Ultra Trail Snowdonia 2019
This is my first year helping Apex Running at the Ultra Trail Snowdonia weekend. If you were like me when I was first approached to help on the run, I knew very little about the event. So, here is the website for you to view and some of the basic details about the runs below.
UTS 50 (53 miles/85km)
UTS 100 (106miles/170km)
16,730 ft / 5,100m
12% road, 88% off road
No. of Aid Stations
32,800ft / 10,000m
11%, 89% off road
It’s amazing what connections you gain from your social media and this was no different, @kev_adventure approached me around Christmas asking if I'd be interested in helping in on the summit checkpoints for the grueling ultra marathon and before Kev could give me any further information I snapped up the invite and booked the trip in the diary.
In terms of volunteering for the event it was plain sailing and from set up to the actual weekend everything went smoothly. It was a very well, run event! So hats off to Mike and Kev for running such a smooth operation and although a year away, I for one am looking forward to next year's event already.
My weekend started off on Thursday, I got out of work at the usual time and made my way North to Snowdonia. On the drive up it was carnage as usual on the M40. Accidents, roads closed and to make matters worse, very heavy rain. My motivation for the weekend was quickly dropping at the thoughts of sat on a mountain summit having hiked 30kg worth of kit to only sit in the rain. If this was the case it was going to be even tougher!
Fortunately it was only England that was suffering the wet conditions and after five hours I arrived in a dry Ogwen valley for a lone wild camp. I camped up by one of the mountain lakes called llyn Bochlwyd. The lake is higher than the typically visited Llyn Idwal and is a more challenging to reach as well. Especially climbing up in the dark and from the Tryfan car park. This involved a river crossing and navigating a good few bogs before I could find the bouldered shoreline of the lake.
It will take 30-45 minutes to get up and it's a quiet spot over looking the valley all with a water source and boulders to block any wind. The perfect little wild camp spot to be honest. A morning view looking at Tryfan and Pen Yr Ole Wen were to greet me from the tent doors with a view that never gets old.
I took this little opportunity to grab some early morning photos before a 72 hour stint of little sleep and mountain climbing. I make it sound negative, it's not and I do this all the time for fun so doing it and helping on this race made it even better.
From the lake I made my way back down but via the easier route to Cwm Idwal. However being lazy I took a more direct route and ended up slidding down a 40ft scree and undergrowth before wadding through bog to the path up to Idwal. Not a clever move on my part and not one I'd recommend doing again.
Once at the car it was time to pack up and head around too Llanberis to find the crew and begin the UTS2019.
I arrived at 10am at HQ and the a lot of runners were already at HQ getting kit checks and getting ready for the event. It was great to see so many countries participating! We started playing spot the flag and who'd come the furthest to torture, I mean run this epic mountain route. Ireland, Belgium, America, Philippines. Strange not to see more Welsh? It's in the doorstep so know how difficult it was going to be?
By this point I had met up with Kev and the crew and began introductions. You have to remind yourself we have only spoken on social media previously which is still baffling and odd at times. "Yeah I'm helping out on a mountain marathon at the weekend. Know the guys from Twitter". So, for all the social media bashing that goes on its moments like this that make it a great place to be.
The runners set off shortly after lunch time (1pm) and headed off up to Llanberis quarry, unfortunately following the band of rain which had just soaked the HQ and surrounding landscape. Let's hope it was just that rain we were going to see.
Once the runners had set off it was time to repack the bags with kit ready for checkpoint 5, Carnedd Llewelyn. The previous year Kev took the team up Pen Yr Ole Wen and did what I call "three peaks run" it's a nice climb, boggy at first but long. Kev opted for a more direct route and follow the runners course up Pen Ye Helgi-du and across to Carnedd Llewelyn this was a 5.5km route and only had the one big slog up the first summit which might I add is 833m with 30kg possibly more, rucksacks in hot weather... it was hard! Back breaking tough and between the four of us we swapped a food bag which we thought was a good idea to leave in a carrier bag. Not just any carrier bag, a M&S supreme carrier bag. Jokes aside when we eventually got to the top of the first summit we all crashed and just soaked up the view.
After a gentle cool down and sugar break we plodded on, what we didn't know was the next challenge. A grade 2 scramble across a small knife edge ridge to get on to Carnedd. No worries for us but poor Neil who suffers from veritgo and hates heights couldn't go any further. As someone who only recently in the passed few years has gotten over a fear of heights I knew this was hard and Neil was gutted to say good bye. Neil turned back to assist with CP6-7 as we continued over the knife edge and climbing up. Remember we have some 35kg rucksacks on still and was a full on climb where ropes would have been helpful if not possibly needed, but it's all good fun and reminded myself and Kev why we enjoy climbing and scrambling so much and both said we wanted to return with lighter packs to do this properly and enjoy the route at our own pace.
