Paul Fears, one of the Dads taking part in the 2022 10nTaff for Tŷ Hafan, tells the story of the 3-day crazy challenge.
The idea of the 10nTaff challenge originated sat outside a pub in 2019. As Dads of children who have been cared for by Tŷ Hafan, Brad, Chris and I all needed a new challenge to focus on after the successful 5in55. Without something to aim for many of us struggle. However, to generate the same level of interest and support, we knew that the next challenge would need to be tougher and more extreme. And so, the 10nTaff challenge was born.
The 10nTaff challenge involved climbing the five highest mountains in North Wales, the five highest in South Wales, and then cycling 53 miles; all in 55 hours from start to finish.
Another Extreme Challenge
From the outset, people questioned whether the 10nTaff was too extreme. However, even though we had not delved into the details of the challenge, we knew it was achievable. After walking together on the 5in55, I knew that this was an incredible group of men with amazing individual and group mental strength who would never give up. And challenges like this are often more mentally than physically demanding.
Early on we set up a website for the 10nTaff (thank you Ian Case) and had a logo designed (thank you Gene Thompson of Creative Services Ltd). However, the Covid pandemic delayed the challenge for two years. Finally, at the beginning of 2022 we were able to confirm that the 10nTaff was going ahead.
The hardest part of taking on an extreme challenge like this is the training. You have to put in hours of work walking and cycling up mountains. And when you have a family and a son or daughter who has a life-limiting illness, finding the time to train is difficult. A lot of training either took place very early in the morning or late at night, even when it was dark and raining.
Such commitment puts a huge strain on the family, especially our wives and partners. Without their support, we would not be able to take on these challenges. We may get the plaudits and congratulations, but they are the hidden heroes. Thank you! You are all amazing!
We also had fantastic support from Tŷ Hafan. We could not have taken on the challenge without their help, from planning to booking accommodation, and supplying food. Once again, thank you!
The Reason for the Challenge
People often ask why we take on these challenges. The obvious reason is to raise money for and awareness of Tŷ Hafan, a Welsh registered charity that provides holistic palliative care for children with life-limiting conditions and their families from throughout Wales.
Equally as important is the chance to meet and talk with other Dads whose families have been cared for by Tŷ Hafan. Men are not the best at talking about difficult situations, but just being out and walking or cycling with men who have been or are going through the same experience is precious. Many of the men who took part in the 10nTaff had never met each other before signing up. And yet now we all feel very close, both participants and the support team, and we are all good friends.
Having the 10nTaff as a target meant that we had to get out of the house and train, even through the pandemic. And there is nothing better to clear the mind than walking or cycling in the beautiful Welsh hillsides and mountains. Training was therapeutic, especially when training alongside other Dads and Uncles. And the extreme nature of the 10nTaff meant we needed to train hard.
The 10nTaff was undoubtedly the most difficult physical challenge many of us have ever undertaken. There were many times when I thought I could not carry on. But the camaraderie dragged me onwards. And I loved every minute. It was intense, painful, and exhilarating. Over the three days we walked 38.8 miles (slightly further than the distance between Cardiff and Port Talbot), climbed 3,822 meters (12,540 feet – 43% of the height of Everest), took 102,012 steps in 25 hours and 27 minutes, and then cycled 53.16 miles, climbing 880 meters (2,888 feet) in 7 hours and 17 minutes.
We had raised over £42,000 and want to thank everyone for their support. Without people’s donations and the support of our main sponsors Convey Law, the Conveyancing Foundation, Bunting and Viridor, we simply could not take on these challenges.
The dust is still settling on the 10nTaff challenge and already we are starting to think of 2024.
The Day by Day Story of the 10nTaff
The sun was initially shining when we all met at Tŷ Hafan at 11:00am on Wednesday 29th June 2022. The lead up to the start had not passed without incident. A few weeks before, Adam (who had walked the 5in55) sadly pulled out due to an arthritic knee. And earlier in the week, we had lost two drivers, putting the challenge in doubt. James’ Dad Dave stepped in, for which we are all eternally grateful.
