The Paddy Buckley | Running Over 47 Summits In Just 24 Hours - Outdoors Magic

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The Paddy Buckley | Running Over 47 Summits In Just 24 Hours

With its 30% drop out rate, the Paddy Buckley is arguably the toughest of all of Britain's running rounds, requiring not only fitness but a masochism that only a few hardy individuals possess...

“AAAAAAGGGAGAAHHHH!!” I collapse in an exhausted pile on the side of the 47th mountain of the day, Pen Llithrig Y Wrach – it aptly translates as ‘The Witch’s Slippery Head’. I’m clutching my twisted ankle, I can smell the sheep shit that’s dripping down my chin and I curse the documentary crew for shoving their camera into my face. I’m utterly exhausted, beyond spent, my body has long since given up and my mind, the only thing that’s been keeping me going for the past ten hours, is flickering. I’m teetering on a precipice. Contemplating failure. 

Almost 24 Hours Earlier…

It’s 11:28 am and, as usual, I’m in a mad rush to get to the start line. The Paddy Buckley is a 106km mountain challenge that traverses 47 of Eryri (Snowdonia’s) highest peaks. If all goes to plan I’ll be back in this exact spot in less than 24 hours having climbed almost the equivalent of Everest (8848m).

Huw with his support crew along with the production team that have been documenting his exploits for an S4C show.

Officially there is no time limit on this legendary running challenge but, unofficially, everyone wants to do it within 24 hours, which is easier said than done. With a completion rate of well below 30% it’s the hardest of the three British classical mountain rounds – the record is 17 hours 31 minutes. That’s 4 hours 22 minutes longer than that of its more famous Lake District cousin, The Bob Graham round. I’m well aware that I’m pushing my limits just to finish this thing, let alone to do it within 24 hours. 

So I really should be worried, but at this moment all I can think of is Vaseline. I’ve been preparing for months with no stone left unturned, or so I thought, but here I am with my support team two minutes from kick-off and I can’t find my most vital bit of kit. Four of us are rushing around the car park of the old Plas-y-Brenin centre in panic mode; packing and re-packing bags while trying to squeeze in one last banana and squeeze out one last something else. It’s a stunning location for us to be ruining the tranquility with such proficiency. Gwenllian, my blessed wife, finds a stick of lip balm and she watches on in horror as I proceed to grease my engine – just in the nick of time.

Photo: SportPicturesCymru

I get to the start-line with just 30 seconds to spare. Sian, map in hand, leading the nav,, Elliw the entertainment and John groaning under the strain of the walkie talkies, batteries and other support kit, looking like a gap year student on-route to discover himself in Southeast Asia. I hug Gwenllian and try to thank her for the work she’s put in to get me this far. I fall short as I knew I would, she’s been heroic, but I don’t have time to dwell on my inadequate words, as we’re off.

Through The Mighty Moelwynion

As I clatter over the wooden bridge on the shores of Llynnau Mymbyr, I’m surprised to feel relief; no more planning, no more worrying and no more talking. It’s now pretty simple: run, eat, enjoy. With every step up the slopes of Moel Siabod (872m) a weight that’s been sitting on my shoulders for weeks gradually lifts. I hit the summit with a broad smile which stays with me for 12 hours. 

Related: Best Walks in Snowdonia

The Paddy Buckley route is split into five 4-6 hour sections, you can start wherever you want and go in either a clockwise or an anti-clockwise direction. I’m heading in a clockwise loop from Capel Curig in an attempt to get the nastiest running out of the way in daylight. I set out on a 22 hour 30 minute schedule to give myself some contingency time.

Many of the mountains on our route are well off the tourist track and so we forge our own path. Often through bogs and constantly battling tussocks of heather and hidden rocks. On the grassy undulating expanse that lies beyond Siabod, Sian, one of my pace setters, seems to have a sixth sense for good lines and we all catch on pretty quick and get in line. We cross Bwlch Y Rhosydd above Cwmorthin and head into the Moelwynion range with a 30 min lead on my schedule. 