From here we had some 80m to walk up over the last off the scree and boulders. I have never been so thankful to see a summit shelter and flat plateau before. The relief of taking that rucksack off was heavenly to say the least! But, we couldn't stop now we had tents, shelters and supplies to put out. On arrival at the summit we were being blasted by some gusts which at the point was great but once cooled down the temperature quickly dropped.
Check point 5 was set up with fresh coffee, biscuits, Torq gels and music. Oh yes, nothing says a checkpoint summit like blasting out the soundtrack of Guardians of the galaxy or playing Elton John at 2am in the morning. Post event this has been one of the highlights from the participants running out to music and was a huge motivation boost. For us it was a good means to dance and stay warm.
What must the runners be thinking. Exhausted, hungry, sick, wait is that three grown men dancing on a rock up there?
From arrival on the summit to 3am in the morning we had a gentle stream of runners and by this point we could all put our heads down to get a few hours shut eye before sunrise and head back down to Pen-y-Pass for the next 24 hours on Snowdon.
You’ll be glad to hear we didn't take the previous afternoons route down. The morning view had clagged over and continued to roll in so we needed a safer route down. Instead across to Ysgolion Duon and Creigiau Malwood to slide down to the Mountain Rescue hut. Here, Neil picked us up and to the Pen-y-Pass YHA for refresh and showers.
If you're not thinking already, you had 35kg going up to Carnedd Llywelyn won't you need more for Snowdon summit, if you’re up there for longer? Correct we would need more kit but with a cafe on top we could fill up water without the need to carry it up ourselves. We had pre-planned this because the climb up Snowdon on the Pyg track would be slow, stop-start crawl.
The one mountain to avoid in good weather… Snowdon!
As we approached the summit we quickly saw how busy it was, the usual queue to get a selfie on the summit. (Should be named Selfiedon). We had to drop down the opposite side where I knew it would be quieter, the top of Watkin path. Here there was a grass verge for us to pitch up and make home for the next 24 hours. It's hard to think from this side we saw perhaps only 30 people whereas the opposite side easily 500 plus likely more. This still wasn't the busiest I'd seen Snowdon before but close . We arrived at the car park for 8am and it was full but who could blame people, bright, warm and beautiful weather.
That afternoon we thought was going to be a relaxed one waiting for the runners to come through but at the top of the Watkin path we spotted a couple struggling. Someone was having a panic attack and shock was setting in so we quickly rushes over for first response.
We sat the lady inside the tent to calm down and get some respite from the wind. She was in floods of tears and really struggling to string a sentence together through the shock. As I talked to her and reassured her of her abilities and confidence she perked up and I offered to take the couple up to the summit and start the easiest route off, being the Llanberis pass. What seemed like nothing to us is a real challenge to others to overcome a fear of heights. As they begin the walk back down the pass we spotted MR winching someone up from the Pyg track.
This set my patient back off and we took a breather to collect ourselves, at this point she told me why she had a fear of heights. It's a tragic story and not one for me to share but it involved a death. She wiped away her tears and with myself trying not to cry at this point from the story, we all stood up and at this point she grabbed me and hugged me, saying thank you for all your help!
Her confidence returned the couple set off down to Llanberis and I returned to Checkpoint 14. All calm returned to the camp and we began seeing the first of the runners coming through from both the 100 mile and 50 mile routes. At this point the runners still had some distance to go, for the 100 milers seeing them lunch time was 70 miles in. Our checkpoint for them later that night would be the 93 miles. Despite the distance and timings, spirits across all the runners was high and positive. Not much, even the setting in gale force winds on Snowdon summit weren't going to put a downer on the runners.
Unlike the runners we had more time to enjoy the views which were stunning but we were left shaking in our tents from the gusting winds. Out of the wind we were down to T-shirts and baking in the afternoon sun. In the wind the temperature dropped from the 17°c to a mere 5°c at best and by nightfall it got colder again.
Unlike the night before, frost wasn't settling but the winds remained till the early hours of the morning. By the tents we struggled to stand still with the wind chills. All of us were wrapped in several winter down jackets and waterproofs to reduce the wind chill. At the top of the Watkin path was a little sheltered spot, the only spot on the mountain outside of the tents that didn't have any wind chill. Here we sat down and watched as the runners came across Y Lliwedd peak and down on to the path up to us. As they met us we warned them about the wind chill as you hit the top of the path. Most of the runners didn't want anything other than simple water top up and a boost of sugar and for the 100 milers, again the spirits were high and many didn't stop and continued on. It was mere miles by this point and all down hill. That feeling knowing it was nearly over and all down hill must have been an amazing one!
As the hours went by and we took it in turns to sleep and recover from the cold, it fast approached sunrise, 4:30pm myself and Kev climbed out of the tent to take our turn covering the checkpoint. However, it wasn't going to be plain sailing.