Also, Lloyd from Convey Law had to drop out of hiking the 10 mountains at the last minute due to a foot problem, but would re-join us for the Brecon to Cardiff cycling stage on day 3. However, It was great that Lloyd could join us and distribute the amazing 10nTaff kit that he had organised. We had shirts, caps, a fleece and, much to everyone’s surprise, an Arab scarf. Putting on those shirts made us feel very special. We were all now officially members of the 10nTaff team.
After some obligatory photographs, we loaded our kit in the two minibuses and van, our bikes into the separate Tŷ Hafan van, and all jumped on board. There was a 4 to 5 hour drive ahead to North Wales.
With rain replacing the sunshine, our families and people from the hospice and offices, including staff, nurses and children, were all out to wave us off. It felt very emotional as we said goodbye to our loved ones.
The 10nTaff was no normal challenge and, after two years of delays, we were finally on our way. We all felt a mix of excitement and apprehension.
After an hour we had a stop-off in Builth Wells for a coffee and something to eat and drink. However, Greggs was no match for the home-made pasties and sausage rolls of Mrs Fears, my mum!
After a few more hours driving up through the heart of Wales, we arrived at our home for the night in Betws-y-Coed – Woodlands Centre. There were loads of beds and a huge kitchen. It would have been great to stay there for a few days, but there was the small matter of a challenge to tackle. The hostel was also ideally located, just up from the main town centre.
We had a fantastic dinner at the Gwydyr Hotel (thank you Lloyd and Convey Law), including some exceptionally large fish pies. As we were paying, the hotel manager sponsored us on behalf of the hotel and then our waitress sponsored us herself, which was so lovely. People are so kind.
With our stomachs full, we made the way back to the hostel to get some much-needed sleep before starting the 10nTaff challenge. We were due to set off pretty early with the aim of starting to climb the first mountain at 7am. And we could all feel the nerves starting to kick in. Getting to sleep would be the first challenge.
Mountains 1 and 2
The day started with the announcement that we had lost one of our guides as he had come down with Covid overnight and tested positive that morning. However, we still had Jim Rigby, who had been one of our guides on the 5in55. Not the best of starts and it should have been an omen for some of the unknown challenges we were yet to face.
When we started climbing the first mountain on day one, none of us really had a comprehension of what lay ahead. Climbing the five highest mountains in Wales sounded daunting, but we all thought that this would just mean challenging walks up some long, steep inclines.
After setting off from the car park, we had steadily climbed for 90 minutes to a ridge with spectacular, breath-taking views. However, when we looked ahead, we could see that the path we were following simply ended at the base of a cliff-like outcrop. The only way onwards was to scramble up using our hands like rock-climbers. When we got to the top someone said, ‘I’m not sure I signed up for this.” That was only a taste of things to come on day one.
The first mountain, Carnedd Llywelyn (otherwise known as Carnedd Llewelyn, was a challenge on its own. Standing at 1064 metres above sea level, this was the third highest mountain in Wales and located in the Carneddau range in Snowdonia. After setting off from the car park at 07:20, we reached the peak at 09:20. The views were incredible. Up until we reached the top, there had been blue skies and sunshine, but that quickly disappeared with the rain sweeping in and we were forced to put on waterproofs as we headed to peak two, Carnedd Dafydd.
The second peak stood at 1044 metres and is the fourth highest mountain in Wales. After descending from Carnedd Llywelyn, we climbed back up loose scree to the summit of the second mountain, reaching the top at 10:20.
Our guide, Jim, then had a surprise for us. As we looped around ready for the decent back to the main road, we faced a walk up to the summit of Pen-yr-Ole Wen, the seventh highest mountain in Wales. So now the challenge became the 11nTaff.
When we were walking across to the third peak, Jim pointed out a steep ridge that was our route back down. However, what he failed to tell us was that the start of the descent involved clambering down sheer rock- faces and along narrow ledges for over ninety minutes. To say it was tough would be an understatement. This is where teamwork kicked and we all worked together, ensuring everyone descended safely. There were audible sighs of relief once we got down off the rocks and joined a normal path across some wet peaty ground.
