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The highest marathon in the world

The Carneddau 2,000ft Peak Challenge

‘The Carneddau 2,000ft Peak Challenge’ by 2 Pauls & Tim (The PPT)

June 22nd 2019

Total: 49 Miles, 22 Peaks, 12,500ft Height Gain, 95,500 Steps - Time Taken: 13hrs 53mins05.26 Crimpiau

The aim was to take in the 22 peaks on the vast Carneddau (biggest mountain mass in the U.K. outside of the Scottish Highlands) in a single day. Between computers and I (never a good mix) we reckoned it would amount to 73.9K (46.2 Miles) with 13,674 feet of ascent (and of course descent), taking approximately 13 Hours. This was my best guess against the computer’s 54 Hours but of course they don’t always run well do they!

Be warned it’s a long blog, make a cup of tea or coffee and then settle in to an insight of our day, but remember this is only my version, Paul and Tim will have their versions of how it evolved and what they experienced.

Tim Watson, a late addition had begun to waver a week before (‘maybe I’ll just go to Tal y Fan’) but this Gazelle like runner who is looking incredibly lean and mean (in the best sense) strode into the Café at just after 4:00 am with Paul Jones and a face that shone ‘Game on’.

Suitably breakfasted, photo shoot by John and Marion and farewell to Dorina. It was 4:50 and we were off. Many things contributed massively to what lay ahead but it was the weather from the gods that helped make the day shine so brightly.

This was not a day for running fast or even running many of the ups but it was a day to keep going steadily and with purpose.

As we climbed and bypassed Crimpiau the views opened out and comments of  ‘Look at that!’ ‘Stunning,’ were accompanied by clicks of Tim & Paul’s mobiles. The treats had begun early but you had to be there to appreciate just how lucky we were, we dallied, I dally now, time to move on!

Our first peak was a mistake, Craig Wen (not a 2,000′), which we soon realised when we hit the summit of Craiglwyd but only a few minutes had been lost. Summit number 2 was Creigiau Gleision with its majestic views of the dark waters of Llyn Cowlyn below and across to the Moel Siabod, Glyderrau and Snowdon beyond. There are photo’s in the Café or these views in winter that give you an idea of it all.  A look at the watch - 1 Hour 15 Minutes against my estimated 1 Hour, oops!

It was from here that we took in the first of our ‘journey’ views, Tal y Fan lay far to our North, ‘Peak No. 3’ looked very far away. In truth I knew this, and had devised an anti-clockwise route to avoid taking on this 15K section with no late in the day – it would have been pretty soul destroying. By taking it early when we were fresh, it would be a good psychological barrier done and dealt with.

And indeed it was, but not before a few points of ‘interest’. I found a lovely hidden bog to clean my right leg up to the knee, no thanks from Tim for my pointing it out, just a giggle. The heat of the day began to build as we traversed around and out of Cwm Eigau. I had bowel movements so found a sheltered spot before catching up with a somewhat jealous Paul and Tim. Then Tim led us to a glorious short cut that saw us retracing our steps to my chosen road. In truth we all loved every moment of it although the brief steep road section did its best to wipe away our smiles.

05.42 Craig Wen

We hit Tal y Fan after a total of 4 Hours 5 Minutes, 20 minutes down on my schedule and were greeted warmly by Andy Pyatt with food and water a-plenty. The 3 of us had made up 4 stash bags, one for each of our 4 designated rendezvous and Andy, being at the first of these, had added an extra 2 litres of water. Very welcome indeed. Photos taken, we moved on.

As I was descending with care, a shout from the Gazelle behind, ‘Chough’s’, 5, 6, more…’ Tim nonchalantly took photos and kept up with me at the same time, bloody annoyingly impressive stuff!

The long climb to Carnedd y Ddelw saw us reach our first peak on the main plateau, a new one for Tim and Paul - they were impressed. Then Drum. ‘That’s 5’. We were counting without stopping.  ‘Now guys, a big out and back here to Pen y Castell’. Tim led over grassy terrain, I followed but Paul veered left to a fence line path. Tim and I found a slight rise, ‘This’ll be it,’ he said. ‘Yes Tim, I think it’s that stone.’ Map out. ‘Yep, where’s Paul? ‘Paul, Paul…..’

Eventually I moved to a lower view point, saw Paul far below & called him back before I re-joined Tim at the summit, where we re-consulted the map. ‘Oh!!’ We headed off to Paul who was stomping back to us. ‘Stop Paul, you were right!’ I might be wrong, but there was a look of sheer love & respect in his eyes. We kept our distance.

