Welsh Three Peaks Challenge, 17th June 2023
Rhian Whiting has been a trustee of CRW since January 2019. She completed the Kilimanjaro trek in June 2022 and has completed other shorter treks in support of the charity. Rhian is a childcare solicitor at Robertsons Legal Limited, who have nominated Cancer Research Wales as their charity of the year for 2023.
A civilized start with registration at 9.30am at the Village Hotel. Fuelled by croissant and coffee, I was ready to go. Goody bags were distributed by Nic and the team – I had been extoling the virtue of the buff to my team from work, so felt vindicated when I discovered my CRW buff amongst the protein snacks and haribos!
The first of many team photos were taken by our wonderful photographer Paul Fear, whose dedication and support for CRW is immense. CEO Kieran was on hand to send us on our way. This was an extra special event for me because it marked the first anniversary of Kilimanjaro summit night which I did for CRW (and was reunited with Nat De Maid for the event) and there was a team of eleven from my workplace doing the challenge.
We were on our way, and the first fuel stop gave people the opportunity to start acquainting themselves with each other, and finding out that it really is a small world! The journey progressed and I was somewhat surprised when the coach decided to take a scenic shortcut – I was even more surprised when the coach took a wrong turning, detouring through Machynlleth - the roads were narrow and winding and there was more than one occasion when we took a collective breath in, feeling that we needed to squeeze thorough the gaps! As we approached Corris on the outskirts of Dolgellau, the heavens opened – after weeks of glorious sunshine, we now feared the weather’s turn for the worse was going to leave us all drenched before we got very far.
We arrived at our accommodation for the night – School House and Londryll – good quality bunkhouses and throwback to childhood, sleeping in bunks in dorms! We all tucked into our pizzas and had our event brief by Jake from JT Expeditions, before an early night … well, for most of us! As Wales were playing football, a number of the group headed off to the local village in search of a pub. They struck lucky and once the locals had established that they were Welsh and taking on the challenge, they even got some sponsorship!
3am alarm call and we were all raring to go, after being fuelled by breakfast of toast, porridge and bananas. At 5.15am we started our ascent of Yr Wyddfa, taking the Pyg track from Pen-y-Pass. The rain eased off and soon the waterproofs were packed away. Our group of 45 intrepid hikers were skilfully led up the mountain by the group leaders from JT Expeditions – inevitably, we separated into smaller groups, and everyone started to share their stories and reasons for participating. Conversations I had and those I overheard demonstrated the raw emotion for many, which fuelled the determination to complete the challenge. At the summit of Snowdon, one of our group, Tanya, was blown away when her boyfriend appeared in front of her and proposed – Gareth had travelled independently and ensured he started ahead of us to be at the summit. And she said YES! Congratulations both. We descended by the Llanberis path and were met at the bottom by an extension of JT Expeditions in the form of Jake’s wife and dad who provided much needed nourishment through hot drinks and homemade cake, courtesy of his mum.
Next, we headed to the foot of Cadair Idris for peak number two. There was a certain sense of anxiety but those who had climbed it before (including me) assured it was beautiful and definitely to be enjoyed. We took the Minffordd track, which is the shortest but most strenuous path, starting with steep and seemingly endless steps. It was warm with barely any breeze. It is true that Cadair is an absolute beauty, but beauty can be deceiving. She took a few casualties emotionally and physically. The common phrases used were “brutal”, “never again”, “I’m broken”.
I have to give quote of the mountain to Non, who battled physical pain to get to the top, when she said, “I’d rather give birth again than climb that again – and I had a really bad labour”! I was in the straggling group, and it took me 6.5 hours. I spent some lovely hours with my workmate Olivia, who defied the odds to make it, as well as Non, Siwan and Sharon, all of us spurred on by two of the team leaders who were fantastic. It was lovely to be met at the bottom by the unwavering support of Anji ringing the cowbell and then off to refuel. On my way down I’d been dreaming of a cold can of coke, and thought it was an apparition when Mr Thompsett’s pitstop café delivered the goods. Try saying “cold can of coke” after conquering the two highest Welsh peaks! Sadly Cadair Idris, you earned a bad reputation, but I still love you, and I’ll be back!
Once we were all safely down, it was back on the coach and on to our final destination, Pen-y-Fan. We stopped for pub grub in a box supplied by The Fountain in Builth Wells. Our first real meal of the day – apparently, we can’t survive on peanuts and Haribo alone! Collection of said food may have provided Jake and his team with their biggest challenge – apparently Builth Wells on a Saturday night is not to be reckoned with!
We arrived at Storey Arms just after midnight and started the ascent from Pont ar Daf carpark at 12.15am. It was pitch black, but thankfully the threatened thunder and lightning stayed away. Being towards the back again, I had the advantage of the glorious sight of a stream of headlights weaving their way up the mountain – I was so proud of the team as we dug deep to finish the challenge.
It was here that delirium started to set in for me – I felt that I wasn’t walking in a straight line – not to be advised because it makes the walk longer! I found myself walking alone, wondering if I could make it, when I happened upon another of the team and latched on to him – I wasn’t about to lose a companion, whether he liked it or not! I saw a few people running back down the mountain and realised that the SF Fan Dance was taking place. At a certain point, we were encouraged along by a member of military personnel who looked fearless and whom I normally wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night – but his words of encouragement and support were priceless.
I made it to the summit by 1.30am and got the obligatory trig stone picture – holding the Robertsons flag with pride. I took the descent with my companion, whose name I only learned after the event – huge thanks to Matt, whose humour and moaning about his aches and pains which sounded worse than mine, spurred me on. Also joined up with Leanne who I’d last seen properly at some point on Snowdon, and who dealt with her aversion to heights to conquer this challenge. By 3am we were all back safely, exhausted, exhilarated, enhanced by the experience.
I crawled into bed at 4.30am. Reading all the social media posts and comments on Sunday was emotional but something like this really restores faith in human nature.
Writing this with my day two aching body, I am searching for the words to sum up the experience. I think there’s only one word I can use, and credit goes to Ioan, who seemed to genuinely mean it when he used the word that only the Welsh can to describe such as experience when he said it was “LUSH”!
The challenge raised over £32,000 – of which every penny will go towards funding life-saving cancer research here in Wales.