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Paddy Buckley Round in Winter – Completing a winter trilogy. The challenges of the Big "Rounds" had kept me occupied for a few years. But there was something missing!

First published in Fellrunner Magazine 2015

Bob Graham Round  - May 2010 - 21 Hours 3 minutes
Bob Graham Round -  Winter - Feb 2011 - 23 hours 19 minutes
Charlie Ramsay Round  - June 2011  - 22 hours 52 minutes
Paddy Buckley Round - July 2011 - 23 hours 13 minutes
Charlie Ramsay Round - Winter - December 2012 - 26 hours 56 minutes
 
Paddy Buckley Round - Winter ?
 
The big rounds take a lot out of you, mentally and physically, and now I was over 50 and with rather dodgy feet. After a couple of “poor” winters (ie mild and damp) my chances of completing the big three in summer and winter seemed to be fading, perhaps it was perhaps not going to happen? (It has only been done once before by John Fleetwood and with times considerably slower - 47 hours on the winter Ramsay).

However the colder and drier weather of December and January 2015 rekindled my desire to run and climb in the mountains at this time of year. Who can deny the magic that snow, frost and the low angled winter sun can create. After climbing near Scafell Pike the obligatory walk to the summit revealed a superb vista in all directions. “Look, the full Bob Graham route” I pointed out. I had completed this in summer and winter, and then gone on to do a Ramsay Round in summer and winter. Gazing into the distance in the clear winter air the peaks of Southern Scotland and the Isle of Man didn't seem far away. Then away to the south a distinct group of peaks shimmered on the horizon, Snowdonia! My thoughts turned to the Paddy Buckley Round. I had done this in the summer of 2011, it had been a tough challenge even in good weather just 4 weeks after a Ramsay Round completion. I had almost given up on completing all the big three in summer and winter but now my enthusiasm was rekindled!

Time was running out though, with the “official” end of winter just a few weeks away. I had mentioned it to a few people, and just a few days before my attempt I was texting and emailing a few trusted runners and a skeleton support team was ready for action along with my non running van driver Leo who didn't know what he was letting himself in for!

I chose a start time of around 9.10 am at Capel Curig to fit in with my support runners and also to hopefully allow me to get nearly half the distance done before it got dark. My schedule was a 23 hour one, although I was pretty sure I would need at least 24 hours to get around, my winter BG had taken over 23 hours, and this was certain to be tougher.

Leg 1  Moelwynion
 
Chris Armer (still recovering from an attempt on The Spine race) was my leg 1 support. He set of well ahead of me carrying most of my kit and we were to rendezvous on the summit of Moel Siabod. It was a bright almost spring like day in Capel Curig with cloud cover shifting on the hills. The ground was frozen hard making for good going, but Moel Siabod Summit remained shrouded and as I entered the hill fog visibility was down to just 20 or 30 metres at most. A few drifts of deeper snow had to be tackled, but nothing too serious. Nearing the summit my phone went of and after ignoring it I thought it might be Chris. It was and he was lost! Fortunately he found me as I was descending from the summit and the panic was over. Having taken just under 50 minutes to reach the summit I knew the going was good and I felt very positive about the challenge ahead.
 
Chris was struggling though, His feet were giving him problems on the next section. Wet snow, bog, wet snow, bog = cold feet! By Moel Merch he had had enough and I continued on my own. Hill fog and soft snow made the section to Moel yr Hydd pretty tough going. But the Moelwyns and Cnicht were clear of cloud and conditions under foot much better so I picked up time again arriving at Aberglaslyn in 6 hours 6 minutes, one minute faster than my summer time!
 
Leg 2   Eifdnydd
 
A quick feed (sweet tea and home-made stew do wonders for you!) and then to the rough terrain of Moel Hebog and the Nantle ridge. Spring like weather at Aberglaslyn meant just a thin fleece top was enough to keep me warm. The big advantage of winter is you can control your temperature better than on hot summer days, reduce fluid intake and therefore perhaps avoid the stomach issues that can occur when you have to drink lots of fluid and run. Carol Morgan supported me on this leg. She had completed her summer round 6 months previously and was now supporting me. I also had Jim Mann (holder of the winter Bob Graham Record) along on the first climb.
The views back to the Moelwyns were stunning in the late afternoon light. The Col beyond Moel Lefn had it's silhouette proejected by the setting sun onto Craig Wen. Beyond that Snowdon lay ahead, shrouded in cloud. We reached the Nantle ridge as darkness enveloped us and it was hard going with a head torch to navigate and keep upright on the rocky terrain. I had gained further time on the schedule though and still felt strong on the forest tracks that led to Pont Cae'r Gors. 1 hour 10 minutes up on a 23 hour schedule was far better than I ever expected. Of course, most of the rest of the round would be in darkness!
 
