As an impressionable youth I remember my uncle taking on many sporting challenges. This was at a time when a midlife crisis was more commonly expressed by the purchase of an unsuitable sports car or by running off with a secretary, long before the invention of MAMILs and the current fashion for marathons, triathlons and more. My uncle did many things (he was National Senior Mountainbike Champion for a bit) but one challenge that made an impression on me was the Welsh 3000s. This, inspired by Douglas Firbank and described in his book ‘I Bought a Mountain’, involves travelling over all the Welsh mountains that rise above 3000ft, in one continuous journey, preferably in less than 12 hours. There are 14 of these mountains and I remember that my uncle ‘did the 14 when he was 41’. Firbank did it in about 8hr30, my uncle in 11hr30. Since my uncle was the person who introduced me to the delights of scrambling up Tryfan, Bristly Ridge and Crib Goch, it’s inevitable that my thoughts turn to him when I go there.
In 2002 and 2003, with some friends, we tried to ‘do’ the ‘14 3000ers’. The first attempt was thwarted by our superfit, marathon running friends being unable to cope with the exposure (even in the mist) on Crib Goch. This cost us so much time that we took more than 13hrs to complete. My uncle remained smug. The next attempt was washed out in hopelessly, but typically Welsh weather. Finally, on a trip in a van to retrieve a lathe, Nick and I managed a successful attempt in 9hr 46.
Since then we’ve done lots of this type of running and, with growing fitness and experience, we’ve often said that we should go back and have another go at the ‘14 3000ers’. Last weekend we did.
We’d realised that the way to success for affluent fell runners is to buy a ticket for the first train up Snowdon, thus saving the legs for the later excesses. The forecast on the Thursday before was sufficiently confident of a window of good weather to allow these tickets to be bought and commitment to be made.
The hour’s journey up Yr Wyddfa allows a large Pete’s Eats breakfast to be digested so that as you tip off the summit and cascade down Crib Goch your thoughts are with your feet and where you’re putting them rather than with your stomach. Today was a day for taking in the view but there’s little time for that if you want to stay upright. The route off Crib Goch had been very familiar 9 years ago but we managed to remember enough of it to make the descent to the Llanberis Pass fast enough and soon we were jogging down the road to Nant Peris.
Being fully hooked on our heart rate monitors and their usefulness for pacing we set off up Elidyr Fawr at a pace that kept our hearts at 80% (except Graham who is a machine) and before long the summit was reached. Without hesitation we carried on along the ridge to Y Garn and the Glyders. We clearly weren’t the first along this path in fell shoes judging by the tracks in the mud and at the top of Glyder Fawr this was confirmed by the marshals for the Peris Horseshoe who were a bit concerned to see runners approaching without numbers. We reassured them that they had counted correctly and that we were on our own mission. A slight mistyness here made us wonder whether we needed the compass but the path was clear enough and much more runnable than we remembered. Last time here I was already racked with cramp so I was delighted to be feeling so good this time. A slight aberration over the rocky lump between the Glyders didn’t set us back and we were soon scrabbling down the scree towards Tryfan. Scrambling up the rocks towards Adam and Eve may have been slow but it was certainly entertaining and takes the mind off the hard work.
I felt a bit wobbly at the top of Tryfan so paused briefly to stuff down some flapjack. Nick and Graham disappeared off down the gully towards Ogwen but I knew I’d catch them lower down. At the rocky part near the top a lady said to me, loudly, “You are a doctor!” For a moment I was confused until I realised I’d entered a Spanish lesson and she was expecting a translation from her friend just below. She looked at me and said, “Oh, sorry. Unless you are a doctor?” Well, not quite!
Filling up our water bottles in the stream before the road meant we had no need to stop at Ogwen, No need to delay the ascent of Pen yr Ole Wen any more than we had to. What a grind though. It seemed to go on and on but eventually the circular sheep pens near the start of the path looked smaller even if it did seem we could have easily tossed a stone into them from above. Once over the summit I had a sudden bout of cramp but luckily a half Mars bar from Graham sorted it out and we pressed on over the Carneddau. The path was surprisingly rocky, not the smooth grassy hills we’d thought we could run easily over to the finish, more stiff legged hobbling at this point but progress all the same. The traversing path to Yr Elen located and that hill crossed off we were soon back onto the main ridge with the final destination laid out in front of us.
We’d wondered, at the start, if we could complete this in less than 7 hours. Now we wondered if less than 8 hours was still possible. Spurred on by this thought and encouraged by the easier terrain the last 3 miles or so passed very quickly – we even mustered a bit of a spurt at the end – and finally we regrouped before the summit of Foel Fras, checked the watch, and celebrated our time of 7 hours 45mins. Two hours faster than last time despite being 9 years older!
Celebrations would have to wait though as, true to form, the weather started to deteriorate, cool down and some moisture appear in the air. We turned into what had been a lovely tailwind but what was now a vicious, chilling wind in our faces and headed off down to Bethesda with as much spring in our steps as we could manage.
Whisper it but there’s now talk of a quick trip round the English 3000s to complete the set . . . Curse this obsession with numbers and neatness!