Alive

It’s almost a week since my most difficult challenge to date. On 25th September I ran 31.2 miles through country-side trails. I’m not a natural runner, but something about this run engaged my adventurous spirit within. It was this same ‘thing’ that made me sign up, and without proper training, get out and do it.

I read somewhere that if a goal doesn’t scare you, then you are not aiming high or big enough. I’ve spent the last ten years of my life reading countless books on epic first ascents on remote mountains such as K2 and Mt. Everest. The names alone trigger something in my brain that excites me. Something that is so epic, it makes you shake to core and feel alive.

At some point in the last year, I grew tired of just reading about these adventures. I decided that, although I’m only in my ‘mid’ twenties, I needed to start doing stuff. I needed to put the books down and pick up a map, get in the car and make things happen. Why? The reason is simple; my happiness depends on it.

The 31.2 mile run was actually more like 35 due to my poor sense of direction. Although I didn’t get completely lost, I did back track a couple of hundred metres here and there, which according to the GPS on my phone added a few more miles. I didn’t mind, the more the merrier, as they say. I started off slowly, resisting the temptation to keep up with everyone else – everyone else who had trained properly, not just a couple of laps of Bewl Water. This was a long run and way beyond anything I had done before. I was a little scared.

It was soon after the 6 mile mark that I found myself isolated, alone, solo. I looked around and there was no one in front of me, no one behind me – it was just me, not another runner in sight. I didn’t mind it, I am very much used to running alone, as this is how I do most of my training. I actually find it slightly frustrating to run with someone else, there is a certain freedom in doing your own thing.

I plodded along nicely, ten miles, then fifteen, eighteen. By mile 20 I was well beyond any distance I had ever ran before, the unknown, as I called it in my mind. This is where things started to get a little bit tougher. At the same time, this is when things started to get more exciting. There was something about this run that I was looking forward to. It wasn’t the first 13 miles that I knew I could comfortably tackle, it was in fact running my first marathon, alone – and going well past it without a big deal, into a further unknown. By the time I hit 26.2 miles I was a good 6.5 hours into my day. My legs were asking me how much longer until I could rest, my brain was telling me to not think about it too much and my iPod was telling me to ‘Believe’.

The most beautiful thing for me that comes from undergoing a tough challenge, is in fact looking back. Looking back at the toughest section, when you are either scared, lonely or just damn-right exhausted. For me, it’s a really unique place to be. It’s a place that I don’t know how to describe other than simply ‘alive’.

I crossed the finish line after 8 hours 30 minutes. The cut off time was 8 hours, so technically this would class as a DNF or Did Not Finish. That didn’t matter to me, I had just enjoyed a seriously awesome challenge, and although I’m not the biggest fan of running, I may just do it all again someday. For now, I am looking forward to using the strength and stamina gained from this and working towards my next big challenge, still to be confirmed, but it will be at some point next year and involve getting myself into a similar state of enjoying life in its rawest form.

Aside from a personal challenge, this run was part of a bigger picture. I am trying to raise funds for a very special cause – find out more and make a donation if you can – https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/santiago-pilgrim

Wet, wet, wet

The weather forecast was anything but desirable, with the whole weekend covered in rain, gales and the strong possibility of snow showers on the higher peaks. Judging by the outbursts of wintery showers we had seen in Kent in the days leading up to this weekend, we were not going to see much sunshine.

Nick and I set off at around 20.10 and enjoyed an unusually empty M25. After picking up Simon, we headed on West towards Wales. It’s always good to see these guys and the four-hour drive provides plenty of time to update each other on everything from our latest kit to my recent lack of snoring. The latter was definitely good news for everyone, including myself as it would mean that I could enjoy a night’s sleep without mountaineering equipment thrown at me.

We discussed a few different route options, which seemed to be increasingly limited due to the persistently wet conditions. After meeting Steve at the Moel Siabod cafe, we concluded that a -1 scramble on the North East side of Snowdon would be our best bet.

