After all the training, purchasing and planning, last weekend finally heralded the day that Team Cheese would launch itself into the history books of Welsh mountain climbing. All that stood between us and immortality were the three peaks of Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan, not forgetting of course the unpredictable weather that is a British summer. Along the way there would be highs and lows (both literally and mentally) but with confidence levels riding higher than they really had any right to be, what could possibly go wrong? What follows is the tale of five intrepid adventurers, one Skoda and a weekend that will live long in our collective memories.
Act 1: Anticipation
If my fellow team members were anything like me they spent much of Thursday poring over the mountain weather forecasts willing them to change. From a heat wave the week before we were now faced with gale force winds, heavy rain and the prospect that my warm weather training had all been for nought (I should have guessed that would be the case really!). It was with a degree of surprise therefore that we were greeted with dry and sunny conditions come Friday. Surely the forecasters couldn’t have got it that fundamentally wrong, could they? Whatever the reason we certainly weren’t going to complain and as I picked up some last minute supplies (moisture wicking t-shirts are my new best friend) I began to think that this adventure wasn’t going to be as hard as I’d thought it might be.
A couple of hours later and the team was all together for the very first time with Emma joining us as our driver for the day. Tents and bags were quickly squeezed into the car before we pointed it north and set off for the event registration at Betws y Coed. Along the way the weather gods continued to shine kindly on us giving a perfect excuse to break our journey in Aberystwyth. I’m sure that Tim and Mike weren’t that interested in mine and Jo’s university memories but it really is quite fascinating just how many of the houses there we’ve either lived in or been into. Anyway I digress so here is our first team photo, outside the public toilets. Don’t say I never give you glamour on this blog!
Act 2: The Wind Blows
Five hours after leaving Swansea we were soon through the registration process and in possession of amongst other things free Pot Noodles and our team number (thirteen in case you were wondering). Sadly we had no means to generate hot water but that didn’t bother us as there was surely no need of warming on such a nice day. Inevitably the minute we set off the heavens opened and we arrived at our campsite in torrential rain and with the wind gusting at ferocious speeds. Situated just beneath Pen y Pass we had little shelter from the elements and decided to pitch the tents in double quick time. Jo’s pop-up effort amazed us all with its simplicity as we battled with flapping canvas, snagging poles and pegs that were pulling out of the soft ground just as soon as we had them hammered in. Despite this we soon had four tents standing proud, albeit briefly, as a huge gust of wind flattened half of mine. In hindsight I should have taken it down there and then but we were hopeful conditions would improve and so headed to the nearby pub to dry off.
Inside we found a real log fire and set about turning the place into a sauna as we slowly warmed up. The pools of water that gathered beneath each of our seats was testament to just how heavy the rain had been whilst the sound of wind roaring around the building was a sign of what was still to come. A hearty meal briefly eclipsed the horrors outside while we chatted to two marshals for our event who were about to head up Snowdon to see the night through in bivvy bags. Crazy was obviously my first thought but they were a great laugh so I wont hold that against them. They did however mention the possibility that if conditions continued to deteriorate they may be forced to close one or more of the peaks. This was a situation that had never occurred to us before and one that chilled my heart. Surely we weren’t going to be thwarted at this late hour?
Act 3: Sleepless Night
In what seemed far too short a time our meals were eaten, drinks downed and we found ourselves heading back to the tents. The scene that greeted us was one of amusement at first as we caught Jo’s tent literally about to make a break for freedom, closely followed by concern at the completely flattened front portion of my own accommodation. I quickly made the decision to take it down before further damage was caused, a wise decision as it turned out with the wind having already snapped two pole sections clean in half. Jo followed suit and we resigned ourselves to a night in the car. Initially it looked like Tim and Mike would stick the night out under canvas but as the wind continued to strengthen Tim also headed for cover and joined us in the car. That just left Mike out in the elements, a camping novice in his fifteen pound tent which somehow made it through the night unscathed. I’m not sure we’ll ever live that down.
The one thing we did have in common though was less than an hours sleep which made for a very unwelcome 03:15 alarm clock to start our ascent of Snowdon at 04:00.
Act 4: Gutted
Despite my previous doubts four in the morning does actually exist and in the still dark sky we were pleased to see stars shining. What’s more the wind that had rocked the car viciously all night had finally abated and it wasn’t even raining. We were on.
Emma took the wheel for the first time and duly delivered us to the starting point at Pen y Pass where I jumped out full of energy and raring to go. Less than twenty seconds later I was back in the car, heading for Cadair Idris and feeling absolutely gutted. The mountain had been closed by our event marshals due to strong winds and more worryingly thunder and lightning at the summit. Less than a minute after starting we already knew that the full three peaks were out of the question and I can’t deny that at that moment I was ready to jack it all in and head for home.
As we worked our way south the heavens opened once more and even the normally fascinating industrial landscape of Blaenau Ffestiniog couldn’t lift my dark mood. There was still a huge question mark over Cadair being open which if true would really have been the end of our day. What would we say to all of our generous sponsors? More importantly how would I cope with the disappointment of missing out on a day that I’d been looking forward to for the best part of six months?
A tense two hour wait in a midge infested field finally heralded the words that we’d been waiting for just after seven o’clock. The mountain was open and we would be going for the top!
Act 5: Cadair Ascent
Having climbed Cadair Idris several times previously I can safely say that it is one of my favourite climbs in Wales, as well as being one of the toughest. In no time at all though we were out of the steeply sloped wooded section and making our way towards the lake at a very good pace. Clearly the training walks had been of use after all. An occasional heavy shower kept things damp but once they’d died away the clouds started to open up giving some spectacular views across the surrounding scenery. Photographically the lighting was perfect and I did my best to capture the scene without slowing the group up. In truth I was glad for the occasional rest as like the rest of us the previous nights lack of sleep was starting to take effect.
From Llyn Cau we started to climb steeply up towards Craig Cau, even managing occasional glimpses down to the glacial Talyllyn Lake. Now well into our stride the dark mood from earlier in the day had been lifted as I remembered just how much I love to be out walking. Even the aches from an uncomfortable nights sleep were soon forgotten as I took in the vistas before me. If I could I’d be out here every single day as there really is no better antidote to the stresses and strains of modern living.
We were probably only ten minutes from the top of Craig Cau when we realised that teams were starting to head back down the path far more quickly than would be usual. No way could they have completed the hefty descent and climb up to the true peak in such a short amount of time. Surely we weren’t going to be denied a second summit as well …….
To be continued