Sunday ended with me feeling on a massive high, so as ever this blog goes on a bit but if you are un-lucky enough to be in another lockdown hopefully you will have time to read it all but as ever I will qualify that is at your risk only.
After dragging my somewhat forlorn self off the Glyderrau the weekend before last I did promise myself & others that I would make a second attempt at The Siabod Challenge if the weather improved in the week that followed. This promise was I confess a bit of a reluctant one as I knew simply to get to my bail-out point of last week would be quite hard work & yet still leaves the vast majority of the Challenge ahead of you. However there seemed little choice if I was to earn both the respect & money of those who had donated so far (funds going to Jagged Globe’s 8848 fund for their oversees Covid hit staff).
Once again I arrived at the Café on Saturday morning asking for Dorina to print the Forecast for Sunday. It showed improving weather but not as good as that shown on Dorina’s phone app. (think that’s some kind of technical term for apparently). Despite predicted gusts of 40 mph with wind-chill higher up of -7 degrees it looked on, the Roberts family once again were consulted over their afternoon meal & later that evening I got a pleasant surprise when Becca texted Dorina ‘I’ll join Paul for leg 1’ this was a significant boost as I knew this was the leg where I’d need moral support to get me past bail-out & beyond.
At 7:55 am on Sunday with photograph taken Dorina, Ady, Simona & Alin wished us well as ‘enjoy your run’ rang in our ears, we were off. Before I go further let me clarify that at times I am able to learn an occasional lesson. In the week since my failure & during a mini break in Betws which saw Dorina & I celebrate our tenth anniversary we made a visit to Joe Brown’s excellent shop in Capel, this was partly to get Dorina an early Birthday present (new running shoes) but partly for me to avoid another cold calamity. My shopping list was clear & concise, new waterproof Mitts & a pair of La Sportiva’s Uragano GTX Mountain Running Shoes, these have an extended gaiter to cover the ankles & are supposed to be waterproof (but of course I knew they wouldn’t be). The shoes got a test of the Capel circuit on Friday & proved to be waterproof on that at least, they were worn in & ready for the challenge. I should confess that I also left Joe Brown’s with a new pair of my beloved La Sportiva Mutants (my 5th to date) in a rather fetching shade of ‘Apple Green’.
Becca & I set a steady pace until we reached the first climb, the steep & decidedly boggy climb up to Cefn y Capel. Becca & I have different skill sets, I tend to climb better than my race position whilst Becca tends to descend better than hers, these differences would prove to be a Godsend for me. With route finding on the climb being a bit tricky & Becca not having been on it before I would surge ahead only to turn back & check her direction & progress before surging on again. This would happen on the subsequent Glyderrau climbs & ensured that I didn’t over exert myself thereby leaving a fair bit in the tank for legs 2 & 3.
Soon the first climb was behind us & saw us crossing the boggy plateau to Bwlch Goleuni before a short climb brought us to a style leading to the steepest climb of leg 1, as Becca joined me she muttered ‘that’s steep’, ‘yes it is but it’s quite short’ I lied a little. That said my wait for Becca at the top of it was shorter than expected & no Becca your initial apologies for holding me back were not needed, not only were you supporting me but you were in reality helping me very much indeed.
Another climb where I confess I was less than happy with my route choice did at least see me (un-like last week) pop out bang on Galllt-yr-Ogof’s high point at 763 metres. The wind whilst not as high as the Forecast was distinctly chilly so a quick celebratory hug was followed by a quick decision to move on.
I was more pleased with my route finding to the trod that led us around the bog & to the next climb up to Y Foel Goch where, as Rebecca came up to join me, she took a photo of me looking South East, had it been a close-up you would have seen a pensive Paul taking in the enormity of Siabod’s Eastern ridge ‘that’s later Paul, back to the here & now’. So far we had made descent time, two summits in 1:48 only 10 minutes down on the week before, I could live with that.
Descending & then crossing Llyn y Caseg-Fraith’s boggy plateau with a number of leaps of faith went well & at equal pace, I pointed out my bail-out point as well as we have company ahead (a solo guy making his way up Glyder Fach), our route ahead was now also familiar to Becca. Once again I opened a gap on the climb, on the small plateau before the final scramble I came across the guy waiting reluctantly. It soon became clear he wanted a dialogue so we got to it. Concerned about the clag ahead which he’d apparently had his thoughts on all morning I commented that it probably wouldn’t lift & that his plan to also take in Glyder Fawr & Y Garn would need the ability to navigate. He reluctantly but wisely knew his skill set & began to head down passing Rebecca as she joined me on the Plateau.
