Mountainous adventurous

One of the weird things about having an online presence – a blog, website, YouTube channel as well as being a bit noisy on Facebook – is that you forget that strangers opinion of you is mostly drawn from those sources (the rest I guess they make up in their own little heads, or at least that’s what I do!). I recently took part in a 30km race over Snowdon during which I suffered what we shall just describe as “gastric discomfort”, and wrote a review over at Mudstacle. Shortly after it was published I received a message from someone saying that in their mind I was “the unflappable, controlled, well presented. well organised competitor”. That made me giggle, since in my mind I live life in a fairly haphazard and shambolic state. Admittedly my mind is still stuck in my early twenties, but I would definitely not say I was well-presented nor controlled either. And most certainly not organised. 

So in order to refute these outrageous allegations, I thought I’d share another story of a brush with Mother Nature’s less kind side, partly because it’s (mildly) amusing (especially as I have lived to tell the tale) and partly because I’ve been doing too many posts full of words and without enough pictures.

A few weeks ago I went up to Wales to stay with my sister, who lives on Anglesey. I’d planned to do two long runs; one up Snowdon and the other elsewhere. The one up Snowdon was fine – a bit of a schlep as I ran over to Pen y Pas from Llanberis so already had 10km in my legs before even starting the ascent – but the road-side views were pretty:

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Although it wasn’t too cold, it started getting misty on the way up – that white blob on the right hand side is the person in front of me…

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The top was pretty chilly and there were to be no views for me – all I could see was mist and this fricking seagull. I sat in the cafe and had a cup of tomato soup before running back down again…

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Of course, once I’d started my descent the mists cleared, and by the time I was in Llanberis I was in a vest top and sweating.

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I did a little recovery run the next day – the Menai Straits are just stunning (yeah – gratuitously showing off some nice photos now), although if I’m honest it was also an emergency run: had to go and get some coffee as Lisette didn’t have any, and a life without coffee is basically not worth living.

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IMG_20150730_174624The bridge back to the mainland

Anyhow, on to the main point of this post… I thought I’d go up another mountain for my second long run, so had a good look at the OS map, read a few books and did some research online. All fingers pointed to Tryfan, part of the Glyderau rangeand 915m high. Certainly on paper the distance and elevation seemed spot-on, and I spoke to my brother-in-law, Alex, who’s lived in Wales for years and also done a Mountain Leadership course. He said that it was do-able but that it involved some scrambling. “No problem” I thought, and packed food and supplies and headed off. At this point I should say that I didn’t really know what “scrambling” was. I assumed it was like hiking but with rocks in the way. Achievable for everyone but the oldest of grannies.

So I got the bus to Bethesda, jumped in a taxi to the starting point – a layby off the A5 road (a main road connecting Bethesda and Betws-y-coed which is amazingly totally bereft of public transport), and started making my way up. I planned to go up the North Ridge then back over the other side, towards Snowden, and down into Llanberis to get the bus back. The weather wasn’t great, but it wasn’t raining, the forecast wasn’t too bad, and hey – I’m a hopeless optimist at the best of times. This is the Google Earth view showing the starting point (Tryfan Car Park) and the peak. As you can see it’s a pretty steep climb.

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This is what the mountain looks like (taken from the other side of the lake):

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Photo by Garry Smith

The start wasn’t so bad – the track was reasonably obvious, although the number of goats I came across was slightly alarming…
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But as I got further and further up, I began to doubt whether I was on the path, despite the fact there was evidence of mankind being there (empty fucking gel packs – the scurge of mountains the world over!). The fact I was also the only human was also somewhat worrying – I turned up towards the mountain with a group of three others, but somehow they had disappeared, either taking a different path entirely or having turned back. Hmm. 