At 12:30 we reached the car park and the minibuses. To be honest, we were all a little shocked at the difficulty of the first two (three) mountains. We had walked 7.57 miles and climbed 932 metres in five hours and 17 minutes. And there were still three mountains to climb on day one.
After a tough morning, we thought we would be able to get some rest in the minibus, but it took less than five minutes to get to the next car park. After refuelling with some luke warm army meals and some rather disgusting donuts, we started the long trek up Glyder Fawr at 13:40. As we set off the drizzle began to fall. The trail looped around the Llyn Idwal lake with no obvious route up the sheer rock faces of the surrounding mountains. Jim then pointed at a dark, black crack which splits the rock of Clogwyn y Geifr (Cliff of the Goat) between Y Garn and Glyder Fawr – the Devil’s Kitchen or Twll Du (Black Hole). That was where we were heading.
The name aptly described the climb. Steep, rocky and not for the faint-hearted. We clambered up using our hands, knees and feet. As we gained height, we had incredible views back across the lake and down the valley. Directly opposite we could see Pen-yr-Ole Wen and it was clear to see why the descent from the first two mountains had been so challenging.
With a sense of relief, we reached the top of the Devil’s Kitchen and the path flattened out to an area near a lake where we could catch our breath and take on some water and calories. In front of us was another very difficult ascent; a meandering steep path of loose scree that would take us to the summit.
After a tough 40-minute climb, we hit the moon-scape top of Glyder Fawr at 15:45. Huge shards of rock rose out of the ground, pointing up at white clouds in a beautiful blue sky. We had conquered the third peak, the fifth highest peak in Wales standing at 999 metres. From the top you could see for miles. The beauty of Wales had never been more apparent. After pausing to gather our thoughts, eat some food and take the obligatory photos, we started the trek back down, following the edge of the ridge. After ten minutes or so, Jim pointed at a break in the rocks leading nearly vertically down a sharp rocky descent. That was our way back to the car park and it looked tough. Carefully we clambered down, sometimes having to slide down rock faces on our behinds or climb across narrow ledges. It was a rugged and uncompromising terrain that pushed us to the limit.
After two hours, we reached the Llyn Idwal lake at 17:45. You could almost taste the sense of relief in the group. Laurence and Lee took the opportunity to bathe their feet, whist the rest of the group rested and ate. We arrived back at the car park at around 18:30 tired and aching. Climbing Glyder Fawr had taken 4 hours 32 minutes and we had walked 5.47 miles. Since setting off at 07:20, we had now been going for over eleven hours and were all feeling the effects of climbing the first three mountains. To freshen up and ease his aches and pains Georgie took a dip in a freezing cold stream, whilst the rest of us fuelled up ready for the final two mountains of day one.
Mountains 4 and 5
As we got out of the minibus at Pen-y-Pas car park, I wondered whether I could continue. I had strained a muscle just above my right knee coming down Pen-yr-Ole Wen and was struggling. Lee gave me a knee support and his walking sticks, which helped. But I was not looking forward to climbing two more mountains.
James had struggled on the 3rd mountain with a tight chest and coughing. Wisely he decided to miss these two mountains and try to recover enough to rejoin us on day 2.
We set off later than planned at 19:50. The challenge was now over 12 hours old. The weather was kind to us with blue skies, but we could feel the temperature dropping. Many of us had walked Snowdon before and so we knew what was ahead. As the sun set behind us, we followed the Pyg Track route, which is a rocky and difficult path with several steep climbs. The track steepens as you rise up to a ridge with the train track and path down to Llanberis. Then we had a twenty-minute climb before reaching the highest point in Wales at 22:20. The sky was tinted with the final red rays of the day’s sunshine. Darkness was closing in fast.
Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) is the highest mountain in Wales and the twenty-third highest in the United Kingdom standing at 1085 meters. At the top of Snowdon we were exhausted and cold. We took shelter and put on some more layers before grabbing something to eat. To reach Garnedd Ugain we needed to walk back down the slope we had just climbed, following the train track, before heading up to the top of the neighbouring mountain.
