Category Archives: Hiking

Welsh 3000s hike with Alistair

15 – 17 April 2023

When Alistair and I were planning this trip he asked me: “what’s your preference for what we do?”

I replied: “I’d love to bag some summits and possibly do some scrambling, since that’s different to the type of adventures I do at home in the Appalachians”

A few days later he suggested we try backpacking the Welsh 3000 ft peaks.


The Welsh 3000s is a challenge to walk all the mountains over 3,000 ft in Wales in a single expedition.

It’s a route that I’ve dreamed of for over two decades (!) but just never quite got round to doing. So I was incredibly excited to finally give it a shot.

Unbelievably, it’s been done in under 5 hours by elite runners, and under 12 hours by fast runners. I once harbored ambitions to try to do it in under a day myself, but not anymore. This time, we opted to do it over 3 days with 2 high camps, still a challenging itinerary. For me, it would certainly tick the “summit” box with 16 planned summits and since it involves at least one mandatory scramble, I’d also get to tick that box.

We chose to start our route from sea level, which meant our final peak would also be the tallest, Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). It made for a beautiful, logical line, around 38 miles in length.

See a recap video of the trip here.

Day 1: Llanfairfechan to Carnedd Llewelyn camp

10.2 miles / 3,879 ft ascent / 3 summits

We started our trek from the beach at Llanfairfechan, near Bangor

We left the town of Llanfairfechan and climbed up into the mountains. Behind us lay the Menai Strait and Anglesey, ahead lay the challenge of the Carneddau range.

Looking out to Penman Point and Puffin Island, an area I visited many times in my childhood
Alistair on the track up Drum, 770m

Day 1 was all uphill, since we started at sea level and climbed three of the 3000 ft summits. Once we gained the ridge proper though, the bulk of the ascent for the day was done.

Summit #1: Foel-fras, 942 m (3,090 ft)

Our first 3000 summit: Foel-fras, 942m
Walking across the high plateau of the Carneddau

Snow lingered on the north slopes of the mountains and ice lay in the puddles. Since it was above freezing, it was all slushy and we didn’t need to worry about winter conditions. The ground was wet and my boots eventually succumbed to repeated immersions to leave my feet damp.

Summit #2: Carnedd Gwenllian, 926 m (3,038 ft)

All smiles on our second summit
Alistair descending through the snow off the back of Carnedd Gwenllian

Summit #3: Foel Grach, 976 m (3,202 ft)

Still relatively mild conditions on the summit of Foel Grach
Crossing the high Carneddau plateau, looking for a spot to camp
Camped high on the saddle between Foel Grach and Carnedd Llywelyn. Alistair’s tent is the dark green one on the left, mine the light green one on the right.

After pitching the tents, we collected and filtered water from a stream at the col. Then back to the tents to cook in the dusk light and enjoy a hot dinner with a view of city lights sparkling in the distance.

Cooking dinner at dusk, with the lights of Liverpool in the distance
Recording the day before dropping off to sleep

It was a wild and windy night!

It snowed during the first half of the night, but it turned to rain as the night wore on. During the night the wind shifted direction so it was hitting my tent side-on and flattening it on me during the stronger gusts.

Suffice to say, I didn’t sleep much that night!

Day 2: Carnedd Llewelyn camp to Y Garn camp

11.8 miles / 5,121 ft ascent / 8 summits

Breakfast in bed!

The rain and wind lessened through the morning so the conditions were reasonably benign when we set off, just a tad chilly. Only the visibility remained poor through the morning.

There were still cornices along the ridge as we ascended Yr Elen

Summits #4 – 7: The central Carneddau

From camp, we skirted the shoulder of Carnedd Llywelyn and climbed Yr Elen first, to avoid having to ascend Carnedd Llywelyn twice.

We climbed the summits along the central ridge line of the Carneddau in quick succession, as they only have modest drops between them:

  • Yr Elen, 962 m (3,156 ft)
  • Carnedd Llywelyn, 1064 m (3,491 ft)
  • Carnedd Dafydd, 1044 m (3,425 ft)
  • Pen yr Ole Wen, 978 m (3,208 ft)
On the summit of Yr Elen, 962 m (3,156 ft)

The cloud thinned as we ascended the final summit of the Carneddau range: Pen yr Ole Wen.

