Goats with wings

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is home to dozens of wild goats, which can often be seen from the Pyg and Miners’ Tracks, but right here and now it’s not them we’re referring to; rather, those mad two-legged mountain goats that we see, leaping from rock to rock as they descend at breakneck speed down the mountain, as if they have wings.

Runners are a common enough sight on the mountain, most of them not actually out to break any records, of course, but a desire to ascend (and/or descend) Yr Wyddfa in a fast time has existed ever since the first summit huts had a Visitors’ Book to record it in the latter 19th century.

In July 1895 the South Wales Daily News reported that Ted Bittersby, a Liverpool athlete, ran to the summit of Yr Wyddfa from Llanberis in 53 minutes, then back down again in 38 minutes. This was, at the time, the quickest time known, notwithstanding a strong adverse wind. Club records state that, having arrived at Llanberis from Liverpool by bike, he afterwards simply remounted and cycled home. As you do. If true, this time is impressive. Two months later, it was reported that Alan Twentyman, accompanied by “guide Pritchard”, made the ascent in 1hr 13 mins, and the descent – after a 35-minute break – in 48 minutes. That’s altogether more believable.

The first official race, in conjunction with the Beddgelert & Deudraeth Show at Beddgelert in 1903, took place from the showfield to the summit and back. Eight men competed, and it was anticipated that the run would take some three to four hours, the course being nearly fourteen miles. But in 2 hours 19½ minutes. a young quarryman named William Pritchard (who had been telegraphed as first on the summit) entered in the showfield amid tremendous cheers. We are told that “he arrived quite fresh”.

The most famous race today is the official International Snowdon Race. The first race was held in 1976, the winner achieving a time of 1:12:05. The men’s course record currently stands at 1:02:29, set by Kenny Stuart in 1985. The women’s course record stands at 1:12:48, set by Carol Greenwood in 1993.

The time this year (2022), in blisteringly hot conditions, was 44 mins to the summit and 25 minutes down.

The Snowdon Race specifically tackles Yr Wyddfa, but there are numerous other long races that include the mountain. At one time there existed the Snowdon Horseshoe Blue Ribbon Run. More of a challenge than a regular event, the Horseshoe (starting and finishing at Pen-y-pass) was run in 1 hr 20 mins 16 secs by Finlay Wild in 2019; in total, a dozen runners have run it in under 2 hours. The women’s record stands at 1 hr 43 mins, by Sarah Ridgeway. An unconfirmed report claims that it was once completed by Tony Moulam in 1 hr 10 mins.

We must at this point mention Kes, who over the Bank Holiday weekend in August this year ran up and down Yr Wyddfa 14 times in 72 hours to raise thousands of pounds for SARDA Wales (the Search & Rescue Dog Association). A very impressive achievement.

Most runners travel light, carrying very little, but not content with just running, the first Snowdon Bike Race took place in 1958 with just two teams, and it became an annual event in the 1970s and early 1980s. The race started and ended at Pen y Pass and the route was the Snowdon Horseshoe. In the first races the bike was carried whole, but in its heyday the bike was carried in pieces by 3 team members, each usually carrying a wheel or the frame, strapped to them. The bike had to be in an assembled and rideable state at the start of the race, at the summit, and then be ridden over the finishing line. Times of under 2 hours were often achieved, the record standing at just under 1½ hours.

The race, to raise money for local charities, was organised by the mountain rescue teams – who also took part – and was often won by RAF Valley. The race was run early in the day, when the mountain was quieter, but not surprisingly it was eventually stopped. Today, given the numbers on Crib Goch, any race on that route is simply not an option.

A competitor carrying a bike frame on Crib Goch  (unknown photo credit)

By the way, if you see runners in the mountains, admire their skill and foolishness by all means, but don’t feel sorry for them – they love what they do.

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