Saying Hello to an Old Friend

I have cheated on her all to often in the past year and the last time I went to say hello she was so happy to see me and me her that we fell in love all over again. I hugged her at every step and just like the first time she took my breath away. I don’t know how she does it.

This was a camping trip with a friend… who’s original thought was a multi day walk in the peaks. Boring I know but he does seem to like the Peaks and to be fair there are a lot of nice walks and I enjoy that area of the UK as well, but I can go there on a day visit. He then raised the idea of the Lakes. Well we could do I said, but where? I’ve done most of the south-west fells. I haven’t but the places we were looking at I had done. I was off course slowly driving him to the decision of Snowdonia.

Like many people, my friend thinks he ‘prefers’ The Lakes, and feels they have better scenery and mountains and in some cases that can be true. I was never a fan until I walked the Pikes and climbed The Old Man and just as I was falling in love with this area of Britain I went and visited the girl I had been cheating on and before I had laced up my boots I knew that the Lakes had nothing on her.

So with a modest agreement from myself we had planned to go to Snowdonia. He had wanted to walk Tryfan, and I wanted to bag some of the Welsh 3000. I really want to bag them all before I go and this walk promised getting a good 6 of them in.

As we arrived at the foot of Tryfan, my friends jaw dropped with excitement, and we speedily placed our rucksacks on ready for the hike. We were going to conquer Tryfan from the North and the last time I had climbed her was from the south which I thought was a bit of a scramble. That scramble I remember was about to turn into a walk in the park.

What faced us was only made more difficult by carrying our packs on our backs. We both had light loads, but lets face it, you can have the lightest tent, sleeping bag, coat etc, but once they are all packed together you are talking about an extra 4-6kg on your back.

My mate was loving it, the walk was a mix of scree, climbing, walking, jumping (but not falling) although there were some hairy moments. Every turn and twist, every step of height came with a new challenge and a new view. This was why I loved Wales. A 2 mile accent was turning into a 3 hour climb, as we stood at the base of each new challenging assessing the best way to conquer it.

We reached the top, and were not alone as we saw some one jump Adam and Eve… something I have longed to do but once again chickened out despite the best efforts from another group using what I would call bullying tactics to make me try it. It might have worked on their friends but the fear of tripping, or falling and smashing my legs already played deep in my mind.

From Tryfan we stormed ahead towards the Glyders, and what a sight. This had been the first time I had conquered these and why I have waited this long was beyond me. the landscape was vast, and ever-changing. Were in another planet, or the moon. Maybe we were in a quarry, or some strange Sci-fi world. Next we would be talking to Captain Kirk and Spock the landscape was for ever-changing but the one image I have locked in my head is that of the Horseshoe of Snowdon.

In the distance, sat looking like she always does was the magnificent Snowdon in all her glory, in the way I had never seen her before. That was to be tomorrows treat.

After a long and very steep decent to the Nant Peris with several reminders to my mate that I had run on this road and up towards the Pen-y-Pass when I took on one of my favourite races we finally reached camp, only to divert into the local house for a well deserved pint.

Shortly after pitching we were back in and sampling the fine ales on tap and talking about what we always discuss when I meet this friend. A long discussion about trains. We got the distinct impression that our neighbours were listening in every so often and so they should have been as it was a enthralling energetic topic of discourse.

With the last of the 6 or maybe 7 glasses finished we trotted off to the campsite only to be jaw struck by the sky littered in the most number of stars I have ever seen, all shining as bright as the next, and in front of this backdrop lay Crib Goch and her impressive knife ridge. Being a city dweller I see stars, but never have I seen the sky mapped out like this it was like being in a planetarium.

Morning rose and my friends cold had fully taken hold. As the walk was cut early from the previous day due to time and the knowledge we would never walk Y Garn and get to the reservoir  used for Electric Mountain we had decided that this would be battled today as we could always come back and do the horseshoe on another day.

To cut a long walk short, my mate could not go on, and so we changed tact and headed for the car with the promise that we would return to finish the walk at a later date.

