Friday, 23 July 2010

The Welsh 3000s Part Five

As you may know by now, we completed this tough challenge in 19 hours, 55 minutes.

Good job my kit was up to it!

It was great to be part of a good team and we were reliant on excellent support.

Time for a bit of vulnerability from me. The truth is that things have been tough over the last few weeks because we lost a pregnancy. It has been a very dark time for Esther and I. I may well blog more about it in the future but we are just concentrating on getting through it for now.

I had been training since January 1st for this challenge. I had been training hard, doing a 9.5 mile circuit in South Shropshire fairly often. Five a side football on Mondays, circuit training on Tuesdays or Thursdays or both, then off to the hills at the weekend. When time allowed we had a couple of trips to Snowdonia just to acclimatise.

I was also supposed to do the “Three Peak” challenge, the highest peaks in Wales, England and Scotland in 24 hours. That was 3 weeks before the Bread challenge and would give me a good indicator as to how I was doing.

That was the day we had to go to hospital to undergo “medical management” to help sort out the failed pregnancy. It was a grim day. There is nothing that prepares you for that. You want it to be “over” in one sense and yet you never want it to end. You want another scan, the one that says all the others were a mistake and a little heart is beating.

So I had issues in my head. The opportunity to do a big challenge I had been training for six months to do had been taken away by the worst possible reason. It was dire. Of course the mountains did not matter compared to our family, but it all mushed up inside my head.

Fast forward 3 weeks and the Bread challenge is upon me, I have unfinished business. Unfinished business with my own heart. Unfinished business with the mountains. And if I am honest unfinished business with God.

An email came around the week before from Neal saying “It is a good idea to name each peak after a friend or loved one to help count them down and add significance”. Great idea!

I named one peak.

Number 15. Foel Fras.


Our epic adventure started at 3.15am with the alarm clock, and by 3.55am we were walking in horrendous weather up Crib Goch, an exposed ridge on the ascent of Snowdon which was the first peak of the challenge. The weather was simply horrendous. The peaks slowly started to tick by. In the rain and the mist and the friendship and the teamwork I could only really think of baby. The hours went by, peak 7, peak 8, getting ever closer.

So it was that sometime in the evening in the mist of the Carneddau range a tired and wet Dave approached the summit of Foel Fras, the fifteenth peak with my jubilant team. We were all delighted. High fives and photos finished, a moment of silence. We had done it.

I held the summit cairn in both hands, the wet rock gleaming in the light of my head torch. This was the moment.

“Lord, I give my baby to you. I release them into your care. I want to say that I love you. I will follow you. And I ask you to help me to continue to live for you”

I did not get closure.

I did not want closure.

I got peace.

Closure is an end. Closure is a door slammed shut. Closure is the finish of a journey. I did not want that.

This is the start of our journey, not the end. I have started my journey of fatherhood, it is just for whatever reason I don't have the priviledge of bringing this one up.

So I didn't want closure, I wanted peace.

I wanted a peace that says yes this is wrong, yes this is not what it was meant to be, yes this hurts like hell and no there is not an answer, except in the loving arms of a loving God who draws all things to himself through His son Jesus.

In rain like that you do not have to hide your tears.

As we trudged on in the endless descent down to the minibus and support waiting to pick us up I knew something had changed. Something deep inside. The part of me that died when baby died. The bit of me that could not go on my great adventure because we had to go to hospital instead. The bit of me that still hopes for the future day when I can walk hand in hand with my child to the football ground is at peace.

Peace with God, and maybe even at peace with myself. He is loving. He is strong. Baby is in His care, and so are we.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Welsh 3000s Part 4

We completed this tough challenge in 19 hours, 55 minutes.

Good job my kit was up to it!

It was great to be part of a good team.

Next up in terms of important things was our "support"

Firstly: the Pen Y Pass youth hostel had been booked early so we had the best place in Snowdonia to start from, result.

