If you have been following us on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Linkedin etc, you may have noticed that we have just completed the Welsh Three Peaks Challenge.
A few years back I sponsored and drove a team to do the Welsh Three Peaks, this was the first time I came across Ty Hafan Childrens Hospice and what they did for children and their families. Even though I fortunately had never any need for their services I did, however, have cause to see the benefits of their works with bereaved families.
What is the Welsh Three Peaks?
Well, put it simply it’s the three tallest mountains in Wales, Snowdon, Cadair Idris, and Pen Y Fan. The idea is to climb these three mountains in less than fifteen hours, starting at approximately 04:00 Hrs in the morning. Scaling Snowdon by way of the Pyg Pass, then drive to Cadair Idris and reach the summit via the Minffordd Path and then finally a good two hour drive to the Brecon Beacons to walk up Pen Y fan.
Ty Hafan Childrens Hospice, based in Cardiff, I understand created the event in which to raise money for the charity.
The event is well organized and is sponsored by some big companies like GE, Loreal and Brecon Carreg water this year (2012) I understand these companies help support the marshals, help with logistics, marketing etc etc.
Over 80 teams of four walkers and drivers descended on Betws Y Coed for registration to the event, the marshals checked all our kit to make sure we had all our safety equipment, walking boots, and in return they gave us a survival tent, and a bag of goodies, T shirts etc. Once registered we set off to our bunk house to sort our kit out, rest after the 6 hour journey up north from Milford Haven. We stayed at a small place called Cewellyn Arms bunk house on the west side of Snowdon, we had already booked a meal at the local pub for all six of us. Whilst we were at Betws, the marshals were getting ready to camp out on the mountain for us to arrive in the morning, they had mentioned to us that the wind was registering at the top of Snowdon over 75 MPH. Rain was phenomenal also, there was talk, we may not summit Snowdon as the weather may be just to bad.
Yes 2 O Clock in the morning !
Not the sort of time you want to be getting up but we all decided this was best, so we could freshen up, have some breakfast, check kit again and then make our way around ten to four to get at the Pyg Pass for our allotted time of 04:31 start. I personally, was really looking forward to it, I know some of the crew were a little more concerned, But I felt ready for the challenge.
About the author
To get some sort of level/datum of what the experience was like for me, first you must know a little about me, what level of fitness I think I have etc.
I am 45 years of age, smoked until two years ago, was 4 stone overweight a year ago. Level of training, swimming approximately 5 times a week, a little weight training, in the gym perhaps 3 maybe 4 times a week on the treadmill, rowing machine, cross trainer etc. climbing experience nil, perhaps my only experience was climbing out of a bath, or perhaps, rock pools on a beach when I was a kid.
Getting closer to the event I did a ten mile hike over the Preseli Hills, walked the seven miles twice around Lys Y Fran Dam, I would consider myself relatively fit, perhaps stamina over sheer power, I would suggest.
Research has now allowed me to learn that the Pyg Pass is quite a challenging route to the summit and should not be tried unless you have a degree of mountain experience. To perhaps the organizers were happy, based on the fact that there was marshals dotted along the route and perhaps there was enough bodies on the mountain and also we were in teams of four as well. When we got to the meeting point, the place was busy with crews starting to get their kit ready, registering themselves etc, we then learned that the summit was open and that we were going to the very top. I was very excited and really up for it, I could see Darren, Claire and Eve. All raring to go. The schedule was a little late and we eventually left around twenty to five.
The pace was good, we all seemed to be keeping up with each other, perhaps I was a little zealous as I had not done any training for a couple of days building up on carbs, so I was like a spring chicken wanting to shoot off at full steam ahead. we were managing to pass teams that had gone before us and this I found at least inspiring as I had boundless amounts of energy. Eve and Darren who had done the three peaks before in 2010 were setting a more modest pace that perhaps in reflection was the right thing to do.