Even with this short spell in her magnificent gaze, the love I have for the area is even stronger and the thought of not being able to see or walk in Snowdonia for a year scares me.

This is one truly wonderful place and will remain my special happy place for years to come. North Wales and especially Snowdon always has a place in my heart.

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A Windy Hill Top – Part 2 of Weekend in the Lakes.

Right lets climb some mountains. We are after all surrounded by the beasts and whats the point of going to Lakes if you’re not going to climb anything. The original idea was to climb the Pike from Great Gable but with the recent dumps of snow the reports were still showing that both peaks were hiding beneath snow drifts and Great Gable was a little icy on some of the more challenging sections of her back.

The back up was to concentrate on the Coniston Fells. I’d already done the Old Man and some of the others to the south, but both of us had failed to do Wetherlam. Once told by a friend this mountain is off the tourist trail but can be reached via several routes.

As we started the walk, the word of the day was ‘Up’ followed by ‘Steep’ Straight away we were climbing through disused mines and quarries and before we knew it we were trekking our way down to the river bed through a forest only to climb out of the gorge to a field of sheep on the side of a hill. As the trail rounded around a corner we found ourselves with Wetherlam looking down on us from the left.

At this angle she looked like any other mountain, a sheer cliff face with a ridge over looking a valley floor. But as the path took us in a kind of horse shoe route up and down to her base, the true scale was revealed.

This was not going to be a usual ‘stepped out’ climb of the lakes. It was not going to be a steep walk. This was a scramble, this had scree, and as the clouds wrapped around the peak and the wind blew in the mist to haze our view of what lay ahead. We began with earnest to climb.

The start the hike was as you find on Crinkle Crags, or climbing to the summit of Bowfell. Steep rocks, with a kind of worn path leading you to the summit. From the start we spotted cairns every couple of meters suggesting this was not the straight forward walk we thought. Before long we had broken though the mist and clouds to find that the path we were following which zig-zag its way up the side was slowly being blocked and cordoned off by snow.

The sheets of snow that prevented us from continuing were just that. The water that was running down the mountain was melting the snow from the bottom up so what you had was a sheet of thick snow bridging across rocks leaving often large voids beneath. It was at this junction I thought best to turn back but my walking buddy found a way.

So we scrambled around snow covered path to find the path further on ahead. All the time trying to spy the next cairn and find a safe route to it. Say what you like about them, but these piles of rocks have helped me to navigate my way to the top and back down again several times when the path and visibility has not always been great. Onwards we trekked  and as the scramble turned into a bit of a rock climb as the steep path turned into a sheer climb, we hugged the rock face shouting warnings of scree as we clambered nearer to the summit.

The top of her was patched up in snow and as we navigated around the snow drift to attack the summit from the south we found that the wind carried us up to her crown. The wind ripped and roared past, over, below and through us, and with every gust it tried to push and shove us over in a playful spirit but with sense of underlining menace . Occasionally the wind would  get a little more frustrated that we were not playing and decided to out right attempt to blow us off the mountain in angry from s refusing to play its games.

The original idea of the walk was a circular one, taking in several more peaks before we returned to the car and as we headed east to come off her snowy peak we encountered several snow drifts, some on the edge. The wind was not getting restless at beating us black and blue and the wind chill was not adding to the fun. We decided that the only safe way back was the way we knew and to head on down. As we descended the cloud broke and we saw snow filling the ridges and troughs, giving the impression that the mountain top was flat like a dining table. While we were sticking to the path and making sure we were with insight of cairns we both agreed that we could have easily strayed away and  seeing how the snow was bridged further down the hill-side with the water melting the drifts from bottom up we knew we had made the right choice. None of us knew this mountain and I didn’t want to dance along on the carpet of snow to only to be buried at waist height, or sink into a tarn, swamp or bog.

I think that while the day was filled with excitement, the fear factor was stronger than when I walked Grib Goch, and there was something about the fairy tale opening of the walk with the empty mine shafts and blasted   out  quarries that nature had reclaimed which slowly changed into the bleak stoney atmosphere of a foreign planet with a mix of climbs as we grew closer to her summit.