We opted to descend the east ridge, a mild grade 1 scramble that we’d both done several times before (15 – 20 years ago though!). Although the direct descent from the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen to the west end of Llyn Ogwen tempted us with the promise of a cafe, it’s not a particularly pleasant descent.

We dropped below the cloud base as we passed Ffynnon Lloer at the base of the east ridge. The Glyderau were poking out of the cloud, which was rapidly thinning.

Tryfan and the Ogwen valley, seen as we descended off the Carneddau range

We elected to scramble the north ridge of Tryfan rather than the south ridge from the Bwlch Tryfan, which would have been a longer route. We made rapid progress up the steep trail but spent WAY too long route finding on the scramble itself.

Alistair on the lower portion of Tryfan’s North ridge, with the cloud lifting over the Glyderau
Cloud inversion from Tryfan

Tryfan kept us guessing to the very summit. We were committed to a gully with an unknown exit. Thankfully, it snuck round a corner and popped us out right next to the summit rocks, Adam and Eve.

Looking towards the summit of Tryfan
Incredible cloud inversion over the east edge of the Glyderau, towards Capel Curig

Summit #8: Tryfan, 915 m (3,011 ft)

On the summit of Tryfan
The famous Adam and Eve stones on the summit of Tryfan
Looking back at Tryfan from the pass Bwlch Tryfan
Beautiful evening light close to the summit of Glyder Fach

The silver lining of spending all afternoon on the ascent of Tryfan was that we traversed the main Glyderau ridge in the glorious evening light. The thick clag on the summits earlier in the day was long gone, replaced by a magical cloud inversion.

Where the Carneddau are mostly boggy, open summits, the Glyderau are all shattered rock pillars (the name itself means “heap of stones”).

Most of the summits involve a degree of scrambling to attain the airy perches. We had good weather so it was a really enjoyable section of the walk, even despite our weary legs.

Summit #9: Glyder Fach, 994 m (3,261 ft)

The summit of Glyder Fach in the evening light
Alistair crossing the Glyderau
Looking across to the Snowdon group in the evening light
Some of the best conditions I’ve ever had up there

Summit #10: Castell y Gwynt, 972 m (3,189 ft)

On top of the airy summit rock pile of Castell y Gwynt
Alistair scrambling down off the airy summit of Castell y Gwynt
Gorgeous views looking west towards the Irish Sea
Looking back to the Carneddau and Tryfan
Looking west at sunset

Summit #11: Glyder Fawr, 1,001 m (3,284 ft)

A pair of tired hikers on the summit of Glyder Fawr
We needed our headtorches for the descent of Glyder Fawr. Y Garn in the distance.

Day 3: Y Garn camp to Pen-y-Pass

15.9 miles / 5,867 ft ascent / 5 summits

Having pitched our tents in the dark the previous evening, we had no idea just how scenic the camping spot was! It was a gorgeous morning, all the more so because we were up early at first light, to ensure we had time to complete another big day.

Our camp at Llyn y Cwn, with Y Garn in the background

This is one of the best wild camps I’ve had in a long time. Barely a breath of wind, no bugs, beautiful scenery, a hot breakfast. Basically, as good as it gets.

Breakfast on morning of day 3
One of the best nights sleep I’ve ever had in a tent!
Camp at Llyn y Cwm

We were walking by 7.30 am and immediately started the climb up Y Garn. It’s an easy ascent on a good path, so we just plodded along and enjoyed the incredible views.

Summit #12: Y Garn, 947 m (3,106 ft)

Perfect weather on the summit of Y Garn
Panorama looking towards the Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) group
Llyn Ogwen and Llyn Idwal in the Ogwen valley
Llyn Ogwen (L), Llyn Idwal (R), and Tryfan

The route from the top of Y Garn to Elidir Fawr is one of the finest high-level walks in Snowdonia I think. Especially on a day like this, with bright blue skies and a stunning cloud inversion.

After the rocky summits of the main Glyderau, the easy trails on Elidir Fawr were a welcome change underfoot.