These are some of the most spectacular mountains in Wales. Although it’s boggy underfoot, we’ve got a nice weather window; It’s blustery, cool and dry. It’s life affirming to be on a mountain in such weather. Rolling banks of clouds tumble in from the west, throwing vibrant colours and deep depressions of shadow across the faces of the mountains that surround us. Blasts of bright sunshine flow over the slate strewn slopes. It almost looks like the mountains are moving. Always in the corner of my eye – I turn in a flurry and when I look, nothing. It’s like they are playing tricks – a monumental game of musical chairs played to the sound of the wind howling through the old quarries. I’m less than half way through and I’m already hallucinating!

Related: Walking the Snowdonia Slate Trail

The old miner’s path above Llyn Stwlan is truly spectacular. It’s hewn into the side of the mountain above the lake and traverses the steep slope past abandoned mine entrances and over small waterfalls. I feel the history under every footstep, around every bend or rise in the path, there are ruins of long-abandoned mining structures, the slate gradually being claimed back by the mountains.

It’s a rare mountain day and an absolute pleasure to be out running in good company. I’m sitting on a 30 min lead on my schedule as I finish the first leg. On the second leg I’m spurred on by Dougs, one of my new support possy, as he threatens me with a banana; I won’t go into detail here, other than to say it seems to work! My lead extends. I see the sun setting over Crib Nantlle as the mist swirls around the broken rock of Mynydd Drws-y-Coed (695m). 

The Clock Takes The Lead

I head up the boggy backside of Snowdon (1085m) in the dark to begin the third leg with fresh support and clean socks. My freshly talcum-powdered undercrackers add to the descending clag with a ploom trailing behind me in the torchlight. Those first 12 hours pass in the blink of an eye but always in the back of my mind is that weather forecast. The tail end of some nasty tropical storm is on its way and I’m waiting with baited breath as I trudge through the darkness. Like a blindfolded man in a fist-fight, I know the punch is coming but I’ve no idea when.  

The punch lands at around 2am, just as we head up through the slate quarry from Llanberis to start the fourth leg. I’ve just hugged my parents goodbye at the support point and as I look up at the dark foreboding silhouette of the quarry looming ahead of me it feels like something from Lord Of The Rings, with me the hairy little Hobbit heading up into Mordor.

I stumble through the dark as the clag, wind and rain close in. I slowly begin to switch off, and slip into an indifferent trudge. The Glyderau are a nightmare. Slippery rocks, numb feet and exhaustion are a bad combo in anyone’s book. Chuck in nappy rash and the fully blown gale raging around our ears and the recipe is complete. 40-60mph winds gusting with hail and about 15m visibility.

We lose a support runner in the mayhem on Glyder Fach (994m). I’m dragged out of my sleepy trance/stuppor and I land with an almighty thud as I’m hurled head first into one of the worst storms I’ve ever been stupid enough to be out in. I start charging round the summit looking for Kate, I scream at the top of my voice and barely hear myself through the roar of the wind in my ears. Eventually we find Kate where we left her (exactly where she should have been all along!) and head down to Bwlch Tryfan.  

I switch on for the first time in hours and I remember why we’re here: “How much ahead are we now?” I ask. “15 min behind,” comes the answer. 

Bugger. Over the course of three mountains I’ve gone from 30min ahead to being 15min behind. If I keep going at this rate, I’m going to miss the 24 hour deadline. It’s as if a firework goes off inside me. Until now I’ve been holding back, just in case. Well this is that just-in-case moment. If I’m going to finish this I can’t afford to hold anything back. 

I strike the summit stone on Tryfan (917m) in what almost feels like a punch, and it does me good. It feels like confirmation that I’m giving it all, I’m in a fight with a bloody mountain! Good job I’ve got small-man-syndrome. I then let loose on the descent. I’m angry with the storm, the mountains and my nipple chafe; more than anything I’m angry with myself for switching off and letting the time slip. The conditions are treacherous and my decent becomes reckless. I slip twice ripping a pair of gloves that I’d borrowed to shreds (Sorry Lowri!). On the plus side I take away an important lesson here: rolling down is pretty quick, I make it down in 24 minutes and drop all but one of my support runners and barrel into the last support point in an incoherent bloody mess.

