Earlier this year Finlay Wild, a GP from Lochaber, set a new record for the Welsh 3000's Challenge. His time of 4 hours, 10 minutes and 48 seconds was astounding, breaking the previous record set 30 years ago, by almost 10 minutes! Inspired by Finlay's efforts I recently made my own attempt on the Welsh 3000's. At just over 10 hours I was never going to break any records, but I nevertheless had a fantastic day. If you're looking for a magnificent mountain adventure here's 5 tips to help you on your way...
Pick The Right Day - This is not one of those adventures that can be put on the calendar 3 months in advance. A friend of mine did just that and turned up in the middle of Storm Hannah and had his waterproof ripped off his shoulders as soon as he stepped out of the car. Watch the forecast and pick a long day in May, June or July with good visibility, comfortable temperatures and calm winds. This will allow you to...
The Welsh 3000's Challenge is a way of linking together all 15 Welsh 3000 foot (914m) summits in one continuous journey. At 50km in length and with 3000m of vertical height gain, it's no push over! Runners can expect to take up to 12 hours to travel from summit to summit. Walkers often choose to spend 2 or more days on the route*.
Travel Light - It's obvious, the more you carry the slower you'll go. On my last challenge I met a pair of heavily laden young runners descending from the summit of Tryfan. They looked broken! In their sack they were carrying bivvy gear, numerous warm layers and generous quantities of food and water. I'd estimate they were hauling as much as 7 or 8kgs each. As a result they were talking about calling a taxi. I suspect they didn't make it beyond the A5! In good conditions it is possible to wear nothing more than shorts, running vest and trainers, whilst in your sack all you'll need is a lightweight windproof, some water and a few snacks. This shouldn't amount to more than a 1kg! I only picked up my mobile phone at the last drop off so I could sort out my taxi ride back to Pen-y-Pass. This must have increased the weight I was carrying by about 50%!
Snowdon - The first section of the route. This year I left the Pen-y-Pass car park shortly before 0500, climbed Crib Goch, Garnedd Ugain and reached the summit of Snowdon at 0700. I had descended to Nant Peris and eaten breakfast by 0800*.
Know Your Way - It's approximately 50kms from start to finish and you really don't want to get lost along the way. After almost 30 years of visiting Snowdonia I've now reached the stage where the map can stay in the rucksack. But if you're new to the area it really pays to spend a few days familiarising yourself with the route. The Welsh 3000's website is a fantastic resource, describing in detail some of the most intricate route finding you'll need if you want to do your best time. Special attention needs to be paid to the descents. The wrong line off a mountain can lose you time or something worse. I've known friends who've abandoned their attempt at the A5 after a series of morale crushing navigational errors coming off Snowdon and Tryfan. It comes as no surprise as the final steep ascent of Pen Yr Olwen saps the enthusiasm of all but the strongest!
Glyders - The second section begins with this long featureless climb up Elidir Fawr before traversing along to Y Garn and over the Glyders to Tryfan. I reached the A5 at around 1200.
Refuel Regularly - The route of the Welsh 3000's Challenge neatly splits into 3 mountain sections - Snowdon, Glyderau and Carneddau. Between each is a valley and a road crossing (A4086 and A5). These make ideal places to stash food and drink. It can take a bit of practise working out what your body can handle on a long day like this. Fluid, for me, is the easy bit. After 3 or 4 hours on the go, I'll have a litre of fruit juice and a similar amount of squash. This together with more squash and water en-route is normally enough to keep me peeing all the way round! Choosing the right food is much harder. Since it's going to be a 5000Kcal+ day, the temptation is to load up with doughnuts, biscuits and sandwiches at each stop. However my guts simply can't handle it and I quickly cramp up. The key is to tuck in the night before and then show some discipline on the day by eating small amounts of easily digestible foods on an hourly basis. See this fantastic post by Rebecca Dent for ideas of what to eat during endurance exercise.
Carneddau - This final long climb up the east ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen marks the start of the final section. If you're aiming for a fast time you'll need to run the remaining summits - Carnedd Dafydd, Yr Elen, Carnedd Llewelyn, Foel Grach, Garnedd Uchaf and Foel-fras. They're all gentle climbs but after 30 or 40kms they will feel much steeper! I struggled and took a further 6 hours to reach the road head. 13 hours in total - just over 10 hours summit to summit.
Pay Attention To The Details -The longer the event the better you need to organise yourself. Knowing the route, picking the right day, refuelling regularly and travelling light will get you 90% of the way there. But the last 10% lies in getting the details right. Start from your feet and work you way up. Are your shoes comfortable? Have you done everything you can to prevent blisters? Chaffing? Sunburn? Have you packed toilet paper, a wet wipe and waste bag? Remember an old friends advice and "keep your tail clean"!?! Does your rucksack fit? Will it rub? Have you got sunglasses and a cap?
Finally, the most important check is to take a look at what's sitting on your shoulders. Do you really want this? If so, why? Remember this and keep reminding yourself of it when you hit low points. If this doesn't work why not adopt Selah Shneiter's motto? When the 10 year old was climbing The Nose on El Capitan earlier this year, her father would often ask her, "How do you eat an elephant?" "In small bites" would come the reply.
For some inspiration take a look at this short film of Colin Donnelly setting the previous Welsh 3000's Challenge record back in 1988...
*Many thanks to Paul Abrey for providing these wonderful images.
The British Mountain Medicine Society (BMMS) are organising a Science Day in the Peak District on the 13th November 2019. Why not come along? Details can be found here.