Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Best laid plans go up in pain

It rained. All the way to Wales from Hampshire. Miraculously it stopped enough for me to take in the feel of the mountains again. I was up in North Wales to try a plan I have had for a little while now. A variation of the Paddy Buckley Round over 2 days. The PBR is a fell runners dream goal. A target of running the classic mountains in North Wales in under 24hours. It's 60+mile circular route, takes in a staggering 47 peaks and 28,000ft of elevation. I was not ready for this, yet. Plus I wanted to enjoy my mountain running and this mainly means running in daylight. My variation would take in some other summits but miss out on others keeping it a little more compact and splitting the day up to 30miles and 25 miles.

Arriving at the campsite north of Beddgelert in the small village of Rhydd Du. The setting was idyllic, surrounded by mountains and penned in with a forest on one side and a lake the other. Perfect if not for the dark clouds and the ever present rain. With the tent pitched I headed of to the local pub to dry off and enjoy a couple of welsh beers.
Overnight the howling wind bringing with it downpours of rain sobered my mind. I fell asleep praying for better weather and the morning brought grey skies but nothing too threatening in Gods country thankfully. After a pub cooked breakfast I drove to Capel Curig for the first leg of my plan. I would be heading North west in an anti clockwise direction into the Carnedds, then southwards back to the campsite over the Glyders and Snowdon ranges.
Once I got going the excitement set in, this truly did feel like an adventure. It was a pity I would not be sharing this experience with anyone but sometimes you are better alone. Your own pace, your own thoughts and your own decisions.

Fast walking up to the first summit of Pen Llithrig I soon worked up a sweat and was able to remove my base layer and just run in a tech tee shirt, meaning although it looked grim it was far from cold. The views down the Ogwen valley were motivating, it all looked so close but knowing that it would all take patient time to reach. Passing the impressive Cowlynd Resevoir I was out of the muddy marshlands and onto steep terrain to the top. Route finding was tricky to say the least. I couldn't see any trodden paths, the ones I choose became clear that they were used by the sheep community rather than humans but all I had to do is keep climbing until I couldn't go any higher. Then it was a case of following the rollarcoaster ridgeline.
A run down to the saddle and then up to the summit of Helgi Du. Nearing the top scrambling skills were needed which were enjoyed and I looked forward to later in the day when I would be doing more longer scrambling sections in the ranges. I had, for a long time, been looking forward to this sight. I have wanted to climb Craig yr Ysfa and its classic long multi pitch routes for an age. Although I would not be climbing this today it did wet my appetite to return and climb here soon. The joys of the views were interrupted with the squeak of distress as I came across the smallest of baby foxes crying out for its mother. Not wanting too startle it I waited while he tentatively crept away from the path and found shelter within some rocks. He was the cutest thing and with luck I could hear its mother calling and so knew as soon as I disappeared she would come to his rescue.

After another steeper scrambling section it was onto a well trodden path to Carnedd Llewelyn. Approaching the top a change in the weather was visible, a cloud front was hugging the westward side of the mountains, the strong winds willing the clouds over the peaks only to dissipate once sheltered on the leeward side.
Coming down from the top I acknowledged another runner. We did a double take and greeted each other knowing that we knew each other from somewhere, but where? Then he had it it was Andy who I had run with for most of the Longmynd Hike last year. It was good seeing him and we chatted about past and future plans, most of mine on the back burner but Andy was looking forward to his challenges included the 80km Mt Blanc Ultra next month. I now wished I had signed up for this. We said our goodbyes and travelled in opposite directions. Me into the turbulent clouds to Carnedd Dafydd. The weather was certainly deteriorating, the viz went from intermittent views to zero by the time I reached Pen Yr Ole.

I had been on the go now for 2hrs45 and had covered less than 10miles. I decided with time limiting and wanting to try and run more than fast walk I went against my original plan of climbing Tryfan and Bristley ridge and headed straight down, the quickest way down, right. Mistake! The descent took over an hour to descend. With zero visibility I went on the wrong path? that took me too far to the right and after boulder hopping the path all but disappeared and it was left to my instincts on taking the best of the worst way down. I felt a little battered by the bottom having slipped and stumbled my way down 600+ metres of steep terrain, numerous slips sending a jolting pain through my lower back reducing my pace to a painstakingly cautious approach.

