back to archiveThe longest day.
Well, where do I start? We did it! What a fantastic experience…..but so tough. Not because John and I weren’t physically or mentally prepared, but because the weather was wet and breezy, which made everything slippery, slowed us down considerably, and sapped our energy and morale.
First a bit of background: John and I did the Welsh 3000s a few years ago, over three days. We stayed at the youth hostel in Roewen, before hiking over the Carneddau, in very misty conditions, to stay in Ogwen cottage. The next day, which began with sunshine but ended in more low cloud, we started with Tryfan before walking over the Glyders to Nant Peris. Following a couple of drinks in the pub we caught the bus up to stay at Pen y Pass youth hostel. The final day was very windy so we had to miss Crib Goch, but we walked up Snowdon, having bagged Crib y Ddysgl and then, because it was now a beautiful sunny day, continued round Y Lliwedd. I wasn’t very fit at that time and couldn’t have attempted the 24 hour challenge. I admired people who could do it, and hoped that one day I would.
Last year, I was discussing goals and challenges with a personal trainer at the gym I have been going to for about six years, Robbie Leadbetter. He had done the Welsh 3000s, and when I said I’d love to do it, he decided it would be a good idea to get a group together from the gym (Saints, in Meliden near Prestayn). I kept pestering and early this year preparations began.
We’d decided to attempt the challenge on Saturday 20th June as the 21st was the longest day. Kit lists were supplied, sponsor forms were printed, the coach was booked and support teams were arranged so that we could change our clothes and top up food and water. Several group training walks were arranged over Moel Siabod, Snowdon, the Glyders and the Carneddau. In addition, people who were interested in undertaking the challenge started to train with the Welsh 3000s challenge in mind; both at the gym and out in the hills. Every weekend we could, John and I would go into the mountains and stay in our camper van on a Friday or Saturday night before walking the next day. As well as Snowdonia, we have walked in mountain ranges which we hadn’t visited before including the Berwyns, the Nantlle Ridge and the Arans. We gradually increased the distance we walked, with the longest walk being 21 miles in around 9 hours.
Finally, the day arrived. During Friday afternoon/evening John and I packed several bags: a small rucksack to take over Crib Goch and Snowdon, a larger rucksack with more gear, food, water and clothes to leave in Nant Peris, and another bag with more food, water and clothes to leave in the Ogwen Valley. We dropped the bags to go in the support vehicles at the gym. We went to bed at 9 o’clock, following dinner, a couple of glasses of wine and a film that didn’t require too much brain power. We got to sleep OK, surprisingly, but I woke at 10.30 to go to the loo, and then for good at 12.30. I lay there watching the clock and woke John at 1.20. So we had about 3 and a half hours sleep.
We got ready quickly and left for the gym where we were being picked up by coach at 2 o’clock. By 2.10 we were on the coach and on our way to Snowdonia. The coach dropped us at Pen y Pass at around 3.20 and, as it was raining slightly we put our full waterproofs on and, as it was still dark, our head torches. The two guides who were taking us over the narrow ridge of Crib Goch, said that the conditions were fine to do it, but it was decided that those who didn’t want to would go up the Pyg Track with Robbie and meet us at the top.
I was surprised how easy it was walking up the rocky track with a head torch and was enjoying myself. Where the track split, we had to make a decision which way to go. I was worried about going over Crib Goch when the rocks were wet and slippery, and the wind was blustery, however, John talked me into it. After all, we’d done all the training; did I really want to miss a peak out? No! I decided to go for it. We said goodbye to the others and picked our way up the rocks, with the guides reassuring us. We reached the summit as it was getting light, at around 5 o’clock and ticked off peak number 1 and then we had to start the main ridge. I’m afraid I started panicking. I’ve done it before but was worried because the rocks were wet and slippery. However it was too late to turn back. I had to do it. Luckily although it was blustery, the wind wasn’t too bad. I sobbed, hyper-ventilated and swore at John all the way across. It seemed to take forever. Once we’d survived the ridge we scrambled up to peak number 2, Crib y Ddysgl. The guides took a photo of us and we then thanked them for their much appreciated help and reassurance and said goodbye, before setting on up to meet the others and tackle Snowdon.
We met some of the group, who had skipped quickly across Crib Goch like mountain goats or avoided it altogether, at the top of the Pyg track, sheltering from the weather. Others were sheltering near the summit. Waiting for us they had all got very wet and cold. We bagged Snowdon as fast as we could and set off down to Nant Peris. We were taking a little walked route, along the Llanberis railway and cutting off when the railway turns after Clogwyn station to drop straight down to the valley and the car park where our first support team were waiting. One of the group had walked it before, but we did have a bit of a delay as we struggled to find the stile. As we dropped down the steep grassy bank, spirits raised as everybody was laughing at each other falling over on the wet grass and the weather had brightened slightly. After a bit of cross country navigation, over walls and fences we reached the car park at around 8.30, about an hour behind the time we’d hoped for.