Garnedd Ugain (Crib y Ddysgi) is 1065 meters high and the second highest peak in Wales and, even though the mountain sits next to Snowdon, it is often ignored by walkers.
Whilst walking down from the peak of Snowdon, a few of us considered not climbing the last mountain. Our bodies were exhausted and hurting. It had been a very long day. We regrouped ready for the next mountain and Georgie just said, “Let’s get this done then.” Any thoughts of not climbing the fifth peak of day one quickly evaporated.
By now the only light we had was from our head torches. We plodded onwards, reaching the top of Garnedd Ugain at 22:50. Six peaks conquered in one day. We were halfway through the mountain climb part of the 10nTaff challenge.
The walk down to Llanberis was long and tough. It was simply a question of putting one foot in front of the other and blocking out any thought of pain. We finally reached the car park at 01:15 in the morning where Dave, our chef, was waiting with the most amazing pasta dish. It had been nearly 18 hours since we started. The support team handed out a few bottles of beer, but after just a couple of swigs none of us could drink them. My leg was hurting badly and I really thought that my challenge was over. I took some painkillers, raised my leg as high as I could, and just hoped for the best. Now we had an overnight drive down to South Wales. In our minibus we tried to stretch out, using whatever we could to get comfortable, which was nearly impossible. James Meacham moved into the back of the kit van and rested in amongst the bags, whilst James Hale-Davies slept in the back of the Mercedes van with Georgie and Chris making the best of the back and front seats.
Within minutes of the minibuses leaving Llanberis, many of us had sunk into an uneasy, broken sleep.
You cannot describe the rest we had in the minibus as ‘sleep’. However, the overnight drive through the middle of Wales gave our bodies and minds a chance to recharge for day 2. I think this is also a good time to explain how much we relied on our support team. Dave, Jason, Andrew, Wayne and Dave were incredible, driving down through Wales in the pitch black to get us to Fan Brycheiniog. They must have been exhausted. All the plaudits go to those who walk and cycle, but we could not do it without our support team. They are all heroes.
We parked up around 06:30 and Dave set about getting us some food and hot drinks. I then saw that Jim, our guide, had sent me a message in the early hours. He had lost his glasses on Snowdon and could not drive down to meet us. We were on our own. Thankfully, a few of us had walked Fan Brycheiniog on one of our training hikes, which meant we could continue. It wasn’t ideal, but the challenge could not end before even starting day 2.
My leg was also feeling slightly better than it had, although it was still painful. With the knee support and Lee’s sticks, I was mentally really for day 2. Overhead the windswept cloud was continually broken with blue sky and we were occasionally bathed in sunshine. In the distance, the mountain peak faded in and out of view.
We set off at 07:30 across marshland heading for the peak, which we could all just about see. By 08:25 we had reached the Llyn-y-Fan Fawr lake that sits just below the mountain’s escarpment. There followed a steady climb to the top, thankfully far gentler than anything we had faced on day 1.
Fan Brycheiniog is the highest peak in the Black Mountain region of the Brecon Beacons standing at 803 metres. This makes it the fourth highest mountain in South Wales.
At 08:55 we stood on the top, by the trig point, as wind whipped around us and the rain started to fall. We tucked ourselves into an old stone walled-shelter to rest, take on some food and record some video. Morale was high. The first mountain peak of day 2 was conquered.
We trekked back to the minibuses following a similar path to the one that had taken us to the top, walking down to the lake and across the marshland. By 10:40 we were back at the minibuses. We had now climbed six of the ten mountains and morale was high.
With an hour drive across to Pen-y-Fan and Corn Ddu, we took our boots off, closed our eyes and tried to get some rest.
Mountains 7 and 8
The hour-long drive across to Pen-y-Fan gave us all the chance to recharge our batteries. There was still a long day ahead with four of the highest mountains in South Wales to climb.
