Dragon’s Back Race – Preparations

Race Details

The Dragon’s Back Race (DBR) is quite well know in the ultra running world. It is a tough 5 day stage race that covers more or less the length of Wales, starting in Conwy on the north coast and finishing near Llandeilo in the south. It takes in the majority of the higher peaks in Wales along the way.

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The breakdown of the 5 days is as follows:

  • Day 1: Carneddau, Glyderau and Snowdon Massif
  • Day 2: Moelwynion and Rhinogydd
  • Day 3: Cadair Idris and Pumlumons
  • Day 4: Elan Valley and Drygarn Fawr
  • Day 5: Brecon Beacons and The Black Mountain

Preparation for the Race

I had entered the race over a year ahead and looked through information on the Dragon’s Back Race website and more generally on the internet. It was clear that this race race going to need some serious preparation and attention! Even though it was “just” 5 days, it was obvious that each was a big day and that, unlike some multi-stage races, there would be no easy days.

I broke the preparation into the following:

  1. Training and fitness
  2. Hill training
  3. Navigation
  4. Route Recce and kit

Training and Fitness

I built up mileage slowly to averaging about 60 miles per week for weeks “race -12 weeks” to “race -2 weeks”. Then tapered down to 35 miles per week then 20 miles per week in the last two weeks before the race. In terms of elevation I was averaging between 10,000 – 15,000 feet per week.

Hill Training

The majority of my training is trail running with some cycling and gym sessions. I am quite used to climbing hills on my regular sessions but I included regular sessions in the Brecon Beacons to build more climbing strength. This is important as the race is a mountain race.

Navigation

I had done various races in the past that require some level of navigation capability and I am very familiar with my GPS watch. I would rate myself as OK with map but used the recce runs to improve my map reading skills. I also entered the Great Lakeland Three Day (GL3D) race about a month before the DBR in order to practice my map reading skills in a race scenario (and this race is all about the map as no GPX file is provided, and the route is only revealed at registration).

The GL3D is an orienteering style event where the location of a set of dibber boxes are marked on a map. There is no route as such, runners just have to go from one box to the next by any route they choose, dibbing into each box in order.

The usual procedure is to look for the next checkpoint on the map and then to look for possible routes from your location to the checkpoint. The aim is to minimise the time taken. The things to consider are:

  1. Minimize distance. Obviously you could go in a straight line but there are other things to consider.
  2. Minimize elevation changes. Travelling on flat ground is usually quicker than climbing up and down a hill. So, for example, taking a curved route along a ridge although a longer distance, may be quicker than dropping down into a valley and climbing up the other side.
  3. Choose fastest terrain. Travelling on paths is usually quicker than travelling off trails. For example, detouring around the edge of an area of boggy ground that involves a climb and descent on a path may be quicker than traversing the boggy ground.
  4. Watch out for out-of-bounds. Races follow laws of the country, so it is not possible to cut through private property unless on a public road or footpath. Races may also mark areas they have been requested to avoid as out-of-bounds.
  5. Look at the features on the map. For example, if there is a wide river and no bridge on your route then that probably isn’t the best way. Equally, pay attention to the contours, is there a cliff or open cast mine you need to avoid?
  6. Think about the weather and how it may effect the terrain, e.g. if its been raining recently then river valleys may be much harder to traverse than staying on higher ground.

So the game is to use the information in the map to work out the fastest route. Of course, the map cannot tell you everything so use your eyes and any local knowledge you may have.

I should also point out that more sophisticated map readers / orienteerers will have loads more points than the ones above and navigating in different conditions like, for example, poor visibility requires additional skills. There are navigation skills courses and books that can teach these.

Route Recce and Kit

Since I live in Wales I planned to do each of the 5 days of the DBR as individual recce days. This turned out to be quite logistically challenging for two reasons; firstly I did each recce on my own which, as they are point-to-point, means you either drive to the start and then find a way to get back there when you reach the end, or leave a car at the end and get public transport to the start. Secondly, some of the campsites are quite remote and not easy to reach by public transport so I had to modify the route slightly to accommodate this.

