5 Mountains in 55 Hours – The Story

5 Mountains in 55 Hours – The Story

In 2018, a group of Dads, Uncles, Sponsors and Staff from Tŷ Hafan took on the 5in55 challenge, climbing five mountains in fifty-five hours.  However, these were not just any old mountains.  They were a combination of the National and Welsh 3 Peak challenges that included the highest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis; the highest peak in England, Scafell Pike; the highest mountain in Wales, Snowdon, along with two other well-known peaks, Cadair Idris and Pen-y-Fan.  The challenge would take the team from Scotland and into England before returning to Wales.  And they completed the challenge in less than 55 hours.  It was an extraordinary achievement.

There was no doubt that taking on the challenge was going to be hard, but then they faced tougher challenges every day.  As Dads and Uncles of children with life-limiting illnesses or having lost children, they have to overcome hurdles on a daily basis, of which many are emotional.  Taking on the challenge was just gave those Dads and Uncles an opportunity to thank Tŷ Hafan, the children’s hospice in Wales, for taking care of their children and their families.

The idea for the #5in55 was conceived by Dad’s Supporter Worker Gareth Jenkins in the Autumn of 2017.  Very quickly, a number of Dads put their hands up to join, many without any real comprehension of the magnitude of the challenge.  The #5in55 team had formed and included Adam Bayjoo, Lloyd Davies (from our sponsor Convey Law), Paul Fears (photographer), Dan Forbes, James Davies-Hale, Ian Hicks, Gareth Jenkins, Laurence Morgan, Lee Morgan, Angelo Pucella, Daniel Pucella, Marco Pucella, Christopher Thomas, Brad Watson, Alun Williams and Andrew Williams.  The walkers were supported superbly by our drivers/cooks/motivators/shoulders-to-cry-on David Bennett, Bob Hicks, Dave Haines- Knight and Hadyn Jones.  Now all we had to do was climb mountains.

Day 1, July 4th 2018 – The drive up to Fort William

The #5in55 mountain challenge began at 5am in the car park at Tŷ Hafan.  Two mini buses were loaded up to the point of bursting before they set up on the long 550+ mile drive up to Fort William near Ben Nevis in Scotland.  Before we left there was the obligatory group photo outside the hospice.  Then we all squeezed into our seats and prepared ourselves for the next 13 hours.  It was the start of an amazing adventure.

The #5in55 team outside the hospice in Sully

On our way up, we took regular breaks and were astonished at the kindness of the general public.  People saw our shirts, brandishing our logo and those of our sponsors, and asked what we were doing.  When we explained, people would give us donations either in cash or via our Just Giving page.  One gent donated £50.  The kindness and generosity of people never ceases to amaze!

As we travelled north, we were being told of heavy rain falling back in South Wales, which was hard to believe after all the recent hot weather.  Thankfully, the sun had followed us north and we had seen nothing but bright blue skies.  We finally entered Scotland and, at the end of Loch Lomond, stopped and took a 30 minute break to enjoy the stunning views and even have a splash in the loch.

After 13 hours we arrived at our destination for the night:  The Ben Nevis Inn.  It was located at the base of the path that we would follow to the top of the mountain.  After finding a bunk bed and before our evening meal, it was time for a team photo with everyone wearing one of the shirts kindly donated by one of our sponsors Convey Law.

The 5in55 team

As the sun set, a few of us wandered up the path towards Ben Nevis.  Tomorrow, this would be where we would start the challenge.  We were all excited, nervous and determined.  After a couple of beers, we all settled down in our bunks for the night, which was unusually warm, and slowly drifted off to the echoing sound of snoring.

Day 2, July 5th 2018 – Mountain 1 Ben Nevis

The day of reckoning had arrived.  There was a real good buzz around the group as we all started getting our gear ready for the start of the challenge.  The weather did not look great, with low cloud obscuring the peaks around Ben Nevis.  Firstly, we all descended on Weatherspoons in Fort William to take on some calories in the form of a big breakfast before a brief tour around the town as we killed time before we left for the mountain.  As we were waiting, people saw our shirts and asked what we were doing.  A couple of old gents were perched on a wall listening to all the chat and called us over.  “Here’s a quid,” they both said and handed over a pound coin each.  It just summed up the amazing generosity of the British people.

At 13:00 we stood on the bridge that would take us across to the start of the climb up Ben Nevis.  This was the moment that we had all worked so hard for and now we had 55 hours to complete the challenge.

13:00 and ready to climb Ben Nevis

35 minutes into the climb and we faced our first challenge.  None of us had anticipated the heat, which was around 30 degrees C without a breathe of wind.  Some of us were wearing skins under our shirts and, with the adrenaline-fuelled speedy start, we were overheating.  Alun was hardest hit, suddenly stopping and clearly disorientated.  We quickly stripped him down to cool off.  Despite feeling dizzy and light-headed he carried on, with other team members carrying his rucksack.  That support gave him breathing space to recover and within 30 minutes Alun was back fighting fit.  It also epitomised the camaraderie that had developed in the team since leaving South Wales.