Although not as bad as day 1, the muscle above my knee was getting increasingly painful. Stuart suggested putting some tape running down both sides and above and below my knee. The result was miraculous. For the first time in over 24 hours there was no stabbing pain when I walked. I felt rejuvenated.
By 12:15 we were walking up Pen-y-Fan in beautiful sunshine. Pen-y-Fan and Corn Ddu, the two highest mountains in South Wales at 886 and 873 meters, were regular training walks for most of us and we knew them well. On day 2, it was simply a case of getting up and down as quickly as we could. Two of our support team, Jason and Dave, also joined us on the climb and it was great to spend some time with them out of the minibuses.
By 13:05 we had reached the top of the main path with Corn Ddu to our left and Pen-y-Fan ahead. There were wonderful views down to the Upper Neuadd Reservoir. 15 minutes later we were standing on the top of the highest mountain in South Wales, Pen-y-Fan. Mountain 7 had been conquered.
Then the weather changed. We had felt the first drops of rain on the top of Pen-y-Fan, but as we made our way across to the neighbouring Corn Ddu the heavens opened. At the peak there was no hanging around. We literally stopped for a photograph and then started to head back to the car park. Bizarrely, five minutes later the rain had gone and we were standing in sunshine, although now soaking wet. The wonders of changeable mountain weather.
The walk down was tougher than the climb up. Many of the group were struggling with knee pain, which tends to be more acute when descending a mountain. But we just gritted our teeth and got on with it. Giving up was simply not an option. The last of the team reached the minibuses at 14:45. We had taken longer to descend than to climb.
There was roughly an hour drive to our next stop, which gave us time to rest and mentally prepare for the final and toughest two mountains of day 2.
Mountains 9 and 10
James, Matt and I had walked up Waun Fach one Sunday evening and knew what awaited us. The guide had planned a route that we did not know and so we decided to choose a path that we had walked previously. It was longer, but we did not want to risk getting lost. The group was tired and we just wanted to get these final two mountains climbed as quickly as possible and get back to the hostel for some food and a decent night’s sleep.
A number of us were now struggling, especially with our knees. Despite the aches and pains, morale was high with day 2 nearly complete. However, none of appreciated that walking mountains 9 and 10 was going to be the furthest in terms of miles and the second longest in terms of time of all the ten mountains.
Waun Fach stands at 811 meters and is the highest mountain in the Black Mountains and the third highest in South Wales. Sitting next to Waun Fach is Pen-y-Gadair Fawr, the fifth highest mountain in South Wales at 800 meters.
We set off at 16:05 and followed tracks and country roads for around 40 minutes before we started the real climb. The route we were taking was a steep and unrelenting farmer’s track straight up the side of the mountain. We all struggled, but just kept going. At 17:25 we reached a ridge with a flattish path taking us onto another sharp climb. The path then turned into a gradual incline that took us to the top of Waun Fach. The views from the ridge were amazing with the Dragon’s Back to our left and the Sugar Loaf Mountain in the distance near Abergavenny. We reached the unspectacular top of Waun Fach just after 18:00. Nine mountains peaks climbed.
In the distance we could see the weather changing, with dark clouds being ushered across the sky by an increasingly strong wind. Our stop at the top of Waun Fach was as brief as possible and we set off for the final mountain of the 10nTaff challenge. However, we did not anticipate the distance between Waun Fach and Pen-y-Gadair Fawr. With the wind picking up and rain in the air, we trudged onwards towards the final peak. Tired and sore, we reached the final peak at 18:45. We were all ecstatic and relieved. There were hugs all round and broad smiles on everyone’s face. Most of us had tears in our eyes. Ten mountains climbed.
We took our time at the top, making sure everyone got a photo. It was time to savour the moment and appreciate what we had already achieved. In less than 36 hours we had climbed eleven mountains. However, the weather conditions were deteriorating rapidly.
With the wind now so strong it was difficult to stand, we started retracing our steps on the long walk back to the minibuses. It was a real slog. Everyone was hurting somewhere, with our knees bearing the brunt as we descended down the mountain. However, there was a wonderful buzz around the group and so many smiles.