My plan was to start in reverse order with the Day 5 and work back towards Day 1. My reason for doing this was that I suspected the first couple of days to be the “hardest” and the last couple the “easiest” so as I would start with the “easier” days and as I got fitter I would tackle the more difficult days. I think this worked out well.

Recce of Day 5 – 1st November 2016

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Day 5 is in the western Brecon Beacons. It is a tricky one to recce as the start is not near to any significant place. The end of the race at this time was to be Carreg Cennen Castle, a few miles from Llandeilo. So my plan was to drive to Llandeilo and park at Ffairfach station just outside the town. From the station I then caught a train to Cynghorgy station, on the Heart of Wales line. From Cynghordy, I planned to cut across to the Day 5 route, missing out the first few miles which were on small roads, and run back along the route to Carreg Cennen Castle. From there I would run back to my car at Ffairfach station.

It was a cool, overcast day at the beginning of November 2016 when I set off. I got off the train at Cynghordy which is a request-stop, unusual for a train. You tell the guard, who tells the driver to stop. A little bit of welsh pronunciation is helpful; Cynghordy is pronounced “king-ordy”.

I set off from Cynghordy just before 8am. The plan was to head west for a couple of miles and pick up the Day 5 route. I was carrying 2.5 litres of water, enough food for the day and a printed OS map of the route. I had printed the map on waterproof paper. I also had  a GPX file of the route loaded onto my Fenix 3 watch.

The first problem was locating the start of the route and I ended up overshooting the Day 5 course and turned south too late. The route I should have been on climbed up onto a ridge and ran along the ridge for quite a way but I was on a road parallel to it. When I realised this I cut up from the road to the ridge. I followed the ridge for a mile and a half and I could see the town of Llandovery in the distance and I could also see that when I dropped off the ridge it would be onto the road I had been on earlier by mistake. Umm, navigation!

After Llandovery I headed southeast into the Brecon Beacons National Park. I passed the remains of a roman fort.

After a few miles we came to the Usk Reservoir.

From there its a few miles south to the mountains in the distance. Its a steep climb up to the high point at Fan Brycheiniog. It was too misty at the top to see much, also windy and pretty cold.

From there I moved west down into a valley and up the other side. From there I followed the ridge line west along the Beacons Way. Occasionally the mist would clear for a glimpse of one of the Llyns (lakes) below.

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I continued west towards Carreg yr Ogof. The terrain starts to get more difficult with typical beacons tussocks and rocks. This is the lesser known part of the Brecon Beacons known as the Black Mountain; I saw very few people about.

At Carreg yr Ogof, I headed south, back on the Beacons Way for a mile or two before heading west again over Garreg Lwyd.

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From here I crossed over the A4069 which loops around the Black Mountain and is one of my favourite cycle rides. The paths here are very faint and infrequently travelled so the terrain is tussocky and boggy in places.

I had done about 30 miles by now and was getting quite tired. This terrain is very energy sapping and slow. There was one more peak at Tair Carn Isaf to go before I would start to come off the Beacons and onto farm land.

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I was back on more regular footpaths now and passed a couple of farms. After a couple of miles I could see Carreg Cennen Castle across a valley. Its in a spectacular location and looked both impressive and foreboding in the failing light.

It was getting pretty dark when I looped around to the castle. It was a hard climb upto it and when I got there it was closed. I hopped over the gate and had a look around the castle. It dates from the twelfth century with today’s remains dating mostly from the thirteenth century.

From here it was just under 4 miles back to Ffairfach railway station where I’d parked my car. I was out of water so was happy to have finished Day 5. As it turned out, the organisers changed the finish of the actual race to a school in Ffairfach as they could not get agreement with Carreg Cennen Castle to finish the race there, so the extra miles turned out to be useful although I took a different route on the recce.

Day 5 Lessons Learned

  1. There are significant sections of Day 5 which to all intents and purposes are trackless and very uneven with tussocks. This is completely unlike trail running, is energy sapping, and a killer on the ankles (each step landing at different and unpredictable angles). Well worth practising this terrain.
  2. The only town on the Day 5 course is Llandovery; from there until near the end, the route is through the Brecon Beacons and there is very little running water.
  3. The OS map I’d made on waterproof paper worked well.
  4. The Scott Kinabalu shoes worked well on the terrain.
  5. The UD pack was just about big enough for the gear I carried with 2.5 litres of water.