On the shoulder of Elidir Fawr
Alistair ascending Elidir Fawr, one of my favourite sections of the trip
Looking across to the Snowdon group
Marchlyn Mawr reservoir, water source for the Dinorwig power station
Alistair on the summit slopes of Elidir Fawr

Summit #13: Elidir Fawr, 924 m (3,031 ft)

On the summit of Elidir Fawr (photo by Alistair)
View from the summit stone shelter on Elidir Fawr

The cloud filled in as we descended off Elidir Fawr down to Nant Perris. We passed the huge Dinorwig slate quarries on the way down. In the valley, some sheep had escaped into the single track road in front of us. Try as we might, we couldn’t get past them, so they kept running towards the main road, which would have caused a problem. Thankfully a passing local shepherded them into an empty field and alerted the farmer. Oh, the dramas of rural life!

Walking through the Llanberis valley as we cross from the Glyderau into the Snowdon group

Our route continued on an undulating path along the valley floor for a few miles, before heading up into the Snowdon range for our final group of three peaks.

On the way up Cwm Glas
Scrambling up to Cwm Glas

Somewhere during our ascent to Cwm Glas, we missed the left turn and continued following a trail that led us to far to the right, to the base of the Pearson arete (a classic hard scramble, one for another day!).

Although we were some way off route, it wasn’t a total disaster as there was a faint traversing trail that took us back towards Cwm Glas. However, with time pressing, we opted to go to Bwlch Coch, the col between Crib Goch and Garnedd Ugain, rather than try the full traverse of Crib Goch (our original plan, but a longer route).

The final steep climb up to the Bwlch Coch

This meant we would do an out-and-back route to tag the summit of Crib Goch. One benefit to this was that we could leave our bags at the col to do the scramble. However, it also meant we had to do the hardest scrambling over the pinnacles in both directions.

Alistair on Crib Goch ridgeline, the most airy and difficult summit

I’m really out of practice scrambling, so it was vaguely terrifying in a few places. The moves are simple, but the route is very exposed. So we took our time and made sure we were safe.

Summit #14: Crib Goch, 923 m (3,028 ft)

On the summit of Crib Goch, maybe I closed my eyes to avoid looking at the drop?
Can you spot Alistair climbing over the exposed 3rd pinnacle of Crib Goch?
View from col of Llyn Llydaw (L) and Glaslyn (R) nestled in the Snowdon group

The cloud layer descended again, so we lost visibility going up the penultimate mountain.

We tried to avoid some of the scrambling to save time, by using a traversing path, but we ended up having to climb a heinous scree gully to get to the summit.

Ascending a steep scree gully to attain the summit of Garnedd Ugain

Not a particularly fun route, but I was still smiling because we were so close to achieving our objective. Only a short walk from the summit of Garnedd Ugain to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) remained.

Summit #15: Garnedd Ugain, 1,065 m (3,494 ft)

At the crumbling trig pillar of our penultimate top: Garnedd Ugain

All that remained was the highest of the lot: Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). It’s the highest mountain in Wales and can be a tourist magnet on summer weekends. As it was a misty, windy, Monday evening, we only saw a few other groups on our way to the summit.

Summit #16: Yr Wyddfa / Snowdon, 1,085 m (3,560 ft)

Success! Standing on the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) the final 3000er and also the highest.

We had the summit to ourselves, just the wind and thick cloud for company.

It was hugely satisfying to knock this one off and complete the 3000s. I was relieved that my right knee and lower back didn’t give me any trouble.

We had a taxi booked for 8 pm from Pen-y-Pass car park so we had to dash down the Miner’s track to make it in time. We arrived at 8.02 pm. Not bad timing, given that we booked it a few hours earlier on the summit of Garnedd Ugain and had to estimate our pickup time.

Descending The Miner’s Track off Snowdon
At the finish line! Pen-y-Pass car park where we caught a taxi back to Alistair’s car at Llanfairfechan

What can I say to wrap this up?

A brilliant, brilliant trip!

Undoubtedly I have some recency bias because it’s been a long time since I’ve been backpacking in the UK like this, but I would say this was one of the best short trips I’ve ever done.

It had a bit of everything: a classic and challenging route, wild camping, scrambling, full variety of weather, great companionship, and stunning scenery in one of my favourite parts of the world.

Winter Season 2022/23

Winter? What winter?

After many fantastic winter hikes in the 2021/22 season and 2020/21 season, I was psyched for more of the same.