Nevertheless I pushed on, and was rewarded with some pretty epic views. This was looking back down to the valley (you can see the road to the far right of the picture): IMG_20150803_104908

But this was looking up:

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Hmm. At this point it was also starting to rain. And it was cold. And just where the fuck is that path? But nevermind – I knew it was the right way and that the OS map showed another path going over the back and along the ridge you can see in the earlier photo. At least that was the plan…

However… the good progress I had made until this point – leaping up like the afore-pictured goats – slowed dramatically, to the point where I was basically climbing up rocks. So just to recap, I’m up a big fricking hill, on my own, it’s cold and rainy and there’s no mobile signal. The rocks are wet and slippery, and if I wasn’t strong and didn’t have bouldering experience I wouldn’t even have got as far as I did, since it required keeping three points of contact at all times: hold on with hands, test grip, move foot, find new hand hold, breathe, move one hand, don’t fall to my death.

Eventually I got to the top, to see the famous rock formation which traditionally people jump between. Instead what greeted me was a mocking sea gull, who had clearly followed me over from Snowden:  

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I found myself a hole in rocks to shelter in, as by this point the weather was miserable. The fucking gull kept loitering around like it wanted to steal my food.

I really wanted to push on and make the trip I’d originally planned, but this is where I am glad Brain beats Stubborn, as I realised that it would not just have been dangerous to do so, but also quite unpleasant. I don’t mind danger, but dagnammit I can’t be doing with spending my leisure time doing things that are downright unpleasant. So after consulting my handy map (laminated, no less!), I decided the best plan was to find the safest way down, which was down the side of the mountain, whose terrain was slightly more forgiving (rocks, which eventually gave way to grassy bog, interspersed with more rocks) and a damn sight less steep. Eventually I got down to this:

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…and encountered the first two human beings of the day, also having a look at the tarn. I think they could sense my relief at nearly being back in the land of the humanoids.

I have since found out that “scrambling” is actually a thing. A thing like climbing, with grades and everything, sometimes requiring specialist equipment like coloured plastic safety hats and ropes. I did some googling to find out what grade Tryfan is considered to be, and estimations varied wildly due to the huge range of different routes that one can take up. I also came across an article entitled “Ogwen Valley volunteers probe volume of rescues at Tryfan“… Here are some quotes from it:

Chris Lloyd, of the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation, says almost a third of the team’s missions this year have been on Tryfan, with parts of the North Ridge in particular seeing a high number of incidents.

Mr Lloyd said: “There have been a considerable number at the same spot on the North Ridge. Why are people ending up on this particular part of the mountain?

Mr Lloyd said one possible explanation may be that a footpath marked on maps of the mountain does not really exist, but the route leads people into danger. “The maps imply there is a footpath where there may not be one,” he said.

“My suspicion is that people may be following the black line on the map and not following what’s under their feet.”

So, thankfully, it seems that I’m not the only one to have this problem. 33 out of 110 mountain rescue call-outs have been on Tryfan, and I would imagine that less physically able people would have found themselves in a very dark place indeed if they were in my place. There is definitely an issue with a lack of signage on the best route to take (at one point, after climbing the rock face, I suddenly found a deep gully with a very obvious path through it, leading straight to the top), and actually there should be more information provided, for example at the Tryfan Car Park (/lay by) from which you start the ascent. And actually perhaps they should be having a conversation with Ordnance Survey about how the route is shown on their maps.

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Anyhow, apart from getting cold and wet, I survived. And as you would expect, by the time I got back down it was hot and sunny. Since I couldn’t get my intended distance in, I decided to run back through the valley to Bethesda. It’s got to be said, this was one of the most picturesque parts of Wales that I’ve seen – a typical glacial valley, lush grass, river winding through it, full of stone walls and flocks of sheep. I ran along the bottom of the hills to the left, and at one point came across a waterfall: 

 There were also the remains of slate mines, and you can figure how high they were by the odd tree that had somehow survived the experience: 

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There is a final up-side to this story, and that is by cutting the run/climb short, I got back with more than enough time to go to the beach for a picnic with my sister and niece, where we could drink wine and natter whilst complimenting Jazzie on her sand creations. A million miles from where I was that morning!

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