The Longest Day

An Account of the Welsh 3000s Challenge, June 2000

by Paul Harrison

The alarm went off. That meant it was 2.30. That's 2.30 a.m. Two-thirty in the morning! I didn't move. In fact nobody moved. After a lot more not moving, I summoned up the necessary and got out of my sleeping-bag. "Oh, God!", I thought to myself. "Here we go". After 10 minutes of creeping about and rousing Mike and Keith we were soon out of the door, (trying not to disturb Phil, our host), and we were all in the car and on our way to Pen y Pass.
We got there just before 3 and met up with all the organisers and the other participants, formed up into our groups and set off at about 3.15. Well, this was it. There was no turning back now. But hang on! Before we went a strange man (a doctor apparently) came up to each of us and stuck something in our ear to measure our core body temperature (well, that's what he said). After that odd interlude we were finally off.
So, here we were, making our way up the Pyg track on our way up to Crib Goch on the Welsh 3000s challenge. This had all come about due to an article that Anna had put on the notice board at the climbing wall, and because I had wanted to do this for at least 10 years, here I was. I first became aware of it on one of my early climbing trips to N Wales and noticed this "race" occurring. Upon asking what the race was, I was told it encompassed all 15 of the peaks over 3000 ft high. I thought, "Wow! That sounds like a good thing to do". (Not the running bit obviously). It was only later that I discovered how much area that it would cover and be a total of 30 miles in length. So consequently I was never with anyone who was prepared to do it with me.
But now the opportunity had presented itself, and with food supplied, guides to show the way, and First Aid on hand I had no excuses. Also, raising money for a worthwhile cause was another good way to do it. I asked around the other members of the club, but there were no takers (woosies to a man!). However, I was still prepared to do it by myself though, but eventually I managed to talk two friends at work into doing it. They were, Keith: fit, very outdoorsy, did loads of cycling, I knew he would have no problems doing it, and Mike: played squash couple of times a week, uhm ... not much else ... and he had just given up smoking. I had my doubts ... oh well, it was his choice.
We had arrived at the Pen Y Gwryd at around 11 p.m. the previous night (after 5 hours driving). I had arranged to meet some other friends there. (Rather confusingly they were also called Mike and Keith). They would play a role later on the following day. We had a drink and had set ourselves to getting a couple of hours kip in the car ready for a 3a.m. start. However, we were offered a chance to doss on Phil's floor, a chap we had met in the bar, so we accepted his offer gladly.
The first leg up to Crib Goch (No 1) went well. The sun had started to rise as we neared it and there was enough light to negotiate the scramble up to the first peak, then easily on to Crib Y Ddisgal (No 2) and Yr Wyddfa or Snowdon (the 3rd). What followed after a short walk down the railway track however was a knee jarring, leg-tiring descent down the steep flanks from Clogwyn station down to the Llanberis Pass. This was but a taste of what was to come and it gave me an idea of how knackering today was going to be for me. After an hour we reached the road and made our way to the Car Park for breakfast. It was now 8 o'clock in the morning and we had already done what I would normally have considered a long day's walk.
After breakfast, (and strange man sticking measuring device in our ear again), we headed up to Elidir Fawr. This, I had been warned, was very long and tiring, but I found it OK and sooner than I had expected we had made it to the top for 10 a.m. (No. 4). The next section took us up to Y Garn (No 5) and then up on to Glyder Fawr (No 6) via Llyn Y Cwn (and the mad ear doctor again!) and then up an unpleasant scree slope. From here we made rapid progress across the lunar landscape to Glyder Fach (No 7) for 1.30 p.m. By now I was starting to feel the tiredness in my limbs, and I started to find myself more at the back of the group. Everyone else it seemed was doing OK without any problems at all. Or so I thought.
We eventually hit the top of Bristly Ridge. I had never been down here, only up, and when I had I had climbed the ridge direct. Now, however, we took what turned out be a killer of a descent down the steep slope to the East. I was having real trouble going down here. My knees were screaming at me to stop. I looked behind me to see Jim, a chap in his forties, also having trouble. Mike, it appeared was also having a bit of trouble too, although I wasn't to know how much till we reached the col between Bristly Ridge and Tryfan. When we stopped for a while to let everyone catch up I saw Mike sat on a rock breathing very heavily. He looked as white as a sheet and was obviously in a great deal of discomfort. Dave Worrall, one of our guides (and OVMRO Chairman), offered him the option of bailing out. An option he was very happy to take.