But it was not to be this year.

Apart from a very cold week in late December, and two snowy-ish days (around 1 inch each time), winter was non-existent this year.

I believe we had a relatively normal amount of precipitation for this time of year but it all fell as rain because of the mild temperatures.

The silver lining was that I was able to get out on my bike more often this winter, which was a huge positive.

Some highlights from this season:

8 December 2022: Winter SUP Session

A few hours of cold-weather paddling on the Potomac River with my friend Chuck. Great fun! We put in at the River Riders campground boat ramp and explored a few miles upstream before returning.

More photos on Instagram.

22 December 2022: Loudoun Heights in the snow

One of only two snowy hikes this winter! There was about an inch of slushy, wet snow on the ground.

I took one of my favorite winter photos up on the ridgeline of Loudoun Heights:

More photos on Instagram.

January overnighter on the bike

One of my goals this year is to camp at least one night each month. I managed an overnighter in January and March, but was too busy in February.

In January, I did a sub-24hr overnighter (an “S24O”) and rode from home to Killiansburg hiker biker campsite along the C&O canal. It was a super little trip!

Long winter rides on the C&O Canal

I’m prioritising the bike this year, so I’ve been making an effort to get out for long rides along the canal and neighbouring roads solo and with friends.

1 Jan: 50 miles along the canal upstream from home to dam 4 and return. Cold!

7 Jan: 44 miles, climb of Mar Lu ridge, behind Point of Rocks.

18 Jan: 36 miles downstream along the C&O canal with Paul.

25 Feb: 60 miles along the canal upstream. Cold! Snow flurries on the return journey. Rode with the only 2 other cyclists I saw that day – Eddie and Hannah – for 10 miles or so, in the middle.

3 March 2022: Raven Rocks in the snow

The only other snowy hike this winter, a really enjoyable climb up to the Raven Rocks lookout on the A.T. with Lexi.

More photos on Instagram.

Otherwise, there were plenty of great hikes and bike rides on my local trails, with family, with friends, and solo. But none with snow 😦

Hopefully, this isn’t the new normal for this area and next season we’ll get a decent showing of snow.

Appalachian Trail backpacking with Alistair: Ashby Gap to Harpers Ferry

12 November – 14 November 2022

My good friend Alistair — who I walked with in the Peak District earlier this year — came to Harpers Ferry for a visit and we got out for a 3-day backpack along my local section of Appalachian Trail: the infamous roller coaster section.

We had a fabulous three days, starting with a warm shorts and t-shirt weather and ending with below-freezing conditions, a true changing of the seasons.

Here’s a selection of photos from our hike north along the AT. Enjoy!

Route: Ashby Gap to Harpers Ferry

  • Day 1 (red): 11.1 miles / 2,720 ft ascent / 4 hrs 59 minutes walking time
  • Day 2 (purple): 15.2 miles / 3,653 ft ascent / 6 hrs 21 minutes walking time
  • Day 3 (blue): 12.2 miles / 1,564 ft ascent / 4 hrs 13 minutes walking time

Day 1: Ashby Gap to Sam Moore shelter

Lexi and the boys dropped us off at Ashby Gap, and walked with us for the first mile or so, before they turned around back to the car. It was wonderful to share the start of the trip with the family. Hopefully they’ll want to come with me when they’re a little older.

Lexi and the boys walked the first mile with us – a fine send off! (Photo by Lexi)
Recent rain meant all the streams were flowing, nice to see after such a dry summer
Starting the roller coaster, an infamous 13 miles of trail in VA that goes up and down, and up and down, and up and down, and up and down…
Alistair following the white blazes
Stream crossing near Morgans Mill Road

This section of trail is known as the roller coaster, and for good measure. Over 13 miles, it ascends and descends ten ridges! We certainly felt it in our legs.

We were slightly slower than expected, arriving on the summit of Buzzard Hill in the late afternoon. The light was beautiful. I’ve climbed Buzzard Hill a few times before, but never from the south.

Enjoying the golden hour light on top of Buzzard Hill (photo by Alistair)
Alistair and me on the summit of Buzzard Hill
View from the summit of Buzzard Hill in the evening light

We left the summit of Buzzard Hill to walk the final mile and a half to the Sam Moore shelter, where we camped for the night.

