A solo winter 'Paddy' - Iain Ridgway digs deep in the North Wales snow...
Iain Ridgway is a pretty talented mountain runner. For those of us who know him will know that his is a steely competitor, with a big engine and great technique, especially on the climbs and technical descents…
He is also a very good navigator and (along with Sarah Ridgway) knows the Snowdonia mountains very well. So much so that over the last few years he and Sarah have offered recces of various routes and fell running courses to others via the Run Snowdonia service.
One of those recce and support routes that Iain knows very well is the Paddy Buckley Round. Less well known than the famous Lakeland long-distance challenge that is the Bob Graham Round, but according to those that have completed it, just as tough and at 62 miles and 9000 metres of ascent a worthy ‘Welsh equivalent’.
Last weekend (Friday and Sat 30 Nov / 1 Dec) Iain decided that it was time to have a go at a winter ‘Paddy’, solo and unsupported, outside of some food that he had place on the route in the days leading up to attempt.
If you are a fell runner and have been in the high hills in snow you’ll be able to relate to some of the following excellent account that Iain recalls, and even if you are not you will hopefully be equally captivated by what sounded like an epic mountain adventure!
Back in 2007 I did my summer PBR and always fancied a winter round, attempts in 2010 and 2011 failed within 20 minutes (metre deep drifts – possibly the shortest ever attempt…) and 9 hrs. respectively. This year has generally been spent off the fells so I didn’t think I was ‘fell fit’ to have a go, but then a neighbor popped around a few days before the OMM wanting a partner for the elite.
We did that and surprisingly I felt strong, so decided to have ago. As I’m leaving North Wales at Christmas this first weekend was the clear choice and luckily for the past 10 days all forecasts have consistently shown a good forecast. I also wanted a proper winter round so was lucky enough to see significant falls within the last week. The aim was sub 24, but just get the completion as the Paddy has no official 24 hr limit.
For simplicity I’d decided on solo, unsupported; that way I could vary time or date easily and also it’s just me taking the risks. I’d placed 4 food bags out with some basic food in (more energy bars, water, sandwich etc). Having support saves you a chunk of time but also you can get re-assurance that you’re OK, someone to talk to, to go to buy different foods, things you are lacking etc.
Last night (Thursday) I was constantly stopping to pee and I was thinking my kidneys were packing up… in the end I think I’d just over-compensated from getting dehydrated earlier.
My plan was to set off from Aberglaslyn, go hard over Hebog and Snowdon during darkness, both legs with good ground underfoot and easy nav, get light for the Glyders and get through to the boundary ridge for the last section of darkness.
The snow level was around 600m in most of snowdonia and the weather had been sub zero for a few days so every leg had significant periods of snow and ice. The forecast was fairly good with a clear night, then 1-2 hrs of persistent rain or snow early Saturday, near gale force winds (35 mph) but easing later, followed by short periods of blizzards late on Saturday, which is what I got.
The first leg was stunning, a huge moon and the ground around Bryn Banog was surprisingly firm. One reason I started with this leg was to get the most technical section of the round out of the way fresh. Nantlle ridge has a 20ft section which is dangerous, where a fall would be nasty. When I got there the section was covered in verglas (thin ice on the rocks).
It’s basically a shimmy along a sloping ledge with a steep drop below and few positive holds, so when covered it ice it was pretty unnerving. Had I done this at the end I’d have had snow on top of that verglas so it was a lucky decision, and I think my nerve would have gone by then.
The second section was up Yr Aran, there’s a ridge running from Craig Wen to Yr Aran, at about 2000ft high, no body goes there, great high level grassy ridge running, but even before I reached the summit the clouds had closed in. As I climbed towards Snowdon summit itself the clag had thickened and it was basically a full on white out so it was comforting to have foot steps to follow.
The snow here was solid neve so I had my axe out but decided not to use crampons as I had foot placements to use. It’s then out to Eilio, my training ground, so I made quick time and arrived in Llanberis well up on a 24 schedule. So 2 legs in, no issues, but I was feeling nauseous which I always in that 4-7 am period.
As forecasted the rain fell, which luckily turned to snow as I got high into the quarries and as the morning progressed I felt much stronger and made good time over to the main Glyder peaks.
The ground suddenly gets nasty, lots of snow over boulders with large gaps to fall into but the worst part of the round for me is the descent gully off Glyder Fawr, the snow here seemed soft so I just ran down a gully/scree line and it seemed great, suddenly the snow became icey and very steep meaning I couldn’t put crampons on and I either had to somehow cope or climb back out, luckily after a fair few slides and ice axe arrests I got down to Bwlch Tryfan and put the crampons on.
Tryfan was great fun, the rock was really hoared up meaning I could climb easily with my kahtoola crampons. I was worried about the west gully descent, but again with the crampons I was soon down at the steps and down to Ogwen. I was now less than 12 hrs in, I’d lost some time but still 24 was highly plausible.
The Carneddau is high level ridge running, but the snow here was deep with a thin crust, meaning you stepped through, made little progress and used up a lot of energy which hurt after so long out already.
I was also worried about a small technical section as you descend past Craig Yr Ysfa but luckily this was just beneath the serious snow line. But by the final descent off Pen Llithrig Yr Wrach I could tell my legs were seriously tiring.
Still in the fading light the climb to Siabod went OK and even the run off but soon the weather set in and in a blizzard I just couldn’t make out features with the head torch. Features look strange at night, bigger than they are, plus I was now so tired I could barely read a map, add frequent falls into ice cold bogs and I was painfully slow.
I also now had serious torch issues, I took two Myo XP’s and 9 batteries in total, but in the cold these barely lasted 5-6 hrs before waning. What should normally take 6-6.5 hrs eventually took over 9 hrs. I eventually got to Cwmorthin quarries and knew my 24 target was gone.
I almost packed it in but then the clouds cleared and the moon was high, it was just too beautiful to not stay out and enjoy, plus there isn’t the 24 hr limit with the PBR and I still wanted to be one of the select few to have done summer and winter Paddy’s. The next 2.5 hrs was just great, basically just hill walking in the Moelwyns under a full moon.
The views off Moelwyn Mawr were fantastic. However I then had to get to Cnicht and couldn’t face the possibility of a steep icey/snowy scramble so took a longer route. Had I been chasing 24 maybe I could have pushed the descent but my legs were shot so I just plodded back to Nantmor finishing in 25.5 hrs.
It was an incredible night/day/night and a goodbye to Snowdonia and I was lucky to have such good conditions, full moon, significant snow, large periods of clear sky, almost no rain.
I’ve spent so many nights on my own or other people’s Paddy’s, they’ve definitely been the highlight of my time fell running here. It was great to get the support last night, every time someone made a comment on Facebook I got an email notification coming through on my I-phone – strangely comforting!