Trying to predict the detail of this year's Dragon's Back Race route is an ultimately unproductive pastime, but fun nevertheless.
Last Sunday I did what I had anticipated would be my last substantial run before the race, completing my duties as sweeper on the final "official" Lakeland 100 recce from Pooley Bridge to Ambleside. But the last few people undertaking the trip that day had no plans to travel particularly quickly, so I ended up walking pretty well every step of the 28 miles. I really enjoyed the day, but finished feeling that I hadn't really put in a full shift as it were. I felt a last trip to Wales was called for, so I decided to cover the only bit of Northern DB territory that I haven't already poked into in the past twelve months, the Snowdon massif. But where to go?
Day 1 of the 2012 DB covered all of the Welsh 3000's from East to West. This is an outing that my climbing club used to tackle en masse more or less annually through the 70's and 80's, and more sporadically since. We never felt training to be necessary, it was a sort of "see how fit you are before we go to the Alps" day; most of us made it back to our hut in Llanberis, the athletes taking 10 hours or so and the night shift nearer to 20. So I know the ground a bit. But Day 1 of the 2012 DB was rather harder than this. Starting from Conwy rather than Aber adds on quite a few miles, and the effort needed to cross the additional peaks of Tal y Fan and Drum is rather more than a glance at the map would suggest; the descent of Snowdon's South Ridge at the end of the day presents a tougher challenge for tired legs than a a simple jog down the Llanberis track; and in a final sadistic twist, Race Director Shane Ohly decreed that two tops (Carnedd Llewellyn and Yr Elen) be visited in the wrong order for the easiest traverse in this direction.
The result of all this was that of around 80 starters, less than 30 completed the 2012 Day 1 as designed, and some of those only with an effort that clearly compromised their performances later in the event. Shane has promised that Day 1 this year will be easier, but how?
Now if I was going to knock a few miles and meters of ascent off the 2012 route, but retain its essence as an elegant journey through the most iconic hills of Snowdonia, I would simply omit the outliers, ie Yr Elen, Y Garn and Elidir Fawr. A descent from Glyder Fawr via the old "red stones" path to Pen y Pass and an ascent of the classic East Ridge of Crib Goch would save the descent to Nant Peris. Coming off Snowdon via the Watkin would save some energy but as this is nowhere near as fine a path as the South Ridge, I suspect the checkpoint on the Yr Aran col will remain.
The predicted distance and height gain seem to match well enough with this route, so I was quite happy with my detective work until Shane recently mentioned on the website that this year's Day 1 would be "even more technical" than 2012. I'm not sure how this is going to happen, but I could speculate on three areas;
1. Maybe we'll follow the 1992 route off Carnedd Llewellyn, down the scrambly ridge above Craig yr Ysfa. This misses out the two fine peaks of Dafydd and Pen yr Oleu Wen, and the scrambling is no harder than that on Crib Goch, so I suspect not.
2. Maybe the easy paths up Tryfan and/or Glyder Fach will be "out of bounds", forcing us either to long detours or to use of the North Ridge and Bristly Ridge. These are slightly harder than Crib Goch (particularly Bristly) but less exposed. Possible but seems a bit contrived.
3. There is a prominent photo on the website of the North Ridge of Crib Goch, which is a bit pointier than the summit ridge. But this is the obvious and quickest way from Nant Peris to Crib Goch, and as such was the best route to take in 2012 (though reading the reports, it seems quite a few people went a more circuitous way) so would not be a change.
So I'm none the wiser. It will be interesting to see on the day.
In the end, for my day out today I decided to take the East Ridge to Crib Goch, then along to Garnedd Ugain and Snowdon, and down via the South Ridge. To avoid any logistical faffing with buses I decided start and finish in the same place, so I drove down after breakfast to park by the path end in Nant Gwynant. Up the Watkin to Snowdon summit then down the Miners' Track to Pen y Pass, I was hoping for a lunchtime stop in the cafe there but it was closed. I hopped across the road to the newly refurbished YHA, now more like a pub as you walk in (I can remember the time when this building actually was a pub), to a warm welcome, tea and coffee cake.
Easy to sit around longer, but time passes so it was now up the Pyg Track to Bwlch Moch. I hadn't been around this bit of the hill for a while, and the first surprise was a fine pitched path from the Bwlch almost all the way up to the rock barrier. Through the rocks, following the polished rock and crampon scratches as they wend their way improbably upward, then out onto the superb airy rocky staircase to the summit. I always take a time check from Crib Goch summit to the trig point on Garnedd Ugain; the reason is that every time I go along here I'm amazed by the thought that on his record run in 1988, Colin Donnelly covered this ground in the opposite (ie the harder, downward) direction in nine and a half minutes. Today, at a brisk walk, it took me just about 30.
Then back through the crowds for my second visit to Snowdon's top, no point hanging around even though it had turned into a beautiful afternoon by then, down the long South Ridge to the Yr Aran col and finally back to Nant Gwynant. A six hour round trip, but then I'm not practising how to get around this course fast - just how to get around beating the cut-offs with minimum energy use!
That will do I think. A couple of weeks or so to take things easy, shake off my version of the "100 day cold" that seems to have got everyone this year and to rest a still niggly calf, then I hope I'll be good to go.