Setting off at around 10am, we approached the base of the scramble via a short walk from the A4086, which links Pen-Y-Pass with Llanberis. We were already fairly wet even at this point, but we felt good and were ready to have some fun on the rock. The first step was full of loose rock. Simon headed up first and warned us about the condition of the scree covered step. A few rocks flung down, one of them narrowly missing Steve who was bringing up the rear just below. This was a wake up call to all of us, and we proceeded with even more caution. We kept on up the scramble for a few more minutes and then deviated via a slope which drifted off to the left. This was covered in plants and roots, with the odd loose rock. It was far from ideal, especially as it was cold, wet and slippery, but it seemed better than the dangerously loose scramble. After reaching the top of the ridge, we could see the second stage of our route, described in the guide book as ‘a sheep in wolf’s clothing’, we were confident that a scramble graded as -1 was well beyond our capabilities, even in the pouring rain.

By this point we had reached patchy snow, which was slushy and loose. Nick and Simon were frustrated at their decision to leave the ice axes in the car. From below, the mountains looked very wet, too wet for any real challenging snow conditions. After a few minutes up the grass-covered scramble, which in dry conditions would have simply been a walk, things were getting increasingly difficult. Even with walking poles, it wasn’t ideal. One slip and there would be little chance of stopping yourself before reaching the 200ft drop to our right. It was still raining and it had not stopped since we left our barn at 8am. Morale was low and the other were starting to worry about the condition of the slope, especially without ice-axes and crampons. Luckily, I did have my crampons, and even though I too decided to leave my ice axe behind, they gave me plenty of traction to feel completely safe on the slope. I gave Nick my walking pole to help him up the slope, which he was finding quite difficult.

After a few more minutes, the slope eased and we joined up with the main Llanberis path up Snowdon. As often is the case, this ridge was very windy, with the ground covered in a few inches of patchy snow, giving the place a truly wintery feel. We ploughed on and eventually reached the summit; we were absolutely drenched.

Once we stopped moving the cold was very quick to set in. Spending a little over ten minutes on the summit we quickly made our way down towards the top of the Pyg track. Steve, put off by the abundance of snow at the top of the path, was not keen to take the Pyg track down. Without crampons and ice-axe, a snowy ledge is anything but inviting. He headed down the Llanberis track while we set off down the Pyg. By this point I was absolutely soaked from head to toe, and my feet were slushing around in puddles of cold water at the bottom of my boots. We reached the car park at just over 3pm, with morale levels that were approaching zero.

Once back at the car, Steve was not far down the road and probably would have beaten us if it wasn’t for us getting the bus from the car park. I felt good about the whole day, but I wasn’t sliding around uncontrollably on a snowy slope for half of the day. The others agreed that it was a good experience, but I think they’ll be buying a set of crampons and boots before our next ‘winter’ outing. You’ll see on the photos that I was wearing my skiing goggles. These were absolutely amazing, especially up on the ridge when everything was cold and wet. The relief from water and wind on my face was a small but meaningful victory on a day where our kit, including ‘100% waterproof’ Seal Skin gloves had let us down so much. I will definitely be looking into ways of locking my gaiters and gloves down even more tightly.

As usual, Snowdonia provided a much needed getaway, and I felt strong throughout, possibly due to my ultra-run training which seems to be finally paying off as my body gets used to things. The Weald Challenge 50km run will be by far the hardest thing I have ever done. My training so far has consisted mostly of lapping Bewl Water reservoir. At first the running was a chore, but now I long for the next outing and it’s becoming quite addictive. I’ll update more on how that’s going soon, as I am planning to launch a fund raising campaign which will hopefully make all the suffering worth-while!

Santiago.

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Main Gully, Glyder Fach, Tryfan and the barn

Early in October I loaded up the car again and headed for the paradise that is North Wales. A regular occurrence, it appears, but this is definitely one of my favourite things to do. The drive can often be a little on the ‘slightly too long’ side, but having often thought about this, I have come to the conclusion that this is why I enjoy going to Wales so much. It is the very fact that it is slightly far away that makes this more of an adventure for me.