The views as we climbed were spectacular.  The clear skies meant that we could see for miles.  As we approached the top of Ben Nevis we came across and area of snow.  Due to the height of the mountain and the depth of the crevice filled by the snow, it never melts.  It was bizarre to be walking across the snow in t-shorts and shorts.  Of course, there was the obligatory snowball fight and some sledging.

At 16:45 we all reached the summit of Ben Nevis.  The views were breathtaking and beautifully lit by near-cloudless blue skies.  Everyone was exhilarated.  The weather could not have been better.  The first and highest mountain of the challenge had been conquered.

On top of Ben Nevis

It was a long walk back down, but the challenge was now well underway.  After eating a wonderful pasta bolognese cooked by Dave and the drivers, and whilst being bombarded by midges, we posed for one last photo before departing for Scafell Pike.  The last man had reached the car park at just after 19:40.  Ben Nevis had been conquered.  We had walked 11.5 miles and climbed 1575m in 6 hours and 40 minutes.

Day 3, July 6th 2018 – Mountain 2 Scafell Pike

We arrived at the base of Scafell Pike at around 03:00 after an overnight drive down from Scotland.  And Mini Bus 1 had lost Mini Bus 2 in the dark twisting mountain lanes.  It was time to refuel after a tough night trying to sleep on the congested mini bus and so Dave got some sausages cooking on the stove in the dark.  There was a quiet mood in the camp as Scafell Pike was the mountain most of us feared.  After breakfast, we began the ascent of Scafell Pike at 04:20.  The morning was cool and the first colours of dawn were appearing behind the mountains.  It was going to be another warm day.

Ready to start the climb up Scafell Pike

The rocky terrain was tough and steep.  As we climbed, dawn began to break behind us, exposing the beauty of the Lake District.  At 06:30 we reached the top of Scafell Pike.  A huge sigh of relief passed through the team.  It had been challenging, but was no where near as difficult as many of us envisaged.  It was time to enjoy the spectacular views from the top of mountain 2, although a bitterly cold wind was encouraging us to hurry up and start our descent.  The cold had caught us all by surprise.  Shorts and short-sleeves shirts were not ideal, but what do you expect at 06:30 in the morning?  We were all losing track of time after getting just a few hours shut-eye rest on the min-bus the night before.

On top of Scafell Pike

By 09:00, we were all safely back in the car park, ready to be refuelled by Dave-the-Chef, Haydn, Bob and Dave.  The unknown factors of the #5in55 were over.  Most of us had walked the Welsh 3 Peaks previously and confidence was high.  The temperature had risen significantly as we descended and the thought of swimming in a near-by lake was very appealing.  But there was not enough time.  We were nursing a few injuries, with sore feet and tight leg muscles, but nothing serious enough to stop us.  We were ready to return to Wales and face mountain 3.

Scafell Pike had taken just over 4 hours and we had climbed 991m and walked 6.3 miles.  When we left, fatigue hit us.  Despite the cramped conditions, every one of us managed to catch a little sleep before we arrived at the base of Snowdon, mountain 3.

Day 3, July 6th 2018 – Mountain 3 Snowdon

On the 6 hour drive to Snowdon, we witnessed some man-love between Haydn and Dave and plenty of shut-eye from Gareth.  When we stepped out of the mini bus into the car park at the start of the Miner’s Track, the sun was still shining and the weather was warm.  It was just before 16:00.  Being in Wales once again appeared to motivate us and, although the legs were tired, we were all keen to get started and conquer the highest mountain in our home country.

At the start of the Miner’s Track ready to ascend Snowdon

As we walked along the flat section of the Miner’s Track, we could see the top of Snowdon shrouded in cloud.  Was this going to be the first mountain we climb and fail to get a view?  The path was initially relatively flat, but changed dramatically once we reached the lake at the bottom of Snowdon.  The steep and rocky climb would be a real test for our tired bodies and minds.  Brad was suffering badly with blisters before we started the climb and after ten minutes was struggling.  Out came the first aid kit and thick strips of sticky plaster.  After wrapping up his raw toes, we set off again.

By just after 18:20 we had all reached the top of Snowdon and the cloud had just cleared.  Our guardian angels were looking after us.  Mountain 3, Snowdon, had been conquered.  The National 3 Peaks had been completed.  At the top we all enjoyed the moment.  We were tired, but there were still two mountains to climb.

On top of Snowdon

As we started our decent, the cloud was already closing in on the summit.  We had been lucky and now it was time for the long and unforgiving walk down to Llanberis.  On the way down we bumped into a guy carrying a guitar.  He passed it to James who gave us a rendition of the Oasis track ‘Wonderwall’.  All a little surreal actually.  At 21:00, after walking 9.8 miles and climbing 806m in around 5 hours, we all reached the car park in Llanberis.  It had been a very long day, but we had climbed two of the highest mountains in the UK and walked for over 9 hours.  We now faced another long drive to near Cadair Idris, where we would get some much needed sleep before the final day and the last two mountains.