We arrived just before dark — around 5pm this time of year — and had just enough light to locate a couple of suitable tent sites and find water in the spring.

I had iodine tablets with me for purification, but we both used Alistair’s Sawyer Mini filter, which was preferable as it didn’t alter the taste of the water.

Sam Moore shelter sign – our home for the night
First task on arrival at camp was to retrieve (and filter) water from Sawmill Spring

After the tents were pitched, we cooked and ate dinner with three other hikers at the shelter picnic area. One of the other hikers remarked “I’m surprised to see others out here! I thought I’d be the only one mad enough to camp out at this time of year!”

The warmth of the day continued into the evening, so it was comfortable to sit out, eating and chatting under head torch. The temperature dropped during the night.

Alistair’s tent on the left, mine on the right, outside Sam Moore shelter

After dinner, the final task of the day was to hang our food out of reach of the bears on the metal pole near the shelter.

Then, sleep.

Alistair hanging his food to prevent bears causing any trouble

Day 2: Sam Moore shelter to David Lesser shelter

I slept really well. With darkness from 5.30 pm until nearly 7 am, it gives you a long time to rest in the tent.

Camped next to the Sam Moore shelter (in the background, left of the tents)

I love camping, and living out in the woods, so it was a real treat to wake up surrounded by trees and nature. After retrieving our foods bags, we retreated to our respective tents to cook and enjoy breakfast from sleeping bags, since it was much, much colder than the evening before.

My MSR Pocket Rocket stove still going strong after all these years
Alistair (in blue) and me (in red) ready to depart Sam Moore shelter for our second day of walking.

The second day was more of the same: up and down, up and down, on repeat.

It was hard work, with the heavy bags and lack of backpacking specific fitness. We both remarked that it was one of the hardest days we’ve done for a while. Certainly by the end of the day, my back was stiff and aching from carrying the backpack. Thankfully, my knees, which I was worried about before this trip, felt great and gave me no trouble at all.

Me crossing one of the many streams along the route (photo by Alistair)
Alistair striding out along the AT

We enjoyed the wonderful vistas from the Bears Den lookout and an hour or so later, from the Raven Rocks lookout. I’m familiar with both of these lookouts from previous hikes (this one and this one), but I’m more than happy to return and enjoy them again and again. It was neat to arrive at these lookouts during a multi-day trip this time.

View at Bears Den lookout
Me and Alistair at Raven Rocks lookout

There’s one more ridge line to climb up and over before reaching the end of the roller coaster section. We were looking forward to a section of flatter, easier trail!

Phew! We reached the end of the roller coaster section of the trail
My happy place 🙂

Since the day had taken longer than we expected, we opted to collect water from the Blackburn Trail Center (which we knew had a reliable, outdoor spigot), rather than have to find the spring at the David Lesser shelter in the dark. This proved to be a good move, as the spring is quite a way down the hill from the shelter.

Relaxing on the sun loungers at the Blackburn Trail Center, where we filled up with water
Beautiful views from the lookout just north of Blackburn Trail Center

We arrived at the David Lesser shelter in the dark, but quickly found two tent sites and got situated. We were both exhausted.

It was a really cold night, so we cooked and ate dinner as quickly as we could before retiring to tents to get warm. The David Lesser shelter has a bear box, so we stored our food there for the night.

We walked with head torches for the final half an hour
Dinner in the dark that night!

Day 3: David Lesser shelter to Harpers Ferry, including Loudoun Heights lookout

I had no idea what the view was like from the shelter because we’d pitched in the dark the night before. I woke about 6.30 am and when I saw the orange glow outside the tent walls, I jumped up, camera in hand, and took a bunch of photos. It was beautiful. I was like a kid-in-a-candy shop!

Sublime camp spot below the David Lesser shelter
An amazing view to wake up to!

It was another cold morning, so we opted to cook and eat breakfasts from the porches of our tents. It was bliss, sitting in my sleeping bag with a cup of tea, just enjoying the view of the woods and the silence of just being. I felt more content than I have done for a long time. I was in no rush to pack up and start hiking.

What a spot for breakfast!

We eventually got away at about 9.30 am, after seeing the shelter and signing the logbook.

