Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge
This weekend I took off for a last minute mini adventure with a good mate of mine to take on the Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge as a bit of a recce run.
The Welsh 3 Peaks is a challenge that involves ascending Snowdon in the North of Wales, Cadair Idris in the middle and Pen Y Fan in the South all within a day.
All in it’s around 18 miles on foot and 2300km elevation gain combined with travel between each mountain.
Since becoming a Mountain Leader I am eager to share mountainous experiences with those who choose to adventure with me. The goal of this trip was to see what this challenge was like with a view to offering it as a mountain based challenge to a wider audience moving ahead.
We had arrived in Snowdonia on the Saturday at 3pm after a 7 hour drive from Eastbourne.
Not wanting to waste an opportunity for adventure we decided to a scramble up the North Ridge of Tryfan. Tryfan is an iconic Grade 1 Welsh Scramble that offers views, scrambling and plenty of height and exposure to keep the senses sharp! By 19:00 we were back at my truck and heading to the pub for some refuelling in preparation for the next day’s challenge proper.
The Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge – Snowdon – 1085m
Up at 5am for a 05:30am start. We decided on a lie in as there was zero chance of a summit sunrise due to fog.
The morning was warm and damp with plenty of fog as forecast.
05:30 became 05:40 and we were off up the Pyg Path of Snowdon.
We set off running which elevated my heart rate through the roof within minutes due to foregoing any kind of warm up. Where we couldn’t run, we hiked as fast as we could as we had decided that we would give the day our best shot and see how quickly we could get it all done – the record being 9 hours and 6 minutes from start to finish.
The Pyg Path
The Pyg Path is a path that comprises of lots of steps made of boulders, some flatter sections to run on and other areas where a little hands on rock is needed. It ascends quickly until reaching the turning for Crib Goch before flattening off as you flank Lyn Llydaw which is a welcome break to find some running flow – if only momentarily.
We climbed higher and higher. I couldn’t get my breath and with legs filled with lactic acid I felt far from mountain running fit which was hardly surprising given that I haven’t done any mountain running this year!
Before long we came to the zig zags and knew the top was about half a mile away.
My previous best ascent of Snowdon had been off the back of a 3hr 30 Fan Dance time 2 years previous when I had got to the top in 1hr 5 mins. Today it looked closer to 1hr 15 – which is still not a time to be sniffed at.
We carried on, over took a few more climbers and broke onto the top by the Lllanberis path with a short effort to the top to go.
Summit 1hr 12
Part running, part marching I got to the top a few moments after Jesse – 1hr 12mins.
We ran down off the mountain hampered somewhat by my footwear choice – a new cushioned pair of trainers that while great on flat ground, lacked traction and therefore confidence on wet rock when moving at speed.
We got to the bottom with fatigued legs and lungs within 2hrs 15.
Get more water, change of footwear and getting rid of the sweat drenched base layer we drove off to the next mountain – Cadair Idris located in Mid Wales.
As we drove we refueled, bananas, flapjacks and plenty of electrolyte water.
The Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge – Cadair Idris – 893m
When we got to Cadair Idris the sun was coming out. Parking ticket sorted, more water on board, small rucksack, now, better trainers – Innov8 Talons and off we go again.
We ran through a wooded section, over a river, through a couple of gates and then the wooden steps start the ascent.
Neither of us had any clue what Cadair Idris would be like – the main reason for the trip was to find out as I have I climbed both Snowdon and Pen Y Fan more times than I can remember.
Cadair Idris (893m) is set in an utterly beautiful location near Dolgellau. The ascent is pretty much a constant climb via the Minfford Path which is similar to Snowdon. As I came out from the higher reaches of the woods and into the sun I took a moment to take in the beauty of the peaks that surrounded me.
Then head down and back to hiking as fast up the steps as possible. Legs and back complaining, mind complaining, taunting me into taking more rest. As we climbed at times the path became pretty unbroken, small rough stones that just made it hard to get any decent purchase on.
Summit 1hr 10
We got to what we thought was the summit in 1 hour 10 and then quickly realised it was a false summit and that we had about another 15 minutes to go – all on steep incline.
My spirit took a tiny drop on recognising this as did Jesses. A couple of clif blocs down the throat for energy, a swig on electrolytes and off we went again.
“Looks like 15 minutes mate, let’s make it in 10” and with head down and mouth wide open, gulping in air we got to the top in 1 hour 20 minutes.
We didn’t stay long at the top – cloud cover meant the views were limited and both of us we starting to feel the effects of climbing two significant mountains at a fast pace. We set off on the descent.
Descending is all about trying to be efficient, to keep control and speed without wasting energy by breaking too hard.
The top of Cadair Idris is very rocky so careful foot placement is key to avoid rolling ankles – a hazard when not wearing boots on the mountain.
Running out of Energy
Around half way down I noticed my sweat rate had increased and my legs felt weak. I could feel myself losing energy and blood sugar was dropping rapidly. In the days heat which was now intense we had both ran out of food and water.
We had a mile to go. Dig in and keep on. It was a relief to get back to the wooden steps and into the forest. I ran back to the truck and on reaching it literally inhaled a banana and 6 pieces of bite size flapjack before necking 1l of water. I looked at Jesse and him me. Both of us were heavily fatigued.
“That was a bitch”
Into the truck and off we set for the longest leg of the day, a journey of around 2 hours to Pen Y Fan.
After all the sweet carbohydrate foods we had eaten we both craved savoury and both of us were still ravenous. The Garmin had said 1100kcal for Snowdon and 1450kcal for Cadair Idris. For what it was worth it certainly felt like id forcibly stripped a decent calorie expenditure from my body in not a lot of time.
We stopped at a petrol station for some sandwiches, crisps, pasties which went some way to replenishing our bodies.
I was concentrating hard on driving and keeping alert with the help of Purdeys and strong coffee.
The journey to Pen Y Fan took us 2hrs 20 mins after being stuck behind a few Sunday drivers and a slow moving horse box.
The Welsh 3 Peaks – Pen Y Fan – 886m
We got to Pen Y Fan at 15:15 and set off up the mountain 5 minutes later via the Red Phone Box Path, a path I knew like the back of my hand after all the Fan Dance racing and training I have done.
Pen Y Fan is a huge contrast to the other two mountains in terms of ascent as the path is a very consistent gradient lacking in steps.
We again ran when we could, speed hiked when we couldn’t run and I rested with mouth wide open and legs filled with lactic acid at various intervals for 20 seconds or so.
300m from the top and Jesse and I broke into an all-out run. We passed on lookers who cheered us on, questioned our sanity and looked on like we were out of our minds.
Summit 43 mins
The top was hit within 43 minutes. Some photos at the top, a quick show of Jacobs Ladder to Jesse who hadn’t been up Pen Y Fan before and then we haired off the top as fast as we could.
It’s about 2.5 miles off the top of Pen Y Fan and back to the red phone box.
We ran all the way down and covered the 2.5 miles as quick as our legs could carry us with the strength they had left.
On reaching the bottom I stopped the clock. 10 hours and 57 minutes.
Jesse and I looked at each other. Dripping in sweat and looking somewhat fatigued. We shook hands as the feeling of satisfaction that crept over me made the day’s hardship and whole adventure completely worthwhile. “When’s the next challenge then” said Jesse.
There will be more.
This was a great trip and while we did it as fast as we could this is a challenge I will be running alongside Rob Blair of the Commando Temple later this year. The goal is simply to complete the challenge in less than 18 hours – which is very do-able hiking up each mountain and back down. Watch this space for more information.