The Lakes has always been a place at the bottom of my list. But the more I visit and the more I bag, my opinion of the landscape looking samey changes. But with the scrambles and scree this makes yet another Wainwright and mountain that makes me want to visit the Lakes more.

Snowdon Marathon Review

In the heart of Snowdonia National Park there was about to take place a disturbance to this tranquil peaceful area of the UK. Normal trips to the shops or the neighbouring town were about to be turned into awkward journeys for just on the outskirts of the National Park the local car parks of Llanberis were slowly filling up and lycra clad men and women were pouring into the visitor centre of Electric Mountain. Cafes were pouring coffee and tea for the friends and family of these runners as at 10.30 in the presence of Dolbarden Castle a starting pistol would echo around the valley signalling the start of the 30th Marathon Eryri or to us English speaking folk ‘The Snowdon Marathon’

Now I wanted to run this last year as a 30th birthday present to myself and you only have to browse the blog to see why that could be. I love running and I love Snowdonia more so if there was a chance to join the two then I would be there. However the issue with the plan was the race had been sold out and I also had done no marathon training so I made a promise that I would enter the race in time for my 31st Birthday and this is where we arrive.

Now I had already done a marathon and crashed and burnt as I smacked into the wall on that cold bitter Manchester day around mile 14. Not to be done I picked myself up from that event and carried on running and the minute the entries opened for Snowdon I had signed up. The training for Snowdon had been lax to say the least but while the amount of miles I was churning out increased the idea of hill sprints, tempo runs and all the rest failed to materialise and I only really ended up getting in two long runs. I had managed a couple of hilly half marathons for training including ‘The Langdale Half’ but I carried on deluding myself that I had a marathon in the legs all be it a painful experience and I was a keen hiker and could walk up hills at quite a pace all be it I had been told that running and hiking hills were very different and in some respect they are but I have found that my hiking has helped my running. So that’s the training dairy over with, now it was just a case of getting to Snowdon.

I always thought  I would travel to my usual hotel and stay the weekend but for one reason or other it just failed to happen. It could well have been due to my best mate offering the use of himself as chauffeur and so it was my friend very kindly drove me to the town of Llanberis famous for it’s slate works and the Snowdon Mountain Railway and one of the more gentle tourist routes up to the summit of what still remains my favourite mountain. I registered and collected my race number and so began the waiting game. My friend wanted to get to the start nice and early to make sure he had somewhere to park, as he didn’t want to drop me off and then spend the race looking for a parking space only to find one as I eventually crossed the line. You may laugh but when he dropped me off for the Great North a couple of years back I crossed the line just as he pulled into Southsheilds. I tried to assume him that there would be enough space as there had been no warnings of ‘get there soon as parking is limited’ but never the less here we were sat in the car park at 7.30. As I slowly nibbled my last minute carb loading we spoke about his daughter and work.

At 10am after several trips to empty my bladder and bowls we started on the rather long walk to the start and the rest of masses seemed to have the same idea. Now for people who are unsure of the race route then this is how another blogger describes the route.

Starting in Llanberis, through Nant Peris then up Pen-y-Pass. Following this it is a downhill and both on road and a brief stint on trail, then undulating road past until reaching the second of the climbs at Beddgelert. After this climb it is more undulating road until hitting the biggest climb of the race at mile 22 just past Waunfawr. This climb continues until about mile 25 before a steep descent back into Llanberis and the finish line.

So as I stood in the warm sun with a slight chill in the air I said goodbye to my mate and began the gruelling 26.2 miles. Now as we know from my last post I did not find this as hard as aI thought and this is due to me not racing, I was out for a gentle light jog and took the course at a good pace. After Manchester I did not want to burn out at mile 14.