Passing some massive lakes on our left as we were climbing the mountain was totally breath taking, the light was getting better and you were starting to realize just how big this place was and how insignificant you are in reflection. I was truly in ore of my surroundings there was a massive amount of
comradeship between the crews of four, a lot of huffing and puffing and rightfully so, this was not a stroll around Lys Y Fran, or a boggy walk across the Preseli’s, this was proper mountain stuff, perhaps not climbing the Igor, but to me a phenomenal experience. As time marched on, we started to climb into the cloud line and now visibility was incredibly limited, you start to get the feeling that every one else on the mountain was becoming a friend, we were all experiencing this which in some sort of way I felt bonded to us all towards the common goal of reaching the summit.
Approximately two hours had passed and now we were pushing towards the summit, the wind was horrendous, gusts must have been at least a force 8 in my experience. So much so, if it caught you of guard you could have easily got blown over or off the side of the mountain. Eventually we were at the top. Eve and Claire were not happy you could see it in there faces that they were scared. I also felt incredibly intimidated, standing at the top, holding on at the same time trying to take photos, could not see anything
other than people a few meters away, the clouds had totally misted up my glasses, making it very hard to see. This strange feeling that there was now nothing left to hold onto, that was it! you were at the top of the highest peak in Wales, there was no more ledges, rocks to get a grip of to push and hold yourself to, As crazy as it sounds this frightened me as I got on all fours and sat my way down off the top until I got round the side and back to where the marshals were.
It was cold and now I was also getting wet, I now understand why they say bring coats, hats and gloves in the middle of the summer.
The track down was uneventful, until we have passed down through the cloud line and the scenery was just absolutely stunning, I found the downhill part very arduous, in fact climbing the mountain required strength and stamina, but coming down hill I was truly out of my comfort zone. Every step I took was heavy, in fear of perhaps slipping, tumbling, injuring myself, I was now finding myself at the back of the team where they were having to stop to allow me to catch up. we solder’d on and by around 08:15 we were at the bottom, absolutely elated that we had scaled the mountain, reached the summit, in a brilliant time and managed to pass quite a few fellow teams on the way.
Just a few stats from the gadgets I was wearing
Time taken 3 Hrs 17 mins
Average heart rate 124 BPM
Max Heart rate 160 BPM
Calories burned 2239 Kcal
Average speed 2.3 MPH
Max Speed 5.7 MPH
This is the mountain that puts a little trepidation in ones mind, Eve and Darren had mentioned before, that Cadair Idris is tough, speaking with other people leading up to the event implied that they had scaled Cadair, with no problems, so to be honest, I did not expect to have much of a problem, I was still fresh from Snowdon abate a little sore on the foot and legs but nothing I could not handle, nor did it douse my spirit that this was not going to cause me any concern.
We had over heard that an Army team had just completed the course in around 1hour 40mins. We new that the averaged around four and half hours to complete the mountain, also news had got through that the very top of the mountain had been closed and that we were only going to the first summit. The guys suggested that would take about an hour of the time to climb the mountain.
I have since learned that there is more than one path up Cadair, and that the path we were taking was the more direct and the steepest path, Darren and Eve had mentioned the ‘thousand steps’ which was the first part of the mountain climb.
Of we all went again I had lots of gusto and started the climb up, These steps are big and I mean big, these are not the uniform steps that you have in your home, these are all over the place, some small some perhaps two feet high, what I was finding was how restricted the trousers I was wearing to increase my stride big enough to scale some of the steps, I was looking around at some other climbers who was wearing more of the lycra type leggings that you see people who cycle use.
This was tough, and I mean tough I was finding it very hard and it seemed never ending, no sooner had you passed one section you were onto another section, just as steep, just as wet, just as slippy, As tough as it was I was stillpowering through and leading the team as I did on Snowdon, but in the back of my mind, somewhat a little concerned on how I was going to handle the decent later in the day.
We managed to get to an open area, where some marshals were, I would suggest this to be around the same height as the main lake on Cadair, where poor Darren could not go any further, we thought by spending five minutes resting would give Darren the energy to push on, but sadly Darren was spent and with a damaged knee, you could tell in his face that he was shot, and at the same time deeply disappointed in himself for letting us down.
