Restart! The journey of 15


So… I’m kicking my blogging back into action. It’s been a while, and looking back somewhat reflectively makes for often interesting reading; it’d be a shame not to continue.

During the past few months of ‘respite’, a.k.a. quarter-retirement, I’ve been immensely enjoying my free-time doing what I love most; playing in the mountains. My adventures could be split two-fold into my more recent focuses on a) scrambling at the higher grades and b) moving quickly around the mountain environment (fell-running)

The posts may not start off chronologically, apologies, and will not always be complemented with photos (going light doesn’t always allow for the avid photographer).

This post is about something very few people knew I’d actually gone and done…

snowdon massif

The Snowdon Massif

At the end of my time in office at Bangor Students’ Union, I’d started writing a list of challenges I wanted to undertake either during the summer of 2010 or at the next possible opportunity. A good number were attempted; most completed. However, one challenge did manage to escape completion on its first attempt.

The 15 peak challenge is, to quote the website, “not a mountain journey to be under-estimated”. Quite. It involves approx. 4032m ascent (av. 15mpm), and 4307m descent (av. 18mpm), as recorded by my freshly-superglued altimeter throughout the day, starting at Pen y Pass and finishing at Aberwyngregyn. Intriguingly, to help put this into perspective, 4032m is *exactly*(!) 3 times the height of Ben Nevis (1344m). In fairness, although these topographical issues must be dealt with in order to reflect total-mountain-time, the actual summit to summit figure ought to be around 3500m ascent and marginally less descent.

However, there is also the small matter of trip-length. Going light meant no GPS tracking and even that luxury would afford only a 2D reflection (without most tortuous mathematics). Records state that it is around 24 miles from Snowdon to Foel Fras; needless to say with regards prior reference to the total-mountain-time, we’re talking north of a marathon (around 30 miles) by the time the day is out. Figures not to be sniffed at.

Oh, and daylight; it’s early-mid October and daylight hours at the time were borderline 12.

So I went solo.

To add to the fun, I was also entirely un-aided. This is how the day panned out…

06:20, Thursday 7th October, 2010. Rise and shine! Working the previous day had not overly well assisted in my preparation; this was apparent as I juggled with porridge oats, a shower, and stuffing a light-as-possible-without-being-ridiculous rucksack with kendal mint cake, haribo, dried fruit and some beverages.

07:15 a wee drive to Bangor to catch the 7.35am bus

07:35 hop on the S6 (convincing the driver the adult fare is only £1, neat)

08:20 arriving in Betws-y-Coed feels odd on two accounts; 1) I’d normally appear at the Royal Oak at this time on a work day and 2) Betws is incontrovertibly not Pen y Pass…

08:30 in the rush of the morning I’d forgotten to pack anything else to compliment the sweet-shop rucksack I’d prepared. A quick dash into the spar yields a savoury exit (1x ham and cheese sandwich) oh, and a chocolate croissant.

08:40 the S6 has morphed into the S2 after it’s school run to Llanrwst and the driver welcomes me back on-board. Off to Pen y Pass finally!

09:05 arrival at Pen y Pass, it’s sunny and clear skies all bar Crib Goch/Snowdon summits! A quick mooch around the facilities and I’m ready to get on with it..

09:15 begin (who put tarmac on a mountain, tsp?) :p

09:54 921m – Crib Goch ‘fake-summit’. Passing a few groups on the way up here; one cocky party member takes a dig at my shorts and fell-shoes approach, “it’s windy on top don’t ya know?”. My reply ever tolerant indicates only that I am looking forward to the occasion (it is a little blustery). Bearing in mind that the timed challenge only begins on Crib Goch summit a little way along the ridge from here, I’ve bombed it up 564m of Pyg track and east ridge scramble from Pen y Pass in 39mins. Cursing about pacing and a small break allow for simple time-keeping to ensue with a lovely round-figure start…!

10:00[1] 923m – Crib Goch summit… GO!
(10:04.30 Bwlch Coch, crikey I’m flying)

10:19[2] 1065m – Crib y Ddysgl (Garnedd Ugain) having stayed as true as possible to the direct ridge-line, sub-20 mins is quicker than expected.

10:26[3] 1065m – Snowdon summit, standard. I run past a group of army-types on a mission to make the summit just before me; alas I snatch that reward from them and immediately peg-it back down the Llanberis path towards Clogwyn station. Evils. Whipping the Lekis out I make a beeline for the valley staying just NW of the Afon Cwm Glas Bach all the way down. Some excellent scree up top makes for a fast descent, yet it takes its toll somewhat as a lactic acid warning from the quads at c.250m reminds me I’m not invulnerable.