As we started the first climb after a rather good flat start the gaze of Crib Goch caught my eye, the thought of the day when I climbed her and hung to her strong ridge propelled me up the pass to the Youth hostel and the main car park for many who choose to climb Snowdon via the pgy track. This was the hill I had been dreading but after Langdale it felt rather relaxed and I was making good time, hitting 4 miles on target. Next would be a decent and onto the trail path to take us to the long flat section of the course, I went through 10K in just under an hour  and was still making good time and felt very relaxed. The biggest thing I noticed on this race was how quick it was going we seemed to be ticking off the miles very quickly. I felt like I had only been on the road for ten minutes but according to my watch I had been running for a good hour: time seemed to be going quickly. This could only be a good thing as towards the end I didn’t want the last six miles to drag on longer than they needed.

As I ran down the trail route I was surprised on how many people like me were non trail runners but unlike myself they seemed to be showing their inexperience at running such terrain. Now the shadow on Snowdon could be felt and soon it would fade away as we entered the village and hopefully one day the place I would call my home.

You could start to hear the crowds of Beddgelert before we even turned the corner it seemed like the entire village and all the tourists were out to cheer you on. This was half way and as I looked at my watch, I had crossed it just after 2 hours. I was still on target and felt fresh. Crowds called your names and even the car drivers who had been forced to pull over or stop were also shouting encouraging messages. It was just as well as now came the head wind and the slow steady climb for the next couple of miles. The scenery also dried up a little, but Snowdon was always hovering in the side of your eye. I heard the sound of a steam train at one point as we ran past the Welsh Highland Railway I suddenly forgot I was running and tried to spy the engine that was making the noise but alas  only saw smoke through the trees.

Coming up to mile 18, which at four hours was the cut off, I did a quick watch check to see that I would be hitting in at 3 hours. I was on course and knew that if I stayed at the pace I would be home before five hours. The goal was just to finish and I was well under way to achieving this. As I ran into the 17th mile I turned to my right to see the wonderful beauty that she is standing tall surveying her kingdom and as I looked at her glimmering in the winter sun you could see the smoke funnelling up from the Snowdon Mountain railway as she shunted away from the summit.

Mile 18 was reached and a quick loo break in the car park was in order as the ginger bread man wanted to make an appearance. After using the car park toilet I was under way once again. This felt like the home straight now and all I could think off was the dreaded hill at mile 22. The banter on the course had been great with people talking and laughing all the way and as we came to mile 20, this did not change. I spoke to a club runner who had raced it before and asked about the dreaded hill. ‘Walk it’ he said ‘You’ll be quicker than those who run it’ and without fail he was correct. As I reached the brow of a smaller hill the road turned to be greeted by another village who decided they would turn out and support the race. Energy gels, water, pop, cake, tea you name it they were handing it out. After this slight distraction the true task could now be seen, 3 miles of hill and everyone seemed of have been given the same advice as they slowly put on the brakes and turned their jog into more of a walk.

It’s true what the runner had said I over took more people running on that section than I think I had the entire race and by the time it turned to flat I was up and running gearing up for the last bit of down hill. As the track turned to trail you could see the lakes and slate walls that made up the landscape of Llanberris and the sharpe descent started into the place where it had all began four hours ago.

Checking the watch I was on course to come in before 4.30 and as I stormed down the hill at a slower pace than I would have liked due to every step sending sheer pain through my quads I arrived on the tarmac and the last couple of bends into the home straight. At mile 26 you could see the final corner and hear the town folk cheering and as I turned into the final section I found some more energy and sprinted to the line clocking in at 4.17 to the roar of the crowd recording a new PB.

This race has to be up there along with the Manchester 10K. Manchester as it was my first race, but Snowdon because it was a good run, the support, course, aid, scenery  the banter between runners. Everything about this race scores highly and I would recommend every runner who is serious about running gives it a go. Forget Berlin, Madrid or London the marathon who have to run as a badge of honour is Snowdon.

A big thank you to all those who came and supported the organisers and volunteers those special people with whom none of it would be possible.