Stats for the day: 42.2 miles, 12,400 ft of elevation.

Recce of Day 4 – 21st December 2016

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The Day 4 finish suffers the same recce issues as the Day 5 finish; since its the same place. Its in the middle of nowhere and therefore pretty inaccessible from public transport. Also, Day 5 is the only recce I could achieve in a single day so from here on each recce would require two days. I suppose, technically, I could have spent more time at night and done other recce days in one 24 hour period but I did not see much point in doing a recce at night when there would not be much to see.

So the plan for the Day 4 recce was to drive to Cynghordy railway station, leave my car there, take public transport to Aberystwyth and stay overnight. In the morning, take a bus to Ponterwyd to pick up the start of the Day 4 trail, do as much of Day 4 as possible and then get to Cynghordy to where I’d left my car.

Its at this point that I must mention https://www.traveline.cymru. I found this to be the best public transport website for Wales covering trains and buses and making a fair attempt to join both modes of transport together. The site is not perfect and you need a map in front of you to try several nearby places to get the best option.

Getting from Cynghordy to Aberystwyth involved getting a train from Cynghordy to Llandrindod Wells; a bus north on the A473 from Llandrindod Wells to Llangurig and another bus west on the A44 to Aberystwyth. This took me a little over 4 hours (there was some delay due to roadworks on the A44).

It was pretty clear from the travel to Aberystwyth just how remote a lot of the terrain is in mid-Wales. I stayed overnight in Aberystwyth and caught the first bus the following morning back along the A44, eastwards to Ponterwyd. The start of Day 4 is just east of Ponterwyd at a place called Dyffryn Castell. I was expecting to get off in Ponterwyd but managed to persuade the driver to drop me at Dyffryn Castell. Neither of us was sure about this; I’d never been there before and she’d never stopped there before. And it was dark.

I got off the bus and fired up my GPS watch and thankfully I was pretty close to the Day 4 start.

It was a few days before Christmas and was cold so I got started quickly. The first thing was to get across a river; cold, wet feet within 2 minutes of starting. All good training! There was a steep climb right from the get go which helped warm me up. The path went through a farm so I was sure to be quiet with gates as I went.

The dawn was slow to arrive as it was another overcast day and I had completed 5 miles before I put my head torch away.

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Next up were the wind turbines and forest trails. Lots of turbines, making an eerie sound as I cut across some rough, trackless ground towards them. Once amongst the turbines there was a good gravel path to follow (built for the maintainers of the turbines). After this section we came off the path and followed a river which then joined a road. Although there were footpath signs there was no path and the terrain was very, very difficult. (In the actual race, we did not follow the river but cut over a hill to the road which although taking a bit more elevation was much easier terrain).

Eventually, I got to the road which I stayed on for a bit before coming off the road to climb a hill to the left. Initially, there was a reasonable path but eventually it became boggy and tussocky.

I came out onto the road again for a couple of miles heading towards Rhayder before taking a path to the right and up into the hills again.

It was showery and there was a nice rainbow to view. I climbed upto Esgair Penygarreg before dropping down towards Elan Village at about 20 miles.

I then climbed out of Elan Village and headed south with Caban Coch Reservoir on the right. At the end of the reservoir, I headed into a very tough section as dusk was setting in.

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It was very tussocky and boggy as I climbed to the highest point on Day 4, at Drygarn Fawr at about 30 miles. From here it was downhill off the mountain. There are a couple of river valleys one could take, that end up in the village of Abergwesyn. The suggested route was to take the westerly one and come out onto a road and follow that southeast to Abergwesyn. A more easterly valley was the subject of debate in the actual DBR as to whether it was quicker.

It was pretty much pitch dark (overcast) when I started the descent. It was obvious that there had been substantial logging on the hillside and the path marked on the map was no longer there on the ground. I suspect, that in daylight, navigation through this section would have been quite straight-forward, but in the dark it was pretty difficult. New forest tracks, not on the map, were leading in all directions and heading in the desired direction was very difficult due to either cut down trees or uncut, very dense, pine forest.

