Paddy Buckley Round – August 1st 2015The Welsh classical round of 47 mountain tops, covering 61 miles in a circle and roughly 28,000 feet of ascent.
Pre – round
My aim is to recce every top at least twice, I manage at least once with some several times and support on a couple of attempts in the lead up to my own. I decide to allow generous split times from the off in order to gain some time in hand and also factor in 15 minute rest breaks but plan on taking 5 – more time to gain there for no effort. After careful consideration I also decide that if I’m feeling good and conditions allow I will take advantage rather than holding back as I will tire anyway and I have a feeling this could come down to minutes. One pair of shoes and socks got me through UTMB and I plan on doing the same here, that’s more time and less faffing all round. I have already had some friendly banter from my team about being ‘too organised’ as I have sent them pacing notes from my own recces, the names of the tops that I have translated in to English and possible scenarios for them to consider. I don’t like to leave things to chance! One more thing – sub 24 hours is a bonus, my aim is to complete and I have made sure all my pacers know this. If conditions are favourable to set off then I will finish, whatever the time.
The bright moon of earlier has gone, replaced by intermittent drizzle as Tom and I ascend Elidir Fach. In Llanberis I opt to go for full waterproof cover the same as Tom. It didn’t quite feel right, too warm, but if Tom is going covered I would rather err on the side of caution. Never let it be said that ‘Arctic John’ wore less layers than a companion on the same run! This turns out to be a very wise move as from the summit of Elidir Fach onwards until Ogwen we are running in driving rain, howling winds and patchy clag. Lovely.
Elidir Fawr is summited and we set off for Mynydd Perfedd, I miss the high path on the ridge and we end up climbing slightly more than I would have liked but the going is good and we are already up on schedule despite the conditions. I nearly carry on past Foel Goch in the dark, I am navigating this leg alone as Tom has not run this leg before, but correct my line just in time in order to head up to the summit.
The way to Glyder Fawr is wet. I’ve recced this part several times and each time it has been a path. Today it is more like a river as we splash through it and round the tarn to begin the climb in earnest talking long distance triathlons and various other challenges we have heard about. Tom is good company and the leg is flying by, I switch to full concentration now as I want to get the line right on the way to Glyder Fach to avoid Castell Y Gwynt.
The way up Tryfan. I have run this several times and know a great line staying left to avoid climbing the South Peak and the buttress in error. This time I go too far left though and end up having to climb over a larger part of the belly of Tryfan than is ideal. Still only 5 minutes lost there, could have been a lot worse.
I am resting for a short while at Ogwen. I call to Michael for things I need and ask Tom if he is coming on to leg 2 as well – he said he would see how it was going. One look at him tells me my answer and he shakes his head and wishes me well. Tom has done a great job through tough conditions and now Stefan is there to take over and ready to rock. I change my gloves and it has stopped raining but I decide to keep my over trousers on along with some dry over mitts. I am ahead of my schedule but not by quite as much as I anticipated. Early days yet though.
We gain the summit of Pen Yr Ole Wen in good time and the sun rising has created an electric sky ahead and around. There is no hint of rain and only soft clouds that part often to afford glorious views over the mountain side. This lifts me no end and Stefan is a good guide meaning I can switch off the navigation part of my brain for a while and just enjoy the running.
Pen Yr Helgi Du is summited and I know that in this leg I have allowed quite a lot of give which I am keen to take advantage of. I race off and Stefan follows and then leads in a great line off Pen Llithrig Y Wrach which I then muck up at the bottom by taking us through rough fern and heather.
I arrive at Capel Curig an hour up and my team are milling around when I get there. They suddenly quicken in their activity and Mark drives in just after I arrive. Timing! My dad is there to dog sit Meg so Robin can run, Mick is getting in to the groove and has things to hand almost before I ask for them and I say good bye to Stefan who is worried he has not paced me correctly and that I might pay for this later on. I might do yet but I am now comfortably up on my own schedule with about the time in hand I planned for at this stage, despite the conditions on leg 1. On leg 3 to come I have allowed over 7 hours but I am hoping for under that. We shall see.
On the way up Moel Siabod Andy has to slow me down several times and tell me to take it easy, there is still a long way to go. I am initially frustrated by this but eventually calm down and listen to his advice. It takes all the allotted schedule time for Moel Siabod but the pace is steady so I am happy that the leg has started well. At the top it starts to rain, and doesn’t stop.
Then the wind gets up along with patchy clag. And more rain. Conversation is limited and we stop throughout the leg to adjust layers and share passing thoughts. Every footstep is now either a marsh or a climb and although I am still up on schedule I can feel my will being sapped by the worsening conditions both underfoot and in the skies. Andy is a good guide and we have recced this leg together in similar conditions so familiar points of reference come and go.
Every half an hour Robin is in my ear about eating and drinking, supported by Andy who backs him up. Andy has past experience of me not taking in enough food and fluid and I have given explicit instructions to be reminded every 30 minutes. I force the food in and it does make a difference. Coffa, Robin’s Border Collie, offers endless enthusiasm and is full of running as we head up and down the summits that need to be ticked off.
We descend to the quarries together, picking a good line and finding the gully to drop down and through. The buildings appear and I give a whoop – I am hoping this will lift my spirits rather than it being an expression of joy. My head is starting to irrationally fear the climb to Cnict for no other reason I can find than it is the last climb of this leg. I cannot share this because the wind has got up again and we are all cowering behind our hoods.