Leg 3 Snowdon
 
I knew from my summer round that it was possible to gain time on the Snowdon leg, and my support runners, Dave Swift and Ronnie Turner really helped me along. Lots of banter and time checks that had me gaining at each summit, and a steady supply of food and drink. The main ridge from Yr Aran onwards had lots of snow on it. But it was well trodden and frozen hard so it didn't impede progress. The Summit building and Cairn was a welcome sight and it was easy running on good snow to the short ascent of Crib Y Ddysgl. The next section was what you dream about in winter, consistent snow pack with enough give and slide to allow rapid and easy progress to Moel Cynghorion. Step, slide, step, slide, step, slide....The snow had drifted onto the Snowdon Ranger Path a long way down and it lay like a white ribbon leading us down the rocky slopes. My only delay was when I got a foot well and truly stuck between some rock and a barbed wire fence. Dave and Ronnie came to my rescue and released me! By the time I reached Llanberris I was two hours up on my schedule. My support crew were shocked to see me so soon, and were now scrambling to get ready for the next leg. Leo asked me if I was getting excited yet, but I said that there were very tough sections ahead. I didn't realise how tough!
 
Leg 4 Glyders
 
Up through the quarries I felt OK still. It's a big climb from Llanberris to Elidir Fach though and fatigue was an issue now. Carol was back again supporting me. Heading into thick hill fog on the first summit reduced the visibility to just a few metres, and with hard packed snow and a bitterly cold wind my pace slowed. I had small metal spikes (dabs) in my orienteering/fell shoes which gave just enough grip on the occasionally icy snow-pack. The next few summits loomed out the mist, but the going underfoot on the climbs was far from ideal, icy, slippery shale or softer snow.
 
More time droped by Y Garn, but still plenty in hand, but Carol had had enough without the benefit of "metal dabs" in her shoes, and so she decided to miss out the next section, it was a very good decision! Glyder Fawr summit was Fearsomely cold with a biting wind and I was glad to find the cairns leading to Glyder Fach. Having done this section a few times in poor visibility I was aware of the need to go around the "Castle of the Winds", but somehow I was drawn in to it's icy clutches and had to retreat several times as I found myself above big drops onto rocks and snow below. My GPS meant it was impossible to miss a summit, but it didn’t make getting to the next two summits any easier! Slithering up  rocks on my stomach, sliding down on my backside, it was tortuously slow  and hazardous going. I got my leg jammed between rocks when some snow collapsed beneath me. Glyder Fach done, and a lot of time lost, but worse to come. I overshot the gully leading to Tryfan and I had to backtrack twice to eventually find correct escape. Here the terrain underfoot was hideous. Soft snow over rocks, then hardpacked snow a bit steeper than I would have liked. I fell over so many times I lost count. I felt like I was in a boxing match and taking a beating. Next was Tryfan. I knew I had to avoid the direct route and find the path leading around the Western side. I can't have ever been very far from the path, but if I thought Glyder Fach was bad this was far worse. Rocks loomed up around me, footprints in the snow lead in all directions, it was a maze, but would I find my way out? I had to retreat on many occasions, and as I got closer to the summit the terrain got harder and harder. The last 100 metres to the summit must have taken 20 minutes, so it was a big relief to find Adam and Eve and the last summit on this leg. A lapse of concentration in my fatigued state and I nearly walked of the summit cliffs to the East, then I got in the wrong descent gully and had to clamber back out precariously. I took another battering getting down though, one again it was soft snow on steep rock. Get up, take as step, slide, fall, get up, take as step, slide, fall, would this ever end?! I screamed at the mountain with frustration, there was no one to listen and my despairing cries vanished into the winter night.
 
Then a sudden clearing of the cloud rewarded me with an amazing view that was hard to piece together in my fatigued state; a starry sky, mountains summits and silhouettes jumbled and partly shrouded in cloud on the horizon, which for some reason, despite still being high on Tryfan, seemed to float in the sky above me. The lights of Ogwen where also there, that was an immense relief as my torch was fading and I was still finding it hard to keep upright.
Despite taking such a battering I was now feeling more positive about getting back to Capel Curig in under 24 hours.
 
Leg 5 Carneddau
 
My support crew were getting worried about me, I'd taken nearly 5 hours on a leg that should have taken less than 4. Carol had made it back OK and now I had Jim Mann for the last leg. I was on my last legs as well on the brutal climb up Pen yr Ole Wen. Steeper and steeper it felt, my back and legs screaming with fatigue, then a bitter wind from the East and hard packed ground once again. (The wind was so strong it seemed to partly freeze my right eye and made my vision “milky” for a couple of hours afterwards). Jim kept me going though, prompting me to have the odd energy gel and energy drink. After Carnedd Llewelyn the route descends gradually to Capel Curig, but with the final two peaks as interruptions. Suddenly emerging out of the cloud on the descent a faint red glow to the East signalled that dawn was on its way. The last summit gained and we shook hands, job (nearly) done. Pen Llithrig yr Wrach to Capel Curig is a little trodden route, we found  a reasonable line and I managed to keep a good pace along the boggy tracks back down to main road. Carol and her friend Andy were there to greet me, all that remained was a jog along the road and a finishing time of 22 hours 49 minutes was immensely satisfying!