Conwy Lad, Age 8, Completes Welsh 3000-ers

© Chris Near

Eight-year-old Griff Near, from Ysgol Capelulo in Conwy, has become one of the youngest people to climb the 15 highest mountains in Wales in under 24 hours. The classic 22-mile route is challenging enough for fit adult walkers, with nearly 10,000 feet of ascent. Griff, accompanied by his parents Chris and Pilar, camped the night on Snowdon summit before setting off at 6am on Saturday 14th September. Making the most of a weather window, they made it to the finish on Foel Fras in a shade under 18 hours.

In 2008 Ben Fleetwood, aged just six, completed the route in around 18 hours, and this is surely the record for the youngest ever Welsh 3000-er; however it seems likely that Griff is the second youngest.

Pre dawn on Snowdon  © Chris Near
Pre dawn on Snowdon
© Chris Near

UKH: Firstly we'd like to say a massive WELL DONE! So what gave you the idea that you wanted to try the 3000-ers?

Griff: I wanted to set this goal because I love mountains. I knew about it from my Dad who's done it before and I went up to watch him during the Welsh 3000s race last year. I like walking around thinking and talking so being in the mountains is perfect.

Your Dad tells me that you'd done all the hills before, but had you ever done a day as big as that?

No, but I have walked lots of mountains in Wales and Scotland. The longest walk is probably in the Alps though, up Mont Thabor (10,000ft high) which took two days. The second day was nine hours.

Did you realise how hard and how far it would be before you started?

Absolutely not because I have never done it before. But Mum and Dad did tell me it would be the hardest day of my life and it might take 24 hours and involve walking in the dark.

"Don't look down" on Crib Goch, says Griff  © Chris Near
"Don't look down" on Crib Goch, says Griff
© Chris Near

In the exploding world of 'adventure' sports the most underrated lifelong activity is mountain walking - kids love the freedom and the challenge and anyone can do it

18 hours is an incredibly long time to be on your feet even for an adult: how did you keep yourself going for so long, and avoid getting too tired?

I ate and drank lots and had some rest. But I kept going because I enjoyed it, wanted to do it and I was determined to achieve my goal.

Did you ever doubt that you'd finish it?

Yes - early on after Crib Goch I had an awful tummy ache which was like a stitch but in the middle of my tummy. I had to keep stopping and thought I might have to quit in Nant Peris. But I made a recovery and wanted to carry on and finish it off.

What were the hardest parts?

Crib Goch - my advice ...."don't look down !". The climb to Pen yr Ole Wen was very tough and the last few miles because I was tired and desperate to lie down and go to bed.

How about the most enjoyable bits?

Tryfan as it's a favourite of mine... and of course finishing it off. I felt happy but totally exhausted. I fell asleep on a sleeping mat whilst Mum and Dad pitched the tent.

On Tryfan, one of Griff's favourites  © Chris Near
On Tryfan, one of Griff's favourites
© Chris Near

How was the weather on the day?

Perfect. We camped near the top of Snowdon the night before and set off at 6am so we saw the sun rise. It was sunny all day but a bit windy. When we woke up the next morning on the summit of Foel Fras [having camped there on the finish line] it was wet, windy and the mountains were covered in thick cloud. So we were really lucky!

What was it like to finish the route in the dark?

OK - we had good torches but I didn't like the orange full moon - it was scary-looking. I was really tired at the end.

Do you have a favourite Welsh 3000-er?

Tryfan and Y Garn. Tryfan because it's rocky and I like scrambling and Y Garn because it was my first big mountain in North Wales.

How about a favourite sort of snack to keep you going when you're out on the hills?

Rice cakes, tomatoes, sausage rolls and sweets. Plus I took my toy Man-Bat with me on the whole challenge. It's proably the first Man-Bat to do the 15 Peaks too.

Done it! Reaching the summit of Foel Fras 18 hours after leaving Snowdon   © Chris Near
Done it! Reaching the summit of Foel Fras 18 hours after leaving Snowdon
© Chris Near

Most hill-going parents would probably like their kids to be more enthusiastic about walking, so we were keen to ask Dad Chris if he and Pilar had any hand in Griff's unusual levels of focus and drive...

UKH: You must have fostered a love of the hills early on for Griff: How often do you tend to get out as a family?