At 21:15 we reached the car park. We were totally exhausted and exhilarated. For the last two mountains we had walked 9.51 miles in 5 hours and 9 minutes. A brutal way to end the mountain part of the challenge. Day 2 was complete.
As we rested in the minibuses, our drivers headed for the Brecon Forest Farmhouse for the night, which was located in the middle of nowhere north of Brecon. After a magical mystery tour, we arrived ready to eat our free chip supper supplied by a Watergate Fish Bar in Brecon and a tasty curry cooked by Dave. Weirdly, all of us struggled to eat more than just a few chips. We were full after just a few mouthfuls. Our beds called us. Tiredness kicked in as well as the realisation that we faced cycling 53 miles the next day.
Laurence and I were up really early on day 3. Maybe it was nervous excitement at the thought of finishing the challenge. By 6am everyone was being served breakfast by Dave. We were thrilled to have Lloyd Davies from Convey Law joining us along with John and Huw, our cycling support riders. Everyone was tired and hurting somewhere. The first two days had been harder than anyone could have imagined, but most of us knew what to expect with cycling the Taff Trail.
On arriving at the Brycheiniog car park in Brecon, my breathe was taken away when the first people I saw were Tom and Mandy, my son and his girlfriend. It was wonderful to see them and a real morale boost. Then Hayley Burke, a very special lady who had worked for Tŷ Hafan, appeared as if by magic, telling us all how stupid we were. We couldn’t disagree. Such amazing support.
We all lined up for a team photo at 07:40, a little later than planned, before setting off on the 53-mile journey to Cardiff Bay. The clouds looked dark and heavy with rain. An hour after setting off we faced a 5.5-mile off-road climb alongside the Talybont Reservoir. After two days climbing mountains, it was tough. By 09:40 the climb was behind us and we were at our first checkpoint in the rain. However, just 10-minutes later there was another tough off-road climb and we all had to dig deep. Our tired legs dragged us through the forestry. As we reached Pontsticill we knew that we had completed the toughest part of the Taff Trail. Now it was just a slog back to Cardiff.
Between Pontsticill and Merthyr we lost our cycling support riders. Huw had been hit with a puncture. We all met up again at the checkpoint in Merthyr, but we had lost quite a bit of time. In fact, the wait at Merthyr was long enough for Chris and I to have a wrestling match. Within 15 minutes of setting off again, Huw was hit by another puncture. Unbelievably bad luck. Finishing within the 55-hour time limit was now almost out of our reach. We left Huw to be picked up by the support team and rode on. Georgie was a hero, riding back and forth up the group, encouraging us onwards. Then more bad luck as the chain on Chris’ bike snapped as we climbed up a short steep incline. The group cycled on as Chris, Georgie and Stuart fixed it and then caught us up. As we reached Pontypridd I found myself struggling. Georgie dropped back, handed me an energy bun, which tasted disgusting. Suddenly I felt re-energised. And we rode on.
By the time we got to Nantgarw, everyone apart from Georgie and Chris looked done in. We were never going to complete this in 55-hours. Then we realised we hadn’t started until 07:20 on day 1 meaning we had an extra 20 minutes. Huw re-joined the team and we charged onwards. I don’t know where we got our energy from. Then we had a bit of a communication problem, with part of the group cycling down through Taffs Well and the others along the old Taff Trail towards Castell Coch. Again, lost time.
When we finally regrouped in Tongwynlais, we just had a flattish run in to the bay. We were all in high gears cycling as fast as we could. When I thought about what we were achieving tears were welling up in my eyes. We ploughed on through Bute Park, along the River Taff and suddenly we were in Cardiff Bay near Techniquest. We stopped and all grouped together ready for the final ride to the finish line. And what a welcome.
We did not anticipate the size of the crowd gathered at St David’s Hotel to cheer us in. Even now the memory brings me out in goosebumps. All of us headed straight to our families and loved ones. The 10nTaff challenge was complete. 10 mountains climbed and 53 miles cycled in 55 hours and 20 minutes. People had said we were crazy to even attempt it, but we had proved them wrong.