Technically, you are not allowed to ride bikes on anything other than roads, special sorts of byways and bridleways. From the end of the surfaced road, none of this route is a legal right of way for bikes. It's debatable how much we actually rode the bikes anway, and at that time, 20 years ago, nobody seemed to care about mountain bike rights of way, as mountain bikes were still new and rare.
Back in 1987 3 of us, all students at Liverpool university, had the silly idea of riding the Welsh 3000ers. Our inspiration came from hearing about the Nick Crane and his brother doing the same the year before. At that time mountain bikes were new, and although cycling was not allowed on footpaths, there were so few mountain bikes around that nobody seemed to care, in fact even the most hardcore of ramblers would usually greet you with suprise. However, mountain bikes at that time were primative. Poor brakes. Heavy. No suspension. Tyres designed for sunny Californian trails not British mud. The one good thing was that bike designers expected you to to carry bikes over obstacles, so bikes were designed to be easily carried over the shoulder. We took foam pipe lagging and taped it to the top tube to try and make this slightly less painful.
Our first mistake of the day was finding the train from Chester didn't stop at Llanfairfechan, only Bangor. So, after getting off the train in Bangor, we started with a few miles warm up ride to the small road up into a valley. The weather was overcast and grey, with some rain, as you'd expect in a welsh October. We slogged our way up the minor road, and then onto a track which scaled the impressive bulk of Foel-ganol. The track took us up toward Pen Bryn-du, and the base of the cloud. The track faded to a path, and were were able to ride sometimes and push at others. I remember a few minor mechanical difficulties, but nothing we couldn't deal with. Fortunatly, the ridge was easy to follow, with a good path and few places to go wrong, so we soon reached Garnedd Ucaf, hidden from the fantastic views all around due to the swirling cloud.
By the time we got to the top of Foel Grach, the wind had got up, and there was signs of snow on the ground. We stopped at the summit shelter on Foel Grach, which was dark and smelly, but warmer than the outside, to review our progress and try to read the map as the wind was making map reading tricky. Our kit was pretty basic, consisting of clothes suited to a high energy activity like mountain biking, some bike odds and ends, and one set of old heavy front and back bike lights. We were certainly not equiped to spend a night on the summit, nor did we have enough lighting to make a descent in the dark safety. The weakness in our clothing became appearent as once we slowed or stopped, you could really feel the cold seep in. We were facing limited daylight and still some way to go, with Carnedd Llewelyn still ahead, with a long tricky descent after that.
We made it to Carnedd Llewelyn in the darkening gloom, and set off south on a ridge as we had decided to press on towards the A5. The ridge started off well enough, but became steeper, narrower and rockier as we descended. I had walked this previously and remembered it as being tricky, but doable. In clear daylight it would be easy enough, but when tired, in the dark, carrying a bike it was hard work, especially for the other two, who hadn't been down this way before, and didn't take my assurances that there were no steeper sections ahead. When we reached the track that drops from reservoir in Cwn Llugwy, we were relieved we had made it, as it really seemed to be going badly before. In the days before mobile phones, mountain rescue tended to look for missing parties, rather than rescue those who were starting to get into trouble.
Racing down the track in the dark towards the lights of cars on the A5, we nearly piled into the gate at the bottom. We soon got on to the A5 and headed towards Idwal Cottage under the half seen bulk of Tryfan (tomorrows planned ride!), and the welcome of a youth hostel. Sadly, on arrival at the hostel we found they were full. So, we set off to Capel Curig, in the hope of the other hostel being available. After a hair raising ride down the A5 to Capel, with the front rider carrying the front light and the rear rider carrying the rear light we arrived at Capel Curig YHA to find it closed. At that point all seemed to be lost, as it was 7:00 PM, quite dark, and we were cold and hungry. In desparation we tried the Tyn-y-Coed Inn. It was outside our price range as poor students, and looked quite fancy. Rather than bolting the door at our bedraggled and muddy appearance, the receptionist took pity on us, and gave us a room for a very reasonable price. I guess they didn't get many other customers at that time on a cold windy Friday night in late October. Needless to say we returned the favour by eating lots of their food, and a few of their beers, before turning in for the night shattered, but at least clean, full and warm.
After breakfast, we got on our bikes to begin the big long climb out of Capel Curig at first on the A5, and then on the muddy and slow track which took us to the base of Tryfan and our next challenge to 'ride' the Heather Terrace.