On 19th March, Mrs Everton and 21 intrepid Year 12 students set off to the Elan Valley in Mid-Wales to start a four day practice expedition for our Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. At the time, we were completely oblivious as to what lay ahead and, after a kit check, headed off in good spirits for a short acclimatisation walk on the first afternoon. We returned to cook our tea, only to discover that the weather was forecast to deteriorate and shortly after, as predicted, heavy snow began to fall. After tea we clambered aboard the minibus to get warm before we sheepishly headed to our tents in the cold snowy conditions. Fortunately, Philip, one of the leaders from Learn Outdoors, had been to his store to collect more sleeping bags, which lifted our moods slightly.
On day two, our assessors, Philip and Paul, gave us the news that it would be too dangerous to climb to the heights we had planned on our route cards and instead we should follow a shorter route at a lower altitude. This we did and arrived at our campsite at around 3pm. Luckily, we had a really friendly site owner who very kindly allowed us to sit and chill in a dry, warm room, where most of us huddled around the radiator all evening!
Day three arrived and we encountered our first full day of 9 hours walking up and over mountains, at times experiencing ‘white outs’ and having to rely on compass work to navigate our route. Although it was a difficult day, we all felt a huge sense of achievement upon reaching the summit, which proved to be a highpoint for many of us, even if we did appear to be in the middle of an arctic expedition! We finally reached our ‘wild camp’ at around 4:30pm and rushed to get our tents up and food cooked before dark. As Mrs Everton, Phil and Paul waved goodbye and set off for their warm house, we headed to our tents, only to be awoken at 1:00am by high winds and snow. Not much sleep followed and we were all up by 5:00am to discover snow drifts leaning into our tents.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on your outlook) by the fourth day there was so much snow on the ground that we were unable to risk walking in the hills and mountains and so finished earlier than planned at the Rhayader Visitor Centre, where we were greeted by a café and central heating. Sheer bliss! After a de-brief, those of us who were being collected by parents set off, whilst everyone else headed back to Tarporley on the minibus. We all decided that if we could complete our practice and survive these conditions, then our assessment expedition in September will be ‘easy’!
Emma O’Nions 12SR