The scramble was soon behind us, thankfully I know it well as someone (or was it lightning striking more than once) has demolished a large cairn. We can debate the merits of cairns in ever greater profusion but demolishing this one which is an important marker in an area that has plenty of trouble around it seems a tad unwise to me at least. We traversed to the summit where I confess I made a pigs ear of scrambling to it’s summit, the greasy rocks didn’t help the nerves, Becca wisely decided that enough was enough ‘I’ll stay here Paul’ & I eventually touched the trig point before more fluster back to safety.
Through the mists the spiky profile of Castell y Gwynt finally appeared & we descended around it & onto Becca’s final climb towards Glyder Fawr. The hills were now heaving as we passed 3 people on this traverse including a solo guy who was not enjoying the weather at all as I proclaimed ‘well it’s a lot better than last week’. In truth it was all very pleasant, the mist was thinning, route finding a doddle & most of the time it felt very pleasant as Becca & I agreed ‘what’s bad about this?’
At Glyder Fawr’s summit I asked a couple resting there if I could squeeze past to touch the summit trig before saying to Becca ‘time to put in a call to Dorina for your pick-up at PyP’, ‘how long will it take’ she replied ’30 minutes or so’, the couple looked on clearly thinking ‘what’s that all about’.
We descended the Red dot with Becca clearly enjoying herself (although later confessing that her grassy glissade past me was not her brightest idea, she apparently has some scars to prove this). On the final descent to the hostel we caught a couple of guys who knew Dorina & I from the Cafe, a quick exchange of words made it clear that they were also proceeding on to Snowdon. They moved on, a smiling Dorina gave me a coke, photographed me & Becca, we exchanged thanks & discussed the next rendezvous ‘not PyG Dorina, the start of the new footpath below it’ (a couple of hundred metres was very important to my mind-set. We waved farewell, Snowdon’s Pyg track lay ahead. Rebecca & I had taken 3:45 to traverse 4 summits covering a distance of just under 10 miles, I was set up for success.
I went past the two guys immediately as they took it easy but as only runners can sense I sensed the faster guy could be ‘trouble’ & so it proved. He didn’t exactly hang on to me but I knew he was there or there about for longer than a non-competitive Paul liked, the games we play!
By the time I’d reached the junction with Crib Goch I was alone & free of my tormentor (I wouldn’t pass them later as I descended so can only presume they headed over Crib Goch, a big day whatever they were up to). From here I steadily passed walkers until a resting group of 3 lads decided to get up & let me chase them, they were poorly dressed but moving well, I used my route knowledge to catch & pass them on a short scramble cockily saying ‘local knowledge guys’. Pride as ever before a fall having opened a gap I caught my right boot (first sign of tiredness) & was down & bouncing straight back up but heard a smug giggle behind me, all quite funny really. I noticed the first proper fatigue just below the zig-zags so went deeper into the half litre of electrolyte that I was eking out for the rigours to come (I was also carrying half a litre of water which I was draining in a like for like fashion).
My racing was not quite over, in a Deja-vu Moment another three young guys who had been resting at the finger stone also decided to get up & move at speed. They were like hare’s to my tortoise, I resigned to my fate & kept at my pace as they periodically checked on my progress. Come the steps leading to the summit I had re-closed most of the gap, I had a plan (well it’s a long day & little things help to keep it lively). I left the steps to the left as if I was checking in at the end of the Welsh 1,000 metre peaks race & climbed the steps on the left of the trig ‘excuse me please’ as I stepped onto the summit, touched the trig & passed the 3 lads waiting near the top of the right hand-side steps for their turn. I’m not sure but I think they were thinking both ‘how did he do that’ & ‘why is he off so quickly after so much effort’, little did they know, I again confess to a little smugness if I’m honest.
Soon I was putting in a call to Dorina under-estimating a descent time of no more than an hour & a quarter. In truth I was tired & had been concerned with potential cramp warnings since early on the Red dot path descent so I took it easy, better late than never.
Before I turned off onto the Miner’s track I passed a friendly foreign couple whom I’d passed earlier on my ascent, the guy complimented me on how fast I was, I couldn’t help it ‘well that was my 5th today & I’ve still got one more to do’, to their distinct credit they didn’t yawn & asked ‘which one’ ‘that one over there, you see that knobbly bit I’ve got to get there & then get up that ridge to the top & then go down the other side’ ‘how long will that take’ ‘I’m not sure, 2 to 2 & a half hours I think, hopefully I’ll be down before it’s dark’ ‘good luck’ ‘enjoy your summit’ I replied & we went on our respective ways, all very pleasant. In truth it took a little closer to 3 hours than 2 but that was mainly due to an honest miscalculation than my falling apart.
