Welsh two peak challenge

By Kenny Stocker>

K: The idea was really simple; climb two of the mountains that featured prominently in my childhood by bike and in the space of a weekend.

C: Indeed it did sound like a great idea, to be honest I thought it sounded too easy. Two days to bike what I thought would be about 60 or 70 miles, I mean come on, what are we doing? Surely that’s a single push, even if it’s like 20 hours, it’s all about the endurance and pushing yourself.

K: Chunk knew those two mountains were Snowdon and Cadair Idris but had no idea how far apart they were. In those childhood days we would vacation at one or the other, but rarely both together. The world was bigger in those days.

C: Well, as the weekend got ever nearer so the doubts began to creep in. Kenny had done a similar route, but walked the peaks and cycled/caught the bus between and looked at me strangely, or was that dismissively, whenever I suggested the single push.

K: I was happy enough with my previous attempt despite the jibes, but I had the feeling that it could be done in a better style. Snowdon is the tallest mountain in Wales and Cadair Idris whilst falling short of the magic 3000ft (no doubt a relief to many Welsh 3000ers challengers) has a form and stature that would make you believe it is much much grander. By making a weekend of it, throwing in a bivvy and an off-road route we could show them a little respect.

C: Right, perhaps just test the water this time, I could always go back and do it again. So I began to come around to the idea that perhaps we should do the two days, I had not really biked for more than 2 hours, in fact I’d hardly done any exercise really since…. errr well never.

K: A couple of weeks preparation and leaving early from work would have made a great deal of sense. Instead we had organised a yard sale to finish late Friday evening. By 7pm we were finished and we could start preparing our kit.

C: Yeah, the weekend got off to a slow start on Friday evening, preparation is key. At 7 pm I decided to fit my new hollow tech bb and cranks. Now I should really have known better, having very limited knowledge of bike maintenance. With assistance it got sorted though, only to have to sort out my rack and carrying system. Well let’s just put it this way, the trip started from pretty much scratch that evening. I say again, preparation is key…

K: Yeah.

C: Thanks to Nick’s help i got a rather nifty system sorted. We chopped the straps off an old Gourdon 20 and it just happened that the back pouch slid perfectly over the rear rack providing a pretty stable, waterproof bag for all my sleeping kit. So it was that we finally set off at 9 pm via the supermarket to get the weekend supplies. Yeah we needed some calorie packed goodness. We walked out the shop with yogurt, instant noodles, 2 malt loaves, some oaty bars, pies (for the car journey down of course), a bag of peanuts and a bag of Haribos. Who needs energy bars and gels anyway?

K: To be honest I was never bothered about preparing the kit. The more we had the more we would have to carry. The important thing was that at 10pm, as we finally left Ilkeston, there were 2 bikes in the back of the car.

C: We arrived at the bottom of Pen y Pass just shy of 1 am, a little later than we would have liked. We were due to get up at 4.30 to get into Llanberis and head out on an early start up Snowdon to miss the voluntary ban. Surprisingly I seemed to get a great sleep and 3 hrs sleep didn’t seem so bad. After we found somewhere to park, had breakfast and loaded the bikes we finally got going about 5.45. So the adventure began.

K: That ban meant that we had to be off the hill by 10 am, cappuccino o’clock. A short ride through the village led us to the first climb, it was to be the first of many long pushes.

Hike-a-biking in Snowdonia

C: The hill came into view and we put the power down.. oof it was pretty stiff for such an early start, turned the bend and it continued…off the bikes and a little push. Perhaps singlespeed was not such a good idea after all. And that summed up the ascent of Snowdon pretty well.

K: The mountain trembled under the power of the Chunk and once on the bridleway we were able to ride. I mean we were proper mountain biking up Mnt Snowdon… and then we were proper pushing. We had ridden a depressingly short distance. The panniers were fairly light, but Confucius says that no bike is as light as an unladen bike.

C: A good number of years had passed since the last time I had walked up this route and it was rockier then I had remembered it… and most pertinantly we had 2:1 gearing. I had read that given a bit of effort the path can be ridden. Heck maybe with a geared bike and a whole lot of juice we did not have, we were pushing and we would have to get used to it or get out.

