“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
(J.R.R. Tolkien,The Lord of the Rings)
Notes On How To Tame A Dragon: 017
Who knew that having a baby would turn out to be fantastic preparation for a very long endurance event like the Dragons Back. Being reluctantly awoken for up to eight times a night to pick up and put down a screaming little prawn when you need to fit in a two hour run before the working day starts, presents a challenge of its own. By the first chirp of dawn you are sometimes sapped of all energy. Then something happens and you adjust.
I can see that it’s harder than any training you can put in over mountains and moorland. It’s why my partner Emily is my biggest inspiration. She goes to a demanding job four days a week, after a night like this and rarely complains. Useful tools for the Dragons Back!
Being a dad has also improved my negotiating skills. A challenge such as this involves bringing someone else along with you, whether you like it or not. In fact I dare not look at the credit ledger! Our nearest and dearest have to suffer the weekends away on recces, and ‘another’ box of shoes arriving, which have to be hidden quickly out of sight. Kit, kit and more kit. For one of the cheapest sports around, there certainly seems to be a lot of it for this odyssey. These feet have already been through two pairs of shoes on successive recce weekends. Thanks to the organisers of this year’s event, we will all have trackers to follow our progress or lack of it, across the 315k, five day journey.
“No, I would not want to live in a world without dragons, as I would not want to live in a world without magic, for that is a world without mystery, and that is a world without faith.”
The Myth of the Dragon
Not unlike a dragon, the DB has acquired semi-mythical status, as the beast of all endurance events. Perhaps the biggest scale on the spine of the Dragon’s Back, is getting your head around the sheer volume of ascent and mileage each day, which means breaking each leg down and keeping your pint half full during the difficult times. As well as being prepared. For months now, those of us lucky enough to live in the UK but not unfortunately in close proximity to the Welsh mountains, have been journeying up or down the M5 corridor to knock off chunks of each leg. Our Day 1 and 2 recces have merely confirmed that the myth has some substance to it!
From foot to summit: Day1&2 recce
Arriving at Pen y Pass hostel straight off a flight from Portugal and once more up the M5, the first person I see when I enter the canteen is LS, who embraces the DB with a breezy aspect. But even she pauses for too long when I ask her how her Day 1 recce went. For them the weather was atrocious, which summoned grim images of their small group tackling Tryfan and the Glyders in full on wind and rain. Luck will play a part in the DB. A lot depends on the weather. The next day we are on to the end of Day 1 (then the beginning of Day 2) from the Pen y Pass and over Snowdon via the Pyg track, which is frozen at the summit. We are joined by a three legged dog who is collarless and is scavenging for food! The group splits here as some want to do Crib Goch but not the Moelwyns.
One hour later we watch somewhat anxiously as a rescue helicopter- evidently not on a practice run, lowers a stretcher on to the spiny arrete of Crib Goch. The ant like silhouettes queueing on the knife edge are testimony to the popularity of this ridge but we are later relieved to find it is not one of our party and someone has merely injured their foot.
We’ve all got our respective dragons to slay. MZ is doing it to raise money for a cancer charity because his wife has second stage cancer. DF recently split with his wife and doesn’t want to sit around moping. PS was eliminated on Day3 in the 2015 event after missing the cut off. He has the lame excuse of having an artificial hip! The result of a biking accident. I am raising money for MIND as I’m disgusted by the lack of compassion shown towards people with mental health issues.
DB, one of the older members of the party, has been involved in helping to transform the culture of the Welsh monolith Tata Steel. He finds that it has given him an invaluable motivational strategy to apply to employees.
I’ve been running since I was 11 years old and always felt that I could take on physical challenges alone. Occasionally headstrong and with an outsider orientation. One if the things that I’ve learnt since maturity found me by mistake, is that to be ‘successful’, you need a team. Whether it’s a coach, a supportive partner or friends who get it. This forms part of your intrinsic motivation when things get tough. I’d prefer to have learnt this lesson years ago but better late than never. At the end of a tough day, which involves descending the intriguing Watkins Path down to the end of D1 camp site at NantGwynant, I think about my conversation with DB. Were we right to split the group in to two? Would this create a division? Or was it the most pragmatic decision to make? And how do you make a democratic decision with a group of people you’ve only just met? But no one seems to bear a grudge. We’ve all got much bigger dragon’s to slay.
Day Two (our second part Day 1, first part D2 combined) involves another technical day, not much simpler than the first, 35 km from NantGwynant to Maentwrog, nestled in the vale of Ffestiniog. Scaling the ‘Matterhorn of Wales’ or Cnicht, which is said to resemble a knight’s helmet, we each pick a line to descend the scree. Then we are up and over the ugly sisters of Moelwyn Mawr and Bach, where we see MB, who has spent the day walking due to a recent calf tear.
We arrive at the Purple Grape in Maentwog where a group of blokes are serenading a man dressed in a giant latex condom. Limping to the bar in our Gore lined feet and compression socks, they look at us as though we’re a rival stag party that’s lost the groom.
After a night sleeping on a window sill because the heating is turned up full blast in the Heights Hostel, I drive from Llanberis to the beginning of Day 3 in Dollgellau. The team share breakfast at Lake Trawsffynyd café before setting off from the estuary car park at a leisurely pace up the winding road towards the hills. The clag makes it a navigational challenge for the whole day, which GD seems to love. The group have been running for almost ten hours but have still only covered ¾ of an average day on the DB.
Let the Camino Decide Man…
Because we missed the beginning of Day One, DF and I decide to do this last, beginning at the beginning in Conwy. We are feeling almost blasé as we head down to Lake Ogwen and cross the A5 which separates the Carneddau range from the Glyderaus. We start up the steps up to Tryfan and start scrambling beneath the summit wall. We had planned to jump the Adam and Eve rocks, to mark our arrival but the greasy surface puts paid to that idea. The glyders occupy a disproportionate amount of time in the clag and we find ourselves scaling some ominous pillars with precipitous drops we can’t see, as we manage to wonder off the recommended GPX line.
On route, I tell DF about the Camino Santiago, an 800km pilgrimage across Spain, which is what set me on the path to starting my own business and probably to enter the Dragons Back. He says he’s going to put it on his bucket list. Later, a gust of wind blows his buff off his head and he reads it for the first time since he was given it as a present by his wife. It is a crude map of the Camino Santiago. “Bloody hell, must be a sign” he says, “I’ve got to do it now”. Some things just come to you without you having to look. Luckily we have time on our hands and our eyes are wide open.
Final prep: OMM Light Mountain Marathon in the Brecons April 29/30 (See results) and the rest of Day 3 recce.
PS I am raising money for MIND. If you would like to sponsor me to do the Dragons Back, which starts on May 22 you can do it here https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Ceri-Rees-WildRunner Thank you in advance.