The café meanwhile was busy so Dorina asked John to rendezvous with me, my late arrival saw John harassed by the traffic warden on more than one occasion but being from The Wirral John held his ground & got away with both not buying a ticket & receiving one! Another coke & a choice of crisps were my reward (thank you Dorina for heeding my cramp concerns earlier at PyP & packing crisps despite my foolish ‘no that won’t be necessary’. Here I should confess that after some six & three quarters hours I had not eaten anything, the faff of removing mitts & gloves simply to un-zip a pocket full of goodies just didn’t seem worth it, strange do that in a race & you’d be bonking (running variety please) before you knew it. I wised up took the ready salted ones (salt might be a handy ally) said thanks & goodbye to John & started the initial steep climb eating half the crisps as I went before putting them in my waterproof jacket pocket, where they would remain.
If you’ve never ascended Siabod via this route let me say it is a beast, it starts steep, levels to a long boggy traverse before steepening again for a longer second climb. As the gradient eases you traverse to join a fence line (I took my best line to date here, very pleasing so late in the day) which finally reaches a second style on your left (ignore the first one). You cross this to follow an, at other times, lovely little trod that skirts you under & around a rocky knoll before you reach Siabod’s Eastern ridge. Now your troubles really begin, the ridge is over 2.5K in length & climbs 350 metres, it may not sound a lot but it always seems relentless if tackled near the end of a long day. Knowledge can sometimes hurt but this day I used it to my advantage & ticked the false summits off one by one ‘there in 15 minutes’ then the summit in 15 minutes more’ became my mantra. When estimating my time to John ‘I should be at the Café in 2 hours’ I’d calculated the summit itself would take 1 Hour 20 minutes from the road, in reality I took 2 minutes more but felt very happy about that when I touched the trig. By now barring accident I would be back before it was completely dark, Becca’s early pace had been good enough to set me up for a successful & stress free conclusion.
My descent was slower than I reckoned (48 minutes rather than the 40 of my earlier calculations) as I focused on no trips on tired legs, a trot here & safe step there as dusk drew on & eyes adapted. Finally on the safety of the Forest track I picked up my speed & was even able to run up the final hill leading to the bridge & the Café. The watch stopped 4 seconds later than I did, 8:54:12 after I started out with Becca. I walked out of the darkness into the Café light at 4:55 pm with my headtorch still in my bag where I’d hoped it would be. It was my slowest time for the Siabod Challenge, but after last week’s disappointment that was completely irrelevant.
Dorina reckoned I looked distinctly non-plussed at my achievement (why wasn’t I shouting & jumping around, well really?) & Simona commented that I didn’t even look tired (clearly she can lie like a good-un). In truth I think I was just amazed & dazed that after a few difficult months of injury & sciatica I had actually gone out against expectation & pulled it off. Who needs drugs when you can make your own.
I would re-fuel with an ice-cream before Dorina drove me home, prepped the food which I cooked, Chicken Carbonara, that hit the spot as did a glass of wine or three. Next day I was on the log-splitter & Chainsaw trying to concentrate on the tasks to hand but mind wandering to a blog to come.
So what lesson had I learned, well the new gear worked, the La Sportiva’s stuck like glue to wet rocks & grass, the soft compound similar to my beloved Mutant’s gave me a confidence that was a joy to behold. My ankles were cocooned in warmth & whilst my feet did get wet they never took a complete & sudden cold soaking. The Mitts worn over my already mitted OR Gloves were a god-send, my perennially cold hands remained as warm as toast all day, any faff at re-fitting my right mitt after that phone call or crisps was more than outweighed although looking back I really should have some food more easily to hand. I’d also worn a warmer baselayer & more robust water proof jacket rather than the flimsy (albeit nicer colour) windproof of the week before. Of course the weather was a significant factor too but had it been like the week before I wouldn’t have gone, would I?
My thanks obviously to Dorina & John & of course to Rebecca Roberts who played a massive part in my success whilst, I believe & hope, getting a lot out of a new route across the Glyderrau for herself after such a difficult time for her & her family, a true star. Also thanks to those who have donated so far, it was for a worthy cause & we are still taking donations at the Café if you feel able to do so.
In these troubled times we can feel helpless to events around us but we can make our own scripts to a degree, I can only conclude that I must always remember this & urge anyone else who feels a bit down with it all to do likewise, the surge of positive endorphins is a treasure to behold. Thank goodness the injury is behind me, may it stay there please.
A final thank you to Dorina who has had the ‘undisputed pleasure’ of my company for a little over 10 years, how did you do that Angel?xxx