Moments after climbing out of the tent we had a distress call. A runner had just joined us at the checkpoint when he told us about a runner in a bad way, struggling to talk, felt cold and exhausted. With the temperatures being as low as they were it was a case of act quick! Kev volunteered to run down so we packed a rucksack with a sleeping bag, food and foil blankets. Shortly after Mountain Rescue were called and on route to Y Lliwedd.
Our checkpoint was approximately 20 minutes down hill to the casualty, I got the signal Kev arrived safely, we tried our best to keep radio contact but as odd as it might sound we had next to no network/signal, it was patchy and as soon as you found a good spot you had dared move away. In the 10 years as an outdoors leader, this was my first MR call out and in all honesty I was scared. Despite all the training it's hard not to doubt yourself and think you might be doing something wrong.
For the next 15 minutes, which felt like hours I watched the sos beacon on Y Lliwedd. Waiting, waiting for the all okay.
Moments later Kev rang and asked me to call Mountain Rescue to stand down. Our runner was up and moving and feeling a lot better! The relief hearing those words could bring tears of happiness to your eyes. Kev! You are a legend.
30 minutes later Kev and the runner joined us at the checkpoint, despite the scare his faces was full of happiness and pleased to see us. He took a seat in our camp and we continued to nurse back so he could continue on with his run.
I am pleased to say he did complete the run!
This all happened before 7am. Many of you might have just been waking up, we were exhausted, broken, tired but so very happy. The afternoon before Kev bought some ale from the cafe and as a way to celebrate the teamwork, efforts from the team and runners. We cracked open a Snowdon ale for breakfast, the sun was coming up over the mountains, the wind had stopped and beer in hand, what a way to start your day!
By this point most of the runners had been through, we had the last handful of runners and our checkpoint wasn't due to close until one pm, with the sun now up and the warmth roasting us the tents and winter kit wasn't required so at this point we began to pack down the tents and kit. Now let's not forget we are one of the busiest mountains in the UK and already by this point the summit was getting busy and the queues began. Whilst it was quiet myself and Kev headed up to the summit to see the views, both of us have climbed Snowdon several times but never have we been to the summit and seen the views on a clear day and wow is it worth the slog up there! It's pretty epic and you can begin to understand why so many people queue to get that selfie.
Fast forward to lunch time we had the kit packed up and the last runners through which meant Checkpoint 14 was officially closed. Eager to get off the mountain we bagged up and began what basically was running down the Pyg track. You could see the queue building up as people beginning their ascent, what they weren’t expecting to see was front four guys kitted out, charging down the mountain side. We made it back down in under two hours and the sight of the YHA was pleasing to say the least. No more mountains first sprung to mind, next water and sugar. Dropping the packs and straight in to the cafe for a Coca Cola and water.
On our descent down we did a quick litter pick and on the way down we collected some 8 bottles and 14 banana skins.
Interesting fact that bananas take 2 years to biodegrade on Snowdon so for anyone reading, please take your skins away. 1
Now off any mountains and the car packed it was time to return back to HQ and say our final goodbyes.
We arrived shortly after 3pm and all the runners had been and gone by now, the fastest time was 31:44:28 hours on the 100 milers. That means no sleep, constantly going and not stopping, climbing some 10,000 metres and of course running 100 miles. Wow!
You won’t catch me running this, my running days are over but will certainly see me up on the mountains assisting in future years!
If you’ve got your eye on running the Ultra Trail Snowdonia, I highly recommend volunteering and doing the behind the scenes first, it’s a great insight in to the run and gives you a good taste of what you’ll endure sleep wise on the run.
It might have been hard, long and gruelling but it was an incredible weekend full of highs and laughter and I for one am looking forward to next years run already.
The biggest takeaway from the weekend and helping out was the appreciation from the runners.
”Thank you so much!”, “You guys are amazing, we couldn’t do this without you", “You must be mad to camp up here, we’re not worth it, go home!”. Despite the challenge the runners were facing the smiles and comments from them all is highly rewarding and I couldn’t have asked for a better, well organised event as this. Thank you for having me and I look forward to next year.
Check out Kev’s highlights from the weekend or read the race directors review
94 floors (287m)
5.30 hrs sleep
215 floors (655m)
2.16 hrs sleep
295 floors (900m)
3.37 hrs sleep
70 floors (213m)
13 hrs sleep
Total over the weekend:
85,391 steps / 674 floors (2055m) / 41.51 miles / 10 hours sleep before home ( 5.45 hrs sleep over the working period)
Transparency Notice: I am a Snugpak and Vanguard Photo UK brand ambassador and Kase Filters UK Champion. Some of my photos within the blog contain product placement and will be used for marketing purposes by the brands stated in this notice. I have not been paid or affiliated with Ultra Trail Snowdonia/Apex running or associated sponsors of UTS, this blog is my own view and thoughts from the weekend.