We rejoin the tale of our Welsh three peaks adventure just beneath Craig Cau. The last few hours have already included broken tents, a sleepless night and the hard news that we would not be climbing Snowdon due to severe weather conditions at its summit. As a result you find us in combative mood as we begin to suspect that Cadair Idris may also be about to slip through our fingers……
Act 6: Rebellion
By now we were well into the clouds and with visibility dropping by the minute quickened our pace as we strove to learn of our fate. It didn’t take long before we were able to pick out a worryingly large group of people at the summit of Craig Cau, a gathering that didn’t look much like it was going anywhere soon. Sure enough we arrived to hear the fateful words “this is the top today and you can go no further”. I should probably fill you in here on a discussion we’d had the previous evening where it was decided that should we be advised not to continue, we would fully obey. However it’s all very well taking stands when you don’t think the situation will actually arise but a whole different ball game when it does. As a result I straight away stated that I would be continuing to the peak, then quickly backed down as I realised that this was a team event and as a team we would decide what to do. The last thing I wanted was to put others at risk. Several moments of deliberation followed during which I stated my knowledge of the route ahead and my disagreement with the assessment of the weather. Having headed back down the mountain at this point previously for my own safety I could be confident that current conditions were a walk in the park. Sure visibility was down to ten meters but it was no worse than what we’d just walked through and we were more than adequately kitted out with the equipment and knowledge not to put ourselves in any danger. Decision made we informed the marshals that we would be going onwards and set off into the murk.
Those first few steps are probably the heaviest I’ve taken as I felt the weight of responsibility resting on my shoulders, but wasn’t this exactly what the day was supposed to be, a challenge? Fortunately my memories held firm, the path was found with ease and we were once again on our way. I can’t imagine what the inexperienced half of our team were feeling as they had nothing but blind faith that we were heading in the right direction, so a fortuitous break in the clouds couldn’t have come at a better time. In seconds the view before us opened up revealing our destination for the first time that day.
The steep ascent up to Penygadair (Cadair’s summit) seemed easier than last time I’d attempted it with a more well defined path now visible through the scree. It was still tough going though with the returning cloud cover paying havoc with my sense of distance. Less than half an hour later we spotted the summit cairn and reached it soon after. Being the only souls there was quite surreal as we took our photos and I made a suitable offering to the mountain.
Act 7: Sun!
Conscious that our deviation from the event could be causing difficulties for its organisers we only spent a few minutes at the summit before heading back the way we’d come. Almost immediately the cloud started to break up again revealing yet more of our surroundings and even some sun.
Once back at the location where we’d gone it alone I wasn’t surprised to see that the marshals had already headed for base camp. A little put out perhaps as in theory they’d said we had as long as we liked, but not surprised. Remarkably it was still mid-morning at this point so we took the descent easy, conscious of protecting our legs for Pen y Fan. The best way to do that of course is to simply take more photographs as the day started to develop into a real scorcher. Was our nightmare camping trip really just a few hours ago?
Back at the car park we rejoined Emma and met with the head marshal who fortunately didn’t seem to have any ill-feelings towards our maverick approach. We were however the last team off the mountain and now had a long drive to make it to the start of Pen y Fan in time.
Act 8: Pen y Fan
Covering large distances through mid Wales by car is never going to be quick, so it was almost two and a half hours later that we arrived at Storey Arms. The weather had once again deteriorated into low cloud and heavy, squally showers meaning that it was back into waterproofs and over to the checking-in point. Clearly our reputation had gone before us judging by the banter, so there and then Tim and I decided to really try and monster the climb ahead of us. We set off at a hell of a pace and made it to the top in personal best times, receiving a cheer from the summit marshals as we hove into view. I think that had more to do with the fact that they could finally head home rather than our achievement however.
The wind had now strengthened considerably but we decided to try and push our luck by requesting another diversion to take in Corn Ddu. Clearly our reputation had reached even here and we were politely turned down and effectively ushered off the mountain. All the way down we were surrounded by marshals which was a hilarious way to finish off a day that had been random at the best of times. All that haste though did result in us setting the best time of the day on Pen y Fan at one hour and thirty nine minutes. What a way to sign off for Team Cheese!
And so that’s that. Six months of preparation, one incredible day and a huge sense of achievement. Sure we only managed two out of three peaks but we did those well within the allocated time and had more than enough legs left to be confident in our ability to have done Snowdon as well. That’s not to say that there isn’t still a nagging sense of disappointment in the back of my mind though and I will definitely give it another shot in the not too distant future. For now though I shall finish by offering my thanks to Emma, Mike, Jo and Tim. It was a real pleasure.