Fortunately, the same group as last month were able to give up a weekend and join me on what was to be a fantastic weekend scrambling in the hills. Steve had the genius idea booking a mountain guide in order to explore some unknown and perhaps slightly out of our comfort zone routes. Gary Smith was an outstanding guide, although at times I think he was more out of his comfort zone that us, especially when I was clinging onto grass instead of rock to perch myself up on a rock step – I can’t say I blame him to be honest! He taught us, and especially me, a lot of basic scrambling techniques, which not only make the day safer, but it really helped me in my constant quest of overcoming my slightly irrational fear of heights.

Gary took us up the Main Gully on Glyder Fach. This is a Grade 1+ scramble which means it is similar to routes we have done before, apart from one rock ‘step’ which requires a safety rope and belay to be set up. This was ideal for Gary to be able to show us how to set such belay up in a ‘real world’ situation. After this, we scrambled up all the way to the plateau on Glyder Fach. From here, we trekked across to the East side of Tryfan. Being one of my favourite mountains in the world, I was really happy to be learning another approach to the mountain, which at the time I was praying to god that Gary wasn’t going to take us up a ridiculously steep rock face which would have made the already challenging day very difficult for me. Luckily, he was able to judge our abilities spot-on. We scrambled up the magnificent North Gully which is a grade 1 scramble. It was just perfect for me, slightly scary and precarious – I like to be able to push my limits but at the same time enjoy the climb knowing that it is, even if not by much, within my ability.

Upon reaching the summit, we descended down to civilisation via the East Face of Tryfan, which is a lot shallower than it sounds, and actually a perfect way to come down if you want to avoid the long trek which awaits you if you take the route down to the saddle via the South of the mountain.

It was a perfect day, we learned a lot and I felt a lot more confident in myself, even if Gary didn’t, after learning some basic techniques to ensure that a slip wouldn’t result in sudden death.

We spent the night in a barn near Capel Curig, which was amazing. We even managed to get mobile phone reception to be able to listen to England being knocked out of the rugby World Cup. It took us about ten hours to get the stove going, but after it warmed up we knocked back a gorgeous bottle of Malbec and pissed ourselves laughing at the ridiculous guest book. Farmer Thomas was somewhat of a saviour to wet campers who were surprised that their poorly set up tent was leaking. Some of them even went onto complain that the barn was cold. Yes, you are in the middle of the mountains in North Wales and you are in a stone building with no insulation – did you really think it was going to be warm?! A ‘simple’ fire was all that it needed for us to be more than comfortable and it sure beat all the messing around that comes with setting up tents!

The next day we finally got to tackle the magnificent ridge on Crib Goch. I have wanted to do this route ever since I turned around defeated in 2013 during a winter attempt. I told myself I’d try the ridge in the dry before another winter attempt, and boy, and I glad I did! The initial scramble up to the actual ridge was hairy in places but more than doable. The weather was some of the best you will see that time of year, perfect blue sky and the air was still, very still. Perfect weather for one’s first knife edge ridge walk. When we reached the ridge, my initial thought was wow! This was shortly followed by a thought that went something like this – bollocks.

I knew it was going to be exposed, I had seen the route many times on YouTube, but this was quite a lot for my scared-of-heights-brain. The trick was to go slowly, very slowly. Apart from a very polished summit that got me on my hands an knees, in hindsight the route wasn’t actually that bad. In fact, I’d love to do it again just to get another shot at conquering it. Most of the fear was the anticipation of what the ‘tricky bits’ were going to have in store for us. I knew there were two tricky bits but I didn’t know exactly what they were. The worst once involved an exposed move which required a stretch which was that little bit too far for comfort (see the video below, which does no justice at all to what it was actually like!) -but other than that, it was a fairly safe route. Nick made it a little more interesting for himself by climbing the pinnacles, he is definitely not scared of heights – at all (see header photo).

Winter is now just around the corner and no doubt there will be many winter missions to come. It would be nice to squeeze another dry run in before the end of the year but we’ll have to just wait and see if the opportunity presents itself.

That’s it for now, I’d definitely recommend both routes, especially if you have conquered a couple of grade 1s and you’re looking for the next challenge, although I’d definitely also recommend hiring someone like Gary to teach you a few basics, including the ropework.

You can find Gary at www.gethigh.co.uk, although your work computer may block the site for obvious reasons!

Santiago.

 

North Ridge of Tryfan & Bristly Ridge

We down-climbed an exposed 6ft vertical section onto a 3ft ledge in hope of a route around one of the huge pinnacles that stand tall around us and make our route further up the ridge impossible. As we look around for a way out of this current section, a man we’ve never seen before pops round the corner from the place we were hoping would lead to a way out.

“Are you going that way?” We asked, pointing in the direction we came from. “No, I’m looking for a way out of here”.

That was definitely not what I wanted to hear after down-climbing one of the sketchiest sections of the route.

Further round Nick and Simon are attempting to climb over the next Pinnacle up an exposed crack, “There is no way I’m going up there” I thought.

Luckily, I didn’t have to. We walked further round and discovered a gully that climbed out of our tricky situation and put us safely on the summit of Glyder Fach.

Scrambling never fails to push my fear of heights to the absolute limit, and Bristly Ridge did not disappoint. I promised myself that I would never go back there. As a few days have gone by and I think about it more, I realise that I probably will end up there again, albeit with a little more knowledge about the route, and a bit more reassurance that we won’t be stuck up there waiting for Mountain Rescue.

Prior to this we had climbed the magnificent North Ridge of Tryfan, a stunning route which involves some moderate grade 1 scrambling. I’ve done the route four times now and never have I gone the same way up. After a difficult section which kick-started the scrambles on the route, we climbed up without great difficulty and managed most of the sections fairly confidently. Little did I know then that in an hour’s time we would be up on Bristly Ridge, doing some of the worst scrambling I’ve ever done.

We completed the day via the long walk that follows the ridge across the Glyders, ascending 4-500 vertical metres and back down several times. By the time we reached camp we had been out for over nine hours, three of which were scrambling and one of which I was crapping myself for.

Exhausted, but incredibly satisfied with the day we’d had, we fought off the midges and cooked steak on the BBQ.

I have some GoPro footage of our ascent but most of the scary Bristly Ridge stuff isn’t on there. I had packed the camera away on the summit of Tryfan and was too busy staying alive to be thinking about the GoPro once we’d started the left hand Gully at the foot of Bristly Ridge. I will compile this footage together with the next trip and put a North Wales edit together at some point.

Our next trip to Snowdonia is likely to be in September, where I’d be keen to climb Crib Goch, spend the night somewhere near the summit of Snowdon, then follow the horseshoe over Y Lliwedd before descending onto the foot of the Miners’ track.

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Twenty-five and still alive

Twenty five is by no means old, and I’d like to think not even at my prime. However, this is an age that has made me think about the last five years; what have I achieved? Where am I heading? What do I hope to accomplish in the next five years? This all sounds very much like a boring new years’ resolution blog, but I hope it’s much more than that. I hope it’s the start of my next phase of adventure, a time when I have come to truly realise that if you want to achieve great things, there is only one person you have to turn to in order to get the ball rolling – yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, the last five years have been awesome. I have been with Millie for nearly the same amount of time – which has been incredible – and I’m now employed doing something I have done as a hobby for the last ten years. So I couldn’t be a pilot due to colourblindness, but in 2010 when I returned from my 8-month trip, I came to the point where I had to decide what I wanted to do. Video Production seemed like the logical thing to get into given my background with filming skateboarding for the last six years, and the dream of ‘starting a video production company was born.
I don’t think back then I had any idea about some of the things I would have to do in order to eventually be filming for a living. It was certainly a lot more hard work than simply buying a decent camera… and luck was definitely a big part of it too, but here I am, and I am very thankful for that.
Where is this all going?
Basically, for the last five years, I’ve done a lot of great things, but I don’t think I’ve done enough of the one thing that gets harder and harder to achieve as you move on through life (unless you take the right steps to make it happen) – adventure.
I’ve kept up my passion of reading mountaineering books and fantasising about the great routes to the point where sometimes it feels like I have climbed them myself and over the last few months I’ve had a real hunger to go and do something similar to what I’ve always been reading about – train for an expedition or climb, go out and do it and come back with a story to tell.
Some of the things I read are and always will be out of my reach, such as the North Face of The Eiger; ridiculously dangerous and exposed. There are some routes however that seem much more achievable through a respectable amount of hard work and dedication.
In order to kick-start this dream, I will further build my climbing skills throughout this summer – in fact, I am going to North Wales again in a couple of weeks – and develop my snow and ice skills come winter, and then my first big adventure will be to try and summit the highest peak in the Alps – Mont Blanc.
This is a peak that is very accessible to a reasonably fit individual, and through a guided accent is a very good way to learn more about high altitude mountaineering and dealing with real snow and ice based situations – not to mention the incredible view from the top.
On our ‘family holiday’ in Switzerland last month, we ventured out to Chamonix and took the mountain lift up to the Aiguille Du Midi – a peak that neighbours Mont Blanc. This was a good chance to see the route close up and experience the high altitude environment. It was really quite amazing and I can’t wait to be on the other side of the viewing platform ice-axe in hand.
My next post will most likely be after Wales, where we will attempt Tryfan once again and a first for me – Crib Goch and possibly the Snowdon Horseshoe.
Fittingly, I’ll close this post with a photograph Millie and I in front of Mont Blanc itself, as I lose all dignity in the favour of the practicality that comes with a selfie-stick.

The first of many. Well, that’s the plan at least.

Ben and I pedalled off from Tunbridge Wells a little later than expected, it was gone one o’clock when we gave up waiting on Max and decided to meet him en-route at the Old Vine in Cousley Wood. 40 minutes later we had arrived – thirsty, tired, and shocked at how long the first 4 miles had taken us. We had to do 26 more before sundown. The kit on my pannier weighed probably the best part of 30 kilos and Ben was riding a BMX.

Max joined us shortly after we ordered our drinks and we chatted for a while about how each of us had prepared for the journey – it was clear that I had been the most prepared person by buying a pannier and setting it with more than two hours to spare – Max was hungover and had only just finished bolting his bike together. Still, with the spirt of adventure fresh in our hearts and dreams of sandy beaches and cold beers, we set off once again.
It was hard going, harder than what I ever expected. It took a lot of determination one some of the hills, and it seemed impossible on others, but once we got a rhythm going we made some progress. We reached Hawkhurst – just under half-way – by about 5 o’clock. Of course, we had a pint and relaxed for a while.
The weather was pleasant with no wind or rain, we were able to keep plodding along at a steady pace. Slow, but steady. It wasn’t until after 7 o’clock that we reached Rye, with still 5 miles to go.
Google estimated the trip to take 2 hours 44 minutes – yeah, right!
We arrived at Camber Sands with just enough time to pitch our tents before dark.

Sleeping on the sand wasn’t as comfortable as I predicted – next time I will try digging out a bed.

We cycled down to the sea and Ben even had the courage to swim in it. I am normally the one to step up to such challenge but I must admit; it was cold and I was very dry and comfortable, and with a 30 mile ride back with already beaten up thighs, I didn’t want to add to my burden.

The ride back took a while, stopping at pubs was again our only paradise in a world of pain – okay that’s a bit dramatic, but it was nice to stop for a few drinks :)

Although it did pour down briefly, we avoided any significant rain. We arrived back in Tunbridge Wells just before sundown. I felt tired, but alive and full of the good spirit that you get after completing and adventure.

This was a tiny ride in comparison to what I am proposing to do next year. In fact what we did in two days, I am going to need to do in half a day, six times over.

