As I write, we are currently driving home from our challenge, sore, tired and slightly broken. We had an amazing day yesterday but the full 14 peaks eluded us.
I had had some knee pain in the week leading up to the challenge so had taken the week easy and just tried to make sure I was well hydrated. We started carb loading on Thursday, which was amazing. Everyone loves an excuse for pasta!
Friday was a particularly good day for food – porridge for breakfast, pearl barley salad for lunch, a LEON chicken burger and a cake for tea and pasta puttanesca for dinner. And I got 2 free extra cakes from LEON to take on the hike!
So we definitely felt as well prepared as we could be when we arrived at Pen-y-pass YHA on the Friday night after work. Plenty of kit for varying mountain conditions, a route plotted out with timings, Dec’s dad ready to be our support crew and vehicle, meeting us at various points for refuelling and any necessary outfit changes or first aid. It was just a lack of training or the weather standing in our way now.
Talking of the weather, it had been very positive in the run up to the weekend, but on Friday afternoon it suddenly said that there would be poor visibility and low clouds covering the peaks for most of the day. This was less than ideal. Our first peak, Crib Goch, is a graded ridge scramble, which is easy in good weather (but the exposure isn’t for everyone) but in wet and windy conditions, it easily becomes a grade harder, being slippy, hard to navigate and with that exposed position perilous in wind. Looking out before bed time at the hills, and not being able to see any of them as they were shrouded in clouds, I fell into an uneasy and nervous sleep.
Up and dressed and downing a Tupperware of overnight oats before setting out. Declan and I opted for softshell jackets to start as rain wasn’t forecast, and we all wore approach shoes instead of boots to start.
Left the pen y pass car park up the PYG track for Snowdon. It was really cold and I started with gloves on. They came off 3 minutes later as we stormed ahead up the track.
Navigation wasn’t too bad up Crib Goch as it’s a simple of up and along the ridge. It probably helped that we had done a recce in April of Crib Goch, so we knew where to go. The rock was also not too bad, wet, yes, but with fresh legs we coped fine. Some care was required on the ridge as there were plenty of strong gusts of wind, and sitting in the clouds we did get quite wet, but it was pretty enjoyable, and we passed various others also embarking on the challenge.
The second peak, Garnedd Ugain, always feels like an extension of Crib Goch to me, as it’s just continuing to scramble along the ridge! We were able to jog off the top of that down to the Snowdon saddle, which is one of my least favourite bits. That final last 100m ascent to Snowdon always feels tough and unfair, and is usually rammed. Thankfully at 0645, it was not too busy, just a few other groups up early for the Welsh 3000s!
After summiting and a quick snack bar, we rushed off down the mountain. It was bloody cold at the top, sitting in the cloud, getting wet and blasted with wind, so we weren’t going to hang around. We decided to jog along the railway track to begin with, as the trains don’t run that early and it was the quickest descent.
This was a bit of the route we hadn’t recced, and a bit we were most unsure about. We had to leave the railway/path, follow the ridge for a bit, then cross over a stile and hope to find a path down…and that’s where we went wrong. As we struggled down a slippy, grassy slope, we noticed a group off to our left, walking casually down a path. We lost a lot of speed by not finding the path, and had all managed to slip and fall a bit so we scrambled to get onto that path as soon as we could.
A little further down, we finally came out of the clouds – one of the only views we got all day!
Frustratingly, we managed to lose the path again lower down and struggled down the hill, slipping some more as we went. Needless to say, when we eventually reached Nant Peris, our feet were soaking.
Time for an outfit change – it was clear the cloud wasn’t going to lift, so off with the damp softshell, on with the waterproof. Off with the wet socks and approach shoes, on with the waterproof via ferrata boots (like walking boots but with better grip on rock). John was there ready to pour us hot cups of tea, ply us with freshly made cheese and pickle sandwiches, and tend to any first aid that was needed (no blisters or cuts and scrapes though, so hurrah!).
TMI Warning: One of the biggest things I was worried about before the challenge was needing the loo on the go. Not just a quick pee, but needing a poo. Knowing we’d be on the go from so early, I guessed I’d end up needing the loo en-route, and anyone who’s been to Snowdonia knows it’s actually pretty barren as far as trees and bushes go. And I’ve just never had to go for a dump in the wild before. Anyway, in Nant Peris, there was a camp site, which had a very basic toilet block (no lights, couldn’t even lock the door really) but it saved me that morning! A quick stop there, and then it was on to the Glyderau – section 2.
The Glyderau section was the biggy. 6 peaks in what we estimated would take 6 hours. Elidir Fawr, the first one, was the longest and steepest ascent, and it definitely felt it. Not being able to see more than a few metres in front of us, we just couldn’t tell how long we would have to plod on for, it felt never ending! Eventually we summitted, along with about 3 other groups who we had seen at very points earlier, which was nice.
Another quick energy refuel and we cracked on, jogging a bit on the flats and downs toward Y Garn. I can’t remember even now if it was Y Garn or Glyder Fawr that had the worse ascent, but one of them was a horribly steep ascent up scree. The worst bit about that was the extra energy expended walking on ground that slips away from you – a bit like running on sand – just what we needed!
All the peaks in this section required some scrambling at the top, but the 2 Glyders, Castell y Gwynt and Tryfan were the most notable.
We opted to do Castell y Gwynt (castle of winds), which is a controversial extra peak that qualifies in some books as a 3000er, but not in others. I’m not sure we should have bothered, as we struggled to see the peak and took a while to navigate up the boulders to what we assumed was the top. It was pretty strong scrambling but it took a fair bit of time, slowing us down. However, it was good fun, and we summitted, which gave us some positive vibes, and carried on to Glyder Fach.