Alistair relaxing in the very comfortable recliner at the David Lesser shelter

This third day was much easier than the two previous days. The trail was flat or downhill mostly, so we made much better time, apart from a few sections of very rocky trail that required more care.

Yours truly on the AT, wearing lots of orange because fall is hunting season (even if it’s not an explicit hunting area, it’s still a wise idea this time of year). (Photo by Alistair.)

As we approached Harpers Ferry, the trail became more familiar to me. Keys Gap, the boardwalks, the power line break, 4-mile camp, the WV/VA state border, and finally into Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

We had plenty of daylight and both felt great so we opted to take the side trail to Loudoun Heights overlook. I wanted to show Alistair my favorite local walk.

Nearly home! Entering Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Boulder en route to Loudoun Heights lookout, with Maryland Heights in the background

We spent a bit of time exploring the lookout — our final “summit” of the trip — before the final descent into Harpers Ferry and home.

There’s something special about finishing (or starting!) an adventure from your doorstep. You walk through the front door, drop your bag, and make yourself a cup of tea, as if you’ve just got back from an hour’s stroll.

Alistair and me at Loudoun Heights lookout, with Harpers Ferry in the background
Last steps along the AT before joining US340 to cross the Shenandoah River
Crossing the Shenandoah, with Maryland Heights on the left, and Loudoun Heights on the right

All in all, a fabulous three days with one of my oldest friends. What more could you ask for!

Crowded Clough scramble on Kinder Low with Alistair (Peak District, UK)

29 June 2022

Hike & Scramble / 11.6 miles / 2,499 ft ascent / 5 hours 44 minutes

Hope Valley, Peak District National Park, UK

Alistair is one of my oldest friends. We met at the mountaineering and walking club at university and over the years we’ve walked across the Pyrenees together, done countless trips to the UK mountains (e.g. this Scottish adventure), traversed the mountaineer’s Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, and spent 5 months together in the Andes of South America, nearly getting to the top of Aconcagua together.

However, since my move to the States 10 years ago, we’ve only seen each other once, briefly in 2014 for a short walk around West Kirby Marine Lake.

This year, June 2022, I was in Peak District for 2 weeks with my family, my brother’s family, and the UK grandparents, for a big family reunion after years of Covid restrictions. Alistair lives just around the corner, so it was easy to meet in the Peaks for a day walk together.

Alistair suggested a scramble up Crowded Clough onto Kinder Low and then walking a circuit around the head of the Edale valley.

We had great weather for it!

Alistair on the way up Kinder Low. Crowded Clough is the prominent dark scar, where the stream bed lies.

We began from the village of Edale, also the start of the Pennine Way, and headed up Kinder Low. It was great to catch up on news and reminisce about adventures past.

Looking back towards Edale

Near the top of the climb we entered the stream bed and began the short, wet, but entertaining scramble up Crowded Clough.

Alistair scrambling up Crowded Clough
Higher up on the scramble, which went up to the left of the stream. Fun!

Near the top we had the option to take the path towards the summit of Kinder Low, or complete the scramble up a final awkward chimney. Being the purists that we are, we opted for the scramble.

It was a few bridging steps followed by a heave and a struggle to push up and out of the bowels of the mountain. Here, Alistair demonstrates the sideways traversing technique to exit the top of the chimney:

We continued on over the plateau with the weird stones to the trig point at the top of Kinder Low.

Me and Alistair, some 23 years after our first summit together

From here, we continued around the head of the valley, past many Duke of Edinburgh youth groups (which is how I started my love affair with the mountains), to Brown Knoll, Lord Seat, and eventually Mam Tor.

Crossing the flagstones over Lord Seat

The section from Lord Seat to Mam Tor was more of a defined ridge line, as opposed to open moorland that we’d crossed earlier in the day.

On the ridge towards Mam Tor
Summit of Mam Tor

From Mam Tor, which was rather crowded, we descended to Hollins Cross pass, before turning north into the valley and back to Edale where our cars were parked.

Alistair on the way down to Edale

Back in Edale, we stopped to refuel at the excellent Penny Pot Cafe before our respective drives home.

One of the best parts of climbing mountains is the license to eat whatever you want after a big day!

Truly a top day out with a great friend. The best of days.