I will try and improve my stamina and speed over the next few months. I have been running almost every week since the ride and I’m not up to 10 miles, I have also been swimming and I’ve kept up my weekly rock climbing outings. Of course I have also been cycling to work which doesn’t seem like much, but has helped dramatically when cycling uphill – it is now a lot easier and I believe it is these obstacles that slow down progress in a long ride.

Hope you enjoyed reading this – click play to watch the footage from my GoPro of the ride. I will keep you updated on my training!

Santiago.

What is it that makes someone plan a new adventure?

Perhaps it’s the challenge, the feeling of accomplishment, the desire to explore or maybe just a way of breaking the everyday routine with something extraordinary.

I have found my next adventure, and it is something that I’ve never really done before. It’s something that will require a lot of training, and perhaps build towards something bigger in the future.

In 2015, I am going to cycle the Three Peaks Challenge in less than three days.


Three Peaks Challenge Route – National Geographic

This involves climbing Ben Nevis in Scotland, cycling over 300 miles to the Peak Disctrict, climbing Scafell Pike then cycling a further 140 miles to Snowdonia and climbing Snowdon – all in under 72 hours.

I have never cycled any more than just a few miles, but after reading books like Cycling Home From Siberia by Rob Lilwall, I have been inspired in this method of travel. The freedom to be able to travel cheaply, choosing your route and facing the elements along the way.

My training will involve a series of shorter trips, which will not only get my build my strength but also help me to become efficient in camping/carrying kit and everything else that a cycling trip will involve.

I will start the training by a trip to Camber Sands – at just 30 miles each way, it will be a great way to start this amazing adventure.

I will let you know how I get on!
Santiago.

Beats’ USA Bike Ride

“I’ll stick out my thumb and I’ll trudge down the highway
Someday someone must be going my way home
Till then I’ll make my bed from a disused car

With a mattress of leaves and a blanket of stars
And I’ll stitch the words into my heart with a needle and thread 

Don’t you cry for the lost

Smile for the living
Get what you need and give what you’re given
You know life’s for the living so live it
Or you’re better off dead”

It’s particularly those last two lines that strike me from this song, it reminds me just how important it is to do the things you love, no matter how dangerous, difficult, or out of the ordinary they might be. Because if you’re not living life to its full potential, then you are wasting your time on this beautiful earth. 

Come May this year a friend of mine, Rob Beattie, will be cycling the length of North America on his own, in just 10 weeks. He is funding the trip by himself and raising money for Cancer Research – which is obviously one of the best causes out there. He has never done anything like this before and I’d like to take this opportunity to say; I admire what you’re doing, I am extremely jealous, and I hope it goes well and you have the time of your life – I know you will! 


If you don’t have the money right now then simply share the link to Rob’s website, if you do, then donate at least a couple of pounds of an amazing cause, but most of all, remember to live your life how you want to live it and be happy!


Donate here.


Follow Rob on his journey here.

560 Miles – 3559 Feet – 11Km

Setting off at 4.30am, we drove through a couple of storms towards Snowdonia where we found a beautifully decorated Snowdon with just a touch of white stuff visible on the upper slopes. Certainly nothing like what we experienced back in April but there was one element that made this day challenging in its own right – 100mph winds on the summit.

We took the Pyg track which in fine conditions is a very easy route. However, the strong gusts of wind made this route very interesting, with slippery ice as you reached the ridge on the last section. We made it despite all this and ticked off yet another summit on what has – in 2013 at least – proved to be a very versatile mountain with a range of challenges to throw at us.

We climbed with a highly experienced Norwegian pair, Sissel Smaller and her partner Petter. We met them as we set off and spent the day with them, not only are they incredibly friendly people but their knowledge and stories from their many climbs, including the ‘7 summits’, made for some awesome conversations throughout the day.

We made it up there in what was for myself at least, a personal best. 2 hours up 2 and half down, we then came back down safely and drove the long but completely worth it journey home back to Kent.

Pyg track.
Scouting the route.
On the ridge.
Summit – Santiago, Sam & Roy.