THE WELSH 3000S IN 24 HOURS

We sorted out athlete James Norbury with some top trail running gear for an epic day out in the mountains of Snowdonia. Here he relives the highs and lows of his attempt, alongside three friends, to summit 15 Welsh peaks over 3000ft in under 24 hours. 


4:30am: The phone alarm clangs, wrenching us from a far-too-short sleep from our chilly bivouac at the top of Wales.

 

Although it’s so early as to still be considered night time, it’s mid-June and already getting light. A mist shrouds the valley below and the sun glints off the dewy ground. We rub sleep from our eyes and get a brew on, enjoying this blissful moment of tranquility and natural perfection. A brief pause and moment of calm before the plunge. 

We’ve camped out on top of Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain and one of only 15 peaks in the country above 3000 ft. Our aim today is to reach the rest, to summit all 15 “3000ers” in under 24 hours. The challenge is known as The Welsh 3000s and is an absolute must on many a British hiker’s bucket list. The 40km route starts at the summit of Snowdon and winds its way across Snowdonia with over 3000 metres of ascent along the way. It’s typically a 2-3 day hike at a leisurely pace. We were attempting it in one day.  



At 6:00am, after coffee and a little-too-leisurely breakfast we were packed up and touched the 'Trig Point’ at the top of Snowdon to officially start our day. Our four Garmin trackers beeped into action together and we set off. 

 

We ticked off peak number 2, Garnedd Ugain, within a few minutes of enjoyable jogging in the early morning sun, spirits soaring with excitement as we breathed in the crisp morning air and the sun siphoned off the remaining fog to unveil Snowdonia below us. 



The third peak, Crib Goch, involves some fairly spicy exposure. A wrong foot placement whilst walking this rocky ridge would result in a 1000ft + fall to the valley below. This was one of the main reasons we decided to do the route this way around, and not in reverse, so as to tackle this fresh in the morning without tired legs and fatigued minds. Still, a highlight for me was running this section, picking my way across the rocks and enjoying the buzz that came with the focus and exposure. 


Filmed by James using the GoPro Fusion Action Camera


With Crib Goch out the way we ran down the damp but easy ascent to the road at the bottom of the valley. We’d parked the van here the night before and made a tactical offload of overnight kit (sleeping bags, stoves, warmer layers etc) and switched to lighter running packs for the long day ahead. If you’re wanting to make the hike in one day I highly recommend this so you aren’t lugging unnecessary weight for 20 miles and 3000m of climbing. 

 

You can think of the trip as three big up and downs: The Snowdon ridge as the first, Elidir Faw to Tryfan as the second, and finally the Carnedd walk to take it home. 

 

Peak 4, Elidir Fawr, involves a long ascent. Over 900m of uphill in one gruelling, never-ending yomp beginning at the valley floor. The heat of the day crept in at this point making this an incredibly hot climb. But once this is in the bag the following mountains, Y Garn and The Glyders, come pretty easily and we made up some good time running and fast-walking this section. 



But from the Glyders to Tryfan we nearly came unstuck. It’s a grade 3 scramble down to Tryfan and extreme caution should be taken. Taking the wrong route here or falling would be an expedition ender at best and fatal at worst. We lost the trail and it took us the best part of an hour to navigate our way safely off the ridge and back to Tryfan, fortunately without any more than some scrapes and scratches. 

After Tryfan we made our way back down to the road and had a decent break, refuelled ourself at the cafe and attended to some of the nastier blisters. 7 hours in and we were in pretty good shape, looking comfortable to make it well within our 24 hour window.

 

But the gruelling 650m scramble up to Pen yr Ole Wen combined with the increasing heat of the day caused us some problems when Alex, our videographer, suffered some bad heat stroke which required a 30 minute sit down and some electrolytes to get him back on track. It reminded us of the importance of proper hydration and nutrition on such a big day out.

 

But this, it transpired, was the last of our worries. The final 6 peaks are a breeze when compared to the first half of the day. The terrain gets noticeably better, the ascents and descents more gradual, and we were able to push our tired legs to make a compelling pace as we headed into the early evening.   



The final 10km were my favourite of the challenge. We were well within our time window but late enough in the day that we had what felt like the whole park to ourselves. As the sun sank lower we stopped to shoot occasional images but otherwise moved smoothly and quickly between the final few peaks. 

We finished the day, 40km and 3,200m of elevation, in just over 15 hours. 

 

I imagine that for the more hardy mountaineers, Snowdonia might not hold the same ‘epic’ allure as larger ranges. But, even as a resident of the French Alpine adventure town, Chamonix, I can still say that this matched up to some of the best days I’ve had in the mountains.  



My advice to anyone attempting The Welsh 3000s in a day would be:

 

1.

Tackle this in mid-summer. The longer day and better weather made this an absolute pleasure for us but I can imagine the opposite being true.

 

2.

Minimise breaks. Our final time was just over 15 hours, but my moving time was 10. So we spent nearly 5 hours stopping and starting. Synchronise your stops so that not everyone stops any time someone needs a 5 minute water break or layer swap. These stops add up fast.

 

3.

Pack swap after descending from Crib Goch. There is no need to lug tents, sleeping bags and cooking equipment for the whole trip. Saving the weight allows you to move faster. 

 

4.

Hydrate and fuel properly. Saving precious grams is important, but the time wasted if you bonk or dehydrate and have to stop for 30-40 minutes to sort yourself out completely eclipses these savings. Rehydration salts and electrolytes are worth their weight in gold. 

 

5.

Steady on the uphill. Unless you’re an accomplished fell runner, attempting to run the uphills isn’t smart. You will waste a huge amount of energy for not much time saved. 

 

6.

Enjoy it. As cliche as it sounds, drink in the experience and don’t get too wound up on the time. We could have moved a lot faster but we enjoyed the day, took photos and had an amazing time outdoors which is what it’s all about after all.


Image credits: Aaron Rolph and Alex Felstead


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