11:05150m – Just over one hour in and I’m 239m lower than the start! Gah! Having sneaked up on a couple putting their recycling out who, somewhat startled to suddenly find me behind them, kindly hold the gateway open for my swift passing through. Some grazing (kendal mint cake) and sipping on the way along the road.

11:15120m – Nant Peris, time to man-up and make reasonable time up Elidir Fawr.

11:55[4] 924m – Elidir Fawr! Paced somewhat better than usual, there’s not a soul around until up top. I surprise a lone submitter by appearing at the end of his diligently captured panoramic video, he lets on that he’s managed it up quite quickly in just over an hour and a half. Alas, I don’t have the heart to contribute my 40 minute effort into the conversation and instead I point vaguely at the A55 coastline in answer to my destination. Half a (pocket-sized) pack of haribo later and full sprint off down onto the Foel Goch bypass, very runnable.

12:30[5] 947m – Y Garn, after whizzing past someone coming up from the NE ridge my thigh muscles are politely providing advisory information of their discomfort by cramping slightly – salt and liquid! – best I can do is hope half the ham and cheese sandwich and a few swigs of some SIS PSP22 (only brought 500ml and 2L water) do the trick. Taking in a quick view, then a reasonably rapid descent to Llyn y Cwn.

13:05[6] 1001m – Glyder Fawr, the newest super-mountain in Snowdonia 😉 I’m obviously slightly not with it as I make a beeline towards the wrong set of summit spikes (seriously, how many times have I been up here!), quickly rectified.

13:25[7] 994m – Glyder Fach – a quick scamper across the somewhat harder-going yet immensely enjoyable terrain of the Glyder plateau and I’m almost distracted by Castell y Gwynt! Summit crested… “Oh look, there’s a big balancy rock!”… head down, carry on to whip the Lekis out for the second time today at the head of the £100K-repair-project-destined-never-to-happen Bristly screes.

13:40730m – Bwlch Tryfan – the penultimate bites of the sandwich and a couple of haribo, I’ve enjoyed the descent down the screes immensely, having had to shout advice of “KEEP LEFT, IT’S MORE STABLE” to some unsteadily ascending individuals floundering around off the right of the usual scree thoroughfare, 5 mins down here, can I make it to the summit of Tryfan in 13 minutes? You bet 😉

(13:59.59 touch top!)
14:00[8] 918m – Tryfan, the timing is impeccable as I literally see the hour figure change as I touch Adam/Eve. I’m likening how I felt on the Oggie 8 challenge (where incidentally Tryfan is also the 8th peak) – not bad but not jumping up and down with joy at the prospect of a West Face gully descent (knees)! Also, even though it’s been a perfectly dry day so far, the polished rock and indeed even some less-so is causing me to watch my step up here (cursing to the unwelcome revelation that this impacts on time!)

14:40303m – Ogwen Cottage – so I’ve decided to come this audaciously foolish way, somewhat reluctantly but primarily to launch a salt-rejuvenation (Bovril) against potentially-risky-cramp-for-lone-walk-off-Gras-later. 12 minutes later (longest break yet by far!), the last bite of my Spar sandwich and off again; the mental battle of another climb up to the 1000m spectrum is calmed knowing that it’s going to be dead simple once I’m up there again… 14:52…

15:35[9] 978m – Pen yr Ole Wen, sorted. Fine physically, just a little more mental strength required especially with it being the first time I’ve not done the South spur in descent! I even took my first ascent-break of the day stopping by a rock for a few seconds above the half-way screes to gaze longingly back down at Ogwen Cottage. Towards the top, convincing myself that Pen yr Ole Wen was not much higher than Elidir Fawr (924m) didn’t help as I got to 940m wondering if I ought to be levitating by now? Gah.

15:55[10] 1044m – Carnedd Dafydd, skipping across Carnedd Fach for good measure, the familiarity of the southern ridge circuit kicks in and allows for a speedy journey. At this point I calculate some rough timings for the last 5 peaks based on my knowledge of the terrain and come up with 40+20+10+10+10 = 90mins… but am I right?