The true Pen y Castell looked a long way off but in truth it came and went quickly and we had time to take in our journey through Cwm Eagaiu  and over Tal y Fan. Ground had been covered and we could see our progress.

The Foel Fras climb, after a good  traverse led by Tim, was long and hard but we were rewarded at the summit by a waving George Manley at depot Number 2. It was here that we got the first feel of a cooling breeze that would be a frequent blessing as the day progressed. We were now a little over 6 hours in with approximately half the climbs done and still only 20 minutes down on my schedule. Food and water consumed, photos taken, we moved on.

The Llwymor climb went well. ‘Maybe more left Paul,’ the Gazelle muttered to me. I kept stubbornly right and was more than a little surprised when my line brought us almost directly to the summit, earlier than any of us dared hope.

From here Tim spied our traversing line to Yr Arag. And what a traverse it was - all made possible by no clag. Wild and remote, bright green bog, rocky screes and to Tim’s wildest delight, clear water springs almost everywhere. He drank the nectar and soon Paul was following suit. We were in a special place.

Yr Arag soon passed as I led the way on my terrain (aka easy and flat ground) to Bera Bach. On the ground it looks like Bera Mawr should be tackled first but the map shows otherwise. I sought Tim’s agreement and readily got it.

Tim led the scramble to Bera Bach’s summit and then spurted across and up Bera Mawr. The Rock God was strutting his stuff, leaving both Paul’s in awe of his abilities.

The traverse over to Drosgwyl was more my style as I took an opportunity to lead the way whilst the Gazelle & his mate stopped at another watering hole. Two people looked down on us. Are they waving? Is that a whistle?  I tacked my line & soon we were upon them with my hunch being confirmed - it was Ali & Steve Bramall. That they had come to this remote corner of the Carneddau to support & fuel us, was  an unexpected & extremely pleasant surprise.  I had grapes & water from heaven, Paul & Steve fearing to touch ‘my’ grapes scoffed oatcakes & cheese.We were 3 very lucky lads.

The views of our journey behind & in front were astounding. From here we could look down on the blue of the Menai Straights, tide out revealing pale white sand banks and darker blue sea. In the other direction were the big mountains of central Snowdonia.  We knew we were in the middle of an epic journey, in the company of two new friends.

15.44 Arriving at Carnedd DafyddMoving on, initially a rocky descent led to an easy ‘Paul’ path. For the first time Paul & Tim were thinking, ‘Shit we could be in trouble now’. I was enjoying myself reaching the far out summit of Gyrn Wigau and feeling great, the views to Yr Elen and Carnedd Dafydd were dramatically impressive, their size & distance played with our minds as we turned around & began the long climb back up to the higher plateau.

As Tim & Paul led on, my early thoughts were that we should be running this bit. They were soon replaced with, ‘Shit I’m losing energy.’ I was just holding on to Tim & Paul, giving it everything I had. I needed to eat and the grapes seemed ages ago. Pulling an energy bar out of my bag I chewed on it for what seemed a lifetime and eventually got it all down before using all of my remaining Electrolyte to give an extra boost knowing that planned re-fuel No. 3 was not too far away.  Thankfully it worked and a serious trough was overcome.

Carnedd Gwenllian eventually became our 14th 2,000′ summit. We didn’t dally as Tim called, ‘Follow me, there’s an easy path just over here’. The rock god stuck to his rocks, Paul followed him and I found my grass & ‘flew’ into the distance to the base of the climb to Foel Grach. Now Paul and Tim, I will explain and apologise for not stopping and  waiting for you here:-

Firstly Tim as you acknowledged you did hear my advice and chose to ignore it, secondly I had been trudging after you both in a deteriorating state not long before whilst frequently thinking, ‘Shit they’re running again’ and thirdly,  if I stopped and waited I was pretty sure you’d soon be showing me your heels all over again. And just for clarity, I never once thought ‘If I carry on, Brian and Hazel will see me leading two far better runners a merry dance’. But also for clarity, it did feel good!

Brian and Hazel were marvellous, food & water laid out, extra banana’s, 3 litres of extra water. But they do have a dog has a nasty habit of eating my dropped crisps! Photos, hugs and thanks, we moved on.

Tim and I had both cooled and I stopped to put a jacket on in a stiff breeze before I led the frustratingly long out and back descent to Craig Eigiau - an innocuous raised mound of grass in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Its saving grace is it gives a great vantage point of where we’d come from and our forward journey over the Eastern aspect of the Carneddau, in much the same way as Gyrn Wigau had done in the West.

I sensed Tim was suffering as for the first time he fell slightly off the pace as Paul closed the gap on a rejuvenated me. This temporary blip (probably psychological due to our heading away to a ‘pointless’ peak) soon passed as Tim was soon leading us strongly on the traverse and steep climb. We had lost a lot of height in bagging that ‘peak’  on the way to our days highest point. Now it was Paul’s turn to take a dip as Tim surged, seemingly effortlessly  ahead,  Paul went for his remaining fuel whilst I sat in behind thinking this is a nice pace, I’ll stay right here.

With Tim bounding over Carnedd Llewelyn’s summit plateau while we trotted over to join the Gazelle, now back in the company of Brian & Hazel for an un-official, but welcome stop 3b. Paul scoffed anything to hand, including one of my Mars bars and Tim went for some of my Soren. I thought I may have overloaded Brian and Hazel with food, but I’m glad I did as we collectively finished it all plus the extra 3 litres of water. Hugs and thanks, we moved on.

Paul soon began to recover and we made good progress to the ever-airy and  lovely peak that is Yr Elen. Passing a mother and  daughter on the way, who I think might be one of our Siabod Café users, but by this time the mind could have been playing tricks on me. They caught us up at the summit and Mum offered to take our picture before asking us to reciprocate,  announcing that her daughter’s name was Ellen and she had just climbed Yr Elen for the first time. Well done Ellen & Mum, nice anecdote that!

Tim led the traverse towards Bwlch Cyfryw-drum with Paul coming past me on the early rocky section. Darkening clouds were forming, making Carnedd Dafydd look both menacing and very far away, even though our collective logic knew differently.

We were on a ‘busy’ highway now but kept the purpose and length of our journey to ourselves as we passed the walkers, who mostly didn’t look at us as though we were mad. A final  photo from Brian and Hazel as they descended,  with Brian’s passing shot, ‘It’s not as far as it looks,’ seeming not to impress Tim. Then, the first telling sign. I think the ‘menace’ of Dafydd had got under Tim’s skin. Suddenly this incredibly graceful runner began to knock his toes on stones, creating yelps of pain as we made our climb to Dafydd’s rocky summit. I can remember thinking, we’ve covered 60 Kilometres with no falls at all for any of us, we need to be careful now, tired legs……..

Un-scathed other than sore feet and all having suffered the odd short dip in energy, we reached the summit of Dafydd just under 11 hours and still a very pleasing only 20 minutes behind schedule. Here we were greeted by Dafydd Thomas our planned supporter at supply point 4. Peter Durkin came along too with extra water and to join us for the remainder of our run. By now we knew we were almost there, despite Tim’s comment, ‘Pen yr Ole Wen next’ - a peak that my tired mind had chosen to forget about. Thanks Tim, lovely bit of news that!’

We said a warm thanks and farewell to Dafydd Thomas at Carnedd Daffyd a little after 11 hours after starting out and our 3 had now become 4.

The initial rocky bit saw the rock god in his element as Tim pushed, with me in pursuit, closely followed by Peter and Paul. Soon we were on the hard but easier stony path and these same stones soon began to pound into the soles of my already sore feet. I needed a moan, ‘Peter, this terrain is no good for sore feet’. In passing two girls and two guys who had  sat down for a rest I said, ‘Hello’ and got distracted. That was it - loss of concentration for a split second, tired legs, stubbed toe and I knew I was falling forward, fast, on a downward slope. I hit the deck a moment later, rolled to my right and then back onto my feet, immediately saying, ‘ I’ve hurt my hand’ whilst scanning my legs for blood. As I ran on without breaking another stride, my hand hanging limply at an interesting angle from my arm, the walkers probably thought ‘Did we just see that?’ Peter saw it all and would later comment that it was a remarkably stylish roll but like me, was soon looking at my hand with some degree of alarm. The pain was intense, I’ve fallen plenty of times, many a minor cut or bruise but this was different and I knew it, I was still running but in a confused state of shock believing I’d broken my wrist and probably my hand as well.

Naturally I ran on.

Peter was now keeping a concerned but respectful distance. My confidence had been knocked for six -  thoughts of ‘Watch that stone, can I continue?, my hand is just hanging there, can’t lift my arm properly, close to 20 kilometres still to go, why!?’

With Tim setting a good pace, Paul passing me by a wider faster line & Peter (I think) deciding to just let me run alone whilst he took an occasional look back to see if I was still following, I eventually reached the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen where Tim totally oblivious to it all (as indeed Paul had been), went to shake my hand which I hastily and only narrowly avoided. From what I remember, I simply said what had happened, there was no debate and we just moved on - two more summits to do, we turned back and headed for them.