Once returning from Snodown to Nant Peris we entered a hive of activity. Fresh water, a gazebo, a stove, hot drinks, sausage and bacon rolls, clothes lines for wet kit, plasters, encouragement, all there.

Off we trooped onto the Glyders and then having returned to down to Llyn Ogwen, there they were, minibus, gazebo, hot drinks, fresh water, pasta meal, goodie bags with flapjacks and fruit, bananas, another hot drink, encouragement.

Off we trudged, up the Carneddau.

Imagine my surprise, at 11.55pm that evening, to catch a glimpse of the minibus in the distance, and next to it, the gazebo, it can't be can it? A fresh mug of tea thrust into my hand, awesome!

Two first aiders went to help out one guy who had hurt himself slightly. My headtorch failed in the wet and the support team lent me one. Whatever you needed, if they could fix it they did. And they could see the weather, so they could look you in the eye and tell you that you were doing brilliantly.

All in all, I know you can do this challenge in one straight walk or with just a couple of cars at each point but I found having people around, knowing there was a plan B, and a mug of Tea, gave the whole thing a much more friendly face and meant that we felt much less isolated.

You can just take your kit and disappear off into the mist and crack on if that floats your boat, but having a skilled, available, well organised support team increases your chances to completing it vastly.

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Welsh 3000s Part 3

We completed this tough challenge in 19 hours, 55 minutes.

Good job my kit was up to it!

The next key thing for me was straightforward, teamwork.

Now being in a newfrontiers Church means I rarely have anything to do with anything that does not involve either being part of a team, or helping encourage a team, or receiving input from a team. So it did not come as too much of a shock that our overall group of 14 was split into 3 teams. To my surprise I found myself in a group that was expected to both complete the challenge and do it the fastest. In the end we did so, ahead by about an hour, but it was a surprise for me to be placed there.

I was put in a group with Cameron (bright green jacket), a local senior fire officer. In the woolly hat, Keith, a worship leader in our Church and a manager in a plastics firm. On the left Neal (Waggy), an IT consultant and in the orange on the right, our esteemed team leader Steve, local teacher and fell running champion.

The weather was grim, but you know what, it was fun. A genuinely fun 20 hours. Plenty of banter. Lots of laughter. A bit of shared lamenting at the sheer relentlessness of the rain. There was help for one another, plasters to go on feet, shared kit, borrowed tops, socks, towels, whatever you needed to get through someone had something in the bottom of a pack somewhere to help make it happen. Food shared out, "Anyone want any Jelly babies" started a scramble!

I cannot use a compass. I am ok with maps in decent visibility. There was no visibility, I needed Steve. That said on the way up Tryfan I knew exactly where the path we needed was because I had climbed it 4 weeks before so I could help lead the way.

There was a lad we met on the way up who was doing the challenge on his own. He had camped up at the top and so was 1-2 hours ahead of us starting. By about 6pm we found him in one of the summit shelters on the Carneddau. His GPS had failed and he was a bit stuck, so he had waited for one of our teams to catch him up. Room for one more in the team? You bet!

I watch stuff like "band of brothers" and wonder what it must have been like to have that level of reliance and shared intense experience with others. In doing this challenge I had just a small glimpse of what it might be like. It also reminded me of what Sid the Sloth says in Ice Age Two, "We are the weirdest herd I have ever seen". Different personalities, different skills, different levels of fitness, all bringing what they had to the table to make it happen. Steve could have done it in half the time, on his own. But he didn't, and that is why I was able to complete it too. There has to be something worth learning from that.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Welsh 3000s Part 2

Our walk on Saturday was a tough, tough challenge.

This video was taken by Stuart, a member of our team, on the Crib Goch arete on Snowdon.

So what did I learn? Well, four key things I learned, and then something more personal.


To do something like this, you really, really need the right kit. I made some good decisions in the build up which really benefited me on the day.