Part of me didn’t blame him as we could see the next stage was more about climbing with feet and hands, no longer were you able to use the power of your legs only, to get you up this mountain, now you needed to hold on as well.
Five minutes had passed and leaving Darren behind with the marshals, Eve, Claire and I found the strength to push up to the summit, This was hard, I thought I was fit, but all my strength was now leaching out of me, still leading the pack and keeping the pace I could see the girls were tiring, slowing the pace down seemed the most prudent thing to do as we crossed the cloud line and into the land of mist and no visibility what so ever, Here we are, with no experience, now nearly at the top of the second tallest mountain in Wales, blowing even harder now and must have been a good 40 + Knots of wind, perhaps gusting more, trying to keep on the undefined path of loose stone, boulders and shingle, loose your footing up here and a gust of wind catches you right and you could have been in serious trouble, I recall passing one area only meters away from the edge. then the mist would come in droves and what you could see a few meters away was just gone, white, like the complete surroundings. Every so often the mist would clear a little and you could see others ahead of you and giving you some idea as to where you needed to go next.
One hour 42 minutes later from when we started we were at the first summit and the only summit we were allowed to go to today, I was glad that they had closed the second peak, the guys had suggested that the terrain was even worse and narrower than what we had all ready done. You can now understand what mountain rescue has to attend to, Very much like the RNLI that I am more familiar with. It was the right decision in my view to close the second peak, some what deflated that we were not going all the way, but on the other hand respectful for the decisions made to protect life, because in my view this was bad, very bad, environment to be in, the weather was not kind at all.
Somewhat surprised, however, that someone had decided to build a wall on the first peak, like that to fence in a field, To be honest not the sort of thing you would expect to see all the way up there. After the obligatory photo had been taken, my fears were now heightened, knowing that I was the weakest link in the chain for coming down the mountain. Even Evelyn, who for four weeks before could not
walk no more than a few hundred yards because of a three month bout of sciatica (back pain) was finding the decent better to handle than me. Claire on the other hand rightfully implied that she was like a tightly wound elastic band, finding it harder to reach the top every step, but now the band could be unwound and she was off down the mountain at a spectacular rate, I was very, very impressed and could not really understand how this could be, I can only surmise that her training included Pilates and the like, building inner core strength to hold and balance her frame as she decedent the un even steps, ridges and loose stone. I felt again heavy on foot, stomping every step, digging the heel in to ensure I did not slip. Eve was taking it easy also, in fear that she may damage her back and end up becoming a casualty on the mountain, Alas, as the time went we managed to get to the area where we left Darren, we found that he had already made his way down with some other teams, he was finding it cold sitting there and thought it prudent to proceed down.
I was starting to get stabbing pains in my left knee now, and using one of the sticks that Darren had giving us helped a little, the steps were that big, i was finding that I had to twist my frame sideways to put the next step down, I was kind of guessing the weight of my frame was now going through my knee at a different angle and was causing it to pain up.
Slowly we all made it of Cadair and was back enjoying coffee and some well earned chocolate biscuits in 3 hours 30 mins.
Some specs for you
Time taken 3 Hours 30 Mins.
Distance 4.37 miles
Average Heart rate 123 BPM
Max Heart rate 155 BPM
Calories Burned 2260 Kcal
Average speed 1.2 MPH
Max Speed 4.3 MPH
Now we are off in the truck to Pen Y Fan, some two and half hours away, time for a big kip and clean t shirts etc, it is amazing how much you sweat on these mountain excursions, Even though, most of the day I was in mist and fog, you end up wearing wet weather gear, that they say is breathable but you and I both know their not that breathable, you still seem to sweat buckets and your just as wet inside as you are outside. Perhaps one major plus with water proof jackets is they stop the wind and thus reduce windchill, coming off Snowdon as mentioned before I was freezing and somehow you just new how exposed you were and that you had to stop and don the weather proof jacket and gloves.