K: The pushing was going well, it wasn’t something we has specifically trained for… but the Chunk hadn’t actually trained for anything. After more pushing my brain finally figured that we were serious and we weren’t going to be heading back to Llanberis for a brew. In an act of self preservation it suggested transferring weight from my bike into my rucksack. It was right, boy was I glad to have that dead weight back on board. Giving it everything we had we soon crossed under the Snowdon Mountain Railway and started to attack the steep loose track below Garnedd Ugain. It was the most tiring section of the climb and we tried several methods of lugging the bikes. We were greeted at the junction with the Pig Track by another early party who seemed surprised to see a couple of recreational cyclists out on the mountain. Crucially for our credibility we were already back on the pedals at this point.

Mountain bikers at the summit of Snowdon

C: The summit cairn was reached precisely 2 hrs after abandoning the car, quicker than we had expected but we still had a long day ahead of us. Celebrating our success with a photo, a swig of water and some chocolate raison peanuts we span our bikes around and rolled down to the start of the Snowdon Ranger path. It was a pleasure to have gravity back on our side, we were riding down a mountain, fully self sufficient with food and bivvy gear, a full day of mountain riding ahead of us and another after that… finally this WAS mountain biking.

The descent was a hoot, our pannier bags bounced around but remained attached to the bikes. Despite some technical sections the rigid forks didn’t cause too much concern, and as the track eased lower down becoming more flowing through the switch backs above Lynn Cwellyn it was a true delight to be on the mountain. A short stop to refuel, redistribute weight back onto the bike and crank up the seat post ready for the road, the road which we would try to avoid as much as possible but we knew some long stretches on route to Cadair Idris were inevitable.

Bikepackers descend Snowdon on fully rigid mountain bikes

K: The excitement of the descent hadn’t been lost as we whipped passed Stevie Haston and Eric Jones limbering up for their morning jog up the Rhyd Dhu. We dove into Beddgelert Forest at the earliest opportunity and started ripping it up, for a good 10 minutes, before… we were lost. It is amazing how a straight line on a map can get so complicated when surrounded by trees. Unsure of where we were and with still a long day ahead of us we made the earliest possible exit through the campsite just shy of Beddgelert.

The next section had no logical offroad option so we agreed upon the road through Nantmor and the steep climb up to Rhyd. The twinge in my left knee was starting to make itself known. I kept it to myself and shifted some weight to the right leg. Descending to the pub at Tan-y-Bwlch was fast and we took five to analyse the next stage and take on more body fuel.

C: With several options available to us we decided to follow route 82 of the Sastrans cycle network, a national network which I had stumbled across the day we left Ilkeston. We would stick to this network for the majority of the distance, which was not too bad as it tends to avoid busy roads and link up sections of byways, bridleways and traffic free routes.

K: I knew the climb up to the Trawsfynydd reservoir was going to be a drag, and I was worried about my knee being able to go the distance. And so we rode what we could and we pushed what we couldn’t. The important thing is that we were making steady progress towards our second objective, Cadair Idris.

C: The route veered through Maentwrog before turning off to Gellilydan. A roads turned to B roads which turned to C roads which turned to bridleways. It was at this point that I finally decided to investigate what was making the clanking sound that had been buggin me for the past couple of hours. Turns out I had lost one chain-ring bolt and about to lose the other three. Although no bike mechanic I was able to retighten those remaining and we were able to continue. We popped out at the decommissioned Trawsfynydd power station, relief that the hard climbing was behind us, and I was right apart from the one out of Dolgellau but more of that later.

K: Following the lake shore we rode into Trawsfynydd village. It was quiet as the Chunk shuffled around inside his bag for some golden nuggets. The grocery store was open so we grabbed a couple of cans to wash down our foccacia. The idea was to be pretty self sufficient for the entire trip, but a cheeky cola and a cup of coffee later at Coed y Brenin didn’t seem to be bending the rule book too much.