Chris: We live and work in the mountains as we are both Outdoor Education Teachers so our family time is spent having adventures. It's not all hillwalking although it's definitely what we do most of. We also climb, ski, canoe, bike and go caving. Every weekend Griff would opt for going mountain walking given the chance. But he's happy doing anything outdoors.

I have been competing in top-end long distance fell running and adventure races for years and have represented Wales in mountain running. I held the record for the Paddy Buckley round for a short spell and have won numerous Mountain Marathon events. I'm not blowing the trumpet, but I think that gives some background to what my kids regard as "normal".

Chris and Pilar have taken their kids up hills since the year dot - here's a younger Griff on Jura  © Chris Near
Chris and Pilar have taken their kids up hills since the year dot - here's a younger Griff on Jura
© Chris Near

Kids aren't generally great on endurance, so how did you help keep his energy and enthusiasm going for the full distance?

We didn't really! This was not a challenge that we pushed him into. He knew about it , I've done loads of these things before, and it was he who wanted to give it a go. We had no real idea whether he would do it and frankly that didn't matter - the hills would be there for another go if he wished.

I've never known a child so young to have either the stamina or the single mindedness required to do anything half as big as this. Even allowing for being (rightly) proud parents, had you ever seen anything like that before?!

Both Pilar and I have taken children mountain walking for years and I'll be honest (and unbiased), he is definitely different when it comes to mountain walking. It's not like walking with a child - more like a fit adult. We often have to trot to catch up with. He's pretty focussed and when he gets an idea in his head he'll generally keep going until it's completed. He is a bit different in as much as he covers the ground almost effortlessly but for him walking is relaxation - he thinks and barely stops talking the whole time.

"I kept going because I enjoyed it, and I was determined to achieve my goal"  © Chris Near
"I kept going because I enjoyed it, and I was determined to achieve my goal"
© Chris Near

How much prior planning had to go into it?

Not a great deal as we are used to planning things like this. I've done the three UK big rounds so it's just a case of making sure you have food and kit in certain places and then retrieve vehicles afterwards. But it was lucky that I had won four tickets to the Snowdon Railway so we used these to get to the start. We had a great night camping under a full moon near the summit. There were some logistics to sort out as our daughter Esmee was only walking down off Snowdon to meet the grandparents. But we were lucky to hit a perfect weather window for the challenge. Thursday was awful here in Snowdonia and then the weather broke again just after we finished - it couldn't have gone better.

Would you have any advice for families who are looking to do something big and challenging like this?

As teachers of outdoor education we generally see that children are naturally up for challenges and it's often adults who overthink or overplan things and find problems with them. Seeing things through a child's eyes is refreshingly simple - they think they can do anything, which is a major factor in success.

But, of course, you need to give exposure to these things so that the activity and envirnonment becomes "normal" - it needs to be backed up by experience. Everyone may look at this and think that it's an extraordinary feat or more likely that he's been dragged against his will across the hills for his parents' benefit. But this misses the point entirely. We have given Griff loads of different opportunities but out of everything he loves mountain walking so he wanted to do this - it wasn't our suggestion.

What we like we tend to want to do more of and what we do more of we tend to get better at (except golf!)... and so it goes on. The result is something like this. Griff has done so much walking that he's great at it and loves it, so this challenge was totally within his reach. But remember, this challenge is not the first walk he's done and yet it's the one that everyone will see. Compared to most eight-year-olds he's years ahead so that's why it sticks out as being exceptional.

In the exploding world of "adventure" sports the most underrated and yet free lifelong activity is mountain walking - kids love the freedom and the challenge and anyone can do it.

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John's son Ben completed the Wainwrights at age six, and the Munros by the age of 10. As far as I know he's not done the Welsh 3000s at 8 or younger (if he's done them at all yet?)

Well remembered! OK, we'll amend that headline. Thanks

Yes, really great! As a parent of moderately keen and able small hill walkers - who'd never get near something like this - I'm incredibly impressed with both Ben and Griff. The 'youngest' record is a nice headline but even more impressive is just doing it at all at that age.

I remember it well. Poking sticks into sheep poo, the joy of a muddy puddle etc. Give it a year or two - we can manage a reasonable hill day these days, usually with no tantrums or grumbles.

I guess any family can coax their kids up the occasional Munro. But surely there's no way you could push a child do something properly big unless they were genuinely into it? I think they'd have to be massively self motivated. Griff certainly seems to have more enthusiasm and sheer gumption than most adult hillwalkers

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