizarre but also difficult to traverse with any appreciable speed, especially in the wet weather.  The picture shows an example, but this is not how I saw it on the day, my view being rather more misty.

My mood as I was traversing through the alien landscape of the Glyders was becoming increasingly frustrated. The purpose of the exercise was to gain hill running experience, but instead my efforts were hampered at every stage by the terrain which necessitated more in the way of rock-clambering than running, the weather, the lack of visibility and eventually the cold.  Having been wet for several hours, with the unrelenting rain soaking every inch of my body, even the effort I was putting into covering the ground as fast as possible was by now insufficient to keep me warm.

It was about this stage that I met up with Steve and his dog, Rexie, who were also out to try to do some of the peaks – he had friends behind who had started out earlier but who were attempting the full 14 peaks.  Steve was ironically from the Surrey area, and knew Guildford well, having done a number of duathlons in the area, including most recently the infamous ‘Ball-buster’.  It was nice to have someone to chat to after so many hours alone, and we ambled our way past Glyder Fach on our way to Tryfan, the final peak on this range.Continuing to follow a northerly bearing towards Tryfan, we eventually started to climb up to the summit, with large rocks and boulders most of the way. 

Tryfan on a good day - I climbed over from the 'easy' left side.
Tryfan on a good day - I climbed over from the 'easy' left side.

Steve decided it was to be impractical for Rexie to climb up and so we parted at this point, arranging to meet later in the car park, while he traversed round the waist of the peak and I clambered over the top.

Since I did not know the area, and was only heading in a general direction in order to reach what I presumed was the highest point, and the visibility was variable, I took an incredibly difficult route up the side of the (what I later realised was) the first ascent, (think north face of the Igor), only to reach the tope and see another higher peak further to the north, which I duly climbed, only to see a coach-load of people climbing up the next peak even further to the north, as the mist cleared, which was obviously the summit everyone was heading for.  Although still fairly balanced and nimble on my feet, I nevertheless had to wait behind the queue of people to take the preferred route up to the summit.  This was to be my last peak of the day.

As I came down to the A5 and the car park, I yet again experienced a slow, slippery shale descent which seemed to take forever.  The rain had been unforgiving for the last few hours and I was just pleased to get back down to the relative comfort of the valley.

I had completed 8 out of the 14 peaks in treacherous conditions, largely on my own and without the experience of having done many of them previously.  I was pleased with that.  However, I had not completed the challenge and all the way home I had to mull over my disappointment.

Judging by the DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) that I experienced in my quadriceps and calves over the next few days, I gather the training had actually been quite useful, but how comparable it is to Mont Blanc still remains to be seen.

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