Now a few if you may know my feelings about cycling. Cyclists are cheats, bikes are cheat machines, some of them poo in their lycra, horse attacking half wits etc. but that didn’t stop me from from biting Jim’s arm off when he asked if I wanted to come to Snowdonia to recce one of the new Rat Race Projects - ‘Subterranean Snowdon’.
I’ve done Snowdon a few times - Snowdon trail Marathon, Snowdon Ultra etc, but this promised to be more than trotting up a mountain and stumbling down again.
Sometimes it pays to be short….
The premise is that you start of half a mile underground in the old mines at Llanberis. You make your way up to the surface and jump on a mountain bike (gross) for 15 miles to the foot of Snowdon then run up the Watkin Path- possibly the most technically difficult way up - its’ got ridges and drops and all sorts. You know how I like a ridge right? (Spoiler - I don’t). Once you get to the top you run down the other side and then abseil down 3-5 waterfalls to the bottom. Sounds fun right? Looks good on paper right? Reality is it’s the most exhilarating, exciting and terrifying fun you can have in 12 hours.
We stayed the night in a little hostel in Llanberis and after a big old breakfast and briefing myself, Ross (our safety guide ninja) Jim, Darren and Handsome Pete made our way towards that start of the event - the slate mines at Parc Padarn. It was a little overcast and chilly but nothing to get upset about. Yet.
Yeah, that’s a train…..
We’re put in a tiny train that looks like a well dodgy, yellow vertical version of the DLR, and clank our way down the mine shaft. A little bell goes and the doors open - we are now half a mile underground in a warren of still functional mines. It’s pretty dark in mines isn’t it? That’s why I was wearing a stupid at with a light. Our guides were great and led us through the little passages (poor Handsome Pete bashing his head every 3 seconds, Jim and I not having that problem at all) until we reach a pretty steep rail track that obviously hasn’t been used for some time. We have to climb up it, towards the light - a climb that starts off ok but ends as more of a scramble. I’m not really that claustrophobic but this gets your heart rate and anxiety going for sure. Once at the top, it’s straight onto our bikes which have been waiting for us at the top of the mine. This is where it starts to get funny.
Follow the light, kids.
This is the hole we popped out of……
I haven’t been on a bike for ages (boris bikes drunk don’t count) and I am so glad we had Helen - our lovely mountain bike guide - to help. I basically had to learn how to ride one again - and it is NOT the same as running. Whereas Darren looked like he was about to win the Tour de France, I came across more Pee Wee Herman.
Thrilled. I was thrilled.
But that’s ok. I didn’t fall of. And Helen was brilliant. She was really encouraging and gave me some amazing tips - and didn’t laugh at me once for being shit. Well maybe once but that was because I was being shit. If the idea of riding a bike puts you off doing this - don’t let it. There loads of support and (don’t tell anyone) I actually had a really good time!
Standard Pete Rees crouch.
The first part of the ride is roads - downhill and fast and really good fun. The uphills were a struggle for me - running and cycling are very different AND I am bad at maths AND I’m not really very ambidextrous which made changing gear just LOL-worthy. Darren was flying up the hills, Jim was flying up them, I was getting off and walking a bit and flying DOWN them. Handsome Pete was hanging out the back of a van filming us. Standard. Then it started raining. (It now won’t stop raining until the second we finish the trip).
After all the fun of the roads and the beautiful farm tracks comes the really hard bit - mountain biking down very steep, very wet technical terrain. It would be hard enough to run down with trail shoes and not slip, let alone ride a bike down. I looked at the trail with slight horror wondering how I was every going to be able to do it, but once again Helen gave me a masterclass about putting my seat down, balancing and standing up - and down I bounced actually LOVING it and not falling off. Darren on the other hand had bought his MAMIL bike and DID fall off. Lessons learnt? You need a mountain nike for this or else you’re going to be carrying it on your shoulder.
Over to Darren on that……
Jim and Darren survey the “track”
At this point we had been on the bikes for about 3 hours and the rain had really set in - we were all pretty much soaked. The beauty of Snowdonia make up for it though and although wet, by the end of the second leg we were all feeling awesome.
Serious briefing time at the start of the Watkin Path….