It was good to see Mark T and Nathan waiting for us. We used the loo, changed our rucksacks, refilled our water bottles and lunch boxes, and collected our walking poles. Now to tackle stage two: the Glyders. The slog up Elidir Fawr seemed to last forever and we reached the peak, number 4, at 10.30. The next peak, Y Garn, was reasonably straightforward and we didn’t stop on the top because it was raining and windy so we dropped down to the lake for a short break at 12.30. Then there was a hard steep slog up onto Glyder Fawr and onto Glyder Fach, which we reached at about 13.45. Following some photos with the banner on the Cantilever, we dropped down the scree path to Bwlch Tryfan (which was hard going on the knees!) and at 3 o’clock we reached the last peak on this section, number 8, and my favourite mountain, Tryfan. The descent of Tryfan was horrendous. It was a drop of about 600m in a very short distance. After an initial rocky scramble, the trek down the scree gully was really difficult. Our knees were screaming! However, we finally reached the bottom and, after a short walk along the road were really pleased to see Emma and Anne waiting with hot soup, tea and sandwiches. They were absolutely delicious and much appreciated. We changed into clean, dry clothes.
After being revitalised, all off a sudden we were off again on the last stage of the walk at around 4.45. It wasn’t raining in the valley and everybody was in good spirits. A couple of people decided not to continue, and a few people joined us, which was another boost to morale.
We set off at a steady pace for the final major climb, over 600m to peak number 9, Pen yr Ole Wen. This was to be the longest section of the walk. It was to be 15 miles and even though there was only one major climb, the distance was almost as far as we had already come, with around 1500m ascent in total, and 8 peaks over 3000ft. When the group had done this in good weather with fresh legs, I think it took between 6 and 7 hours. It was likely to take us longer today, as the other stages had taken longer than expected.
Everybody did really well on the climb, considering our legs were a bit weary, and the weather conditions were deteriorating. When we finally reached the peak the weather was dreadful. From the valley we could see that the cloud was low and, when we got there, it was raining, blustery and very cold. We waited for everybody to catch up and get their breath back but the conditions stopped us hanging around for too long. I was cold, in spite of two layers plus full waterproofs, so, when we reached a stone shelter I added another windproof layer. From then on I was warm, except for my face, which was battered by the cold rain and wind.
It seemed a long way in this wind and rain to the next peak, number 10 Carnedd Dafydd. Some people were still walking quite quickly, while others had slowed significantly. The cloud was low and we kept stopping to gather the group together, making sure we didn’t lose anybody in the gloom. The next peak, Yr Elen is off the main ridge. When we had reccied the route in May, we had contoured around the highest peak in the Carneddau range, to save having to climb it twice. John had saved the route from the GPS on that occasion so that we could follow it if it was misty. It has been on lots of occasions when we’ve walked the Carneddau, including the last time we did the 15 peaks.
We trudged for what seemed hours to me, consulting the GPS to see where we should turn off, and finally we reached the right place. John told those that hadn’t done it last time, that we’d be going cross country for a while now, to avoid a climb, but that we’d hit the main track and hopefully reach the peak in 30 minutes or so. When we reached the path between Yr Elen and Carnedd Llewelyn it became clear that some people were getting very tired, and were very cold and wet, especially those without waterproof trousers. Unfortunately there are no escape routes on this stage of the walk, and no option but to continue to the end. Because we were now travelling quite slowly it was likely that we were going to finish in the dark. There was some heated debate about whether we should summit Yr Elen. I got a bit cross! I had trained so hard for this and was reluctant not to get to a peak only 300 feet away. I was also grumpy, as I usually am when I haven’t had much sleep! I thought perhaps the people who were struggling could continue and we could catch them up. However, it became clear this wasn’t an option, because of the mist and because people didn’t have maps and compasses. It really wasn’t a good idea to split up. Equally it wasn’t an option to stand and wait because it was so cold. John and a couple of others had already started for the summit so I turned and followed them.
We quickly reached Yr Elen and turned around to descend and meet the others and we started the climb to the second highest mountain on the whole challenge, number 12, Carnedd LLewelyn. From here it would be a relatively easy walk. However, some people seemed shocked that we still had so far to go, including 3 more peaks. Also, navigation can be difficult in the mist. In fact, I didn’t even notice that we had been over the rocky summit of Carnedd Llewelyn! I was quite disorientated and as we started downhill, I thought we were going completely the wrong way. Unfortunately, unlike the previous two sections, we didn’t have a leader for this part of the walk. In addition, John and I didn’t have the full route in the GPS because we hadn’t realised this. Luckily, because we regularly use the GPS for geocaching (www.geocaching.com) as well as following walking routes, we know how to put coordinates in it, taken from the map, so that we know where we are heading. However, this doesn’t help find exactly where the paths are. Somebody had a waterproof map, which was helpful, and saved getting ours wet! For each of the next three, and final peaks (Foel Grach, Garnedd Uchaf and Foel Fras), John put the coordinates in, followed the arrow on the GPS, and we followed him. Thankfully we did find the path each time. The group was very slow by now and, because John and a few others were going fast with their long legs, John and I decided that I should lead and set a slower pace. It didn’t always work but we all managed to stay together, following the path safely.
