Charterhouse School 2018

John Reeve, Robert Elston

16 peaks, 5 days

Their story, in their words….

When the train stopped we stumbled out, nudging and kicking our kitbags before us. Penmaenmawr station was suitably deserted; it was the sort of place where you had to ask the driver to stop – or the train wouldn’t. The fourteen hours of traveling came to an end when we pitched our tent for the first night under the setting sun.

We had the challenge of the whole Carneddau for day two – 27km; 1400m up; 1200m down; 20kg each. As we approached the start of the mountain range, clouds gathered on the ridge lines like they we’re plotting something – an inauspicious start. There aren’t any pictures from the first day because John’s camera had no battery and moisture in the charging port… there wasn’t much to see anyway. In fact, it wasn’t only the views that were obscured by clouds but also the path! Visibility went down to 20m at times and there was little light, even at midday. Amongst the scree, crags, and mist of Carnedd Llewelyn, two walkers emerged. They were the first we had seen. After following them for five minutes, we realised that they had even less of an idea of where to go than we did! After a quick compass check, we readjusted and started walking in completely the opposite direction. With no reference points in the background, everything can start to look the same in the fog. Cairns only work if you can see them, and paths don’t really exist when there’s uneven rocks under your feet instead of grass. Threading the needle along the ridge of Cyfryw-drum with only a compass to tell us where to go was one of most terrifying moments of my life. John was more relaxed, but then he couldn’t see the drop on either side because of the cloud cover – I had a map to tell me otherwise. At one point, the clouds broke briefly, showing us how high we had climbed. In hiking, nothing much happens quickly – views manifest themselves slowly as you walk. But to suddenly see a valley open up beneath us was somewhat terrifying. Up there, where it’s always raining because you’re in a cloud, it feels very lonely. There were no experienced adult to take over when things got tricky – as they had done. We put every trust in that flickering red arrow. The circumstances resulted in us missing two of our peaks: Pen yr Ole Wen and Carnedd Dafydd. Remarkably, as we started our descent, Ogwen valley stared up at us from beneath the clouds, as if it had been quietly waiting there all along. The winds swept through the valley and drew out the clouds into ductile strands and suddenly blue skies had returned. Our campsite was in sight, and so were the perils of day three…

Tryfan (917) is the defining titan of Ogwen Valley, said to be the resting place of Sir Bedivere. It’s one of those things people want to do before they die: climb Tryfan. And there were people of all shapes and sizes who managed to leap across the final stones of the summit. We left or tent and excess kit behind for the climb, since we would be staying in the valley for another night – this greatly reduced the pain in climbing, and Tryfan felt like a breeze considering the difficulties of day two. We found that uphill walking was much easier over large boulders than sloped paths, since we could walk up it almost like stairs. Some of the rocks had names and initials engraved in them – humanity’s attempt to remain eternal doesn’t go unnoticed up a mountain that looks like the stairway to heaven. After the north ridge, we came down the south side and headed around to Glyder Fach and Fawr before coming full circle back to the campsite, concluding what was probably our most enjoyable day of walking.

Day four was basked in sunlight throughout. Back with the rucksacks, we crawled our way up Y Garn’s relentless slops. We found this climb to be the hardest, covering 460m vertical climb in only one blue square of the map. Near the top, the scree ensured we went a step back for every few steps forward; but once the climb was over, we could follow the ridge over to Foel-goch and Elidir Fawr. The sun was still above the mountains as we wandered down a long, gently sloping path into Nant-Peris, where we pitched our tent in the imposing shadow of Snowdon.
As we joined the Llanberis path on day five, we saw a steady stream of people following the train – more people than we had seen since we left Liverpool. At first, we tried to keep pace with them, but quickly gave up; none were carrying bags as heavy as ours. After a rest and some cake at the half-way cafe, we went up to Garnedd Ugain. Snowdon’s sister peak was deserted. The views up there were stunning, but people had come to climb Snowdon – not for good views. Nevertheless, we went around to Snowdon to find a queue stretching to the top for a photo… Seeing as Y Lliwedd was currently in a cloud, we took the Miner’s path down Snowdon and wild camped near a lake behind the Youth Hostel (going in for dinner of course!).
Day six was a 22km journey to Betws-Y-Coed. We woke to the sound of rain on our tent – the first we’d had since day two. We dragged ourselves out of the tent to find ourselves in a dense fog, where we couldn’t see across the lake. We dropped into the Youth Hostel for a coffee while we waited for the rain to ease, which, fortunately, it did. We went up Moel Siabod on the way, our final summit, and stayed in a campsite with a coffee shop. Sadly, since we had to catch a train back to Colwyn bay and then a 12h coach home to Surrey, the shop wasn’t open when we left at 6:00AM.

Almost doing the Welsh 3000s was the hardest thing we’ve done to date. I was fairly surprised not to see anyone else on our trip with anything more than a day-sack. Having light rucksacks on day three reminded us how much harder it is to do a mountain with extra baggage. Although we could only do 14/16 peaks, we’re proud of what we’ve achieved and are immensely grateful for the funding provided by the Mark Evison Foundation. Thank you!