Following the recent The Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award Practice Expedition, Dr Lewis has kindly shared his account of how our Rydal Penrhos pupils fared.
“If you speak to our current cohort of Year 12 Gold DofE participants, perhaps asking them how their practice expedition went, please do not be too surprised if a vacant stare comes into their eyes momentarily as they try to process an appropriate response. This was an expedition that, at times, will have pushed them close to the limits of what they thought themselves capable – a test of character and preparedness, whether physical, mental or logistical.
“On a transformative, perhaps even transcendental, journey from Tanygrisiau to Abergwyngregyn they covered approximately 40 miles of arduous terrain, with almost 3000 metres of vertical ascent (no mean feat carrying a full expedition rucksack), and ascended three of Eryri’s most famous peaks: Glyder Fawr, Glyder Fach and Foel Grach. True grit and determination were required, as well as thousands of calories and innumerable blister plasters, to realise this epic endeavour…
“The first challenge was a traverse of the full length of the Moelwyn Ridge, a wilderness of bogs and small upland lakes that poses severe navigational difficulties to all but the most accomplished of navigators. This was a good initial test of the pupils’ competence, and they ploughed their way onward with an impressive level of accuracy to reach their wild camping location in the shadow of Moel Siabod. The peace and tranquillity of the lake, combined with the beauty of the setting, was a welcome respite from the rigours of the day’s journey, and a chance to rest and fuel up ready for the huge second day ahead.
“With a very sharp and steep initial climb away from Llynau Diwaunydd, misty conditions adding to the difficulties of navigation, the groups were almost an hour late arriving to their first checkpoint at the Pen y Gwryd Hotel. Due to the nature of the challenge that lay ahead (the infamous red dot route up the south ridge of Glyder Fawr – bonus points to anyone that actually spots more than the very occasional red dot, and certainly not a route that anyone can follow with a degree of ease), the decision was taken to provide the option of a less committing traverse on a slightly easier route. Nevertheless, seven pupils opted for the higher route and set off from Pen y Pass on an indistinct path up a steep incline. Some hours later, and realising that they were still only half-way towards the summit, the magnitude of the challenge became all too apparent. Despite this, the pupils remained buoyant and optimistic that they could, and would, reach their goal.
“Their arrival at the summit plateau was greeted with views stretching the entire way across Anglesey to the north, Holyhead Mountain visible in the far distance, and as far as Cadair Idris to the south. The steep cliffs to the north side of the Glyderau were a stark reminder of the glaciated origin and treacherous, rocky nature of this spectacular range. From here, the steep and unforgiving descent to their intended campsite in the Ogwen Valley was, for some, no less punishing on the knees than the previous climb. Fortunately, the luxury of a hot shower (even an actual tap!) made the journey worthwhile.
“Fast forward to the fourth and final day (day three was a breeze, both navigationally and physically, compared to the rest) and we again find the pupils in the thick of a desperate struggle, not quite for their very survival, but certainly to maintain their composure and keep going. It has been mentioned to me, by more than one person since, that they had at times wondered if they should just give up and refuse to go on, which thought was then rapidly dismissed through the realisation that there was no option of escape nor rescue other than through self-sufficiency, teamwork and sheer determination.
“I am not only relieved to hear that they opted for the latter course of action, but also delighted to learn that these pupils are evidently made of seriously tough stuff. They tested themselves to the limits and were not found wanting. Believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains of Eryri and the conditions across the summit of Foel Grach on the morning of May 1st 2023 were exceptionally grim, with thick mist and an absolutely freezing wind. Needless to say, I had absolute confidence in the pupils’ ability to make safe progress, as well as to make sensible adaptive decisions should they be required, but I still found myself letting out an involuntary whoop of relief when they appeared out of the mist exactly where and when I had been expecting them, fifteen hours since I had last seen them at the previous night’s wild camp location.
“All that remained for them to do now was to navigate their way off this mountain. As I watched them take their bearings and walk confidently away into the mist, becoming lost from sight in less than a minute, I knew that this was a very special groups of students – and by that I include all ten of the current cohort of Year 12 DofE participants, not just the seven that had made it through to this point. This had been a tough practice expedition. Exceptionally well done to you all! I am sure that you will smash your assessment in September, and I look forward to supporting you on that venture. Stay wild, people!”