Last time I came off Moelwyn Bach I fell on the path and cut my arm. I ended up in Bangor A&E for 3 hours for 3 stictches before a 3 hour drive home. Andy points out the spot I fell on and we laugh, but I do slow down and take care as I step down the path over the spot in question.
We are climbing Cnict now and it does seem to go on for ever. I wish I could lift this fog in my head slowing me down. I am ahead of schedule. I am ahead of schedule. It’s no good though, my head just hears – ‘my legs are tired, my legs are tired’.
The descent off Cnict is just as tortuous and I lose more time going up and down Cnict than I have at any other point and I will be over my leg time by 9 minutes. Andy turns his ankle but carries on and picks up the pace, I hope he is okay but he now looks doubtful to carry on in to leg 4 as was the tentative plan. Even though I am still up overall my head is all over the place. I resolve to collect my walking poles form Aberglasyn, stop for the full 15 minutes, eat some chicken noodle soup and get a grip.
Arriving at Aberglasyn
So much for getting a grip. I was all smiles until I sat down and then I burst in to tears. I did manage to gather myself though and set off ahead of schedule by 50 minutes. I have a feeling I will need all of them for the last 2 legs. Mark, who I have only just met and who drove in to the car park at Capel just as I arrived, is staying on to leg 4 as well. This really lifts me as it takes some of the burden off Dave who is doing leg 4 and 5 and Mark has recced the beginning of this leg recently so can take over the lead for a while.
I am haemorrhaging minutes now, although I make the decision after Moel Hebog that although my climbing speed is slowing my descending speed is still good. I tell Mark and Dave that I will be trying to balance out the time lost climbing by upping the pace downhill and we set off at a fair lick. It seems to be working as now I am within a minute of the summit times I had planned. Each summit now has me calculating how much of my buffer I have used and where I have allowed extra time on the last leg.
Just as I am starting to pick up I fall through a tree on the descent as it skirts past the forest, I am not seriously hurt and now also have the bonus scent of pine for the next few minutes. At Yr Gyrn I get a strong lift brought about by familiarity. I was here just last week looking at the end of leg 4 and beginning of leg 5. I have a spring in my step and although I am down in minutes I allow myself to think, for the first time today, about completing the round. I know it will be close to 24 hours but my aim all throughout has been to treat sub 24 as a bonus and completion as the goal.
The Nantile ridge is amazing and there has not been a drop of rain on this leg, even the wind has dropped and the clouds properly part for the first time since the early morning. Beautiful. What an amazing part of the world this round encompasses, the variation in summits, the endless rolling mountain side, sea views and tops shrouded one minute and gloriously showing off in bright sunlight another.
Craig Wen and the summits still to come.
I say farewell and offer thanks to Mark for running 2 legs with me, more than I could have anticipated. I am on track. In fact better than that as I take only a short break and gain time. I also know I have over allowed for Craig Wen so should make some time there which I do despite falling backwards off a wall at one point. What I am beginning to work up to though is the climb up to Cribau Tregalen and then Snowdon. That’s a long way with no descent to make time up on as coming of Yr Arran is not particularly conducive to making time when tired. Oh well – you can only climb one at once.
Yr Arran takes a while longer to climb than it should have but I know I have time in hand and I am steeling myself for the final few climbs. I know this is going to be tight and Snowdon could make or break it. Dave offers me some perspective after I voice my concerns; he says I had my slump at the end of leg 3 and the beginning of leg 4 but that I have now come through it. Re-framing it like that does make a difference. You can leave a slump behind and move on. Which is what I do.
Not there yet. We don’t reach Snowdon’s summit until nearly half past nine. Which is still up on schedule. Just. I reassure myself, and Dave, that the hard yards are now done. When I recced this section they were lovely rolling summits that came and went with a lovely run off down to Llanberis.
Crib Y Ddysgl (The one after Snowdon)
The truth is somewhat different at the end of a long day. Darkness alters the perspective of the summits, offering no depth of vision. Imposing mountains now offer seemingly impossible silhouetted challenges to our advances. By the summit of Moel Cynghorion, where I thought I had allowed generously, I am bang on schedule rather than ahead.
The last few summits. This is what will power is for I suppose. I will not let my days work be undone by these last few summits. Dave has developed a measured approach to my constant calculating but as I power my legs onwards my mind is frantic. We hurry to and fro in the dark, powering through each summit until finally there is Moel Elio, the final summit. Now I can’t remember if I was generous with my descent time or not so we head towards Llanberis at speed. It doesn’t seem to get any closer in the dark and then suddenly we drop to find the track. Things look different in the dark and we make a couple of turns and find ourselves heading in the right direction. Angie comes to meet us and I complete the circle.
Llanberis - The point I started from and now finish!
What a day. In the company of family, friends and strangers I have done it. I have done it. A round that is as hard as it is beautiful and a long day that will stay with me forever.
Thank you to John Parkin (senior), Mick Watson, Tom Gomersall, Stefan Bramwell, Andy Gibbons, Robin Mitton (and Coffa), Mark Liptrot, Dave Stephenson, Angie Stephenson and Sally Parkin.
I have reflected and recovered and once more pored over various split times and leg times. In truth I had it pretty much covered and I am pleased with how accurate my plans were over the course of the day. I deliberately started faster than the schedule to gain time so that I knew how much time I would have to play with at the end. Psychologically it worked for me but, as ever, I would not have got round in such a time without the help of my support team who were amazing.
Such is the beauty of this round that I know I will spend many happy hours supporting others and exploring this new playground that I have had my eyes opened to. When I climbed my first Welsh peak, Pen Yr Ole Wen, on my first recce my whole body sighed happily and went “This is what I love doing, thank you”.