So Close Yet So Far…

I change my clothes, top up the talc and head off without my poles as I realise they’re with my support that I left on the way down Tryfan. Just as I’m heading off Sam, one of my support runners who’s come all the way up from London to help out, sprints in to hand over my poles. These would prove invaluable with what was to come.

After the third fall I’m left in a bad way. I’ve twisted my ankle

The rain and wind is intensifying and there’s floodwater over the road as I cross the tarmac to start the next climb. Pen Yr Ole Wen is the hardest climb of the entire round. It’s a slab of a mountain that rises straight up to 978m from the Ogwen valley floor and the fastest line does not pull any punches – it nails it right up the face. The gullies have some sort of grade or other but as Im not a climber I’ll just say they’re pretty steep. I charge up, not batting an eyelid in my current state of mind. I’m too busy emptying the tank to give a damn. My heart rate hits 189bpm by the summit and I ignore the little voice of reason in my head telling me that this might be too much of a push 21 hours in. But I don’t care, I’m almost back on schedule. I get my head down and continue the charge across the last leg, the Carneddau.  

These are the most exposed mountains in Wales, almost as high as Snowdon and formed into flat-topped domes that accelerate the wind speed. They are the last place you want to be chasing a schedule in 60mph winds and horizontal hail. 

It’s tough going but the frantic energy created by the fear of falling behind the schedule keeps me going and I hit the last summit at 9:53am. Chris, who has been leading the nav on this leg, is heroic. I make a promise to myself to tell him so when I’ve got breath enough to speak. 

The energy starts to disappear as we start the last decent, but the fear has been replaced by relief. I’ve done it, I think to myself. What a dangerous thought when you’re not quite there yet.

On the flat, grassy run in to the finish I fall three times and as usual there’s a cameraman right in front of me to capture it all in HD. With the end in sight, my mind switches off and the complacency creeps in. 

After the third fall I’m left in a bad way. I’ve twisted my ankle – an old rugby injury that always rears its head at the worst time. For a second, I despair. My ankle feels numb. I’ve often wondered what would go through my mind at a moment like this. These are the hard questions that I seek out in challenges like this. Staring failure in the face, would I carry on? What would it feel like? Here I am starting down the barrel locked and loaded with an answer that I don’t think I want. I’ve been out running for almost 24 hours, half of it through the tail end of a hurricane. I’ve climbed the equivalent of Everest in a single sitting and run over 100km. I’ve been preparing for months. Everyone around me has been sacrificing their time and effort for this and here I am failing miserably. I have 3km to go and my ankle’s gone…

The Last Leg

It’s the thought of those people around me that have sacrificed so much that gets me up. A few tentative steps and it seems runnable. So I stumble on.

As I clatter over that same wooden bridge that I seem to have left a lifetime ago a mad smile erupts on my face. I’m suddenly glad of the torrential rain as it covers my tears. I hug Gwenllian with everything I’ve got left and begin to lift her into the air and almost collapse as my ankle gives way. As usual, it’s the other way around, she’s the one lifting me up.

I finish at 10:35am. 23 hours and 5 minutes after I started. The end of an incredible adventure over the most beautiful mountains in the world. I’m left with not only an overwhelming sense of respect for this place I grew up in and the people who helped get me through but also a crippling mountain debt that I’m going to be gladly paying off for most of my life.

The video showing the full attempt is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer here

Diolch o galon i bawb nath neud hyn yn bosib / Thank you everyone who payed a part: Gwenllian, Huw Vanlife, Gethx2, Mari, Llion, Dygs, Sian, John Mynydd, Elliw, Dylan, Gonks, Owen-Sgidia-Swanci, Iwan, Gwydion, Lowri, John Coleg, Sam Ultra-X, Donnie, Kate, Chris, Mam, Dad, Owain a Cimwch, Emlyn, Karl Whitey, Dyl-pelican a Dyl Bymiobyses. If you ever need a mountain minion, I’m your man!

Images: SportPicturesCymru
Footage: Cwmni Da


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