The Welsh 3000's, Snowdonia

Walking the Welsh 3000's. A rough walking guide, starting at Foel Fras.
Running the Welsh 3000's. A shorter long day out!

Overview of the Welsh 3000's

This is perhaps one of the classic mountain adventures in Wales. The route is well established and very popular in midsummer. The standard route goes from Snowdon to Foel Fras and the following peaks are included:

Snowdon, Garnedd Ugain, Crib Goch, Elidir Fawr, Y Garn, Glyder Fawr, Glyder Fach, Tryfan, Pen Y Ole Wen, Carnedd Dafydd, Carnedd Llewellyn, Yr Elen, Foel Grach, Garnedd Uchaf (recently added), and Foel Fras.

It is canonical to start at Snowdon but I think the other way is better if you want to include the scrambles. It is usually done within 24 hours as a walk from peak to peak, (typical times are 13-16 hours) and typically in the 4-8 hour region as a run, with the record set recently at some time under 4 hours! It is heard of that Tryfan was once descended in 7 minutes dead (although not known whether it was 7 minutes "alive").

I've made various attempts at this route. My first attempt was in June 2000 where I only got as far as Elidir Fawr, it being around 30C in the mid-afternoon. We started at 11pm on Foel Fras the previous night, after first walking up from Llanfairfechan. At 6am on the ascent of Tryfan the ambient temperature was already in the 20's and rising. The hot Glyder boulder landscape making you think you were in a desert.

Walking the Welsh 3000's (with route outline)

The second attempt was on a mid-week June in 2003 when I set off from Llanfairfechan around 5pm. It is usual to start by putting one foot in the sea to make the first climb to Foel Fras a genunine 3000ft. Out of Llanfairfechan the route slowly climbs up the Drum path to Foel Fras, and is a good idea to do this bit slowly. The walk proper then started at around 9pm as I traversed the various smaller 3000 peaks, which all passed in quick succession. The weather was clear and the navigation was fine - which was fortunate at this stage. Garnedd Uchaf is characterised by a boulder strewn top (like a miniature Glyder Fach), and Foel Grach has a large cairn on top. In this direction it is best to take in Carnedd Llewellyn first before doing Yr Elen. After Yr Elen you then contour around to gain the path to Carnedd Llewellyn. At this point darkness fell and I'm sure there was a 1000ft drop somewhere nearby to where I was walking.

I got to Pen y Ole Wen at 1am (to find people sleeping on the top in bivvy bags). The descent off this mountain was certainly a more adventurous part of the trip. It took me two hours to get down the nose in the dark, navigating through various bluffs, outcrops and vegetated cliffs. The outcrops are not too bad provided you keep to the Ogwen side of the nose. I was glad that I brought a bright torch for this, in addition to the usual head torch. If I had got to a dead end (so to speak) I would have waited an hour or two until it was light enough to continue. It is also possible to descend the east ridge, but again this has a few rocky steps which migh be awkward in the dark. It is certainly worth doing a thorough recce of this route beforehand.

Tryfan was reached in daylight, and the sun rose while at the top, where in fact an annular eclipse taking place at that time. There are many routes up Tryfan but I chose the easiest, which is to follow the path that starts from Ogwen cottage, and goes up via a stream (useful water source) to Llyn Bocklywd. There are various routes up Tryfan from here, either directly up a steep gully (usual descent route), or continue to the col between Glyder Fach and Tryfan and ascend from there. Ascending Tryfan by the classic north face scramble is the best in my mind, but this takes time (add on another hour). I chose not to hop from Adam to Eve on this occasion, and continued to Glyder Fach via steep scree path, which lies to the left of Bristly Ridge. Bristley ridge direct is another worth while scrambling alternative, and I'm sure you won't have to queue very much at 5am. On the North-South version this is one of the more testing parts of the walk, and provided you still feel in good condition the chances of finishing are good. Certainly on my walk in 2000 this was the place I noticed it being awkward to keep going, although the hot weather played a significant role on that occasion (Bangor recorded 30C temperatures).