Quick stop at the trucks to get a change of gear, and we were off up Snowdon along The Watkin Path. This is one of the most beautiful routes up with waterfalls and woods and a gradual incline before you start to get to the big boy section. It was still drizzling but as we ascended it got worse and worse. It’s about 6km to the summit, but its a lung buster with some decent scramble sections and some terrifying ridges to deal with. It got to the point where it was so foggy and rainy I couldn’t see Handsome Pete or the Guide who were no more than a meter in from or behind me.
Love a water feature….
Visibility getting worse
OK, where is everyone?
The good thing about this for me was I couldn’t see the drops on either side of the ridges. Anyone that read my UTA blog knows that I have a really bad fear of ridges with drops on either side. The best thing is if all I can see is cloud or fog - and that’s how it was here. Gutted there were no views, massively relieved there were no views. It was REALLY fucking windy though.
Lovely ridge. Thank God I can’t see it properly.
We were all soaked and freezing and even getting changed at the Summit in the lean to of the NOT OPEN cafe seemed like false economy - the rain was NOT giving up but I was freezing so wicked on a couple more layers and put my sodden jacket back on.
Up we go - there were sheep up here - how the fuck did they get up there?
Lovely view from the top…..
And down again…..
We started the trot down the Pyg Pass - again it was GREAT that is was so foggy and I managed the trot down pretty easily with no view. As we descended the fog lifted, but the rain and wind remained. We kept moving, because whenever we stopped we got cold. It was technical trail and bogs, technical trail and bogs, all the way up and down until we finally got got to Cwm Dyli Waterfall. It was huge and so noisy you couldn’t hear yourself think. It was awesome.
This is FOR real people. First waterfall drop.
We were in a cloud at the top of the falls, and we were totally soaked and it was windy. We were all starting to get cold so did our best to keep moving while Ross and the Rat Race squad got our abseil kit ready. It was at this stage that it dawned on Handsome Pete that he might have to abseil. I had not been thinking about this part, because I needed to get over bike fear before anything else. But now, looking at the ledge we had to throw ourselves off backwards, the slippery ledge that had tonnes of water gushing over it, it became a little bit real.
No audio apart from waterfalls - but this is where I explain to Pete there are 5, FIVE abseils. You can add your own subtitles for LOLs.
Handsome Pete was having none of it and decided to him from up the top - filming was being made very difficult by the rain and the fact we didn’t really have a waterproof casing for the camera. Quite how my phone survived this ordeal even in my bag, is beyond me, but the only shots I have of the waterfall abseils are shots from a previous recce - but you get the idea!
Fun vs Not fun. You decide!
We managed 3 abseils. I HAVE done this before (in Thailand where it’s dry) and I know where I should be putting my feet etc but it’s a different kettle of fish when you have tonnes of water gushing over you, and the rock you’re going down is VERY slippery and VERY smooth. It’s a case of not freaking out, really. The minute you realise you have started to freak out, you start to freak out more then it’s game over.
I got to the bottom of the first drop and fell in the plunge pool like the lady I am, then got roped up for the second one. This one was huge - there’s a picture of it above. I was literally being waterboarded by nature. You can get the idea of the power of the water in this video taken the week before on the same waterfall.
There came a point towards the end where I totally lost my footing and swung straight into the rock and under the falls. It was actually quite glorious but fucking painful. I just kept swinging in and out like a pendulum, occasionally bashing against the rock, until Stuart - one of the badass RR experts - managed to pull me out by my harness. Embarrassing but hilarious. My bruises are amazing.
The third one was smaller and much more manageable and their was the option of doing 2 more, but it was late and we were all freezing and starving so we called it a day. In better weather it would have been amazing and I would have kept going all day - as it was I was very wet and cold and I knew it was stupid to carry on for no reason.
End of the day, the whole squad got together for a curry before an amazing nights sleep. Love the Test Pilot Squad!
So is this something I would do again? 100% yes. It’s a brilliant challenge for anyone who’s relatively fit (enough to run a 10k I reckon) and the support is amazing. I knew I could do all the things I did, I just didn’t know how much I would enjoy it. It’s hard - don’t get me wrong - it’s a really long day and you are on the go the whole time but it’s also fun and beautiful and exhilarating and it teaches you stuff about your organisational skills and brainhole. Top tip for anyone thinking about this? Take a spare waterproof if it’s raining and don’t scrimp on waterproof trousers - lifesavers.
Next up? It’s Man Vs Coast with the Rat Race crew and a little recce on a sandbank that’s been put off and put off and put off. Fingers crossed for this time!