Pen Y Fan
We followed the ‘Lord Taverners’ Green van from Cader to the Brecon’s, John tried to get passed them by going through a town whilst they took a by pass, but alas when we came out the other side they were still in front, twenty mins or so later, they pulled off which allowed us to get that little further ahead. coming into Pen Y Fan at around quarter past four we donned our fresh socks and wore the Ty Hafan T Shirts for the last push, part happy that Cadair was finished, part tired by how much Cadair had taken out of all, we pushed on to register for the final time on the accent up Pen Y Fan.
Somehow, this did not seem that daunting, this seemed to be a stroll in the park compared to the last two mountains and like before I set the pace for getting up the hill side. Steep in parts steady in other parts, we were taking rests every so often, just because we were so tired, all the muscle in our legs, my arms and shoulders were starting to take its toll, My knee was getting more inflamed, but we pressed on and managed to reach the summit in less than an hour.
Now came the arduous task of getting down this last mountain, Claire shot of again like a spring chicken, whilst I struggled with every step, Darren stayed with me most of the way down, he also, struggling with a hurt knee, Every step I took made me flinch, but eventually I made it to the bottom and we all walked over the finish line in 2 Hours 5 Minutes from starting the climb.
Sore, very sore we all registered our finishing of the event, put our feet up and said to John and Jeremy ‘home please as quickly as you can’
Some stats for Pen Y Fan
Time took 2Hrs 5 mins
distance 3.85 Miles
average heart rate 112 BPM
Max heart rate 138 BPM
Calories burned 1028 kcal
average speed 1.8 MPH
max speed 3.00 MPH
We were advised that we came 43rd over the line, which means as we started 63rd we had actually moved up 20 places, we were all very pleased that we had finished, even more elated knowing that we had past quite a few teams. Very Happy indeed.
I think strength and stamina I was on the level, but perhaps my training should have been a bit more diversified, perhaps training that increased my inner core would have served me proud, more so learning better techniques on how to walk, you think that walking is walking, what I have learned,however, there is more to walking that meets the eye. I know there are people around that measures your gate etc, perhaps it may be worth checking with them and learn how to walk correctly, coming down the hills I have since learned I was walking on my heal and not on the ball of my foot, as such my ankle was not taking up the strain and my knee was taking the brunt of the weight as I put my foot down for the next stride.
We managed to raise over £3000.00 for Ty Hafan through sponsorship and this would never have been possible if it was not for the people putting there trust in us and supporting our cause, My special thanks goes out to all who parted with their cash.
It is two days in since doing the event and I still hurt and it feels as if every muscle is worked beyond its max, but I guess nothing in comparison to the pain in loosing a little loved one. I will cope with my muscles and in time it will get better, Ty Hafan will do the same with grieving parents for as long as it takes. Such a worthy cause.
Will I do it again? Most definitely, perhaps not next year but maybe the year after, its a great event, one thats tests you as an individual, it will push you to the limits.
Sad in one respect that the weather was terrible on the top that we could not take advantage of the views, happy, however, that the sun was not that hot to make you sweat more than we already did.
If you are reading this looking for some insight if your planning to do the Three Peaks, then the advise would be, train as much as you can, it will test you a lot, your state of mind is just as important as your physical condition. It will hurt, the pain going up Cadair will be hard. Finishing and in reflection that you achieved it, is priceless and something you can keep with you forever, It will change you, it will make you a better person in my view.
Special thanks to Claire, Eve, and Darren for their support in getting team 63 past the post. A massive thanks to John and Jeremy for the logistics in getting us to the mountains quickly, on time and safely.
Thanks to all who sponsored us, please be mindful that your money was for one of the greatest causes in Wales that supports children and families, what we did is pale in reflection to the hard work these guys do every day, Thank You.
Special thanks to Ty Hafan for making sure the day was safe with marshals on the mountain, the team spirit you invoked in us all, the special smile that really said ‘Thank You’ from the heart for your effort and time.
A massive thanks to MOTEC in Haverfordwest for donating the mini bus to get us around for the two days.
Finally a thanks to my staff for keeping the business going whilst Eve and I went galavanting up a mountain.
Finally, do it, you have to, it is worth it for yourself and others, enjoy it, live it, breath it, and hope you have better weather than us.
LocksOnline / The Walters Group.