It took, what seemed like forever, to get down off the hill onto the road. I had to fight through thick forest and scramble down the hillside and was happy to finally reach the road. This road is very quiet, only one vehicle had passed whilst I was descending. Where I came out I was probably less than a mile from the Devil’s Staircase, one of the most iconic Welsh cycling climbs.

Once on the road, I followed it for a few miles to Abergwesyn, at about 36 miles. The road follows the River Irfon which meets the River Gwesyn at Abergwesyn and continues as the Irfon from there. Aber means “mouth of” in Welsh; hence the village’s name.

Now, I had a choice:

  1. I could follow the Day 4 route, south and slightly to the west, off road, over several small hills and from the end of Day 4 continue a few miles, bending back southeast to Cynghordy. Or,
  2. I could stay on the road to Llanwrtyd Wells where I hoped I would be able to get some food and water and then follow the A483 to Cynghordy.

Option 2 was a couple of miles longer and not on the Day 4 route but seemed the better option so that is what I did.

Navigation now was easy as I just stayed on the road to Llanwrtyd Wells which claims to the smallest town in Britain. It also hosts the World Bog Snorkelling Championships and the Man vs Horse race.

I bought some food and drink in the supermarket and set off on the A483.

I was tired at this point and actually quite grateful to be following the road rather than navigating. As a train went past on the track parallel to the road, I realised that I could have caught the train from Llanwrytd Wells to Cynghordy and saved myself 7 miles on the road!

I was very happy to finally arrive at Cynghordy and find my car.

Stats for the day: 48.4 miles, 7,300 ft of elevation.

Day 4 Lessons Learned

  1. My gear worked well.
  2. More water available in streams on the Day 4 route.
  3. Always have an alternative plan for food and water that can be activated. Going off route to Llanwrtyd Wells was the right thing to do.
  4. Where conditions on the ground don’t match the map, e.g. when a forest has been felled, navigation can become quite difficult.

Recce of Day 3 – 25th January 2017

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Day 3 was to be my first venture into some of the better known mountains in Wales; Cadair Idris, the Tarrens and Pumlumons. I drove to Dyffryn Castell and parked my car just off the A44 where I had been dropped by the bus driver to start the Day 4 recce. I didn’t trust the bus to stop there to pick me up so I walked a couple of miles to Ponterwyd, and caught the bus to Aberystwyth. I changed at Aberystwyth and caught another bus to Dolgellau.

Dolgellau (roughly pronounced Doll-geth-lie) is an interesting town just off the river Mawddach. The start of Day 3 is just north of Dolgellau near Cymer Abbey, founded in 1158-9. It is also the site of a meeting of chiefs under Owain Glyndŵr in 1404.

I stayed in Dolgellau overnight and started before sunrise the following day, missing the first couple of miles from Cymer Abbey to the town. I headed south out of the town and soon started to climb, first onto farm land and then into the hills. First up was Cadair Idris.

Cadair Idris is what Snowdonia National Park call the mountain. An alternative is Cader Idris and there are plenty of signs in the local area using this spelling. Idris was a mythological giant and Cadair/Cader is a seat or stronghold. Legend has it that if you spend a night on the mountain you will either return a poet or madman. I was hoping to be off the hill before then!

I went off the path on the climb and ended up scrambling up some steep rock before regaining the path. As I got higher, dawn was starting to break through but there was still a lot of mist on the mountain. The terrain was wet and boggy in places. It was very windy.

 

I got to the top in the fog and began descending along the Pony Path, and as I did, the fog began to clear and the sun came out. After the Pony Path, the terrain deteriorated to more tussocky ground at around 10 miles. It seemed better to stick to the higher ground.

The path off Cadair Idris is not very clear and there are several ways to go. Ultimately the goal is to cross the B4405 which I did at about 16 miles.

After that is a long climb upto Tarrenhendre. Initially there is a good path, but eventually it runs out and the last part is a steep climb up a very tussocky hillside.