On the 2003 walk, Y Garn and Elidir Fawr summits where quickly achieved fortunately, and I arrived back to civilization (Nant Peris) around 10am. On the way down I chatted to a walker coming up Elidir Fawr who was vaguely curious that I'd been up so early. There is a tendency to be vague with the truth when someone asks about these things, especially when you're out for these long mountain walks. Typically you might get a curious response, although I think this walk is quite a popular one to do now. Anyhow, he went on to chat about his trip round the 15 peaks in his younger days, so it was safe for me to then admit that I'd just been around 12 so far.

The road walk to Pen-y-pass is never a pleasant one, and in later attempts I realised this can be avoided (at least most of it). To do this: after about 1 mile up the road after leaving Nant Peris take a right turn up Cwm Glas Mawr. There is a faint path up the side of the stream. At about the 400m contour the ground levels slightly. Bear left (south-east) up another stream and over slippery rocks and steep grass, but keep south-west of Dinas Mott. Essentially you want to head towards Llyn Glas (a tarn with a tree topped island in it). Then head up a steep scree path to the 858m spot height on the Crib-Goch - Crib-y-Ddysgl ridge. Alternatively ascend Crib Goch's north ridge (which is of similar difficulty to that of the north-east ridge).

It took me just over an hour to walk the road, and I stopped at the car park cafe for a cup of tea and portion of cheese and chips. I think I would have ate almost anything at that stage. Beer (of some nature) was also being served but I thought not just yet. I had plenty of time in hand, and surprisingly a resurgence of energy came over me on the ascent Crib Goch. I am told this is quite common, especially if you've paced it correclty and you're in sight of the carrot at the end of the tunnel (as the mixed metaphor goes). A brisk wind had picked up on Crib Goch, and the pinnacles had misted over. This makes the traverse more hairy especially as I'd forgotten the best way over the pinnacles. Fortunately Snowdon was reached (around 3pm) with the presence of the usual crowds. I'm not one for spending much time at the summit, and actually it was just as well I didn't linger since I made it back to Llanberis just in time for the last bus to Bangor (taking 24 hours exactly from Llanfairfechan). I think it took me 18hours 45min from peak to peak, a lot of that time was used up in the Ogwen vicinity. I also carried much more than is required for a day walk - it being a solo attempt over night.

Running the Welsh 3000's

Recent 3000's attempts have been post 2005, where on these occasions I've sought after quicker traverse times (a day trip rather than a night trip!). Certainly good luck is required, and also route knowledge and familiarity helps a lot too. A suitable pace to aim for is that of the first running record, set by Thomas Firbank in 1938. His time was 8 hours 25 minutes. Of course today the record is down to under 4 hours so I beleive (although I've not yet seen this fact published). The record of 4 hours 19 minutes, set in 1988, is the one that is most cited. On the third attempt in June 2005 (running with a friend who took part in our 2000 attempt) we had the opposite kind of weather. Our June worries of it being too hot where certainly dispelled with on our 6am ascent of the Pyg Track. It was driving rain with gusting winds. My main worry was being blown away on Crib Goch but it was Elidir Fawr that lead to the test piece. Horizontal rain and strong gusts made the tea shop in Nant Peris the sensible alternative. The people we shared the hostel with heard about our previous worries, and jokingly hoped the day wasn't being too hot for us! (as they saw us running through Nant Peris earlier on in the day). The highlight of the day though was the discovery of the Llyn Glas variant off Crib Goch - certainly a fast and pleasant way off.

More recent attempts have been in favourable conditions: no direct sun, light breeze, and high cloud are the best (perhaps with very light rain on warm occasions). On each occasion I have stayed at the Rucksack Club hut in Nant Peris. In September 2005 I opted for the Snowdon to Foel Fras route, while in August 2008 I instead opted for the reverse direction. It is debatable which is the easier. I tend to go for the ad-hoc and/or "alpine style" (unsupported) approach as little planning/logistics are needed - you can just wait for a day of good weather, but you have to carry all your gear. However I have to admit on the recent attempt I took the offer of some Eccles cakes from a friend who was waiting for me at Nant Peris (which counteracts the unsupported bit!).

