I decided for my 42nd Birthday I’d do the whole Shropshire Three Peaks Challenge, a route I had set for an event in June, as well as any anytime challenge. I’m a long time out of running, with a spinal injury, so this would be a hike. I’d shoot for 14 hours or 3 miles an hour. In the wet and sodden conditions, I thought that might be optimistic. It was going to a be a cold hike, as I started at Midnight, just to make it that bit more challenging, not to mention cold.
Yesterday started someday disastrously. What is the one item you don’t want to forget? Yep your shoes. Arrived at the start and realised I’d left my mudclaws in a bag by the door, 40 mins away. I was wearing a pair of 8 year old Paul Smith deck shoes, slicks, nogrip at all. Sod it I’ll manage. “Don’t be stupid ” said Wendy. But I had to start at midnight at the start of my birthday.
I had not slept since the previous morning, so tiredness affected my judgement. Nevertheless I started. In case no one noticed, it has been raining recently, a lot. 80% of the route was a quagmire. Standing water and mud. I was like Bambi on ice in those shoes. Progress in deck shoes, was slow and nearly took a series of falls. Ruined these.
Then the first hill, Stiperstones. It is a steep ascent up Perkins Beach was through what had become a river. It was Sub zero, a cold cutting wind on top and everything frozen over with ice. Stiperstones, about 5 miles in, is a 2.5K section of difficult to negotiate cobble-type rocks. It’s slow and hurts your feet, even with the right shoes. Tonight the cobblrs were separated by ice. In those shoes it was lethal. One slip and if I’d cracked my head up on the top I should have got into trouble. I was slow and demoralised.
I was thinking of calling Wendy to pick me up about 5 miles later. I made by way over the summit, pictured badly in the headtorch light and gloom. The trig point is up on a rock, which I decided not to climb, given the shoe situation.
I picked my down to the car park. Wendy was waiting, with my mudclaws! She’d driven back and picked them up. She eventually got home at 3am.
I made decent progress down to the village of Bridges. The next big ascent was not one of the three peaks but only about 20m less. It is mostly road which was all frozen over. Even mudclaws were little use. I summited, put on a balaclava and more layers and descended into Church Stretton. 10.5 miles in 3 hrs 40. Slower than I would have liked.
I ate sandwiches as I walked through the deserted town, fuelling for the climb over Ragleth. Again not one of the peaks, but a good workout. Without the grip of the shoes, this mud-climb would have been impossible. The next 10 miles was a little road, but mostly more energy-sapping mud. 20 miles in is Wilderhope manor just after climbing over Wenlock Edge.
After that, 5 more muddy miles to get to the base of the second highest hill in Shropshire, Brown Clee. I was really tired, lack of sleep after now being awake for over 24 hours. I didn’t fancy the climb without a break. Wendy texted, she was on her way. With a wet weather system chasing me, I took shelter at the bottom of the hill in an old red phone box, which doubles as a micro book store for the village of Ditton Priors.
Wendy arrived just as the rain started.
I stripped off my muddy trousers and shoes and got in the car. I was too tired to eat as we waited out the weather. I reclined the car seat and went spark out for about 2 hours. I ate the food of kings, vegetable samosas and coffee which Wendy had brought. Best wife ever. I dressed in dry trousers, socks and shoes. I’d had almost 3 hours rest when I set off.
I felt well fuelled for the last 15 miles. The climb up Brown Clee felt easy with a full tank. There was low cloud and it was muddy on top. Some Ice, but not as cold as the earlier summits.
Even though it’s Shropshire Way for most of the route it is tough to navigate. I had two GPS so had very few issues. Those without, would surely miss many apparent seeming random turns, up on the desolate moorland of Abdon Burf.
I descended , half slided, down. I lost one shoe to the bog monster briefly. I wish I would have taken a video as the shoe was steaming.
I then waded along a long muddy track to the foot of the final summit, Titterstone Clee. It’s a long and mean climb; moorland and rocky.
It rained all the way up. I passed by the big radar station, in light low cloud.
I found the summit.
Photo from the top.
You have to be really careful when descending, as there are lots of old quarries with sheer cliffs off to various sides. Again it helps to have GPS to find the way off and reach the road, 33.5 miles done.
I headed down the long road and really didn’t enjoy the last 5 miles of muddy fields. Even though it’s all Shropshire Way the waymarks are sometimes missing, or just plain wrong. For the County national trail , Shropshire should hang it’s head in shame. I’ve today altered the event route to make the run into Ludlow a little easier, since the Shropshire Way signs are not that great in that section. I had GPS yesterday, so I navigated it all fine. As it was, that section was just muddy. In Summer it will be a different story of course, but I’d picked a tough time to do the route. I arrived in Ludlow, just over 40 miles later. Moving time was 14 hours 20 mins 2.8mph, but I’d had 3hours rest so over 17 hours in total. It was a tough hike and more than twice the distance I had done since 2011, when I ran 250K in Nepal. I can’t run anymore due to spinal injury, but by putting up with fairly considerable discomfort in my back, at least I can still walk an ultra distance.
Happy Birthday to me, that was my birthday treat. To say I was sore the next morning would be an understatement. That’s a tough old route.
See you in June at the http://www.shropshirethreepeaks.co.uk/