From Tarrenhendre I followed the ridge line northeast for a couple of miles. I could see Tarren y Gesail on the left as I entered a thick pine forest as indicated on the map. This was a bit of a mistake and with hind-sight I should have stayed along the edge of the forest as progress through the forest without much of a path was very slow.

The route had an ascent of Tarren y Gesail to the cairn at the top but I decided to skip that and save a bit of time. I was at 21 miles now, and still had a long way to go. From here there was a 3 mile descent through woodland to the Dovey River Valley and the town of Machynlleth. This marked the end of the Snowdonia National Park.

Pronunciation of Machynlleth should not be attempted without some knowledge of Welsh; even the locals call it “Mach”.

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I followed the main road to the bridge over the river and into the town. There is a garage on the approach to the town and I stopped there to refuel with food and water. I was now at 25 miles.

Owain Glyndŵr was crowned in Machynlleth and had his parliament there in 1404. It is a small town today of a few thousand people.

The climb out of Machynlleth was quite steep but with good views back towards the town and of the surrounding hills.

It was late afternoon by now but the sun was still out. I picked up the Glyndŵr Way footpath, one of the three national trails in Wales and continued over rolling hills for the next few miles.

The sun was beginning to set as I got to 35 miles. The path was starting to get worse again and was quite muddy. I crossed a small river at 36 miles and from there I was off trail again. It was pretty dusky now and the terrain was very difficult. I was climbing upto the Pumlumons, the last hills of the day. The terrain got more and more difficult as I was following a small river valley; going close to the river involved lots of scrambling over rocks, going further away the ground was very boggy, regularly going in knee deep.

There is a track here to go some of the way but I did not manage to find it in the gloom so struggled on cross-country. I could just about make out the summit of Pumlumon Fach so headed for that. With hindsight I could have avoided a bit of climbing by not going for the summit.

After Pumlumon Fach, I headed for Pumlumon Fawr but in the darkness was a bit off to the right and missed the trig point. Consequently I missed the track down off the hill and continued to trudge off trail through the tussocks.

The descent off the Pumlumons is not too difficult in daylight. Basically head south and arch around a forest on the right, continuing down towards the A44. Eventually, you enter farmland and footpath signs. However, having been trudging off-trail through very thick tussocks I was exhausted, so when I saw the forest arching to the right I thought I could cut through it and shave a bit of distance off. Although it looked with my headlight like there was a path, there was no path on the map.

I went into the wood and followed the path. After a while it ran out, so I followed a slight path to one side which then ran out. I repeated this a few times until it became obvious there were no paths. The thing about pine forests is that the trees grow branches from their trunks all the way to the ground and they grow close enough together that the branches form an almost impenetrable boundary. Also, because the branches are so close you can see almost nothing with a headtorch. I was soon disoriented and lost. My GPS was not very helpful so I had to rely on my compass to find the way out of the wood; which involved lots of scraping through pine branches.

Eventually I made it out of the forest. I had now done 40 miles.

I stayed on the path now and did 2 more miles downhill to the A44 which was visible every time a car went along below me. I clambered over the style onto the road a little way from Dyffryn Castell and my car.

Stats for the day: 42.2 miles, 12,400 ft of elevation.

Day 3 Lessons Learned

  1. Again all my gear worked well.
  2. I had used a more detailed scale on my printed maps. Although more detailed I was finding I lacked “overview” at this level. Its important to get the balance between detail and overview.
  3. Don’t try and fight your way through a pine forest!
  4. At night you can be quite close to a path and not see it; worth taking a bit of time to try and find paths that should be there as travelling off trail is so much slower and very energy sapping.

Recce of Day 2 – 22nd February 2017

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I was expecting Day 2 to be hard, very hard. The Moelwyns and Rhinogs are very rugged mountains and although not the longest day nor the one with most climbing, the combination of climbing and terrain makes Day 2 very difficult.

The logistics worked out as follows. I drove to Cymer Abbey just north of Dolgellau and walked into town. From there I caught a bus to Tremadog (near Porthmadog) and from there I took another bus to Beddgelert.

Beddgelert is a small, touristy, village in Snowdonia. The name translates as Gelert’s Grave and refers to the story of Llywelyn’s dog Gelert. Wikipedia has the story here.