Everyone was very wet and cold and we didn’t stop for anything to eat. I’m sure I didn’t drink enough water on this section either. We were all conscious of the fact that it was starting to get dark. I had lost track of time quite early in this stage. All I kept thinking was we had to keep everybody moving to keep warm and to get as far as we could before it got dark and off the mountains. By the time we hit the last peak it was 10 o’clock and getting dark. From the first to the last peak it had taken us 17 hours. A few of us got to the trig point and congratulated each other but some people’s morale was so low that they just kept trudging on.
John and I put our head torches on and we caught up with the group. John suggested that the others put their head torches on. Unfortunately, when lightening their loads earlier in the day, and not realising how long this section could take, many people had left their torches in the support vehicles after the first stage. Also, the people who had joined us hadn’t realised that they might need them. A few people were struggling with knee problems and getting very slow at the back, whilst some of the people at the front were still moving quickly in their eagerness to get off the mountains and the group soon became strung out again. Those at the front quickly disappeared into the darkness. John and I were in the middle but couldn’t see people at the back. We waited for them to catch up and shouted ahead to the others. The group gathered together again and John stressed the need to stay together so that we could help each other out with torch light, and so that nobody got lost. He and Mark S discussed the route down, as Mark had done it before, and John had the GPS, following the arrow down to the lake a kilometre away.
That was the longest kilometre of my life. We painstakingly picked our way down the mountainside in pitch black darkness, over wet grass with occasional hidden rocks, streams and gullies. John was at the front navigating and I stayed near the back helping a couple of people who were slow because of injured knees to see where they were going, as they didn’t have head torches. I was really worried that somebody would hurt themselves in the dark or that somebody injured wouldn’t make it. I can’t believe that they all managed it. I’m not sure that I could have done! Although I know some people were very worried about it, I wasn’t worried that we might not be able to find our way off the mountain. As long as we had the GPS (and we knew that there weren’t any cliffs near the route which we might inadvertently fall over!) I was sure we could find our way to the track. Another group had joined us. They were also doing the 15 peaks and had taken longer than they expected. They were unsure of the route off and were pleased to be able to join us.
I have no idea how long it took. I had lost all sense of time. We made our way in single file, helping each other and taking our time. It was more important to stay safe now than to get down quickly. Mark T and Anne were waiting for us at the bottom. A long track leads from the lake at the bottom to the car park. They had been there waiting for a couple of hours. It was a relief to all of us to finally see their torches and hear their voices. I couldn’t believe we had reached the track. We were lucky to leave the mountains when we did. If we had been half an hour later we would have been walking over wet, slippery rocks in the dark. You could hear the sigh of relief from everybody. And there were some tears. I was relieved to be back with John again.
Anne handed me a celebratory beer, I grabbed some food from my pack because I was feeling quite shaky, and we set off down the track. We still had a long way to go. I think it must have taken another hour at least to get firstly along the track, and then along a path through, what in daylight must be a pretty, riverside path. At night it was quite difficult with boulders becoming obstacles to trip tired legs. As we were walking the enormity of what we had done sank in. I was pleased with myself because at no point did I think I couldn’t complete the walk. All the training had paid off. I was completely prepared for it to be difficult but the weather, and finishing in the dark had made it even more challenging than I expected. I felt quite tearful. I had become separated from John again and I almost ran up the track to catch him up for a hug.
Eventually we reached the car park at around 12.30, 21 hours after we started and we were grateful that Anne, Mark T and Nathan were there and happy to ferry us down the road to the coach. It saved another long walk! John and I took the last lift and by the time we got to the coach people were either dozing, chatting quietly or having a drink. We must have got back to Prestatyn at around 1.40 collected the car and drove home. We pulled all the wet gear out of the rucksacks, showered and got to bed for 2.30. John went out like a light while I lay there for a while thinking about the day.
I am so proud of myself, and everyone else. It was the toughest challenge I have even done. We all did it, in spite of all the difficulties. There are things we could all have done better in hindsight, but they really don’t matter now. We are all safe. I’d like to do it again, in better weather, in a smaller group, to see how much faster I could do it. Friends think I’m mad!
Thanks to everyone who sponsored us. John and I raised over £600, which is fantastic. The group raised over £5000. I’m also glad that we chose mountain rescue as one of the charities who will benefit. We could quite easily have needed them.