Finally at the bottom and enjoying a lamb burger and having a good stretch with the sun making an appearance.I took stock of my situation, with 4 hours now gone and not wanting to waste any more time and I set off running up the main path up Idwal and feeling great. The sun was glistening of the great slabs with climbers sporadically hanging from this classic rock wall. I questioned to myself what to do. I was happy to go up Devils kitchen but then which way? Left would take me over Glyder Fawr and Fach. I could then traverse down to Pen y Pass and take the direct route to Snowdon via Crib Goch or, I could go right and take in Y garn around to Eldir Fawr, down to Nant Peris and route find my way up Cwm Glas and the north ridge of Crib Goch and on to Snowdon. 
My choice was taken away from me from a searing pain ripping through my lower back, my feet buckling under the spasms. I did well not to go down but with 2 guys nearby I didn't want to start wimping out and so put on a brave face and limped past. Staggering around the corner I came to an intense halt and tore off my rucksac. I didn't know what to do. The pain disabled me into any type of movement, so I just stood gripping a rock hoping the spasms would disappear. I saw a rock bridge 20 yards further on which looked good to lay on and maybe I could try and stretch and crack out my back to ‘make it all good again’. 10 minutes of futile stretching where I examined myself and finding that bending over I could only just touch my thigh above the knees confirmed I was in a bad way.

In hindsight I should of just turned around and taken the lower path back to Capil Curig but, I was sure that I could walk it off, not knowing that the next 8 miles would take me 5 hours.
Departing the lake in solemn mood I trudged up into the Devils Kitchen. The going was slow especially when having to take 2 or 3 movements instead of the usual 1 on the larger boulder steps taking me to the shoulder and the Cwn lake then onto the endless scree slope up to Glyder Fawr, this was a brutal 600m ascent in under a mile. But, the decision had been made to take the easier route option! Hoping I could shake this off I still had 2 options open to me. Call it a day and get to the car or veer off at the castles and go for Snowdon.

I always hate the summit of Glyder Fawr. Not sure I have ever been up here in good weather and route finding over the boulders gets me ever time. I always seem to get to far over to the left. The cliffs seemingly barring your way to go anywhere. So skirting around these the summit expanse soon opens up and after another scramble its down the ridge to the Glyder castles. A mass of rock outcrops pointing to the heavens. It was here I meet up with Stu and Jo, some other Ultra runners training for the mighty Andorran Ronda Del Sims and its 13000m of ascent over 170km. The guys looked strong and had already taken in nearly 3000m and wanted another 1000m before calling it a day.

I, on the other hand was feeling bust and decided here to get to the car, my weekend of adventure was over. My back was no better and I knew would not get any better. Better to call it a day and get home to rest on the couch rather than feeling sorry for myself in a tent.
Feeling a little defeated I scrambled on to Glyder fach and climbed the unique cantilever taking in the spectacular views all alone on this popular summit. The descent off proved my decision correct. The mass of rocks made passage tricky each tumble causing a searing pain through my back. On the flatter sections an attempt to run brought abject failure and an over reliance on my poles for support. These poles were life savers, I relied on these constantly and without them my struggles would of been ten fold.

My thoughts turned to this last section and how perfectly runnable the terrain was, though I could only hobble up to the summit of Foel Goch. Not wanting to end the day, with the views and the warmth of the evening sun making me feel better I marched up the final hill rather than skirt around in a more direct, quicker route. The ground was mainly rough weathered grass, undulating smoothly for good ascents and descents. In front of me stood Moel Siabod and the valley forests hiding Betws Coed. Over one shoulder the Snowdon range was silhouetted in evening glow. On the other the stunning Carnedds, the horizon highlighting the ridge line I had taken all those hours ago. Behind me the Glyders, Fach and Fawr hidden by high cloud but Tryfan, my favourite welsh mountain, glowed in the golden sunlight, showcasing it's endless climbing lines.

Seeing the end in sight I called Lou to take my mind off the never ending stroll and to share in my anguish. Only to plod straight into a bog whilst my mind was elsewhere. It did deviate my thoughts off my back and into my cold wet shoes. Bugger.

It was a good feeling to be back at the car, the only problem was I could not get in. I lay on the ground and tried to stretch again, all to no avail. The thought of just getting it over with and having a few, no a lot of beers spurred me to tolerate the hurtful drive back to the pub and campsite.

Under 20miles (+/-2,500m) in 9hrs!! Hard painful work. I will have to return and complete.