I stayed the night just outside Beddgelert which is a few miles down river from the start of Day 2. I was in two minds about the recce. A named storm was approaching and had reached Scotland so I has a close eye on the weather forecast. As usual I planned to carry everything on the recce and was planning to wear full weatherproofs.

I got up early, as usual, and was surprised that although it was raining, it didn’t seem to be too windy. So I decided to set off.

The first 3 miles were flat, along the Glaslyn River and Llyn Dinas parallel to the A498 to pick up the Day 2 route where it crossed the A498 on a small road south.

After a couple of miles I turned left, off the road onto a path up Cnicht. By now it was clear that where I was staying had been pretty sheltered and, now up on the hills, it was very windy with clag on the hills. It was raining hard.

The first part of the climb is up a river on a reasonable path. About half way up, the path disappears and its an off trail climb from there. The ground was very boggy and I could not see the tops. The ground turns to rock near the top and its a bit of a scramble to get to the summit at just over 6 miles.

From here, I went north eastwards along a ridge and then started curving around east then southeast towards the Moelwyns. The terrain is very rough and progress was slow. First up is Moelwyn Mawr. From there I headed south towards his little brother, Moelwyn Bach but curved around Llyn Stwlan before summiting. From here its a big descent towards the Tan-y-Grisiau Reservoir. There are some old disused mining tracks off the Moelwyns which are runnable but this whole area is ripe for alternate routes in the DBR.

Parallel to the reservoir is a railway line and I went parallel to this. Again the terrain was very difficult and although there is a bit of a path, it was very boggy. Eventually, I crossed over the railway line onto a much better path that ran parallel to the railway line. The railway went into tunnel and when it re-emerged the footpath joined it.

I ran along the railway line for a while before the footpath was signed off to the left. I then started to descend off the hill into the Dwyryd River Valley. Again, there are several options for the descent here, either zig-zagging on a road or straight down. I opted to go straight down but did not think it was faster than the road. Eventually, at the bottom, I picked up the road.

Coming off the road there is a path through the pasture in the river valley that eventually leads to the A487 and then to the village of Maentwrog at about 14 miles.

That was a pretty tough 14 miles. It had been raining continuously with more or less zero visibility on the tops and pretty high winds. I had a decision to make here. Either abort the run here or continue, as originally planned, to Dolgellau. Once into the Rhinogs there are no real places to stop without getting to Dolgellau (or returning to Maentwrog).

The weather had improved slightly in Maentwrog and I was fine for food (and with all the rain, water was no problem) so I decided to push on. After all, after the Moelwyns how bad could the Rhinogs be?

Its 3 miles to the Trawsfynydd Reservoir through farmland and woodland. From there its back into the mountains. This is an area that offers some navigational opportunity in the race.

The next few miles upto 20 miles saw a steady climb. The terrain was very rough and boggy. The rain got harder and visibility was very low. I passed a small lake, Llyn Eiddew Back and moved onto its bigger brother, Llyn Eiddew Mawr. The ground was very wet here and progress slow. Crossing one of the rivers leading to the lake was difficult with all the rain. I tried several places before settling on a spot to cross. It was waist deep and running fast, but only a couple of meters wide so went for it.

From there, there is a shallow climb away from the lake to a ridge and then a descent into the next valley. There is a bit of a path for the descent but I pretty soon lost it. The descent was tricky. Deep heather covering lots of loose rock, where you never know if there is ground just below the heather or if you will sink upto your waist into the heather. There was a few slips and tumbles on the descent and once into valley it was very boggy.

Off to the right is another lake, Llyn Cwm Bychan and the rivers to cross where in full flood, right upto the top of the bridges. Bypassing the lake, I climbed up through a small forest and picked up a better path, known as the Roman Steps. Today though, there was a wall of water pouring down them.

Nothing grips properly on wet rock, even the Inov-8s I was trialling, and I took another tumble. I was pretty tired by now and although the path was better than the heather, it was a slow plod up the hill. Higher mountains, the Rhinogs, were ahead and to the right now but generally visibility was very poor.