C: Lunch gave us a good moral boost and we set off again following route 82 crossing the A470. Even though we were still climbing it felt good to be avoiding the main road which Ken had ridden before. Ken swore it was straight for like 10,000km and I was not keen to experience that on a singlespeed mountain bike.

K: Reaching Coed y Brenin forest we could finally look forward to a long stretch of downhill. The anticipation was high, birds fell silent and bears ran into the forest. forest track curved right to left around and zig zaged down past Go Ape and the Coed y Brenin MTB centre. Had we had better knowledge of the trails we could have squeezed in some more technical terrain, however we settled for a quick coffee before setting off again along the river bank into Dolgellau.

Cricket match

C: There were two roads out of the back of the village. One was short and very steep. The other was longer and therefore had to be less steep and with my right knee pretty much in the same state as Ken’s left, we elected to take the one with less black arrows. Even fully fit I don’t think we would have had the stamina to ride its full length. There is no doubt that after our speedy ascent of Snowdon we were now moving slowly.

K: The top of the hill was reached without hailing down a cab or thumbing a lift. The force was still burning strongly, just as well as it began to rain shortly after… one of those mountain storms that just appears from nowhere. We sheltered under some trees, we ate some cereal bars, it would pass. It didn’t. From here we could see the A487 and we didn’t like the look of it. It was busy, it was windy and it was raining. After waiting for 20 minutes it was evident that the squall was here to stay, so we ploughed on.

The descent to Tal-y-llyn lake was not at all pleasant. Its saving grace was that it was all over relatively quickly. With a death grip on our handle bars, clenched teeth and a steely grimace we just got our heads down. Thankfully the road works at the top of the hill at least gave us some respite from the traffic.

The force was beginning to be extinguished.

C: Upon reaching the lake the next section felt longer than we had expected, but I imagine it was only because by now we were cold, tired and riding into a wall of water. We sheltered for 10 minutes under the eves of a house in Abergynolwyn directly opposite a pub. It looked warm, cosy and inviting inside. The smell of good, tasty, wholesome food drifted past our nostrils. We finished the last of the Haribos and got moving again. It was 6pm and getting to the start of the Cadair bridleway to find a suitable bivvy spot was a priority.

By the time we had joined the bridalway the rain and wind had started to ease. That was good fortune indeed because the idea of cooking in the rain and crawling wet into a bivvy was not appealing. The evening meal consisted of 3 packets of noodles and a couple of sachets of Ainsley’s spicy cous cous followed by Soreens Malt Loaf for desert. We didn’t spend the rest of the evening playing cards or talking politics.

Bikepackers make improvised tarp and bivvy under Cadair Idris

K: We slept right through until 4.30. I could have stayed there for some time, my Numo was comfy, my knee was throbbing but I was warm. The Chunk re-ignited the flame moving first. Maybe it was because he had convinced himself slugs had invaded his bivvy bag, it didn’t matter we were back in action.

We pulled out our damp riding gear. The Chunk got it straight on, didn’t even flinch. I would have happily ridden in my PJs rather than slip into wet pants at 5 in the morning. By 5.30 we were back on the trail, travelling light and moving less slow after stashing our bivvy gear and food in a bush. Admittedly the bridleway was more rideable than the Snowdon path but our knees were using even the slightest excuse to protest. We still had to get back to Llanberis, but there was no doubt, we were going to the top.

Mountain biker carrying bike up the Cadair Idris bridleway

C: We should have climbed Cadair Idris faster than Snowdon but it wasn’t to be. The ride had taken its toll and we were moving slowly to conserve what little movement we had left. Both our knees were hurting from the off and cranking that 2:1 wasn’t making life any easier. We persevered, neither of us wanting to bail out. We reached the summit 2 hrs 15 minutes after setting out. It was clearer than it had been on Snowdon but most of the mountains in the Snowdonia National Park still had their tops masked in clouds. We had even lugged our bikes up the steep top section, something we slightly regretted when we had to carry them back down. The pain however was short lived and we were soon riding the loose screes back towards our bivvy site

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