May 2019 is the UK’s National Walking Month and I thought it would be good to tell the story of the Tŷ Hafan 5in55 Mountain Challenge. This is when a group of Dads, Uncles, Sponsors and Tŷ Hafan staff took on the challenge of walking up and down five of the biggest mountains in the UK in a mere 55 hours.
When I told people that a group of Dads from Tŷ Hafan was going to climb five mountains in fifty-five hours, I was always confronted with an expression of horror and disbelief. It was almost as if I had asked them to join me. There is no doubt that taking on a challenge that combined the National and Welsh 3 Peaks was going to be hard, but then all of us faced tougher challenges every day. As Dads and Uncles of children with life-limiting illnesses or having lost children, we have to overcome hurdles on a daily basis, of which many are emotional.
And that is why we wanted to take on such a ridiculous challenge. Excuse the generalisation, but Dads and men are not great at expressing their emotions. Maybe it is society or just genetics, but us men are supposed to be the strong ones, taking care of our families and protecting them against any harm. But when your child has a life-limiting illness, you cannot. That power of protection is taken away.
Nevertheless, there are things that we can do. Like pose naked for calendars and climb mountains. Being able to do something, whilst highlighting the difficulties Dads face, and hopefully raising some money for the amazing Tŷ Hafan that helps us care for our families, actually helps. So, when Gareth Jenkins called me in the Autumn of 2017 and asked if I wanted to join a team that was climbing 5 mountains in 55 hours to take a photographic record of the whole event, he knew my answer would be yes before I said anything.
However, I soon realised that this was one serious challenge. To enjoy the #5in55 I was going to have to put in some hard graft. I was unfit, overweight and had not done any ‘fitness’ for some time. Although I did some walking in 2017, my training really started in January 2018, but it was not until Brad, Dan, and I were interviewed on Eleri Sion’s BBC Wales radio show at the end of February that the magnitude of walking 5 mountains in 55 hours hit home and the real hard training began.
Then we were hit with one of the coldest winters for many years and regular heavy falls of snow. Armed with my camera, I was out in all weathers and had the opportunity of photographing sights that I would never have seen. Roads blocked with deep snowdrifts. Icy mountain tops. I must admit I found it exhilarating.
On the 2nd April, we had our first group training walk up Pen-y-Fan. However, the night before it had snowed again and we were faced with some of the most treacherous conditions I have ever seen. We waded through snowdrifts on the way up and found the top covered in thick sheet ice. Blizzard conditions made visibility extremely poor. At one point, we had to hold the jacket tail of the man in front just so we did not get separated. It was like a different world. When we got back down to the car park I looked around at the others, all bitterly cold and wet, and realised that this group of men was not going to be defeated by five mountains.
Between the 31st March and 2nd July, I walked for 96 hours covering 256 miles and burning over 70,000 calories. By the time I got on the minibus on the 4th July, I had lost over one stone in weight and was fitter than I had been for over a decade.
At this point, it is appropriate to thank all our families for their support. I lost count of the number of missed evening meals and late night walks. Without their support, being part of the #5in55 would not have been possible.
The challenge started at 4:15am as I stood on my driveway waiting for Gareth to pick me up. Over the next four days, I would be with 19 amazing men driving up to Scotland and then climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Snowdon, Cadair Idris, and Pen-y-Fan. Many of us had neither met nor spent any time with each other and yet we were going to be travelling, sleeping, eating, and walking with each other from Wednesday morning until Saturday evening. There was incredible camaraderie and I feel that I have made friends for life. 16 of us climbed the mountains and I had a chance to walk alongside everyone at some stage. There were some very difficult moments, where we had to help each other through the pain barrier, but there was never any doubt that we would succeed.
We were blessed with amazing weather for the whole challenge and, if anything, it was too hot. We played in the snow on the top of a bright sunny Ben Nevis and saw the dawn break on Scafell Pike. The views from Snowdon stretched as far as the eye could see and the scenery around Cadair Idris was simply breath-taking. By the time we reached Pen-y-Fan we knew that we would complete the challenge. The sun was still shining as we walked to the top and celebrated in style.
There are too many highlights to mention. The boys sitting on a jetty and splashing their feet in Loch Lomond during a rest break on the way up. Eating sausages at 3am in the morning as we prepared to climb Cadair Idris. Standing together in a circle, with arms linked, on the top of Cadair Idris as we all held a minute silence to think about our families and all the other families Tŷ Hafan has supported. Seeing our families when we arrived at Pen-y-Fan. I could easily list fifty more.
And all these memories created by simply walking.
What we, as a group of 20, achieved was something special. Not just completing the #5in55 challenge, but also being there for each other. The memories are still very fresh in my mind as I write this blog. The 20 heroes are:
Walkers: Adam Bayjoo, Lloyd Davies, Paul Fears, Dan Forbes, James Davies-Hale, Ian Hicks, Gareth Jenkins, Laurence Morgan, Lee Morgan, Angelo Pucella, Daniel Pucella, Marco Pucella, Chris Thomas, Brad Watson, Alun Williams, and Andrew Williams
Drivers & Support Team: David Bennett, Bob Hicks, Dave Haines-Knight, and Haydn Jones.
National Walking Month is not necessarily about walking 5 mountains in 55 hours. It encourages people to leave the comfort of their sofa, put on some comfy shoes and walk. When I was training for the 5in55 and now since I’ve started walking again recently, I find I do not only feel better physically but mentally. Spending 30 minutes or 4 hours in the outdoors seems to shake away some of the shackles of everyday life. It frees the mind. I tend to walk up mountains where there is such amazing peace and tranquillity. It is exhilarating. As it is National Walking Month I have dug my walking boots out of the garage and have started walking mountains again. I had forgotten how wonderful walking can be.
I really hope that the story of the #5in55 encourages others to take up walking, no matter how far or for how long. National Walking Month just gives that extra little encouragement. I am sure that you will grow to love it!
Paul Fears is an industrial and commercial photography based in South Wales. For more information or to discuss a specific photography project, please contact Paul on:
Tel: 07909 103789 or 01443 207773