16:35[11] 962m – Yr Elen, not having ever consciously appreciated where the summit precisely lies, I do an unnecessary circuit around the top upon reaching it. The contouring path skirting Llewellyn, at around 915m, as ever petered out on the trickier terrain approaching the spiked towers at the head of the Nant Ddu re-entrants. A strangely bearded walker approaches as I scamper off back towards Llywelyn and we exchange a nod…

16:50[12] 1064m – Carnedd Llywelyn, quick re-fuel on sugar and a quick glance at the map as an insurance policy against potential tiredness – no sweat, although I’ve not covered this terrain for 2 years now! The un-comradely non-path leading down to the saddle ahead of Foel Grach is quite demanding especially as I’m pegging it. Slippy.

17:05[13] 976m – Foel Grach, only 2 more to go (well, 1 and a half?). It’s incredibly agreeable weather, the evening sun providing pleasant warmth from beyond the Snowdon massif now. It’s actually quite a splendid situation in which to be fell-running and the terrain has eased from the slightly hostile summits of the immediate past. Vistas towards the North Wales coast are rewarding as it nears ever closer.

17:15[14] 926m – Carnedd Gwenllian (Uchaf), the shady approach to the summit reveals some greasy rock that I curse on this penultimate detour, alas it’s really not far to go now. Not a soul sighted since Yr Elen.

17:30[15] 942m – Foel Fras, with enough time to stroll the very last section of the traverse here (no records to be broken now), I arrive contented at the trig point, the stop-watch stops exactly on the 30 and I remark at how bizarrely conformist the day’s timings have been.

Total time: 7 hours 30 minutes
[ database]

foel fras

Foel Fras

Taking a seat against the warmth and shelter of the dry-stone wall, I throw on some precautionary primaloft and bask in the last of the evening sun – out comes the last non-emergency-ration, the Spar chocolate croissant! I hadn’t planned this, but together with a rendition of my favourite mp3s (there was space for the headphones after all!) the journey ends more satisfactorily.

30 minutes later, the forbidding journey down the Cwm yr Afon Goch begins somewhat reluctantly (I’ve stiffened up somewhat). I curse the hostile terrain (grassy tufts) common to this area and subsequently negotiate the mischievous, and frankly poor, ‘path’ that leads to the base of Aber Falls, remarking how long ago it was I walked it last. Needless to say the last part of the journey was not taken at great speed, yet I made good time down to Abergwyngregyn to make awkward sense of a bus timetable to conclude the last leg of the day back to Bangor.


1) Accuracies
– I recall a few key times (Snowdon peaks, Tryfan, end!) to the minute; if other times seem too convenient, it is only because they are rounded up to the nearest 5-minute interval.
– I regarded summits as successfully negotiated when the highest point was touched.

2) Is 7 hours 30 minutes a good time?
The average time taken is circa. 15 hours, so double. Put in perspective, that’s the difference between an average of 30 minutes to 1 hour per peak.

This attempt gave precedence to negotiating the challenge solo and un-aided in the best possible time. I’m very aware of the risks such a journey entails and how they are augmented at 100% exertion, so I was ever-conscious about striking a sensible balance.

It’s likely that I will re-visit the journey in the future with speed as the highest priority. I have partners in mind yet for the ultimate (and safest) effort, there must also be a support-team on hand in the valleys and indeed to assist in the walk-off.

That’s not to say a few tweaks couldn’t be made to achieve a faster time soloing the traverse:
a) a pre-traverse drop at Ogwen Cottage to prevent carrying 2.5kg of liquid from the start (c. -30 mins)
b) not bombing it up to Crib Goch (start) from Pen y Pass unintentionally/just because of daylight hours dwindling (c. -30 minutes)
c) I currently employ the use of Leki poles to help with a spout of runners knee, they’re not the lightest model on the market by far and dropping them off the kit-list entirely would certainly help (c. -20-30 minutes)

So with regards the above, I guess I’m boldly claiming I could probably complete the 15 in 6-6.5 hours at current fitness. Some way off 4 hours 19 minutes, yet I don’t have the desire to push myself that far at present.

Perhaps a winter traverse (current record 8 hours 29 minutes), although highly-discouraged, would in optimal conditions, pose a decent challenge? 😉

3 Responses to “Restart! The journey of 15”

  1. 1 Marie Hecht

    Impressive! Compelling reading too. Could you become a ‘Wainwright’ and earn money!
    Just a thought!
    Well done you.

  2. 2 Carolan

    Oh my gosh, that’s immense. Well done, very impressive. Don’t suppose you fancy a short trip to Switzerland to take in some Alps?

  3. haha thanks, I’d love to get back into the alps! next summer maybe 🙂 not sure my career path is set in writing, I find it quite hard to write compellingly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: