Welsh 3 Peaks – Part One

After all the training and planning it was finally time to head north-west for Snowdonia  and the start of my next adventure.  I travelled up on the Monday afternoon to the Premier Inn in Bangor making the journey in 5 hours, which was a good omen.  An early meal and in bed for 7.30pm with the alarm set for 2.30am!

Tuesday morning, 4th July 3am, and whilst the USA was waiting to celebrate its independence I was setting off from Bangor and heading up the Pass of Llanberis to the Pen-y-Pass car park and the start of the walk up Snowdon.  Arriving at the car park I was surprised to see it half full with plenty of groups prepping themselves.  The rain was falling steadily and this was not how I imagined today was going to be.

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Suitably kitted out, I set off along the Miners Track at 4am for the steady walk into the hills.  I assume the other parties had selected the Pyg Track as I had absolute solitude as I wound my way through the mystical lakes that line the path.  Even visualizing in my mind the flying dragon as I crossed the causeway (Visit Wales Advert!).  The rain eased on a couple of occasions but the cloud base was at about 1500 feet so all I could see was damp grey walls ascending into the pending doom.

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With visibility down to just a few feet, negotiating my way up through the boulders from Glaslyn to the summit ridge was entertaining to say the least.  Trying to work out which way the path was going only to find a dead-end and having to back-track.  I did meet one other party at the point where the Miners Track meets the Pyg Track.  They were on their way down never having reached the top because they got lost in the fog – I did offer to lead them up but they declined!

On reaching the ridge I made the final push to the summit.  The wind had picked up considerably but visibility had not improved.  Eventually the shadowy silhouette of the summit mound and trip pillar came into view.   The last time I was here was 12 months ago and the view from the summit was exactly the same – nothing!

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Timings wise I was within 5 minutes of my planned time so at least that side of the planning was on schedule. The descent was a lot easier as the cloud base had started to lift and the pathway back down to Glaslyn was clearer to see. Once back to Glaslyn progress was very swift as I made my way back the car park.

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So far I had only met one other party, and heard a couple talking near the summit, but as I started back along the shore of Llyn Llydaw I could hear the shouting and music of a school party of DofE expeditioneers coming towards me.  Now I am sure when I did the DofE I was taught respect and how to behave – obviously not these days because the ‘adult supervisors’ seemed blissfully ignorant of the racket their wards were creating!  In addition I encountered another school group poorly equipped, two family groups – out for a Sunday afternoon stroll totally ill equipped.  The only group I met with what I would regard as the correct and suitable equipment for the trip was from the National Mountain Centre at Plas y Brenin.

Following a quick change of clothes back at the car park I set off for Ty Nant at the start of Cadair Idris.  Arriving there at 11.10am I met up with my Brother and his wife for a quick chat before setting off up the Pony Path.  My estimated round-trip time for this mountain was 5 hours so my Brother went off to do some sightseeing before returning to meet me on my descent.

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The initial part of this climb is a reasonably steady pull up on to ridge.  The weather looked reasonable for the first part but large parts of the ridge and the summit were shrouded in heavy cloud!  Once up onto the ridge the path towards to summit looked in good condition, but that didn’t last long as the path degenerated to large expanses of scree.  This got more prevalent as I approached the escarpment in the upper stages of the climb.

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The final climb up to the summit was a bit of a scramble with the trig pillar not becoming visible until the very last-minute.  At this stage I would estimate the visibility to be about 20 feet!  Although this was my first ascent of this mountain I had seen plenty of photographs taken recently by friends.  So at least I was able to sit on the summit and visualize what I should have been looking at!  Timings wise I was doing OK, so it was time to get down and head for Pen y Fan.

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The scramble down from the trig pillar was fairly straight forward but for some unknown reason as I stepped/jumped the last 2 feet my left foot landed on loose scree and slipped sideways.  I managed to maintain my balance but felt an excruciating pain shoot through my left knee.  A quick assessment of the problem revealed that I had not broken or pulled anything, but I had resurrected an old injury from the early 1990’s.  In 1991 I was diagnosed with damaged cartilages in both my knees, probably caused by a mis-spent youth caving, climbing, mountaineering!  But the condition had not raised its head since then.

I was able to walk on the leg but the descent had to done with the left leg kept straight.  This slowed down the descent considerably and I knew then that I was not going to be able to complete Pen y Fan this evening.  What should have been a 5 hour round trip turned into a 6.5 hour nightmare with the descent taking 4 hours instead of the planned 2 hours.  I was very grateful to my Brother who waited for my to get off the mountain using his smart phone to track my slow but steady descent.

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So what of the challenge to climb the Welsh Three Peaks.  Well the way I see it is that I did not stop because I didn’t want to carry on.  I was forced to stop because of an unforeseen injury.  From the outset I made it clear that the time criteria was not issue, I knew that I was never going to complete this in record time.  My age and underlying health issues have to dictate the pace at which I progress but that does not mean I am a quitter. I will return to Pen y Fan on the 6 August and complete what I set out to do.  As far as the charity fundraising is concerned I have decided to invoke clause 25 para b. sub para iv. of the Charities Act 2005; which states that

‘failure to complete a set challenge is not deemed as failure to have attempted to complete the said challenge, and that this should have no impact on the status of sponsorship’ 

therefore the monies raised so far stands.

So what next? – my next scheduled event is the Walk For Parkinson’s – Wilton House on the 16 July.  I will take the time between now and then to rest and maybe give the knee some light exercise.  All being well after that it is full steam ahead for the Yorkshire Three Peaks in September.

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