Sharing a collection of phone videos I took during the Welsh 3000s hike with Alistair.
No scripting, editing, or soundtrack. Just good memories!
Sharing a collection of phone videos I took during the Welsh 3000s hike with Alistair.
No scripting, editing, or soundtrack. Just good memories!
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.
10.2 miles / 3,879 ft ascent / 3 summits
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
11.8 miles / 5,121 ft ascent / 8 summits
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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? 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:
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.
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:
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!
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.
The only other snowy hike this winter, a really enjoyable climb up to the Raven Rocks lookout on the A.T. with Lexi.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
We eventually got away at about 9.30 am, after seeing the shelter and signing the logbook.
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.
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.
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.
All in all, a fabulous three days with one of my oldest friends. What more could you ask for!
29 June 2022
Hike & Scramble / 11.6 miles / 2,499 ft ascent / 5 hours 44 minutes
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!
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.
Near the top of the climb we entered the stream bed and began the short, wet, but entertaining scramble up Crowded Clough.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Back in Edale, we stopped to refuel at the excellent Penny Pot Cafe before our respective drives home.
Truly a top day out with a great friend. The best of days.