Peter quoted about 18K to go though I thought it was maybe a bit less. Creating an un-necessary pee stop to gather my mashed thoughts and work it out. By now my hand was beginning to move with my arm rather than just hang. Quite what caused this initial reaction to the impact, I don’t know, but the pain remained intense for the remainder of the run.

I trailed the others as we re-passed Dafydd Thomas as he photographed us, ‘I’ve hurt my hand’ I bleated. We then began to re-climb Dafydd but despite taking it very carefully (‘can’t afford to fall on that again’), I slowly joined the others and Tim came up with the great idea of traversing around Dafydd rather than going back over the top. This worked a treat andavoided some tricky ground that had begun to play on my mind.

Slowly I got back into something like a rhythm but that would taper back every time it got technical.

Earlier Tim had also checked out a rocky traverse line around Carnedd Llewelyn, again to avoid a re-summit and we were soon on it after just re-passing the four witnesses to my fall. God only knows what they were thinking when they saw the line we were taking.

This boulder field was on a steep slope, very un-even and not a good place for me to be bringing up the rear in a state of fear. The inevitable happened, I stood on a rocker, had to steady myself with my damaged hand to avoid a fall that would hurt other things and the pain leapt through my hand and arm like an electric shock. It was good that the others were distant enough not to hear my cry, I moved on. Eventually with the tricky boulders coming to an end I began to relax as the others slowed to let me catch up.

The traverse had saved a lot of time and energy. Good call Tim. We were now on easier ground and moving freely but with my next fear beginning to loom I didn’t hold back, ‘Tim, Brian Robbins has told me that a footpath heads right, avoiding the scramble down onto the ridge. It may not be the line you want but I’m a bit worried about a one handed scramble. Can we look for it?’ The Rock God gave way and we found the path with me leading us onto it.

This excellent path duly descended right to the top of the scramble. Thanks Brian!  A one handed scramble, game on! Despite early nerves I soon found a way to contort my body and left hand into a variety of appropriate positions and down to safety. With this last, significant, physical/mental barrier out of the way, I began to relax and the guys let me set a nice pace across the most sublime ridge of Bwlch Eryl Farchog to the airy but easier scramble up to our penultimate summit of Pen y Helgy Du.  Paul kindly offered me a push if required. Well I like Paul an awful lot but he’s not using my injury as an excuse to touch my ass.  I climbed on!

Peter took our photo on the top and then there was JUST ONE left to do. From here we had glorious views of so much of our earlier journey and the balance of ‘big asks’ was now very firmly behind us.

The long tricky descent to the next cwm (think this is also when I became aware of unusual blister type pains on the top of my toes), seemed to sap a lot of energy from me and I think it did the same to Paul behind me.  Tim and Peter pulled away up front, so once safely at the foot of the final climb, (steeply up over 600 feet to the summit of Pen y Llithrig y Wrach), I asked Paul to open a gel for me and he followed suit by getting some fuel on board. Then head down,  the final climb began.  It’s all in the mind. Slowly we reeled in the metres, closing the gap on Tim and Paul until, nearing the top, Tim pulled away again. But by now the climb was spent and we were on our 22nd 2,000′ summit. The Slippery Witch was tamed & Capel lay all downhill ahead. Congratulations, photos, final fuel up, we descended.

This descent of approximately 1,350 feet after a long day is a big one, but Tim lead us down the mostly grassy line. We made good progress with Paul warning me of odd holes as we descended and we were soon down at the leat. I had taken another tumble but landed lightly, so no cries needed.

We fast walked the rocky path that leads to the diagonal descent line to the A5. Taking this at a good pace, despite me going over one last time (this time it was not my shattered confidence to blame but some chicken wire on a crossing board lifting up on the impact of my left foot so that it caught my right foot). Again no pain just the embarrassment of looking like a clown!

‘That’s enough! Apart from falling over at will, having an array of blisters on the tops of my toes and a hand that seriously hurts, I’m actually feeling good, it’s  time to lead the way’. The Gazelle let me pass; I ran on, we ran on, the crest of a wave moved us on. Boy did this descent feel good.

At the road, Peter ran on at speed so that those back at the café would be warned of our coming. I then led Paul down the road, which apparently doesn’t suit Gazelle’s as Tim dropped off the pace. This of course was no time to split up, we were about to achieve something special. Paul and I stopped, Tim soon joined us and we walked to the penultimate corner. ‘Right guys, we are not going to let them see us walking, a gentle jog from here.’ Tim responded, ‘Gentle!’ and we rounded the corner in style.