The path bears round to the right and starts climbing once again. I went past the edge of another lake, Llyn Du, and turned slightly left to ascend Rhinog Fawr. The visibility was so poor it was impossible to pick any sort of line and I ended up slogging up through rock and heather. No view of anything at the top, I descended off the other side of the hill. Again, a tricky, rocky descent involving a lot of slipping and sliding.

I passed a small lake, Llyn Cwm-Hosan and followed the valley south. The route turned left to climb Rhinog Fach to the cairn before descending south along a ridge to the next mountain, Y Llethr. I decided to give the summit a miss and worked my way to the lake, Llyn Hywel, and from there I climbed up Y Llethr, the highest point of the day. It was starting to get dark now.

From Y Llethr, the route heads south along a ridge to the next summit, Diffwys. The terrain becomes a bit more grassy and easier. From the summit cairn on Diffwys, the route doubles back half a mile or so before descending off the hill to the south west.

It was dark now and getting very cold with the constant rain and strong wind. Visibility was next to nothing and I’d done a very hard 30 miles so I decided to give Diffwys a miss and come off the hill when I reached the point for the descent. Again, there is a bit of a path here but it was difficult to stay on it in the conditions and I was again making things more difficult for myself. I had been moving into a massive headwind through the Rhinogs and with horizontal rain and zero visibility it was a real struggle.

I reached the point on the ridge to turn left and start descending. I couldn’t find the path and ended up scrambling down off-trail with a couple more falls. Eventually, I came to a forest and soon picked up a path, which joined a bigger path and then a forest trail. The forest trail ran into a fire track and then a proper road. Once in the forest, the wind immediately dropped and it was a relief to be out of it and I started to warm up.

The descent off the hill is about 4 miles to the A496. The DBR doesn’t quite go the A496 but stays parallel to it on footpaths, but I decided to go to the main road and follow it towards Dolgellau before turning off for Cymer Abbey and my car.

Wow, what a hard day that was; certainly one of the toughest I’ve ever had in the mountains. I took no photos; too wet and visibility too poor.

Stats for the day: 37.4 miles, 11,000 ft of elevation.

Day 2 Lessons Learned

  1. My kit all worked well. Although I was wet through even if I had had more waterproof clothing I would still have been wet through (with sweat).
  2. Inov-8 terra claws were OK, but I felt not as good as my Scott Kinabalus, so decision made for the race.
  3. Waterproof map just about held up through the day.
  4. Day 2 was the hardest day of the recce process. Completing it in atrocious weather conditions gave me a lot of confidence for the race.

Recce of Day 1 – 11th April 2017

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Day 1 of the DBR is probably the most iconic with the best known mountains involved. Logistically, for me, its the most difficult as its the day that is furthest from where I live. I followed my, by now, normal protocol of driving to near the end of the stage, Beddgelert, and leaving my car there. From there, I caught a bus to Caernarfon, changed to one for Bangor and from there took another one to Conwy, on the North Wales coast.

I stayed overnight a couple of miles south of Conwy town just off the DBR route. I figured this would give me a good chance to make a quick start in the morning.

I was up before dawn and set off up the road to join the DBR route where it crosses Synchnant Road, missing the first few miles of the course.

As dawn was breaking, I was into the first climb with a great view down to the coast.

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The route heads south, south west taking in the summits of the Carneddau. Tal y Fan was first, then Foel Lwyd followed by a descent across a valley and a Roman road and under some enormous power pylons.

The weather was foggy and the wind picked up with the dawn. It was quite cold. Up the other side of the valley to Drosgl. Not much of a path here but the ground was quite grassy and solid. Onto a path and up to Drum.

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From there stay on the path, keep going south to Foel Fras and Carnedd Gwenllian, then to Foel Grach and stay on the ridge to Carnedd Llewelyn. A lot of these “peaks” are difficult to discern on the ground as the whole area is a series of rolling hills.

From there I stayed on the ridge to Carnedd Dafydd.

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Along the ridge and bending to the left to Pen Yr Ole Wen, with views down to the lake to the left sometimes peaking through gaps in the fog.

The Ogwen Valley is south, marking the end of the Carneddau. There are a couple of routes down to Llyn Ogwen, The DBR suggests the easterly one. It was a long descent but the path is well worn and easy to follow.

