The Welsh Three Peaks Challenge is typically made up of three of the highest and most iconic mountains in Wales: Snowdon, Wales’ tallest peak and the highest point in Britain outside the Scottish highlands; Cader Idris, a spectacular peak at the southerly edge of Snowdonia National Park; and Pen y Fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales.
And what’s best is that all this is achievable for most people with a reasonable level of fitness; although planning and preparation are vital. Most people take on the challenge through an organised group and many Welsh charities run their own three peaks fundraising challenges, which generally include guides and transport.
Amelia Williams, 50, did the challenge in May 2017 as part of a 50-strong team from her local gym, The Class House in Llandeilo. “The gym owner is ex-army, so he organised the whole thing. He’d arranged five mountain leaders and sorted things like transport, food and first aiders,” she says.
If you are taking on the challenge as an individual group, it’s recommended to have at least one designated driver who isn’t taking part in the walking challenge and can take extra rest breaks. It’s also advised to have a few hill-based practise walks before setting off on the challenge, as well as some general fitness training.
“We ranged from the ultra-fit down to people who’d only being going to the gym for a few months,” says Amelia. “I’m quite fit, but it was still a real challenge. We’d done a few practice walks up Pen y Fan, using the route the SAS train on, so we had an idea what it was going to be like. The best thing was doing it as a group and supporting each other, shattered as everyone was.”
The Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons National Park websites have their own safety sections which all include essential tips on equipment, clothing, fitness and timings for the specific mountain areas. Adventure Smart Wales also has plenty of advice on how to ‘make a good day better’, and we recommend you read it before planning your day out.
Your reward? Some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world and an unrivalled day of discovery, adventure and achievement. In general, most groups complete the route from north to south but it can be done in reverse – although that means finishing with the toughest mountain, Snowdon. May-October is the best time to take on the challenge, but remember, the weather on the mountains can change quickly and vary drastically, whatever the season.
Either way, you’ll be using the Cambrian Way to travel around 135 miles, a complete north-south road route along the mountainous spine of Wales, taking in dizzyingly beautiful vistas, market towns, forests, lakes and reservoirs; as well as the old slate and coal mining heartlands.
Just to add spice, Amelia’s group set themselves a 24-hour target that included the home-to-home drive from West Wales: “We left Llandeilo rugby club at midnight on the Saturday morning, drove up to Snowdon and started our walk at around 4am. That was a hard experience. It was still pitch black when we got there, and blowing a gale on the summit. But the weather broke on the descent and by the time we got to Cader Idris it was beautiful. At Pen y Fan it was dark and blowing a gale again. We finally got back to Llandeilo just after midnight. We finished in 24 hours and two minutes.”
That’s close enough, in our book – especially as the group raised more than £7,500 for prostate cancer research. Top effort.
The Challenge: North to South
Use our accommodation search to find a place to stay near Snowdonia National Park. YHA Pen y Pas Youth Hostel has been a popular choice for adventurous climbers since the Victorian era; or try the Royal Victoria Hotel for some traditional luxury opposite the Llanberis path. Whatever you choose, say ‘nos da’ (goodnight) as early as possible, ready for a dawn start to your Welsh mountain adventure. You could even stock up on delicious Welsh produce and snacks for the journey between mountains at Iechyd Da, an independent, family-run delicatessen in the picturesque village of Betws-y-Coed the day before.
I’m quite fit, but it was still a real challenge. We’d done a few practice walks up Pen y Fan, using the route the SAS train on, so we had an idea what it was going to be like. The best thing was doing it as a group and supporting each other, shattered as everyone was.”
Height: 1,085 metres
Walk time: approx. 4-5 hours
Instagram moment: Sunrise as you set off, and the 360-degree views of the ridges and lakes of Snowdonia National Park stretch out in every direction. If it’s clear at the top, you can see all the way to Ireland.
Recommended start time: 6am
Drive from Snowdon to Cader Idris: approx. 1.5 hours
Height: 893 metres
Walk time: approx. 5 hours
Instagram moment: Llyn Cau, a huge, dramatic glacial lake in the crater of Cader Idris, set beneath 400m-high mountain walls.
Route: Minffordd Path
Drive from Cader Idris to Pen y Fan: approx. 2 hours 20 minutes
Pen y Fan
Walk time: approx. 2.5 hours
Instagram moment: A team photo at the top with the Pen y Fan National Trust sign – you did it!
Route: Start at the Storey Arms outdoor centre.
And to celebrate? Try the Three Horseshoes near Brecon, an award-winning village pub and restaurant known locally as the Groesffordd where you can get the hearty Welsh meal and cold drinks you truly deserve.