When I was about ten, my parents along with another family with similar aged kids, decided they should take us tramping (multi-day backpacking for non-New Zealanders). That summer, my parents, my brother and I, along with Graeme and Win and their kids spent a glorious seven days in Nelson Lakes National Park. The next year, we went for ten days, and this continued every summer until I went to university and got a job. Those are, without a doubt, among the most vivid memories of my childhood – being woken up by Keas in the little patch of woodland behind Upper Traverse Hut; crossing the Wangapeka Saddle in torrential rain and hail, with all the rivers in flood; eating sardines on cabin bread for breakfast at Coldwater Creek because it was all the food we had left.
Graeme made a huge impression on me during those summers with his humour, his confidence in any situation, and his evening stories of 20 day trips to the Arawata Valley and elsewhere. I learned about bush-craft from Graeme, how to back-country camp, proper hut etiquette, and how to lead a group and make decisions so nobody got lost or was asked to do more than they could. I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be as confident and competent in the outdoors as I am without Graeme’s influence.
Sadly, Graeme died last week, so it seemed appropriate to dedicate my weekend’s adventure to his memory. Without him, I’m sure I wouldn’t have spent Sunday doing the Welsh 3000’s challenge – summiting all the 3000+ ft peaks in Wales in 24 hours – solo and unsupported, and as a circuit rather than the usual one way trip. Graeme, I think, would have loved the spectacular mountain scenery, as well as the challenge of a really long day out in the hills.
I camped overnight between Pen Y Pass and the foot of the Crib Goch ridge so as to get an early start. At 5:30 I was packed up and ready for the first peak of the day – Crib Goch, with it’s tricky scramble to start, and then knife edge ridge with massive exposure on either side. Even at that time it was surprisingly busy, mostly with other people attempting the challenge. The ridge was slow, but after that things sped up with quick ascents of Garnedd Ugain and Snowdon, then the steep descent to Nant Peris, 950m below. After that was the long slow ascent of Elidir Fawr, which I reached four hours after setting off, and where I met up with a group of fell runners. I ran with them over Y Garn, and down to the lake at Llyn y Cwn, then as they headed up Glyder Fawr, I descended to the road at Ogwen Cottage for a well earned sausage roll and a bit of a break before my third big climb of the day.
Pen yr Ole Wen was the next peak, but the route from Ogwen Cottage was horrendous, with an indistinct trail, some serious scrambling, and just unrelenting steepness for 700m of ascent. However, from the summit, the whole Carnedd ridge was stretched out in front, with peaks every km or so – at that stage I’d done six peaks in seven hours, but the ridge promised quicker progress for a while. After a short break to recover, I set off again, and quickly reached Carnedd Dafydd, then the long flat ridge to the foot of Carnedd Llewelyn. Since I would be coming back this way, I left that one for the return and traversed around to Yr Elen, stuck out on its own on a side ridge. Then back to the main ridge and on to Foel Grach, Garnedd Uchaf and finally Foel-Fras, my turning around point.
By this stage I was feeling pretty tired, so was only running the gentle downhill sections, but fortunately there were quite a few of them! I returned along the ridge, picked up Carnedd Llewelyn, then dropped off the side to the stream below Ffynnon Lloer and so to the road. That left me three peaks left to do, Tryfan, Glyder Fach, and Glyder Fawr. I decided I was too tired for the scrambling approach to Tryfan, so opted for Heather Terrace and approaching the summit from the South. Unfortunately, tiredness was really kicking in at this point and I missed the main route to Heather Terrace, and rather than going back decided to follow an indistinct track that was climbing in the right direction. This worked, but with a bit more scrambling than I’d planned given my tired legs. Despite arriving at the summit just before 7pm (13 and a half hours after starting), there was still a crowd at the top – I hate to think how busy it must have been earlier in the day! From Tryfan there’s a very steep scree climb to Glyder Fach – I was glad to be going up instead of down – and then an easy wander along the ridge, bathed in the last of the sunshine, to my last peak, Glyder Fawr. 14 hours, 55 minutes after starting I had finished the peaks!
The descent to Pen Y Pass was long and tedious, and my knees were quite sore by then. I finished the loop just over 16 hours after starting. A very big day out, but a challenge that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while conquered!
I thought about Graeme a lot on the way around. He had a big influence on me, and I undoubtedly wouldn’t be the outdoors person I am today without him. I’ll always remember those sunny (and occasionally not) summer days tramping in the New Zealand bush. Thank you, Graeme.