We got a wonderful reception from so many smiling faces and friendly cheers. It’s always an incredible moment to reach the end of a such a journey and not know who to thank first, but we muddled around in the crowd and eventually remembered to hug and congratulate each other, Paul, Paul & Tim. It was not until some days later that Dorina told me that when we kissed she’d not even been told about my hand and only found out from Tim sometime afterwards.

Clearly many were concerned about my hand but some minutes later when Gaby helped me remove my shoes and socks everyone who witnessed it gave a gasp when they saw my bloodied toes - but that’s another story.

I eventually went to A & E on Monday afternoon and had my hand X-rayed on Tuesday to receive the all clear with regard to fractures. It has a 2″ diameter bruise in the centre of my palm and today some 6 days later I am still unable to make a gripped fist. But there are signs of progress and it has a further two weeks to recover for the Alps, left fingers crossed.

Tim, Paul and I exchanged looks & comments immediately after the run and this continued over breakfast the next day with Tim and through several subsequent e-mails with Paul. At the heart of our musings is the awesome route itself - it genuinely is the single best mountain day I have experienced in the U.K. The weather contributed so much, but doing it with Tim and Paul iced every part of the cake and I’m welling up writing this finale.

I have already thanked those others who helped, logistically, on the hill and via the Café, so one final thanks to all those un-named who saw us run in at the end.

18.46 Finish PhotocallI have been asked ‘why don’t you name it as the ‘Paul Hodges’ or ‘Hodges’ round or……. all a bit un-fair on Paul Jones & Tim Watson. Suggestions on a postcard please . We have already thought of the ‘PPT’ the ‘HodJoWat’ & the ‘Hand it to Hodges’ rounds. Come on some lateral thinking please! It could & should become a classic!

Now some stats:-

75.42K (47.15 Miles), 13 Hours 53 Minutes (we are claiming that as a fastest known time (FKT)), 3,816 Metres of ascent (12,516′) , 22 Summits (plus a mistake summit), 6,100 Calories & 95,500 Steps for me (probably quite a few less for Paul and the Gazelle).

Thank you Paul and Tim for everything we shared.

Of course the run was part of our Reach Out For Nepal Day and  it was all for a cause; helping to raise money for a completely new school in the remote Nepalese village of Prok, which to date has had no school at all. Doug Scott’s charity CAN has committed to build this & ROFN has agreed to fund as much of the cost as possible. This year’s fund raising looks on course to exceed £4,000 and could, with continued contributions reach £5,000. Together with surplus funds from previous years, it means that we have already raised well in excess of half the funds needed for this project. CAN will directly fund the balance but please help us to reduce this balance. If you’ve enjoyed reading about it, even a fraction of how much we enjoyed doing it, donations are still possible in the café, (the collection pot is next to the picture board of our exploits), or through the Virgin Giving page on the Original Everest Marathon website. Anything is massively appreciated.

There are a lot of people to thank who collectively helped to make our 5th Reach Out For Nepal Day another great day so here, and in no particular order goes my best effort to do so. If I’ve missed anyone out, rest assured it is a matter of diminishing grey matter rather than lack of respect.

John & Marion, for helping to bring things together in the lead in & co-ordinating events on the day itself.

Ginger for loan of the tracker system we used to help monitor the progress of our Carneddau run.

Ian and Helen, for pulling the cycle sportif together again.

Charlotte, for being simply wild about swimming.

Sara for calming Yoga and looking after Alexandra (who was selling her balloons), possibly the short straw of the day.

Mike Lees for games, enthusiasm and being the Auction master.

Ali Bramall & Steve for putting on a great evening and rounding the day off. Also for that lovely & un-expected rendezvous and feed on the summit of Drosgwyl.

Nick for computerising my running plan into a finalised route.

Twiggy for donations both before and during, as well as managing two stalls all day, which alone contributed more than £300 on the day.

Gaby, for making the Dhal Bhat.

Dorina and all the team for keeping the café open for business as usual whilst we were ‘enjoying’ ourselves.

Andy, George, Brian, Hazel and Dafydd for being out on the hill, at the right place and time to feed and water us. It simply wasn’t possible without you.

Peter for joining us for the last 3 hours - a new pair of legs seeping new energy into our tiring ones.

Paul & Tim for their enthusiasm & friendship throughout our 14 hour journey across the Carneddau.

Johnathan for helping with publicity and getting the ROFN message out there.

Alan, Christian, Annie, Doug, Gill (of Joe Brown) and Soul of Snowdonia Gallery for donating items to our Auction, also our suppliers: Arwel Jones, Stefan, Harlech, Marian and Spar for contributing to our food hamper.

And of course everyone else who took part in one of the events, donated or simply joined in to make it such a great day.