The lucky Horseshoe

Well let’s get the day-to-day business out-of-the-way. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been cycling to work followed by training runs once I got home. That is a lot of work for my legs and they were starting to give up on me but I carried on forcing them to work long and hard knowing that they needed the practice if they were ever going to carry me over the line on the Snowdon Marathon. It’s with all the training runs I thought I would try something new, a little tool that has been talked about for years that helps with training… Too spilt up your long runs. Half in the morning and the rest of the distance in the evening. What a wonderful idea and how great it allows you to fit in those other wise long boring runs. You’re still getting the miles in the legs but having a little rest in-between and I can fully recommend running to work and from work it fills you with so much energy and thinking time and its a great work out plus it adds a whole new meaning to running late for work.

So you can imagine that over the course of these three weeks, the only rest that my legs got were on Sundays so by the end they were feeling slightly tired. After all they had cycled or ran and many a time completed both of those tasks so when I got an unexpected Thursday off rather than putting my feet up and relaxing I took my legs and headed to the best place on the planet. I had been playing away with the Lakes too much and spent a long time trying to bag myself many of the south and west Wainwrights, I had also been doing the dirty in the Peaks but my beloved Snowdon was once again calling for some attention.

The sun was out and the drive was clear, as I drove closer to the border I could see her dominating the landscape and any questions about my love for this place soon faded. Off course I was still in love with her how could I ever have doubted the bond we had. Sure Langdale Pikes are nice and Bowfell is impressive but not as much as the beauty that is Snowdon and all the towns that sit around her, in her wake.  Driving through Capel Curig I was once again transported back to when I first remember setting my eyes on her range longing to be walking her terrain and within a matter of minutes I was parking up and putting on the boots.

This was going to be a new route, not Pyg or Miners, not even the Llanberis path. No I was going to take in the Horseshoe, over Crib Goch a grade one scramble to the summit followed by a walk along a knife edge for about 2 miles. As I climbed the face of Crib Goch my heart was beating like the clappers. One false move one wrong positioning of the foot and I could fall. I could drop, injury myself. It was more like bouldering than scrambling but the fear fueled the excitement the anticipation to achieve this long-awaited goal and as I placed my hand on the top of the rock to pull myself up the view of the real daunting task lay ahead. What was now laid before me was a ridge, a sheer drop to the right with a mere steep rocky slope to the left. The back of the sleeping dragon seemed to go on for miles with Snowdon waiting at the end. If I thought of turning back now, I would have to carefully navigate myself backwards down the rocks which was no easy task. Onwards it was.

If my heart had pumped with fear on the climb up then the walk across was about to make it pop from the rib cage and beat before my very eyes. Within a couple of minutes I had found my footing and eased into the pattern of balancing along the knife edge. The wind started to blow which added another level of danger that wasn’t needed. I got to the end and looked backed. How could I have ever doubted that Snowdonia offer the best for walkers. Sure the Peaks are good if you have family, it’s fairly flat, the lakes are good if you want to amble from peak to peak without coming down a mountain to climb another but Snowdonia, Snowdon offers the world and does not disappoint. The easy part of the walk was now to climb to the summit that was now wrapped in cloud once agin I decided to give the gang of tourist a miss and head straight for the cafe to get a cuppa. I’ve climbed the summit so many times now I tend to just walk past it. I find the real views are experienced on the walk up and down.

After I had rested and had advised a family on the best way down to the car park I set off. I needed to join the Watkins path for a while and then turn off to climb yet more peaks before heading back to the flat terrain of the Miners route. Watkins turned out not to be Watkins. I somehow think I had turned of the Rangers path a little early but within five minutes I had got back on course with the first section being a lot of scree. Leaving two fellow walkers and their GPS device I was ready to climb my last peak of the day Y Lliwedd while still a slight knife-edge and energetic climb to the ridge walk after the Crib this seemed like a walk in the park but still an exhilarating experience and a far better way to come down from the summit. As I scrambled and played on mother nature’s playground I knew at some point I would have to leave the rock for the dull well-worn and trodden path of the Miners route that escorts you back towards the car park. It was as I was climbing down I saw two fellow walkers. Together we kept company to the car park talking off fell running, climbing and mountains as the day before they had tackled Tryfan for the first time scaling the North face. In my mind I said that the route was good and views were fantastic but Snowdon has, is and will remain my favourite mountain.