For the September 2005 attempt I was up at 5am, with a 6.15am start out of Nant Peris. I walked "very slowly" up the road and Pyg Track to the summit of Snowdon for a 9am start. It is essential to do this bit slowly, since 3000ft of quick initial ascent will come back to haunt you at Ogwen! Running peak to peak is 10000ft, 21 miles, but add in the extra walking bits and you are onto 13500ft, 32 miles to the finish - hopefully there is someone to pick you up! On the initial climb it is also the best time to eat as much as possible before starting the run (I opted for honey and banana barm cakes). It was fairly busy at Pen-y-pass, including a large party of walkers - who I eventually met again on Crib Goch. Snowdon was almost quiet, except for one or two people sleeping on the summit (perhaps they missed the last train). Also, one minute before I left somebody in a yellow wind cheater appeared from nowhere, touched the trig point and ran off into the mist, never to be seen again.

At 9am, I touched the trig point of Snowdon summit, and set off to Carnedd Ugain, then ran (attempted to run is more accurate) down to the ridge off Crib y Ddysgl. There is also a scrambly tower to descend on this bit. I then went up over the Crib Goch pinnacles, and passed a party of walkers forming a large queue and clinging to Crib Goch's ridge (these I saw initially at Pen-y-pass). I touched the Crib Goch summit and backtracked over the pinnacles, passing again the line of walkers, some of them making jokes to each other about whether I'd left something behind on Snowdon! From then on I descended to Nant Peris via the Llyn Glas route. It is the fastest way off I am told since it keeps the rough rocky bits minimal.

It was a case of getting on with things on the Glyder range, and again it is useful not to go too fast up Elidir Fawr (allow about 1 hour from Nant Peris). If you are not tired by the time you reach Glyder Fach or Tryfan then chances of completion are good. It's also important at this stage to keep eating and drinking (while on the move) - even if you don't feel like it. I don't carry much water (about 0.5-1 litre) but do tend to use water sources on route, for which there are plenty. Tryfan was crowded with walkers when I reached the summit (with the usual Adam and Eve hopping extravaganza), and I descended the recommended "gully" to Ogwen, taking much longer than 7 minutes (more like 20-25 min).

Fortunately Pen Y Ole Wen wasn't too bad and there where some entertaining scrambly bits. I was ahead in the schedule, but the Carneddau range was now completely misted over. Careful navigation is certainly required, and more so when running, since any mistakes get amplified in a matter of seconds (especially going downhill). At one point I went off the side of Carnedd Llewellyn on steep grass (slightly in the incorrect direction) and was probably not far away from running over a cliff when I later looked at the map. Steps had to be then retraced. I also had to be careful in ensuring that I reached all the remaining summits correctly. I'd say I lost about 20-30mins on this bit relative to a clear day. Foel Fras trig point was reached at 5.20, just 5 mins within the schedule (corresponding to the first running record set in 1938 of 8 hours 25). Luckily I still had some energy left to walk back to Llanfairfechan where I was picked up around 7pm. Lots of eating and sleeping followed - well into the week after.

From Llanfairfechan to Snowdon For August 2008, I opted for the reverse route. Personally I found this direction easier. In this case I was dropped off at Llanfairfechan village around 8:30am and arrived Snowdon 17:15 (after departing Foel Fras at 10:00am), and then straight down to the hut in Nant Peris. Running time (Foel Fras to Snowdon) was 7 hours, 15 mins.

Teachnically speaking, the Foel Fras-Snowdon direction adds in roughly 500ft of extra ascent, but the descents are overall easier (except for perhaps a steep one to Ogwen). Being fresh at the start allows a fast traverse of the Carneddau, but the ascent to Crib Goch's Pinnacles via Cwm Glas Mawr can be testing in the final stages. However this adequately compensates the plods up Elidir Fawr and Pen Y Ole Wen for the Snowdon - Foel Fras direction. There are also options to take on Tryfan North Face, Bristly Ridge and Crib Goch North Ridge scrambles (but these add on much more time).
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