Challenge number 6, the 15 peaks of Snowdonia above 3000ft (or 900m) in 24 hours. Starting on Snowdon, completing all the rocky ridges that form the Glyderau and finishing with a trudge over the Carneddau to Foel Fras near the coastline. My brother Richie had done it a few years ago so my first port of call was to ask him to join in. Following that some of my local mates, other Dad’s from school, Ken, Mark, Mike and Manu agreed to join in the fun with Clive and David as back up in support vehicles.
The logistics of organising the 15 peaks was a greater challenge than the other events. With no race marshals or ‘organisation’ behind the planning we were pretty much self-reliant and a mistake up there would almost certainly result in a trip in a helicopter. We agreed that for the full experience we would bivvy on Snowdon the night before and head out early to bag the first 3 summits before breakfast.
Having trooped up Snowdon via the Pyg Track on Saturday afternoon we arrived at the summit at 8pm in low visibility, light rain and stiff winds. We quickly established a sheltered camping spot behind the café and were glad we’d brought tents rather than bivvy bags as we set up camp in the increasing wind. Naturally, being the ‘men’ we are it was time for a curry and a few cheeky sniffs of Glenmorangie before we retreated to the shelter of our tents. In spite of being incredibly comfortable and cosy, we didn’t sleep much, Snowdon is a noisy old place at night with gusts of wind howling through the valley and late 3 peak-ers summiting until about 0330. And so, we wearily climbed out of our beds at 4am ready to begin.
As we climbed to the summit cairn we realised what we’d all been dreading, that with winds
gusting to 35-40mph an attempt on the narrow ridge of Crib Goch combined with low visibility and slippery conditions, could be a potential disaster. With discretion being the better part of valour, we agreed to head over to summit #2 Crib y Ddysgl and then head off Snowdon via the Pyg Track instead of bagging Crib Goch (#3) to meet up with our support vehicle and Clive who’d prepared welcome bacon sarnies and a hot brew.
As we started out from Nant Peris, the cloud was lifting though the wind was still persistent
and we commenced the long trudge up Elidir Fawr. At 924m it’s not the biggest summit but certainly the longest climb of the day starting from only 100m. As we reached the top 2 hours later the cloud was thinning and we could look back at Crib Goch, still shrouded in fast moving cloud and feel moderately content we’d made the right decision.
Relatively quick going took us over to #5 - Y Garn which is a beautiful mountain with incredible views back on Snowdon, ahead to Glyder Fawr and over the Ogwen Vally to Tryfan and Pen Yr Ole Wen, some of our conquests for later in the day. A couple of other teams of 15 peakersstopped for a chat and we compared experiences.
As we dropped down to Llyn y Cŵn I would have liked nothing more than to pitch up a tent and enjoy a couple of cans of beer with my friends – truly one of the most idyllic locations on the walk with incredible views of Tryan and Pen yr Ole Wen by a sparking mountain lake. In reality, we had time for a quick pee and a dose of beef jerky before climbing up a massive scree slope to Glyder Fawr. ‘Scree’ doesn’t quite define it though really . . . ‘boulder field’ may be a more fitting description.
Glyder Fawr and Fach are like the surface of the moon, with massive rocks littered all over and a certain sense of impending doom. Having scrambled about the summit of Glyder Fach and gained the ubiquitous shot of me and my brother Rich on the Canon Stone it was time to take the scree slope down to the east of Bristly Ridge. Not an easy route down off the mountain made all the
more annoying as two spawny young fell-runners
came jogging down past us, when I say ‘jogging’, it was more ‘falling with style’.
Taking in the excellent scramble to summit #8 Tryan, from the south face found us at the
summit standing next to the two rocks known as Adam and Eve where brave souls make the leap of faith between them. After 10 hours of walking, none of us were confident enough in our legs to make the jump this time and we gratefully descended the west face down a gulley that leads to the A5 and, with great relief, arrived at the support cars. David and Clive had a brew on and it was here that Mark had to make the difficult but wise decision to pull out due to problems with his hips and knees. You just never know when these injuries are going to flair up and our last training climb he’d been absolutely fine.
The phsycological endurance of a challenge like this is as important as the physical fitness and leaving the comfort of support cars, that could of instantly transported us to a cosy pub with cold beer, was a real test. As we headed out on the second biggest climb of the day up Pen yr Ole Wen at 5pm, I think we all felt a pang of regret we weren’t resting our legs with Mark.
However, Pen yr Ole Wen is a great mountain climb, with a section that ascends via a beautiful
stream before some fun scrambling up a gully that leads to a steady open section to the summit overlooking Ffynon Lloer – a beautiful lake that apparently contains a World War 2 plane.
The summit was no less exhilarating with the best views of the day. To the north we could see the whole of Yns Môn to Holyhead and beyond the coast of Ireland. To the East we could see right along the coast towards Prestatyn and the North West of England and even make out the shape of the Isle of Man. Looking back on ourselves we
could see Snowdon, now clear of cloud, and pick out each of the summits we’d done so far and ahead to Carnedd Dafydd, Yr Elen and Carnedd Llewelyn.
Going from here started to feel painstakingly slow as we started to worry about diminishing light levels. The route to Yr Elen involves an hour out and back troop along pretty much the same path and with our final summit of Foel Fras in view it felt a real waste of time to be coming off our trajectory for home in order to bag peak #12.
Foel Grach, summit #13, was snapped on the move in the growing gloom towards Carnedd Uchaf where we found ourselves in almost complete darkness. Sometimes, there are angels watching over you and as we tried to find the path to Foel Fras, we bumped in to some other 15 peakers heading off the mountain, and Dafydd (bizarrely a colleague from work) informed us we’d started out on a path that would have brought us down on the opposite side of the mountain to our support cars. In spite of knowing the mountain, things look very different in the dark and we were grateful for a path made almost entirely of limestone rocks that glistened in the light our head torches.
We approached the trig point at the summit of our final peak, Foel Fras, snapped a quick photo and stopped the clock. Official time from summit
#1 to summit #15 - 18h 26m.
The climb from here was far from over though and it took a further 2 hours to reach the support cars parked above Abergwygregyn. A long long descent across bog land, taking in some wild horses making scarey noises in the dark, another climb passed the summit of Drum, and a steady slog that felt much further in the dark than any of us remembered. I’d run it a few times in preparing for the Pembrokeshire half marathon and still found myself worrying we’d somehow taken a wrong turn.
Relief and exhaustion swept over us as we arrived at the cars but not so much that we couldn’t celebrate with a cold can of beer. The ghost of chemo number 6 left well and truly behind us on the summits of 14, 3000 ft mountains.
Another great challenge in Marti-thon 2010 and huge thanks to all of the team, it was an amazing experience and you all helped make it unforgettable.