On the descent, Tryfan was clearly visible on the other side of the lake, looking ominous in the clouds.

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Tryfan is one of the iconic Snowdonia mountains, said to be the final resting-place of Sir Bedivere (Bedwyr) of Arthurian legend. I was about 16 miles into the route and distance wise about halfway. Its fair to Day 1 is a Day of two halves; and the first half is by far the easiest.

Tryfan marks the start of the next mountain range, the Glyderau. The path up Tryfan is well maintained and easy to follow. About two thirds of the way up it becomes a rock scramble, moving from rock to rock up a gully. At the top its a right turn with a view across a narrow valley to the Glyders ahead.

I was a bit unclear about the route here. It was clear that it was necessary to descend off Tryfan and climb up to Glyder Fach but I was not too keen on the climb from watching someone halfway up. I could see there may be a slightly easier route to the left which looked to loop round behind the peak. This was the one I decided to go with; and it turned out to be the right way.

It was slow going here with a scramble off Tryfan, and a slow climb up the loose scree of Glyder Fach.

The clag was down on the top, and it was quite difficult to navigate from Glyder Fach to Glyder Fawr, although it did lift just long enough to get a photo down one of the valleys.

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When I reached Glyder Fawr it was 20 miles done. The next stage was the descent off the Glyders to the A4086 Llanberis Pass. I could see the Pen y Pass Youth Hostel and the A4086 once I started the descent and dropped under the cloud cover. Again, the descent is well marked and easy to follow.

I reached the Youth Hostel at 22 miles and topped up on food and water. Two mountain ranges, the Carnaddau and Glyderau were done and just the Snowdon Horseshoe was left.

There were quite a few people about as I set off up the Pyg Track. Visibility had improved and there were some glorious views.

When I reached the junction of the Pyg Track with the path to Crib Goch I had another decision to make; either go for Crib Goch or continue up the Pyg Track to the summit of Snowdon. Although the visibility had improved from earlier in the day there was a strong wind blowing so I decided to stay on the Pyg Track (Crib Goch would have to wait for the race itself).

As I continued up the Pyg Track I was feeling a bit disappointed, but I think it was the right decision.

At the top of the Pyg Track I looped around to the left to Snowdon, the high point of the day, and took a few photos.

I was disappointed to find that the cafe at the top of Snowdon was closed, but it was mainly downhill from here.

There is a path off Snowdon to Y Lliwedd called the Watkin Path, which is a little tricky to find, but I managed to get on it. The DBR route comes off the Watkin Path to summit Y Lliwedd before descending off the mountain and rejoining the Watkin Path. I decided to miss out Y Lliwedd and stay on the Watkin Path.

Its a well worn path down off Snowdon, about 4 miles to Nant y Gwynant on the A498 which is the end of the Day 1 route. I still had 2.5 miles to go parallel to the A498 to Beddgelert to pick up my car. These last couple of miles were flat and also were familiar as I had come the other day on the same path to start the Day 2 recce.

As usual it was good to get back to the car. It had been a spectacular day in the hills!

Stats for the day: 32.5 miles, 12,000 ft of elevation.

Day 1 Lessons Learned

  1. My kit all worked well.
  2. It was good to recce Tryfan and the Glyderau. Knowing these sections in particular would help in the race if visibility was poor.
  3. Day 1 is mainly well trodden paths, with few off trail sections.
  4. Tryfan and Crib Goch (not that I did it) are the most technical sections of the whole race.
  5. Take water wherever you can. I deliberately did not take much at Pen y Pass Youth Hostel because I was expecting the Snowdon cafe to be open, and then had to wait till I’d descended far enough off Snowdon to find a stream.
  6. In general there is not much water on the Carneddau so take enough at the start of the race to get to the Ogwen Valley. There is not a lot of water on the Glyderau, so fill up in the Ogwen Valley and then again at Pen y Pass before the Snowdon horseshoe.

2 thoughts on “Dragon’s Back Race – Preparations

  1. Pingback: Dragon’s Back Race – Logistics | John's Running Adventures

  2. Pingback: Dragon’s Back Race – Race Report | John's Running Adventures

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