Day 4, July 7th 2018 – Mountain 4 Cadair Idris

The final day had arrived.  The drive from Snowdon to the hostel the night before had been tough.  The two mini buses split up and mini bus 1 struggled to find our home for the night.  We arrived after 23:00, tired and hungry.  It was too late to cook food and so we snacked on toast, cereal and sugary cups of tea.  Not the best preparation for the final day.  Eventually we got to bed late, in  amongst a room echoing with heavy snoring, and were up early.

Before breakfast, Paul spent a little time searched for half a contact lens left in his eye after Snowdon, but gave up and just shoved another one in.  We were tired and some people were suffering.  Lloyd’s feet were in a bad state and we wondered whether he would be able to walk at all.  Brad was also struggling and we used the last of the sticky plaster to try and help ease the pain from his blisters.  And there were still two mountains to climb.

We finally arrived at the base of Cadair Idris at just after 08:00, later than we had planned.  Cadair Idris was the last tough mountain to conquer and the weather was, once again, hot with clear blue skies.  This was not going to be easy.  We took a different and longer route from that used on the Tŷ Hafan Welsh 3 Peaks, walking up from another side and avoiding the leg-sapping, uneven steps.  However, it still far from easy.

Ready to walk Cadair Idris

The views as we climbed were simply incredible.  However, the heat was energy-sapping.  Even in the early hours of the morning temperatures were high and these gradually rose as he ascended the mountain.  And there was absolutely no cover.  But there was no time to lose.  To complete the challenge in 55 hours there was no time to rest and enjoy the scenery.  At 10:15, after walking for 2 1/4 hours, we reached the top of Cadair Idris.  It was an amazing effort bearing in mind the lack of sleep and the amount of walking and climbing already completed.  It was time to enjoy the moment.

Andrew stepped forward and suggested we all link arms around the trig point and stand for a minute’s silence to think about our families and all those who had been cared for by Tŷ Hafan.  It was spine-tingling.  One of our guides stood on top of the trig point and took photographs as we held each other’s hands.  It is a moment that none of us will ever forget.

A minute’s silence at the top of Cadair Idris

Now we had the long walk down in the blistering heat.  At just after 12:00 midday, the final walkers reached the car park.  We had been walking for 4 hours, covering 6.2 miles and ascending 849m.  Four mountains had taken their toll on the group, but there was no only one mountain to walk.  We all ate, took on fluids, and got back into the mini buses.  Many of us fell asleep almost instantly.

Day 4, July 7th – Mountain 5 Pen-y-Fan

After a 3-hour drive, which seemed like 10, we reached Pen-y-Fan at just before 15:30.  The welcome was amazing.  Many of our families and friends were waiting for us, as well as staff from Tŷ Hafan.  There was still walking to be done, but by now we were all floating.  There was no break in the sunshine and heat and even though this mountain had the lowest ascent, it was still going to be challenging.

Ready to take on Pen-y-Fan with a banner made by children from Ty Hafan

At 16:40 we reached the plateau at the top of Pen-y-Fan and had an amazing greeting.  The 5th and final mountain had been climbed.  The #5in55 challenge was nearly complete.  At the top, we spent time having photos with friends, family and each other.  Then, for one last time, we all gathered around the top of Pen-y-Fan and held each other during a minute’s silence.

After walking 4.4 miles and climbing 445m, the final walkers reached the bottom of Pen-y-Fan at around 18:00.  From starting the challenge at the bottom of Ben Nevis at 13:00 on Thursday 5th July, it had taken us 53 hours to climb and drive between five of the highest mountains in the UK.  We had completed the National 3 Peaks and Welsh 3 Peaks in under three days.  We had walked over 38 miles, climbing over 4,660m.

On top of Pen-y-Fan

The wonderful staff from Tŷ Hafan had brought along some beer and sparkling wine, which tasted amazing.  In the warm evening sun, we celebrated our amazing achievement with our families.

The #5in55 challenge had passed in the blink of an eye.

Just Giving Fundraising Team of the Year

The #5in55 challenge was a huge success.  With the help of corporate sponsors Convey Law and Bunting, the team raised over £40,000 in sponsorship for Tŷ Hafan and the profile of the amazing children’s hospice.  In November 2018, in a national event in London, the 5in55 team was crowded the Just Giving Fundarising Team of the Year.  An incredible achievement by a group of men who just wanted to give something back.

The Next Challenge – the #10nTaff

For all those who took part in the 5in55, the walkers and the support team, the 5in55 was much more than just taking on a challenge.  Over four days, close friendships developed creating support networks that previously did not exist.  We are now a band of brothers.

And so, onto the next challenge, the 10nTaff.  Over 55 hours we intend to climb the 10 highest mountains in Wales and then cycle from Brecon to Cardiff along the Taff Trail.  It is a huge challenge, arguably tougher than the 5in55.  There will be less rest and more time walking and cycling.  The challenge was due to take place between the 2nd and 4th July 2020, but has been delayed until 1st to 3rd July 2020.  Training is very much underway.  And we hope, with all the amazing support from our families, friends, work colleagues and strangers, that we can, once again, thank Tŷ Hafan for caring for us and our families.


To find out more or to enquire about becoming involved as a supporter or sponsor (especially corporate sponsorship), please contact Paul Fears on paul@paulfearsphoto.co.uk.