COAT: Rab Drillium 3 layer eVENT fabric: kept the worst of the water out and was still beading after a near 10 hours of constant rain. The wired hood is excellent for visibility and the pockets are big enough to stash stuff you need close at hand.

BOOTS: Karrimor KSBs with Vibram sole & eVENT lining. Coped with some extreme weather very well: if not waterproof, at least robust!

SOCKS: Bridgedale Endurance Trekker: fresh pair on the day. It is going to be a long slog and your feet normally give up first. Coolmax liners gave my feet that little extra comfort.

FLEECE: I don't normally wear a fleece much because I overheat easily, but there was very little danger of that at 3000 feet in winds of 40mph, so it was invaluable to have my Rab fleece. Especially by the end as darkness fell, the rain started up again and I was getting tired.

BASELAYER: Over 32 miles you are going to sweat, so a Berghaus technical baselayer was my preferred option to keep as much moisture away from me as possible.

LEGS: I need some leg protection, I need it to dry quickly, I need it to withstand rocks and mud and bumps and slips. A trusty pair of Ronhill leggings fit the bill perfectly. I also got some athletes wicking boxer shorts: a wise move when you wear them for that long!

WATERPROOF TROUSERS: If was going to rain a bit (as if!) then overtrousers help, not least to keep the wind off wet legs. I went with some North Face ones in the January sale. They survived a 20 foot slide down a grassy bank trying to get off Snowdon, and kept the wind out brilliantly.

BACKPACK: With two refuelling points with our support team I knew I could travel fairly light, hence just a 25 litre Innov8 Race Elite 25 Rucksack. A pack like that is not really designed for a battering in the rocks, but it weighed nearly 800g less than an equivalent Berghaus pack I own, and that is another 800ml of fluid to carry so given the choice I would rather have the drink!

ACCESSORIES: A few little wise decisions came good: windproof fleece gloves stood up to everything the weather threw at them, and still gripped the rocks. A waterproof fleece lined hat and a waterproof beanie gave me different options. Everything within my rucksack was kept in separate Exped bags and that was the best decision I made, as others with carrier bags etc found themselves waterlogged quickly.

NUTRITION / PREPARATION: I took at least 2.5l with me on each stage, and drunk a mixture of 500ml water and next time 500ml of Nuun electrolyte drink which puts the salts you lose sweating back in. I have never got on with "Camelbaks" because I don't know how much fluid I have left, and I lose breath when I stop to suck them. So I just used 500ml bottles of Tesco mineral water costing £1.28 for 6, which I emptied one at a time into a 500ml plastic bottle as part of a Raidlight system on my pack, so drink was always accessible. For food I took a selection of different cereal bars, some SIS energy bars, some SIS energy gels, a few jelly babies, salted nuts, plenty of "Go ahead" biscuits and bars, some of those "School bars" which are basically fruit sugar in a stick, and some Snickers. I ate something at least every hour, and drunk 500ml at least every 2 hours. I was so grateful to have such a selection because at some times I just fancied one thing, so could pick and choose.

And yet: despite all my preparations, planning, searching for bargains on the internet, trying out my pack, working out the best way to pack it, which exact items I wanted to take, it still was not "enough". By that I mean having started out at 3.55am by 5am all of us were soaked to the skin, with boots full of water. Such was the horrendous weather, driving horizontal rain, and the fact we were scrambling up and down rocks in it. And that meant having the decent kit became a much more important issue, because although my comfort was challenged, I now needed my boots to grip wet rock. I needed my socks to stop blisters while full of water. I needed my clothes to dry quickly, and not cause me discomfort by rubbing when wet.

All in all: they worked perfectly! All my stuff took a hiding and 19 hours 55 minutes later I arrived safe and sound, with not a single blister, not a single scratch, and just a couple of bruised toes from an over enthusiastic descent of Tryfan.

Had I not had the right kit I would have been stuffed at 5am, on top of Crib Goch, in that weather.

