“Beautiful Beyond Belief, Savage Beyond Reason" | Ultra Trail Snowdonia
Last year, after not being able to do Grand Trail des Lacs et Chateaux, I got a message from Matthijs, asking me if V3K in Snowdonia wasn't something I wanted to do. Next thing I knew we were happily making our way over Crib Goch, followed by the Glyders and the Carneddau. When I read Michael Jones (check his website here) was organising something which can be described as the extended version, a "Beautiful beyond belief, savage beyond reason" ultra of 100 miles and +10.000m elevation (according to Garmin, it was a bit longer, 181k and 11.130m elevation), it didn't take very long to decide I wanted to be part of this. The cut-off was 48 hours, which sounds perfectly doable, but this is Snowdonia, where the terrain is always rough going. Michael added a few "fun" technical sections, preferably passing during the night, just to make sure you get to spend as much time out there as you can manage. After Legends Trail, this was definitely going to be my major challenge this year.
The race (aka "the 47h05min crawl")
After the kit check, we left Llanberis on a rainy Friday evening to climb Snowdon a first time. Although the next three sections didn't have too much elevation, it became quite clear this was going to be a true meat-grinder type of race, without any parts where you can just zone out and let your legs do the work. After the rain and just before sunset, the clouds parted and we were going into a pretty cold night. The guys at the checkpoint at Carnedd Llewelyn must have been frozen solid, but were still so kind to share their coffee. The other summits of the Carneddau had a thin layer of ice on them, which made for interesting going. No fast progress there either. But descending Pen yr Ole Wen during sunrise, I was treated with a most spectacular view on Tryfan and the Glyders. After a nice breakfast at Gwern Gof Isaf, the rest of the first loop went very well, passing the beautiful located CP7 below Devil's Kitchen and arriving back in Llanberis after 20 hours and almost three hours before the cut-off, which was as much as I could have hoped for. From there on, Bobby and me stayed pretty close to each other and had a chat from time to time. Somewhere during the day I also got a text from my girlfriend, cheering me on as I was in 17th position. Somewhat later, I received a second message, telling me there were only 17 runners left, so I was in last position (but hey! still in the race!). From the next checkpoint, our final group was formed, and it seemed a good idea to stay with Bobby and Pip, especially going into the second night.
After going up Snowdon again with a beautiful sunset, the descend to Rhyd-Ddu seemed to take ages. Good thing Bobby already knew parts of this route, as I was starting to see some things that weren't there, like faces in the stones and a cassette tape. I also started mixing English and Dutch, so wasn't making too much sense anymore (but in my mind everything was still ok!). I don't think Pip or Bobby were in a much better condition, because we agreed very quickly 30 minutes sleep at Rhyd-Ddu was a good idea before heading up the next mountains, which contained a technical section along Nantlle Ridge. After having the crew at the checkpoint taking care of us and getting a much too short nap, we were out again with only 6 hours to spare to get to the next checkpoint. It all felt pretty close, and we managed to get to Beddgelert in a little over 5 hours. Looking back, I don't think I would have made it either by myself or without that 30 minutes of sleep. I think I helped by pacing the group on the uphills, Bobby saved us a lot of time when navigation wasn't clear, and Pip always seemed to find the quickest way of the hill again, so we made a good team. Although the way-marking was most impressive, a clear head was still needed to find the correct way. Needless to say, this wasn't always easy during the second night with time ticking away. After Beddgelert, we made our way up Cnight, which I have wanted to do for years, then down again to Nant Gwynant, a long climb and a scrambly section on Y Lliwedd, down again to the miner's track, and a very last climb up to a crowded Snowdon before making our way down to Llanberis. We finished after 47 hours, with less than an hour before the cut-off, to a quite intense welcoming.
What makes a good race?
I think for me, what makes a good race, is getting into a position where you think there's no way on earth you are going to finish, and the organisation, volunteers, other participants, people at home and yourself make you do the impossible and carry on and finishing anyway. And that's exactly what UTS delivered. I have doubted more than once whether I could finish, but there was always somebody giving me a little nudge in the right direction, getting out of the door and up that hill. As Bobby said, the terrain in Snowdonia is also very rewarding, after each climb there was a beautiful view, which made you want to continue.
So... With 55 inscriptions, I'm more than proud I finished thirteenth! And last! Which says a lot about the nature of this race. The caption of the race is "Beautiful beyond belief, savage beyond belief", and that's exactly what it was! If you are looking for an adventure, a once in a lifetime experience, UTS might just be the answer. The RD, volunteers, route etc. are all highly recommended!
Thanks again to everyone involved, this is one event I will remember and I very much hope to see you again next year.