Glyder Fach was possibly the scariest point of the day for me. The rock was RIDICULOUSLY slippy, with huge boulders, and huge drops between them, looming all around me. The very serious consequences of slipping off anything here got a little too much for me and I struggled to reach the others, who had managed to get across, being slighty taller, with slightly better reach, and a little more confidence. Eventually I made it though, much to my relief.
Frustratingly, with the cloud still blocking any visibility, we completely missed the cool cantilever rock and fun photo opportunity!
It took a while to get those 5, but we had an hour and a half to get to Tryfan and down to the next pit stop to be on time with Dec’s timings. It seemed manageable.
However, there was a long and arduous descent down a gully of a few hundred metres, to get to the Tryfan saddle, before another ascent up the south face of the mountain. My knees were already pretty sore at this point, and the descent was much slower than we thought it would be. In fact, we ascended the other side quicker than we descended!
The south face of Tryfan is definitely easier than the north, but it’s still a solid scramble to the top, and not a speedy process. We were welcomed with the now familiar view of white cloud, but could at least make out Adam and Eve, the two monoliths sitting atop the mountain, that people jump between to “gain the freedom of Tryfan”. I’m too clumsy to try and don’t want to call out mountain rescue should I fail and fall!
Dec and I managed to enjoy a few brief seconds of reminiscing about the last time we had ascended Tryfan, and we could just about make out the spot where he had proposed to me. But with the poor visibility and time ticking on, we needed to head back to the path.
We went back the way we came, and although we had agreed originally to take the Heather Terrace path, Dec’s dad had scouted it out from below and said it wasn’t great, so we should try a different path. We decided the path coming off the Tryfan Saddle and heading straight to the A5 below would be quickest. Unfortunately, visibility improved briefly, and Declan caught sight of a shortcut, and decided a “quick scramble” down another section and joining the path part way down would be quicker.
Given the wet rock, my suffering knees, and our generally tired legs, this descent was also far from speedy. I had a couple of pretty bad slips, losing confidence in my feet as we continued downhill, and the pain in my right knee had increased to the point of being unbearable. As we got lower and lower, I got slower and slower, and eventually collapsed onto a well-positioned rock and burst into tears.
The pain in my knee was excruciating, but so was the knowledge that I just wouldn’t be able to finish the day. Even if I pushed through the pain, I couldn’t walk quickly, and would hold the boys back, and also risk walking until very late at night. Coming to that realisation and trying to accept it, while also suffering through the pain and knowing I still had to get down the hill was extra tough.
Dec came to give me some Deep Freeze spray to help my knee and told me to think with short term goals. “Just see how it is when we get to the car”. But as he sped off back down the hill and I limped along behind, I steadily became more resolute in my decision. My knee needed me to quit.
Russ was either very gracious, not running ahead like Dec, or also feeling tired as he was still nearby, so I gave him the car key and told him that he and Dec should make a bee-line for the car and I’d meet them there, but I wasn’t continuing and they were.
Dec didn’t want to believe me though and was still waiting for me when I finally got to the bottom of the hill. We hadn’t had any phone signal for ages so were completely unsure of where John was, where the car was or anything. I told the boys to hurry along the road – we were at the far end of Llyn Ogwen and the car wasn’t there, so we knew it must be further along the A5.
Back on the flat, I was able to regain a bit of pace myself, and soon joined the boys who had found the car, with no John in sight. They were half way through final outfit changes and shovelling pesto pasta down when I arrived. While not as sore as I was, they too were feeling the gruelling effects of the day, and with daylight hours now down to just 3, they made the decision to cut the day short and simply ascend and descend the first of the last section.
Pen yr Ole Wen, the first of the Carneddau range, is as high as Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak, and starting from the A5, the boys had a pretty big ascent ahead of them. Only a minute after they had set off down the road, John came into view. He had been waiting by the original path we were going to take down from Tryfan, as we had been unable to tell him which new path we were taking!
He had to help me get my socks off by the car and change into clean trousers, as my knee was so bad I couldn’t do it myself. Then we set off to the other end of Llyn Ogwen again to ensure we would be ready to meet the boys when they got back. We had a bit of a wait for them, and eventually I fell asleep and John went off for a walk to roughly where he thought the boys would descend. They did so pretty quickly, in just over 2 hours, but it transpired that the descent was horrendous and one of the steepest they’d had to do all day. While the ascent was 3.4km in distance, the descent was only 1.7, and it took as long to descend as it had taken to ascend!
I got woken up by knocking at the car window, and was delighted we had all finished one way or another, in daylight! We commiserated that we had been unable to finish the whole route, but celebrated how much we had achieved:
I managed 9 peaks:
- Crib Goch
- Garnedd Ugain
- Elidir Fawr
- Y Garn
- Glyder Fawr
- Castell y Gwynt
- Glyder Fach
And the boys managed a 10th peak:
10. Pen yr Ole Wen
I covered 30km and 2350m of elevation, the boys covered 35km and 3000m of elevation. It’s not an insignificant feat, even if it wasnt the whole challenge!
So, to finish the day, we cracked open a bottle of bubbly and celebrated all we had achieved!
Finishing this post…it’s a week on. We have talked about trying again, a second attempt and whether we should.
Right now I can’t bear to think about it. My knees have been giving me pain all week, pain I thought I’d overcome a few years ago. It now hurts if I sit down too long, and jars when I bend them. I’m meant to be training for a half marathon, but it feels very unrealistic right now!
It’s not a challenge to be taken on lightly, that’s for sure. So for now, I can’t say I’m keen to try again. But watch this space. You never know…