Would I change anything? Well, with hindsight I may go for a longer jacket at some stage like the Berghaus Long Cornice so the run off from my jacket is not so close to waist height. I may also go for Seal Skinz socks to give me another waterproof layer for my feet. Other than that I would do very little different, and will always remember my secret weapon: Sudocrem! I reapplied during the breaks: and was not sunk by the scourge of chaffing, which has ruined many a walk for me. 19 hours in wet or damp clothes, and not a hint.

There are three more key learnings which I will post about in due course.

Monday, 12 July 2010

The Welsh 3000s

On Saturday I completed the task of walking all 15 3000ft peaks in Wales within 24 hours. Our final time was 19 hours, 55 minutes.

It was wet, so wet. Horizontal rain, gloomy mist, gosh it was grim.

You know what? That actually made it better! It was supposed to be a challenge right? 12300 feet of ascent, and 32 miles! I know what: let's make them soaked to the skin within half an hour and in wet boots for the full length: that will sort the men from the boys!

If you ever start a 32 mile walk and it looks like this, quit! I am the one in the green on the left.

If anyone ever offers you a trip up Crib Goch, and the weather is like this, decline! What an adventure. It is not like this sitting behind a desk checking my email.

The top of Snowdon. Visibility less than 20 feet. Winds up to 40mph and very, very wet. Lovely!

Elidir Fawr was the second big climb up onto a mountain range of the day and a dull endless trudge into the mist to reach just the 4th peak. I didn't know he was taking this photo and was alone with my thoughts so I think my facial expression says a lot. Probably "I don't want to be here, I don't want to do this"!

Summit 5, Y Garn. There are times in a man's life when you just fancy a cheesy roll. What is this? Nestling neatly in a waterproof sandwich bag? Happy days!

Tryfan is a decent slog up in the dry. In the wet, with water pouring back down over the rocks, cascading under your hands and feet as you look for your next hold is more challenging. Great fun though! Having done the Glyders I was a bit low to be honest but scrambling up Tryfan was such fun that it lifted the spirits again.

Having descended Tryfan again it was a big slog up from Llyn Ogwen to get to the top of Pen Yr Ole Wen. The 9th peak, but pretty special because we were now up on the Carneddau, and on our final mountain range.

Summit 12, Carnedd Llewellyn. Just 21m shy of the height on Snowdon, oh such a long time ago! Not that you could see much apart from the guy in front of you!

Looking tired now, as the 13th peak, Foel Grach, gets ticked off. With darkness setting in, the rain continues and the wind stirs up again, lovely.

Now we need 3 full hands to count the peaks!

Jubilation on peak 15, Foel Fras. Smiles and high fives all round, before setting off on the long (several miles still to go) descent into the darkness to find the car and some warmth.

It is not too late to sponsor us
, with all monies going to a great charity called Breadtrust doing some really, really important work in Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine.

Next up I will post what I learned about myself, about the guys I was with, and a really profound experience I had at the fifteenth peak.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Will you sponsor me?

From 4am tomorrow morning a team of us are climbing all 15 3000ft mountains in Snowdonia in 24 hours.

This amounts to just over 30 miles, and over 12,000 feet of ascent, in a day.

We are doing it for a local Christian charity called Bread Trust, who work in Eastern Europe.

Please sponsor us via this online giving page

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Vintage Virgo

I have not been "blogging" the newfrontiers conference this year like I did last year.

I found it altered the way I approached the conference and made me act and approach it more as a reporter than a participant.

Things have been very difficult recently, so I decided to just go, worship and listen.

Yesterday's session by Terry Virgo was absolutely spot on.

Engaging, funny, wise. Absolutely vintage stuff. Humble, tearful, cheeky, passionate, clear.

We finished the session by singing "There is a day"

It was goosebumps time.

The presence of God weighed heavily on the thousands present.

I wept.

It was one of those moments, when in my very being I knew the touch of God upon my life.

"and then all hurt and pain will cease, and we will be with him forever, and in His glory we will live..."