He was escorted down to the roadside, along with Jim (knees), by a couple of friends of mine, the aforementioned Mike and Keith, while the rest of us in our team raced up to Tryfan. (Going up was fine, I decided, but why all this going down?). Tryfan (No. 8) was ticked exactly 12 hours after we started at 3p.m. The fact that we were only a just past half-way was a little bit worrying as I was hoping to do the whole thing in 18 hours. Still, no time for that as there was another (and, oh so thankfully, last) steep descent down Tryfan's West face. After a painful slog down the slope (my concept of hell, I've decided: an unending scree slope going down, and down, and down ...), I arrived at the car park by the side of Llyn Ogwen.
After cramming as much food and drink down as I could, we were off again, (what?, so soon?). I took my leave from Mike who was now looking a lot better, and jumped in the van for the quick drive to the other end of the lake. Now came the hard bit. I had been warned of the psychological impact of looking up at Pen Yr Ole Wyn, and I had always thought, "Nah! Not me. I'm hard, I am.". Well, I have to say I was quite daunted by it. My legs were aching and my feet were sore, and the prospect of getting to the top of this huge beast of a mountain did not fill me with any enthusiasm at all. Still, I had come this far and I wasn't quitting now (See? I am hard, after all). So I girded up my loins and headed up the path. After an hour and ten minutes of exhausting work, where I was at the back all the way, I finally got to the top (No 9) and rejoined the others. I was exhausted but felt much better now that there was to be no more steep ups, or any more steep, leg-numbing downs. I wasn't even upset by the fact that we were now in the clouds and it was raining. All I had to confront now was a long slog for 8 or 10 miles. So with waterproofs on and Mars bars in hand I set off.
Half an hour later we were at Carnedd Dafydd (No 10). The weather had gotten worse and so unfortunately we weren't treated to any of the views that we had in the earlier part of the day. No choice, then, but to put our heads down and go for it. The next 3 hours went quite fast, with the weather improving slightly, although not enough for us to tick Yr Elen, which we decided was wisest to miss due to the high winds.
The rain had ceased, but visibility was still poor. Our last peak, Foel Fras (No 15), was reached at 10.30 p.m. "All over", I thought, and I asked David (another David, one of our guides) how far it was now, and he said, "Oh not far, just down this hill to the saddle, then to the van waiting at the reservoir". "This hill" turned out to be an hour's worth of descent. And what with my tired legs and the increasing dusk it was an hour's worth of walking I was no longer keen to do. Still, I could see the reservoir down in the valley and the word "van" created one last burst of energy in me. But, no! After a long and tricky descent in the gloom there was no van., We tried to pick up a signal for our mobiles, but after a few minutes a decision was made to start walking down the track. We started to head off, the metalled road being the final insult to my weary legs. This part was definitely the most miserable.
There was plenty of cursing I can tell you. (A lot of it aimed at Anna and her poster!) The time was now approaching 11.30 and it was now dark, the last of the twilight gone, when I saw what looked like headlights coming up the valley. "Hooray!" I almost shouted. Once we were sure that it was what we thought it was the three of us stopped (the others having already sped ahead). It was all I could do to stop myself falling into a tired heap on the ground there and then. We jumped in the Landie and headed back to the Hotel. It was all over!
Well, after a good nights sleep and a big fry-up in the morning from our very friendly hosts (The Old Rectory, Abergwyngregyn), I felt as right as rain and could think about my achievement with a great deal of satisfaction. Although it had been long and tiring, it wasn't as bad as I'd thought and in the end we raised nearly 1,000 for the MRT.
As for next year? Well, I think a return visit is definitely in order. I already have a handful of names who have said they will join me. But I think that a bit more training would definitely help. Yeah, next year, with a bit more training, I'll walk it.