So, a friend who knew I was aiming to do Kilimanjaro toward the end of the year said to me “ Do you fancy doing the Welsh 3000 (aka Welsh 15) as it would be good for your Kili training.” At this point the only knowledge I had about the W3000 was that originally it was an Army race....i.e. you run up and down 15 mountains above 3000ft in Snowdonia, and to be honest it didn’t really appeal. However, when he told me that it can be done as a walking challenge I thought “Well yes, a weekend of hill walking would be a good bit of training”. Then, however, it was mentioned that it was not over a weekend but in under 24hrs as part of the challenge (In order to complete the Welsh 3000s Challenge you are required to have been at the top of all 15 of the mountains over 3000 ft in North Wales within the space of 24 hours, without using any form of transport.).
Ok.......so this is supposed to put me in good stead for Kilimanjaro?! How about that summiiting Kilimanjaro would actually put me in good stead for the W3000!! (minus the altitude gain obvs!) Let me now introduce you to the experience that is the Welsh 3000....
There are supposedly many variations on the route for the W3000, but I will share with you the route we took, but if you are thinking about doing it, it is well worth a google to gain more info/knowledge about it. Let’s say it is definitely not the easiest walking challenge out there in the UK, and hill fitness & experience is a must.
May 28th 2011: Saturday
The morning was spent packing for the challenge, which for me entails an almost religious ceremony, where I will begin by packing for all the world should it be involved in a natural disaster. I then try to pick up my Bergen where I realise I need to re-think as it weighs more than my car, and will then pack enough for an amount of people should there be a plane crash...then again, discovering I can’t lift said bergen, pack for the amount of people stranded on top of Snowdon on an Easter Bank Hol weekend in flip flops carrying only a snickers..and so on and so on until I get down to a weight which i can carry comfortably, yet includes all the things that may be needed if things go wrong on the hills for me and the group I will be with. (ok, and also for said Snowdon Flip floppers should we come across any in trouble).
Once packed and ready to go, we set off mid afternoon for Snowdonia where we would climb up Snowdon, from Pen Y Pass via the Pyg track, to sleep on top before commencing the challenge at first light. We were carrying our bergens with bivvi bag & sleeping bag, as well as the usual essential, but at the same time keeping it as light as possible.
The afternoon journey was clear and sunny and we had a positive feeling that we would have good weather.....until we left Pen-Y-Pass and got half way up Snowdon where the cloud clung, visibility was rubbish and a slight gusty wind was blowing. Nether the less we were up on top (1085m) for about 21:00 and at the cafe (which I was saddened to say was closed, though it still had the internal streamer light inside adverting “HOT FOOD.....HOT DRINKS....HOT DOGS...” (which personally I believe was left on purposely for those who would be daft enough to sleep on top of Snowdon) it was all we could do to push our noses up against the glass and dream of an evening in the pub with warmth & good food.....who’s idea was this again?! Once kit was sorted we bedded down like old tramps in the doorway of the cafe which was somewhat sheltered apart from a ‘drip, drip’ throughout the night that was like Japanese torture method from the days of the war. I say ‘we’ but actually you could only squeeze 3 people in sleeping and bivvi bags in the alcove so the other two, bless them, had heroically said they would sleep just outside it, unsheltered, in the wind and rain.
Within 20mins we were at the trig point in the pitch black, donning our head torches that created illuminating rave beams through the darkness. A time confirmation proved that we had indeed finished the challenge in under 19hrs. After a brief moment of rejoicing we then realised that although the ‘Challenge’ was finished, by no means was the walk and if we wanted to sleep in warm beds that night rather than bivvi down on top of Foel-Fras, we had a fair few hours walking to do. A quick check of the map, and after the disappointment of discovering that there was in fact no Burger King at the top, we headed back en route toward the reservoir Llyn Anafon generally bum sliding down the steep grass gradient as this was easier than trying to walk jelly legged in the dark after 19hrs up and down mountains (at this point my legs went onto auto pilot – they could have quite easily toddled off from the rest of my body and I would have been none the wiser).
At this point, we were knackered, thankfull for the finish, in need of a beer and looking forward to sleep. Now most sensible folk would have had a support team waiting for them at this car park with a hot drink, cosy seated vehicle....we, however did not have this luxury so one of us had the lovely job of driving us back over to Ogwen Valley where we had booked in to the bunk house Gwern Gôf Isaf Campsite, near to Tryfan.
We arrived at the bunk house at about 2am, more than ready to have a quick celebratory beer (though too tired to finish the can) before literally falling into bed. Now a little bit about the bunkhouse, we had a small dorm room with two bunk beds in at the upper part of the bunkhouse which meant, ascending up a flight of narrow steep steps (well, after 15 x 3000ft peaks what harm would more uphill movement do) before getting into the room where wet clothes were laid (ok, strewn) out to dry before collapsing onto the lower bunk or climbing (it never ends) up the vertical ladder to the top bunk.
Let’s say sleep (coma) fell easy after a very long and exhausting day. However we slept well knowing that we had completed the challenge well under the time, having suffered no horrendous injuries and remained in good spirits along the way.
At this point I must stress that this challenge is by no means easy and many things should be considered before you take on this mammoth task. Apart from the strenuous walk itself where good hill fitness is a must, it can be a difficult route to navigate especially as the weather can be bad, and therefore navigational skills and experience with a map and compass are a must. One piece of serious advice is if the weather is bad, do not attempt Crib Goch as this is a real danger spot, so bear this in mind and have a back up plan.
For those who tick all the above, I highly suggest taking multiple training weekends to practise and get to know the sections of the route as this will lead to a safer and more successful challenge.
Finally, respect the mountain, embrace the challenge and stay safe on the hills....oh and one tip I will give you.....if you are staying in accommodation after the challenge, don’t take the top bunk even though it seems like a good idea at the time. Trying to get out of bed and down off the bunk is the next daya. Near impossible & b.) very uncomfortable. when you have very stiff legs after the walk!